What attitude should we adopt toward our lives? What are the most useful and/or effective?
I often use the analogy of our lives being like a vegetable garden. The gardener, for example, cannot create or control tomatoes; she can only create the conditions which favour tomatoes. The wise gardener works with both humility and patience, which in turn creates harmony. If you possess a modicum of wisdom, you will know that you cannot create happiness in your life, only the conditions that favour the arising of happiness. This means to have the humility and patience to concentrate on the process rather than obsessing about the result.
What are the attitudes for happiness?
Open curiosity allows us to simply be with our feelings and thoughts as they are, without believing that we ought to feel or think something different in the moment. That is to say, we observe without judgment; we are simply curious to see clearly what is there. So what, you might ask, is the point? Unhappiness and suffering have two main causes: too much thinking and trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings. In other words, the cause of much anxiety and suffering are not the thoughts that arise but rather our thoughts about those thoughts. It is not the feelings that arise that cause suffering, but rather our emotional reaction to those feelings. We do all of this in “autopilot mode”, that is to say, unconsciously and automatically. The act of observing with open curiosity creates distance between you the observer and the thoughts and feelings arising. The very moment you take this attitude, your thoughts and feelings lose their power to drag you away.
We come to see each moment and the thoughts and feelings there as simply another moment − like all moments, each with its own texture, with its own feeling. When we do this, we open the door to understanding; we open the door to choosing a response that is in line with our values instead of unconsciously reacting.
An attitude of open curiosity helps us develop a type of calm and centred courage in which we are able to simply be with uncomfortable situations, and find the jewel of wisdom they always contain.
Kindness to yourself: A condition for true happiness is acceptance of oneself. Self-acceptance is an integral part of personal growth. Harsh self-criticism is exactly the opposite of this. Moreover, it simply does not work… on so many levels. It is a barrier to learning. It undermines our sense of self-worth. It stifles creativity and understanding. The best you can say about harsh self-criticism is that it keeps you stuck. In its worse form, it can lead to a feeling of separation or emptiness − even depression.
Think for a moment: if you wanted to help a child or your best friend to learn, how would you do that? I imagine that you would think of the positive ways to encourage them, to overcome difficulties and errors would you not? There is a Buddhist saying which goes like this: “you could search the whole world and you will not find a being more deserving of your love, compassion and kindness than yourself.” This is a fact. So be kind to yourself. It works!
Sense of humour: A sense of humour is important in so many ways. It helps to develop and maintain flexible perception. The moment you can see the funny side of some situation, you instantly reduce tension. Laughter is one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system. In our darkest or most scary moments it might be the only thing we have. Remember, humour should never be at the expense of suffering to others. One of the most important abilities in life is the capacity to recognise just how absurd we are.
What are the proven practices?
- Sleep properly
- Meditation (I include mindfulness in this)
These are all ordinary skills that can be learned, through clear intention and simple daily practice.
I will write more in my next newsletter about the practices. In the meantime, why not try out the attitudes described above and see what happens?
Wherever you are and however your life goes, I wish you peace, health and happiness.
From Cantabria with love.