Our Responsibility to be Happy

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama XIV

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s our duty to society to be happy.  At face value it seems self-centred and indulgent to seek happiness when there’s so much suffering in the world. It seems like a ‘blow you Jack, I’m alright!’ type attitude. However, the more I think about it and watch life going on around me, the more I believe that if we could make it our priority to be happy then the world would be a much better place.

During a recent visit to a supermarket a woman barged into me with the force of a rhino (I’ll refrain from commenting on her size!). Slightly winded and taken by surprise I found myself apologising –  as you do! (For some reason the British have this strange habit of apologising for things they haven’t done. There is a wonderful book called Watching the English by Kate Fox which investigates English behaviour – and the author spent an afternoon bumping into people and discovered that over 80% apologised to her  for bumping into them!)     

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            So sorry that you bumped into me!         Image courtesy of Pixabay

 I obviously didn’t apologise loud enough – or perhaps the woman was deaf as well as bloody rude – and I found myself on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse. “Don’t F…..g say sorry then” she yelled as she shoved her trolley into mine, grazing my knuckles in the process. Stupidly, despite her obnoxious behaviour, I began to explain that I had apologised even though she had in fact bumped into me but she stormed off, leaving me mumbling to myself like a crazy lady.

No longer in the mood for shopping, due to indignant outrage, I picked up a few more things and headed for the checkout. No points for guessing who was at the checkout next to mine. Yes, the charging rhino who was now venting her anger at the poor man at the till.

She was clearly not a happy bunny and I felt sorry for whoever was waiting for her at home.

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Grumpy = difficult  Image courtesy of Pixabay

Observation tells me that unhappy people tend to be self-focussed, rude, difficult and antagonistic. I’m not talking about sad unhappy but miserable unhappy. Miserable people make it their mission in life to make everyone else’s lives on par with their own. Happy people on the other hand tend to be more tolerant, flexible and generally nicer people. Happiness is infectious. Being around happy people makes you feel good despite your own problems.

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Happy = nice to be around Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

So, how do we seek happiness and fulfil our planetary duties?

A new car…that would make me very happy! A month in the Caribbean…how could I be miserable sunning myself on a beach there? Obviously it is my responsibility to be happy so Lastminute.com here I come!!

But do these things really make me happy? Momentarily, yes. Then I revert to my baseline level of happiness. The level that is me. The level that, whatever the problem or pleasure, I revert to in everyday life. Once I’ve overcome the awe of sitting on a Caribbean beach for a few days I get a bit bored and think how nice it would be if I could wander around an art gallery and get out of the heat!

My daughter has travelled a lot and worked as a volunteer in small villages in Uganda and Cambodia and she tells me that the people there seemed happy with life. Despite having very little, they were happier than many that she meets at home. (Home as in England – not home, home…we’re not generally a miserable bunch). They were always willing to share their evening meal, which consisted of a few floating bits in a watery broth. They had more than their fair share of problems, as you can imagine, but their baseline level of happiness was higher than many who have acquired an abundance of material goods.

Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by eternal events” The Art of Happiness, HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.

The key is not to confuse happiness with pleasure. Pleasure comes and goes but the aim is to achieve a higher baseline level of happiness. We clearly need the basics of a roof over our head, food in our stomachs and clothes to wear but does all the extra bits really make us happy? It’s all about our attitude to life and we can do a lot to change our expectations in order to achieve greater joy.

I truly believe it’s our priority in life – our contribution to the planet, if you like – to seek happiness. It’s neither self-indulgent nor selfish. Hard work it may be, to express more love and affection and smile at everyone; sometimes nearly impossible to show compassion when you’re angry and frustrated but the more it’s practised the easier it becomes (so all the books say!). Over time, less things irritate and annoy – and this raises the baseline level of happiness. .

Simples!

 

 

Synchronicity or just coincidence?

Synchronicity: “The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection”www.oxforddictionaries.com

I recently read a book called Synchrodestiny by Deepak Chopra explaining that there is no such thing as coincidence; events are carefully coordinated to give us opportunities for growth. There are sign posts everywhere (apparently) if we are alert enough to see them. Well, I can’t see them for looking – as the expression goes.

How do you know when the universe is trying to tell you something when you have no idea what you’re looking for? It’s impossible to interpret every single incident trying to look for clues. It can drive you crazy – I know because I tried it for a day and ended up with a headache.

We’ve all experienced those uncanny moments that give us pause for thought – which we then invariably dismiss as freaky coincidences. As Deepak Chopra says, ‘Your car breaks down on a deserted road, and just when you had resigned yourself to being stranded for hours, the very first vehicle that comes along is a tow truck”.

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What is it trying to tell me? 

