“Our purpose is to enjoy all the wonders of life.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk through desert for a hundred miles repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
~ Mary Oliver
I received some good news recently. It was the reminder that these human lives we all have, these same ones that can seem so difficult and present so much struggle, are also a vehicle for joy. It is hard to remember that our purpose is to enjoy life when we see violence and hatred played out on the global stage, when our bodies are in pain, and basic goodness sounds like a marketing campaign for natural food, more that an identifiable human trait. It is a good practice to remind ourselves that it is OK to enjoy things, even when there is suffering around us. In fact, it is necessary to actively cultivate our appreciation of joy and noting its arrival. According to neuroscience, our thoughts, feelings, and sensations are produced by both mind and body. We cannot selectively numb our minds. When we numb our pain, we numb our joy. We believe that we can tough out the painful, mindful it away, and what’s left will be happiness, but that isn’t what happens. When we dismiss our pain and suffering, we learn to abandon ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us to hold our suffering like a drop of water in a river, embracing it completely. This way our bodies and minds know we are taking good care of them. This is the art of caring for our suffering. In the same way, we can fully embrace the joy in our lives, holding it tenderly. It is vitally important to cultivate our happiness because that is what gives us the capacity to be present for ourselves when things get tough.
A practice I use and recommend to others comes from a book called Ten breaths to Happiness, by Dharma teacher, Glen Schneider. This small book offers a powerful practice for noting and cultivating happiness. Often when we have a happy moment we push past, trying to find the problem, leaning towards the future with a list of projects and expectations. It is difficult and sometimes frightening to remain right here in the pleasant moment. This habit of threat vigilance is partly what kept our gene line alive through the millennia, but unchecked this mental tendency can create lives filled with anxiety and stress.
Glen writes that the time it takes to make a neural connection in the brain is about thirty seconds, or ten breaths. When we observe a pleasant feeling, a beautiful sight in nature, or hear music that makes us smile, we can develop the habit of stopping. We give ourselves over to this experience, relax our bodies and look deeply at the beautiful blooming sunset, or the face of our beloved. We notice where we experience delight in our bodies and minds. We make ourselves wholly present with this feeling for ten full breaths. This awareness and practice creates a neural path to happiness. As we build our mind maps and lay down more experiences of happiness, there is a greater connectivity. We actually notice more opportunities for happiness during the day. It’s like a muscle we exercise that gets stronger with repetition. We can increase our capacity for happiness by increasing our awareness and appreciation of the moments of happiness that exist in our lives. Please join me as we strengthen this habit of happiness by stopping and being present for our joy, ten breaths at a time.
May we all trust our light,