Strategies for Happiness

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, which is the first Thursday of March, we’ll start with a guided meditation, Love Meditation, which is below. The meditation wishes joy and happiness for ourselves: “May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.” But how do we actually do this?

When I feel stress—emotional strain, uncertainty, ill-at-ease—I have several responses depending on the circumstances:

  1. reach for chocolate

  2. blame someone else

  3. blame myself

  4. distract myself

  5. reach for chocolate

  6. go for a walk

  7. come back to my breath

  8. go into an endless feedback loop of thoughts on why this sucks, that person sucks, or things should be different, etc.

When we settle into mindfulness practice, most of us see that many of our behaviors and decisions we’ve made revolve around various strategies for happiness. We act because we think that action will make us happy. We just know that if that person falls in love with us, all will be right with the world and with us, for example.

But with the experience of life, we often find things don’t work as planned. Many of our assumptions were wrong, people behaved differently than we expected, circumstances changed, we failed, and so on. In addition, the very notion of having a strategy implies changing things as they are, resisting what is before us, and insisting that things must be a certain way in order for us to be happy.

Mindfulness practice challenges this approach to happiness on several levels. It offers us a chance to wake up to these decisions, habits, and reactions and see them for what they are. Mindfulness helps us cultivate a calmer mind to be able to discern what is actually happening and whether our habitual reactions have a real prospect for success. Becoming aware of the underlying discomfort and the strategies we’ve adopted doesn’t mean there’s a magic cure, it just gives us enough space so that over time we can develop the freedom to choose how to respond and, if we’re lucky, see what’s underneath our discomfort and our strategies for happiness.

Mindfulness also challenges the notion that happiness comes from outside or from fulfilling predetermined notions. When our strategy is founded on holding onto something or reinforcing the notion that we are separate and independent beings who can thrive on our own, then our strategy is necessarily flawed. When our strategy is to accept this moment for what it is and experience it fully; to know that billions of other beings share this moment in which we are not separate or alone; to find ways to look with understanding, acceptance, and love, then our strategy has a chance at deep and lasting happiness.

Those words are easy to say, but living this way goes against our popular culture’s core messages about happiness and how to see ourselves. So this Thursday, we’ll talk about our experience with happiness and our strategies around it. What are your strategies for happiness? What are the assumptions about you, your world, and how you experience life that those strategies rest upon? How’s that working for you? What are the alternatives?

I hope you can be with us to share your experiences and practice.

Scott Schang

Snow Note! If Montgomery County schools are closed on Thursday or evening events are cancelled, there will be no sitting at Crossing Thursday night. Still Water’s cancellation policies are here.

Special Note: Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Monastics will be offering retreats and days of mindfulness in North America, August to October, 2013. Information is available at .

Love Meditation

The meditation below is the Plum Village adaptation of Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. There are many versions in the various Buddhist traditions. What is common to all of them is wishing yourself safety; peacefulness and happiness; health; and well-being. Then you repeat the meditation, but with a focus on a loved one. Then you focus on someone for whom you have no particularly strong feelings. Then you focus on someone with whom you have difficulties. Over time, this helps to open our hearts and to melt away the misunderstanding of ourselves as separate and alone.

May I be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.

May I be safe and free from injury.

May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and of love

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself

May I learn to identify and see the seeds of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.

May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.

May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

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