Are these experiences signs and if so how do we interpret them?

My sister called recently to say she had awoken with a song in her head, an old song from her ipod that she hadn’t listened to for some time. An hour later in the car on her way to work, not liking the current topic on the radio, she tuned into a music station and yes, you can guess the rest. Same song. She asked me what I made of it and all I could offer was that perhaps there was something in the song that was relevant to her current circumstances. Not that she was aware of, she replied. Perhaps there was, perhaps there wasn’t, how are we to know?  

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The planets know exactly where they are going.

Although I am far from understanding how synchronicity works and a million miles away from understanding any sort of divine message, I am a fan of the whole ‘working behind the scenes’ theory. Nature, in its chaos, is carefully coordinated. The solar system is ordered. Although talk of destiny implies we have no control over our future, that everything is already mapped out, I don’t see it like that. I see it more as a guiding hand which strives to bring us what we need – and these needs are constantly changing depending on our daily actions and decisions. (A blog for another day).

I had an experience some years ago that pointed in a particular direction; one that fortunately I didn’t ignore. With the children away at university I had been trying to think of a hobby that I could take up and continue into later life. Something that didn’t tie me to a place or time.

One morning as I showered for work the idea of writing popped into my head. Due to my general lack of artistic talent and creativity I dismissed it immediately and thought no more about it. My trek to work that morning was stressful as there were long delays on the tube, forcing me to walk the last part of the journey. In the whole year I had been at this job I had never had to walk along that particular road.

There was a fierce wind so I kept my head down (plus I usually look at the pavement to avoid picking up anything nasty on my shoes!). About half way along I looked up at the building I was passing and it said Kogan Publishers. I was excited. A link to writing. As soon as I arrived at work I Googled it. They published business books and I was disappointed, convinced it would be a literary publishers after my thoughts in the shower.

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The phone is a bit of a distraction.!

That evening after dinner my husband was flicking through the TV channels (as usual) and I was reading (as usual) and suddenly for about ten seconds he picked up a programme on authors. The short clip I heard was Martina Cole saying ‘You don’t have to be a great literary person to write’ or something along those lines. Three events linked to writing and publishing within a twelve hour period. Surely this was no coincidence. I decided that writing a novel was something I could do anywhere in the world as long as I had a laptop (and a cup of coffee or a glass of Pinot Grigio).

During my next visit to the library I took out a mountain of books on creative writing and began to learn the craft. That was four years ago. My interest has never waned, in fact it has increased. To this day I believe it was the universe guiding me.

So make of that what you will but it certainly piqued my interest in synchronicity versus coincidence and if a book falls off the shelf in Waterstones and lands at your feet I suggest you take a good look at it – just in case.

 

The New Normal

We have a normal. As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal. - Robin Sharma

There has been much talk, as Coronavirus holds the world to ransom, of social distancing becoming the new normal until a treatment or vaccine is found. This virus has bred fear and mistrust of indulging in the most basic of human instincts:  touch

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No longer are we able to hug our loved ones and friends if they’re not of our immediate household. We cannot shake hands when meeting someone new – although there’s very little of that going on at the moment. Our body language, particularly towards strangers, is becoming ever-increasingly hostile.

virus-4898571__340While taking a walk we cross the road to avoid getting too close – often afraid to exchange greetings, fearful our breaths may mingle. We are being starved of the love and affection that nourishes our souls.

So why do we conform just because the government tells us to stay at least two meters apart? Why to we keep our adult children on the drive when they lovingly bring shopping? Why do we tell our grandchildren – who we love beyond measure – that they cannot come to visit? Why do we stay at home?

To save the NHS?

Partly, but the real reason – I believe – is to satisfy that deep, innate sense within us:  Survival. Ultimately, we are afraid to die and whatever horrors we suffer, the instinct to survive kicks in. This deeply-embedded drive, which ensures the continuation of our species, gives us one of the greatest tools we have on this Earth:  The ability to adapt.

Whatever shattering experience rocks our world, whether it’s the death of someone we love, divorce, losing our job, we learn to live with the consequences. Not always happily but our way of life settles into a new routine: a different pattern. A new normal.

I just hope, for the sanity of mankind, social distancing is a temporary “new normal” and fear of human contact doesn’t become so ingrained we continue distancing even after scientists have found a way to keep us safe from the clutches of Coronavirus.

I suspect our fear of being in close contact with others will be temporary. After all, Coronavirus is not the first to terrorise our world. Our ancestors have suffered The Plague, Smallpox, Diphtheria – to name just a few. All of which were highly contagious, with devastatingly high mortality rates. These diseases would also have brought fear of close human contact.

