I just watched and listened to a very interesting TED talk given by French biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who speaks of the value of mind training to reach a truly fulfilling state of happiness.
Highly recommend giving it a listen:
(Thanks to my sister Marilyn for sending the link! :))
I found it very interesting to read the comments below the video, as people discussed their views on attaining happiness, some agreeing with the talk, and others maintaining that for them happiness derives from another purpose such as work or family, or from community.
What I find interesting is how much the Western model of happiness has been imprinted into our minds, and how transient the conditions are.
How many of us would deny the notion that having more money would make us feel more secure and therefore more happy?
Or that finding love would make us happy?
Or that being really successful at work would make us happy?
Of course those conditions would make us happy- so we strive and strive for it!
But, what if those things aren’t going to happen? or what if they do happen, and then we lose them? What kind of feeling are we left with then?
We would probably feel unfulfilled, depressed, unworthy, unconfident, unloved, unsuccessful.. we would probably feel a lot of ‘un’s!” and it’s no wonder really, when our inner state is dependent on conditions that we cannot always control.
[While in the state of trying to achieve those things, we also feel some of, or all of the above! Some of you might be feeling some of these feelings as you read these very words, I have also from time to time!]
We are also in the habit, it seems, of blaming ourselves when these outer conditions are not met. Negative mantras pervade such as ‘I didn’t find love because I am not attractive enough, I am not successful because I’m not good enough’. We need to work harder, look better, earn more money… be perfect somehow so that happiness can be ours.
The next question is, are we really happy once we get those things, or are we just onto the next condition to make us happy? Do we really need all that stuff to be happy?
When you get a new job or a promotion for example, what does that happiness taste and feel like? Is it permanent, or is it like a boost of energy that subsides with time? Are we talking about happiness now, or are we talking about pleasure?
The next question is, could we be loveless, jobless and alone, and still feel fulfilled?
It seems, according to Ricard, by the off the radar results from the Buddhist monks, that indeed we could. And I agree too, knowing people with some far from perfect life events and conditions who are happy, and others with ‘perfect’ conditions, that are not.
These monks have practiced years and years worth of meditation for very long periods of time. Perhaps their example is an extreme one. In todays western society, it would be very hard to spend 12 hours a day meditating when one has a family to feed and/ or rent to pay. But could we spare 20-30 minutes a day? Or even simply practise mindfulness? (Read ‘The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle to a very good guide to what that is ;))
I think we can, and I think we should. We practice to achieve other things in life and happiness is pretty important. It is not selfish to seek happiness. After all, if one feels truly happy and loved within, you will naturally extend that to the world around you. I strongly believe that a person who feels loved, happy, fulfilled, would not inflict pain onto another person, and will in fact act with kindness, compassion and love.
I agree with Ricard that we can train our minds to achieve a greater sense of fulfillment, as he suggests; by noticing feelings such as anger- watching them from a distance, and gradually letting them pass by.
It’s not about suppression or being emotionally immune to the circumstances in our lives, our emotions make us human. It’s about being able to detach, rather than fuel the feelings with more power. Anger comes, let it come- watch it, and then continue, and then expand, by aiming for it’s opposite- which is love. Let the fire of anger calm down, let love transpire, rather than fuel the fire with more heat and coal.
This is what I understand mind training to be. And eventually with training one becomes aware that emotions come and go, but you can be less deeply affected emotionally by each thing that happens to you. For our own sake and others, at some point we must accept, forgive and move on. For bitterness serves no one, but compassion and love serve us all.
Meditation is talked about a lot here, but for many meditation is an abstract concept. Indeed people have different opinions on what it is. Some depict it in a complex way and give it so many rules that it’s alike an elitist sport, not achievable by all people. I think the act is very simple and everyone can do it.
For me meditation is to simply be silent, in a quiet place (or with soft music), alone, or with others (as Quakers do), sitting or lying down (sitting better because when you lie you tend to sleep ;)) in simple quiet contemplation; waiting.
Waiting? What for?
Essentially I am waiting to sense the unity of all life and experience a profound sense of joy, connectedness and fulfillment, This has happened occasionally during meditation but not always, in small to intense doses.
However, with practice at doing nothing but waiting, you will find your mind becoming less busy with mundane stresses and worries, or random thoughts.. and more in tune with ‘nothing’, and closer to ‘heaven’.
This happens over time generally, and with practise. Sometimes you give up out of boredom after 10 minutes. Sometimes you spend 20 minutes anxiously wondering how long it has been. Sometimes you listen to your own mind battle through all the things you need to do, or your worries, your pressures. It can be hell! Sometimes you fall asleep, which is nice and relaxing. But gradually, with practice at this sitting in silence doing nothing but waiting, your mind will calm down and you will be left with a tranquil space and a deep sense of peace. aka. happiness.
I imagine that those that have achieved enlightenment (often through practicing meditation regularly) sense that feeling all of the time, and that it is truly heaven on earth! I think I have tasted that sense of unity, joy, inexpressible ecstasy, a handful of times in my life. It really is greater than any circumstantial feeling that you could feel otherwise in life. I could liken it to a great sense of inspiration or a feeling of wonder and awe from a great landscape in nature… or really any moment in which you seem to ‘lose yourself’ but ‘find yourself’ at the same time.
I imagine that some people we know, who are not buddhist monks, but every day people who seem to be happy all the time, have also achieved enlightenment, but may not be aware of it; those people that are not easily angered, feel compassionate always, and smile at the simplest things. They are the ones whose aura you simply want to bathe in.
I would agree that some societies are more conducive to this state of being; as somehow in the small villages in the Philippines and the mountain tops of Nepal where people live in tight knit communities with very little, people seem to radiate with more positive energy than most people in western culture or even those living in the cities of those same countries.
My guess is that the energy from nature (natural beauty, fresh food) as well as having more time to appreciate life and naturally meditate in your day to day life, gives that sense of fulfillment.
It’s of no consequence then, that Buddhist monks go to remote beautiful places in the wild to meditate.