connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
I am going to tell you how to be happy. But before I do I am going to tell you a story. This story is about how I forgot about happiness.
It was one summer and I was one of the group facilitators at a personal growth holiday on a Greek island. In this collective community, people ate, socialized and took group workshops and courses together. I was giving a therapy workshop and running an early morning meditation. It was going well and people seemed to think I had something to offer. One lunchtime we were sitting around digesting our delicious food and sipping tea when one of the group members asked me, “How do you become happy?” “Aw, you’re not still trying to do that are you?” I remarked sardonically. The questioner withered and onlookers murmured their admiration; one or two told me later that they thought I was “spiritually advanced”. But the truth was that I was jaded about happiness. So to defend myself, I acted as if it was beneath me. I took more pride in the struggle, the application of effort and the ordeal. In a way I had gone from wanting happiness to boycotting it and by a kind of emotional logic it seemed to be a real place that I had arrived in. What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t the end. All my life I had made advances and arrived somewhere and thought to myself, “Oh, I get it, this is it; this must be it.” But of course it never is, because there’s always further to go. That’s how it was with happiness, I found out later when, stumbling in the darkness where all the best discoveries are made, I encountered happiness in an entirely new way. This time it wasn’t the focus, the goal or even the intention. This time it was merely a side-effect, a perk—it arose in an unexpected manner, expansive and unassailable, when I remembered happiness..
So, I am going to tell you how to be happy. Really happy or genuinely happy…not pretends happy. There are three rules or attitudes to remember and practice. Practice is the key element here. It is not and never is enough to know, to collect knowledge and become clever. Real intelligence is recognizing the need to practice, what to practice and how to practice it. These are the three principles:
The First Principle is Love
The Second Principle is Forgive
The Third Principle is Accept
We are usually unaware of our mood or temper, even less aware of our habitual state of mind and oblivious to our customary emotions and behavior. This principle begins with a new practice that doesn’t even challenge the status quo. It begins where you want to be – happy. I want you to cultivate the disposition of love. You are used to a disposition of irritation, of frustration or hurt or anger or sadness or depression. Now whatever your previous disposition was, replace it with the disposition of love. This means that your prevailing tendency, your mood and your temperamental makeup will from now on become one of warmth, kindness and consideration, inclining toward your fellow human beings with tolerance and generosity. And not only to them, but to all other sentient beings as well as inanimate objects and all events and circumstances. You become gentler with yourself, more inclined towards reconciliation and forgiveness (which is the second principle).
Here is the exercise to start you off. First imagine love extending to those closest to you. The easiest ones for you to love include your family, children, husband, wife, partner, boy/girlfriend, mother, father, relatives, work colleagues and special friends.
Then extend this love feeling into your slightly more distant acquaintances. Using your life activities as a guide, bring more and more people to mind as you extend the field further and further outward toward people to whom you are only tacitly connected, but who nonetheless feature in your life.
Now what begins to come to light is that you see that some people are harder for you to love than others and it is these ones you are now going to concentrate on.
Dismiss negative thoughts about these people. They are the real challenge for you. For it is these people who will enable you to increase the feeling of love in you. Increasing your inner experience of love allows you to expand and extend your heart—and this is the important part—the love you extend to them will return to you.
Now you are beginning to create a reciprocal circle of love, persist in the disposition of love and, everyday, be mindful of the positive benefits to your well-being, your health and your happiness.
Not forgiving hurts you the most. It causes you far more pain than it causes anyone else. You are suffering. Consider it; you harbor resentment, bitterness, blame and unforgiveness in your heart the whole time, while the one you blame hardly thinks of you at all and gets off scot-free! While you suffer 24/7.
Now here’s the serious part: why do you do it? As you work down through the layers you find the one absolutely clear and resonant reason shamefully, guiltily reveals itself by crawling out of your unconsciousness like an oily smoo; it is that resentment is the raw material of the self – to maintain the separate, divisive, unforgiving model of the individual entity you are creating and identifying with, you must feel angry about something or someone…all the time.
The simplest, most effective method to start forgiveness as a daily practice is to hold the person you want to forgive in your heart. Let them be there as often as you can and don’t waver. The more reasons that are presented by your judgment, criticism and blame for throwing them out of your heart, the more firmly you keep them there. Let them simply melt in your heart, because they’re not really what this is all about anyway. What this is really about is your need to suffer (remember?) and preserve your individual sense of self. And you have finished with this foolishness now…and forever. So hold all the life events, relationships, wrong-doings, resentful acts and unfairness you can think of in your heart and over time you will not only release the unforgiven, you will find that you are free.
Now you are beginning to create a reciprocal circle of forgiveness, persist in holding people, events and relationships in your heart and melting them with profound acceptance and, everyday, be mindful of the positive benefits to your well-being, your health and your happiness.
Acceptance is one of the most powerful principles for inner well-being. Acceptance in the psycho-spiritual sense is often misunderstood. It does not imply in any way condoning, approving, even tacitly, or supporting wrong-doing, immorality or downright evil deeds. That is about libertarianism and the granting of license, a sort of anything goes mentality. No, acceptance in the sense in which it is meant in the third principle for happiness is the attitude that somehow everything fundamentally is unfolding as it should, in a way which we might be unable to understand. Also implied is that our attitude and meeting of events in openness, receptivity and an underlying wisdom which receives the mystery of life, our ability to be with the unknown, with uncertainty to not have to prescribe and anticipate life events constantly. We know in this wisdom that life is somehow fundamentally good. And it is; even the worst events turn out to reveal some beauty of soul and spirit in both individual and collective humanity. We only have to look at the very worst examples of human suffering to see that the light of truth shines, if anything, ever more brightly in troubled times of despair and darkness. The eclipse of love is only a period before the light bursts through and shines again.
Let us now turn to the all-essential practice. Start with your breath and relax. Then slowly and gradually become aware of everything in, out and about you—emotionally, physically, mentally, energetically, spiritually, inwardly and outwardly…sounds, tastes, smells, touch, what you see with eyes open or shut…be aware of it all and accept it…and accepting it, means not wishing it to be other than it is at present, right now…not regarding it with a sense of lack, or progression, or future orientation, or criticism, evaluation or judgment. Allowing everything inside and outside and around you and in your expanded field of concern and relationship to be alright just as it is.
Now you are beginning to create a reciprocal circle of acceptance, persist in holding people, events and relationships in your heart and melting them with profound acceptance and, everyday, be mindful of the positive benefits to your well-being, your health and your happiness.
The practice of happiness is profound and crucial; its worth immeasurable. So devote thirty minutes at the beginning and the end of your days to these three practices (ten minutes each). After a month you may decrease the time you spend practicing the three principles of happiness, if you wish. But you might find you enjoy them too much to stop. In any case the effects after a month will be significant and the practice will continue in your heart and mind even if you stop…with surprising results over time.