But our species is ultimately built on love. We create new life through love and we thrive on touch, affection and kindness and I believe that, given time, our need for love will supersede our fears.

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Tao Te Ching Verse 3

Society today encourages ambition and prestige. Many aspire to celebrity status or to be successful entrepreneurs; many believe success is measured by position in society and possessions obtained.

Verse 3 of the Tao shows us how this way of life creates imbalance in the world.

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Translation by John Macdonald

Verse 3

If you over-esteem talented individuals
people will become overly competitive.
If you overvalue possessions
people will begin to steal.

Do not display your treasures
or people will become envious.

The Master leads by
Emptying people’s minds,
filling their bellies,
weakening their ambitions,
and making them become strong.
Preferring simplicity and freedom
from desires,
avoiding the pitfalls of knowledge and wrong action.

For those who practise not-doing
Everything will fall into place.

The first four lines say that we create imbalance by placing greater value on some things more than others. We refer to someone as ‘clever’ or a possession as ‘expensive’.

What exactly does this mean, as everything in life is relative to something else.

A BMW car is more expensive than a Ford Mondeo; a Bentley more expensive than the BMW. Therefore desire is never satisfied because there is always something greater to own – or something better to achieve…and there is always someone more clever!

emphasising the need for more highlights the perceived ‘lack’ and makes people unhappy, dissatisfied, envious and covetous. Even those that do succeed are rarely satisfied for long, because they’re still locked into the mindset of ‘striving but never arriving’. Daily-tao.blogspot

If we were satisfied with the basic needs: a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, surrounded by people we love this imbalance could be redressed. The verse goes on to say that relinquishing ambition and desire makes for a happier, more balanced society.

The Tao is:
‘Urging us to forsake the demented race to perpetually accumulate and acquire, he instead advises us to empty our minds and weaken our ambitions….by letting go of our ambitions, desires and all the things we think we need in order to be happy, we stop projecting our happiness into the future and can instead be at peace and content in the present moment, now.Daily-tao.blogspot.

Weakening our ambitions and letting go of our desire for possessions does not mean we stagnate. Instead, we grow by moving forward with enthusiasm for the simple things in life – without the excesses and indulgences.

I am writing this during Lockdown of the Coronavirus pandemic. Those whose work is non-essential have been told to stay at home. A world recession is imminent as the economy comes to a halt. Rich and poor will suffering due to lack of income. Rich and poor will lose loved ones. The virus does not discriminate.

What value is the Bentley when you are not permitted to drive it? What is the value in competition when you are not free to compete? The Olympic Games have been cancelled, television filming has halted, the James Bond movie premiere delayed. Many businesses will inevitably go bust.

As people are forced to stay at home, a different way of living will emerge. Some will find it hard to cope; some will just be bored. Others – if their lives have not been devastated by the virus – will spend time with their families; spend time in the garden; take up a hobby they have been too busy to indulge in.  Desire and ambition will be placed on hold as there will be no means to satisfy them for the time being.

Without the need to chase possessions and status, life will be simple and perhaps a new freedom will emerge.

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Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Fankl

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s search for Meaning is one of the great books of our time. Typically, if a book has one passage, one idea with the power to change a person’s life, that alone justifies reading and re-reading it and finding room for it on one’s shelves. This book has several such passages – Harold S Kushner.

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The book is divided into two sections. The first comprises the experiences of Frankl’s internment in several concentration camps during World War 2; the second details a theory he proposes called Logotherapy, which involves looking to the future in an effort to find meaning in life with the view to improving every day existence.

Although there are many disturbing events detailed in the first part of the book, Frankl has focussed on using his skills as a psychoanalyst to try to work out why some people survive such horrendous circumstances and others do not. What is it that enables one to cope and another to give up?

Frankl believes it is linked with man’s view on the meaning of life.

It is something that most grapple with at some point in their lives. What meaning does life have? This does not refer to the all encompassing ‘what is the meaning of existence for humanity’ but more of ‘what is the meaning of life for me?’

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters therefore is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

Frankl says that as the prisoners were transported to the camps many were still under the illusion they would be reprieved; that all would be well. They still had hope and therefore retained the desire to survive. Soon after they arrived, however, hope faded with the horrors of their ordeal and with it their will to live.

During what Frankl terms “the first phase of our psychological reactions” most considered suicide as they viewed the future with little hope. Some took their lives by running into the electric fence surrounding the camp – so desperate were they.

The second phase, which came after the initial shock and the desire to kill oneself, brought apathy and a form of emotional death. Many of the prisoners would no longer avert their eyes to the constant beatings of the other prisoners; they no longer felt any emotion when watching someone being tortured.

