The Buddha said, “I would not be teaching this (a path of awakening) if genuine happiness and freedom were not possible.” While this is our potential, we each have deep conditioning to get stuck in feelings of fear, deficiency and separation from others. These talks explore the two interdependent pathways of undoing the conditioning that blocks our potential. In Part I we will look at how we can intentionally arouse states of well-being, and with practice, develop them into ongoing traits that bring presence and joy to our lives. In Part II, we will investigate how to cultivate an unconditional presence, and the radical acceptance and love, that are the grounds of true happiness and inner freedom.
Lama Gendun Rinpoche writes: “Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but it is already there, in relaxation and letting go.”
The Buddha said, “I would not be teaching this (a path of awakening) if genuine happiness and freedom were not possible.” While this is our potential, we each have deep conditioning to get stuck in feelings of fear, deficiency and separation from others. These talks explore the two interdependent pathways of undoing the conditioning that blocks our potential. In Part I we will look at how we can intentionally arouse states of wellbeing, and with practice, develop them into ongoing traits that bring presence and joy to our lives. In Part II, we will investigate how to cultivate an unconditional presence, and the radical acceptance and love, that are the grounds of true happiness and inner freedom.
Closing is from Danna Faulds: Do not let the day slip through your fingers, but live it fully now, this breath, this moment, catapulting you into full awareness. Time is precious, minutes disappearing like water into sand, unless you choose to pay attention. Since you do not know the number of your days, treat each as if it is your last.
Be that compassionate with yourself, that open and loving to others, that determined to give what is yours to give and to let in the energy and wonder of this world. Experience everything, writing, relating, eating, doing all the little necessary tasks of life as if for the first time…pushing nothing aside as unimportant. You have received these same reminders many times before, this time, take them into your soul. For if you choose to live this way, you will be rich beyond measure, grateful beyond words, and the day of your death will arrive with no regrets.
What You Practice Grows Stronger: Choosing Joy to De-Condition Our Negativity Bias
Some years back, I was talking with a woman in our community. She was a breast cancer survivor and she told me about a conversation that she had with a friend who also was a survivor. Her friend asked her, “What would it feel like for you to think that something good might happen, rather than something bad?” Her response was, “Totally weird and uncomfortable. “Good,” her friend said. “Try it now.”
From an evolutionary perspective, it really makes sense that we feel uncomfortable when we envision positive things coming our way. Our brains are designed to scan for trouble and fixate on what might go wrong in any given situation. This is described as the negativity bias and it one of our hard wired survival strategies. Of course, it is a very good strategy for avoiding real danger. But, in the absence of a true threat, it limits our capacity for enjoying, and celebrating our moments. We have such a short time on planet earth. When the negativity bias rules, we get very loyal to our anxiety, mistrust and vigilance. We cannot inhabit the fullness of our lives.
In happiness research, a common denominator among those who are deemed “happy” is a sense that they are actually choosing to be happy. They believe that happiness is possible and there is a willingness to turn towards it. Catholic mystic and writer Henri Nouwen writes:
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and then keep choosing it every day.”
More and more, we are becoming familiar with the principal of neuroplasticity. We know that how we pay attention can actually rewire the structure and the function of our brain. It is said that where attention goes, energy flows. Intentionally turning towards joy cultivates a pathway that uplifts our minds and undoes the negativity-bias. It creates a kind of an inner atmosphere that allows true happiness to unfold itself.
This is an important understanding because, when we run through our thoughts over and over again, it creates a certain biochemistry in the body that then perpetuates more of the same. Whatever you practice grows stronger. If we practice judgment and anxious worrying, those grow stronger. Likewise, when we practice gratitude or sending well wishes to others, then those are the pathways that deepen and flourish.
One way that we can begin to entrain our minds to gladness is by really noticing and savoring our moments of joy. Just 20-30 seconds of immersing ourselves in the feelings evoked by the hug of a dear friend or the laughter of a grandchild can strengthen the neural pathways in the brain. It is radical and transformative to pause and sense the goodness that is right here in this moment. When we experience gladness for simple things, we know we really can be happy, no matter what.
I hope you enjoy this short reflection on how savoring our moments can help decondition the brain’s negativity bias and lead to a greater sense of happiness and well-being:
If we’re in the trance of unworthiness, we can’t embrace each other and our world in an open-hearted way. In this short video, I share a story (a personal favorite!) of what’s possible when we shine a light on the habits of self-aversion that block our well-being.
Part 3: Joy – blossoms in the moments our hearts open boundlessly to reality, to the 10,000 joys and sorrows.
This series reflects on four primary expressions of an awake, wise heart: lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. In each talk we explore the habitual patterning that blocks our full realization of these innate capacities, and the understandings and practices that nurture their unfolding.
Happiness cannot be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already here, right now,
in relaxation and letting go.
When we notice that we’re in the trance of “if-only” mind, we can choose to re-open and surrender to what is right here. When we make that U-Turn and stay with our experience with kindness, we find a sense of goodness in that presence. This is the beginning of joy.
Lama Gendun Rinpoche writes, “Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but it is already there, in relaxation and letting go.” This meditation turns us toward this naturally arising happiness by awakening awareness through the body, and then practicing “relaxing back,” over and over, into the aliveness and presence that is always here.
Taste what it’s like, in the body and in the heart, to feel a sense of your own being when you’re helping. “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know that I am moving from fear to love.” – Henri Nouwen.
There is an inner freedom that expresses as happiness and peace, and it is accessible when we arrive in openhearted presence. As the Buddha said, “If it were not possible to find liberation, I would not teach about it.” In this two part talk, we will look at the conditioning that blocks happiness and two primary pathways of practice that evolve our consciousness and free our hearts.
“We rarely pause when we see something that’s delicious or beautiful or that brings up wonder. We barely pause and just take it in. We really don’t pause much, which is really the essence of savoring…”