There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
Thich Nhat Hanh
This quote might seem frustrating or inspiring. How can we understand and use Buddhist medicine, no matter what religion, culture, or tradition we are from?
(Note: Whoever would like to relax into meditation can try the self-paced and FREE online course, where we explore meditative skills in a more direct way. The course guides you through three weeks of simple meditative exercises that you can implement in your daily life.)
It’s now the beginning of the second half of this Buddhist Year blog. I’d like to give an overview of what’s coming in the following weeks. Long-time readers will notice familiar themes, but it has been my intention since the beginning to return to these topics repeatedly, each time going a bit deeper. My hope is that regardless of your familiarity with Buddhist teachings, whether you are new to Buddhist ideas or a long-term practitioner, you will find some helpful medicine here.
We all know how positive emotions and states like compassion, joy, enthusiasm, gratitude, contentment, aliveness, love, happiness, and many more can lighten up and widen our experience. We feel well, energetic, alive, and somehow right if we experience positive emotions and states.
We also know the emotions and states that are less pleasant and that can cause us to experience difficulty easily. Anger, frustration, envy, confusion, fear, sadness, criticism, helplessness, jealousy, and desperation, for example, can leave us feeling claustrophobic, unfree, and depressed. We feel like something is wrong and we want to return to a positive state where we feel more ourselves.
Habits and possibilities
We all have developed ways to deal with our emotions and our suffering in order to stay balanced or to find balance again. There are many disciplines and methods that can help us to do so. Buddhism is just one of them. Within Buddhist philosophy and psychology there is a whole system of explanations and skillful means. Especially in our modern culture today these are mixing with the methods of our own culture and with others.
What really helps?
Different forms of therapy, positive psychology, the practices of mindfulness, love and compassion, meditation, yoga, tai chi, relaxation and more are available to us today. Basically we all have the same nervous system, but practically, what works well for one person does not necessarily work for someone else. And in different situations and times we might feel drawn to different methods. These days we are exposed to many challenges and we are looking for balance, peace, support, and community wherever these can be found.
There are six qualities that can help us to live with more peaceful, harmonious, and satisfying relationships within and around ourselves. We can keep an eye on these:
1. Joyous giving
2. Ethical behavior
3. Calm and patient acceptance
4. Joyous effort
5. Meditative concentration
6. Wise and deep insight
These six qualities can help us to:
• see our suffering clearly and to lessen it,
• cultivate a more clear and pure state of mind,
• recognize difficult and unclear emotional states and ways of thinking, and
• find a clearer focus, more happiness, and more compassion.
Benefits of Compassion
Compassion is the best healer. Loving and compassionate thoughts are in their essence peaceful, healthy, and so different in their effects than negative thoughts. Though a compassionate mind feels authentic empathy and pain when others suffer, it is peaceful at the same time. A negative mind is not calm and peaceful. It has a sharpness in itself. It can feel like having stones or thorns in one’s heart. I guess we all know both :).
Challenges of Desire and Rejection
Desire and rejection cause their own kind of discomfort. We feel a narrow, pressured, and unpleasant sensation if we really want something, if we are disconnected from an object we long for or reject what is. Craving and rejection also darken our mind and build up a wall between ourselves and reality as it is. Like this we also can’t see the reality of others around us and so it’s difficult to feel authentic understanding and compassion. The positive thinking going along with acceptance, understanding and compassion enables us to find peace, happiness and contentment.
For a long time cultures and traditions have been learning from each other. Buddhism is a relatively old school of the mind. There are whole libraries of texts, teachings, and commentaries about the mind and existence. Some of it is the same as mentioned in the texts of Christianity and other religions.
Our modern culture on the other hand has its own knowledge and science of mind. Within that there are some young disciplines. Conventional psychology is one of them. Neuroscience and positive psychology are two even younger branches.
The following posts will go deeper into the different methods and ways that we can affect our wellbeing and mind for the better, without having to subscribe to a new religion or school. I’ll just bring together some of the elements of these different traditions with our modern schools and sciences.
Now I wish a wonderfully warm and sunny week for all of you. Again, whoever is interested and would like a nice little relaxing journey into meditation is welcome to join the free and self-paced online course Relaxing into Meditation. It’s three weeks of short daily experiments and bits of information that you can follow along as you go about your daily life.
Enjoy the summer!