As strange as it sounds, meditation may reveal that we are happier than we thought we were. We may discover that ancient conditioning rather than present circumstances is causing our dissatisfaction, and that this moment is quite sufficient or even wonderful, and we simply hadn’t noticed. (From Buddha’s Nature: A Practical Guide to Discovering Your Place in the Cosmos by Wes Nisker)
Dear Still Water Friends,
I smiled when I heard the above quote read in our Takoma Park morning sitting group. It cuts right to an essential truth of mindfulness practice. When I later reflected on the ways my own ancient conditioning smothered my happiness, two ways came quickly to mind.
When I was very young I learned that the way to feel good about myself and attain a sense of security was to be approved of by others, especially family members and teachers. My conditioning gave me a oversized need for external validation. Essentially, it went like this: “I’m ok if you think I’m ok.” For a child with little power in an insecure environment this is a reasonable survival strategy. However, as an adult, always giving others the power to decide if I’m worthwhile, without developing my own sense of the appropriateness of my actions, is a pathway to suffering.
Also as a child, I learned to be upset by others if they did not respond to my requests or needs in the way that I wanted. The upset might turn inwards in the form of sadness or withdrawal, or it might turn toward the other in the form of judgment or anger. Rarely did I consider the causes and conditions that influenced the person that upset me. And I could not see that my unhappiness came from holding on to a unrealistic expectation: that the other person would act in a way other than the way they were acting. This is hard to do as an emotionally needy child. However, as an adult, I can have a deeper understanding of myself and the other person, My expectations can change. Even though I might prefer someone to act in a different way, I am prepared for him or her to act in ways that disappoint me, and therefore the actions disappoint me less. This holds true for past disappointments as well. A clearer understanding of causes and conditions allows me to release long-held resentments.
Happily, as Nisker notes, our ancient conditioning often comes into awareness and is transformed when meditation enters our lives. When we slow our minds down with sitting and walking meditation, we are better able to directly experience the vitality of life — a form of internal validation. And, in meditation we are better able to separate our actual experiences of life from the stories we tell ourselves about how other people should respond to us (or should have responded).
This Thursday evening our Dharma sharing will focus on the ancient conditioning that may be impeding our happiness. How has ancient (and dysfunctional) conditioning manifested in our lives? In what ways has it been transformed by mindfulness?
You are invited to be with us.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in the related excerpt below, explains how we can be happy wherever we are.
by Thich Nhat Hanh from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings
When you realize your own capacity to be happy anywhere, you can put down roots in the present moment. You can take whatever the conditions of the present moment are and make them the foundation of your life and your happiness. When the sun is shining, you are happy. When it is raining, you are also happy. You don’t need to go anywhere else. You don’t need to travel into the future or return to the past. Everything in the present moment belongs to your true home. All the conditions for happiness are here. You only have to touch the seeds of happiness that are already in you.
When you enter a well-tended garden and see a fresh, beautiful rose, you want to pick it. But to do so, you have to touch some thorns. The rose is there, but the brambles are also there. You have to find a way to understand the thorns so you can pick the rose. Our practice is the same. Don’t say that because there are thorns you cannot be happy. Don’t say that because there is still anger or sadness in your heart, you cannot enjoy anything at all. You have to know how to deal with your anger and sadness so you don’t lose the flowers of joy.
When our internal formations (samyojana) and suffering are dormant in our store consciousness, it is a good time to practice watering the positive seeds. When feelings of pain come into our conscious mind, we have to breathe mindfully and practice walking meditation in order to deal with those feelings. Don’t lose the opportunity to water the seeds of happiness, so that more seeds of happiness will enter your store consciousness.