Have you ever heard someone use the expression, “Shut the front door!”? It’s a funny way of expressing surprise about news you have received.
Part of the Second Mindfulness Training states, “I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.”
Shut the front door!!! I’ve spent a good bit of my life arranging my circumstances so that I can be happy. Even now living far away from family I often slip into thinking if only I lived closer to the grandkids, then I would be happy. If only I had more money to go visit family, then I would be happy.
However, when I take stock of what I do have here and now, I find that because I have my health, meaningful work and a safe place to live, some pretty awesome friends and my sangha as well as many opportunities and flexibility to go visit family, I really do have more than enough conditions to be happy. My unhappiness comes from my attachment to my view that things have to be a certain way in order for me to be happy. I can become very unhappy watching the news. If only different people were running the country, if only the coronavirus wasn’t harming people, if only people would listen to scientists about climate change… I bet you have a list of “if onlys,” too.
In his book The Mindfulness Survival Kit , Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes:
If you haven’t been able to be happy, maybe it’s because you are holding firmly to your idea of happiness. Release that idea and happiness can come more easily. Imagine that there are many doors that open to happiness. If you open every door, then happiness has many ways to come to you. But the situation is you have closed all the doors but one, and that is why happiness can’t come. So don’t close any doors. Open all the doors. Don’t just commit yourself to one idea of happiness. Release the idea of happiness that you have, then happiness can come today. Many of us are caught in an idea about how we can truly be happy. To be a good practitioner, sit down and reexamine your idea of happiness.
The words “I am committed to …” are present in the beginnings of each of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. When it comes to being truly happy, what does that commitment look like? I have some things I do that help me. I think gratitude is important for remembering I have what I need to be happy. I have kept a gratitude journal for years. Noticing the critical voice in my head and where it comes from is helpful, being a part of a spiritual community is great also. Being generous with my time and resources is also good practice. Taking a little time every day to sit and breathe always helps.
Here are two questions that come to mind for me when examining the Second Mindfulness Training:
- What are the obstacles we face that keep us from being truly happy, peaceful, and content?
- Am I doing enough to nourish true happiness in others?
After examining the idea of opening doors presented by Thay, perhaps instead of “shut the front door” I can say open the front door instead.
On February 13 we will examine ways we can open all the doors to happiness that benefits ourselves and others. We will do a fun little exercise to help with the process of opening doors and have the opportunity to share how we open doors or share about obstacles to opening doors. I hope you can join us.
Below are the text of the Second Mindfulness Training and an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on True Happiness.
True Happiness, The Second Mindfulness Training
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.
I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power, and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to working in a way that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.
This is the second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Have I made an effort to study and practice it during the past few weeks?
An Idea of Happiness from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh:
We have an idea of happiness. We believe that only certain conditions will make us happy. But it is often our very idea of happiness that prevents us from being happy. We have to look deeply into our perceptions in order to become free of them. Then, what has been a perception becomes an insight, a realization of the path. This is neither perception nor non-perception. It is a clear vision, seeing things as they are.
Our happiness and the happiness of those around us depend on our degree of Right View. Touching reality deeply—knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves—is the way to liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused by wrong perceptions. Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path. It is the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love.