Frankl describes how, on one occasion, a twelve year old boy was forced to stand to attention for hours in the snow and then to work outside with bare feet because there were no shoes for him. His toes became frostbitten and the doctors on duty picked off the black stumps. As the other prisoners watched they no longer felt disgust, horror or pity. This deadening of emotions occurred within just a few weeks of exposure to such horrors.

Gone was hope and any meaning to life.

Frankl – one of the few who survived the concentration camps – believed that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation” and it is possible this way of thinking, and his determination not to allow any given situation to destroy him, that enhanced Frankl’s chances of survival.

Frankl also observed that:

In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen…they were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature.”

Frankl believed that such intense experiences provided the opportunity for spiritual growth and with it the hope of a better future. His view was that even suffering provided meaning to life if you viewed it as such.

“When a man finds it his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

It is possible to see all around us those who find meaning in their suffering: Charities set up in the name of loved ones who have died, such as the Willow foundation. This was founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson and his wife Megs after their daughter, Anna, died of cancer. The charity provides special days for children and young people who are very ill, to give them something to look forward to.

Megan’s Law in the United States was passed after the parents of Megan Kanka – raped and murdered at the age of 7 – campaigned to have a law passed enabling communities to be warned of sex offenders in the areas in which they lived.

Some, at the death of a child or a loved one, can no longer find any meaning to life whereas others use this suffering to help others and therefore find some meaning to their own lives.

As expressed by Harold Kushner in the introductory quote there are many passages in Man’s Search for Meaning that have the power to change the way we view life. One is that we have the opportunity to choose how we respond to any given situation we find ourselves in. Whether this is a life-changing event or a more chronic leeching of our sense of self, ultimately we can choose how to respond to it. Some situations we are unable to change but we still have the choice to accept what it has to offer. Frankl believes this can determine whether we sink or swim.

Another is that life can have meaning whatever situation we are in. Meaning can be found in suffering – as the examples above show – and it can also be found in the boredom of the daily routine as boredom often spurs us on to change what is not working in our lives if we approach it in the correct way.

Man’s Search for Meaning was written over seventy years ago but its message is timeless. This book will be read in years to come and will still have the power to change the life of its reader.

Tao Te Ching Verse 2

The essence of Verse 2 of the Tao is duality; the world of opposites. The physical world depends upon duality for meaning. It is essential for the functioning of day to day life. The key is understanding when duality is serving a purpose and when it is creating disharmony.

This translation is by John McDonald

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Verse 2

When people see things as beautiful,
Ugliness is created
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy complement each other
Long and short define each other
high and low oppose each other
before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
can act without doing anything
and teach without saying a word
Things come her way and she does not stop them
things leave and she lets them go
she has without possessing
and acts without any expectations.
When her work is done, she takes no credit.
That is why it will last forever.

The first four lines show how duality is used to create disharmony – when people see things as good, evil is created.

The following four lines show that opposites have a practical use and cause no offence – difficult and easy complement each other.

Yet everything is subjective.

Dark clouds and the prospect of rain bring joy to those who live in countries where the crops fail due to lack of water; heavy downpours to put out devastating forest fires are considered a blessing. Those affected by frequent floods, however, cry out in despair when they see bruised skies overhead, knowing their homes may be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future.

We determine what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ through our own experiences.

So the first four lines suggest that, by labelling things, we create definitions which we believe to be true: he is beautiful/she is ugly. But who is deciding this? Who determines what is good and what is bad?

The paragraph below offers some understanding:

The prickled stem leads up to the flower of the rose. No person is simply good or bad. Both extremes are inside of us, and in a multitude of nuances. Any personality is a mystery beyond explanation. We can only observe the actions by which that personality expresses itself.   If we allow morals to influence our judgments, we are unable to be objective. Then there is a risk that the punishment of a deed is far worse than the deed itself.  So, the sage refrains from judging. He is very hesitant to interfere, or to insist that his opinion should be respected. He is reluctant to lead, and refuses to be followed. He is an example without pointing it out. - taoistic.com.

The solution to the issues of duality can be found in the last stanza. The paragraph below – by the Understanding Tao blog – also provides insight:

By acting only when action is natural and unforced, and requesting no praise for their action, the taoist avoids having been, better or worse, or right or wrong.  The action was taken when the time for action arrived.  Then the action was forgotten.  In this way one may move with the Tao without creating duality.

The Tao is asking us to accept what happens, act appropriately for the situation and then let it go. Holding on to a situation and labelling it as good or bad serves no purpose and can colour our future behaviour.

We all have our likes and dislikes; our opinions on every subject. Are we right? We believe so but then we are only making those judgements through the filter of our own experiences. This is all too evident in politics. But if you take a step back it is easier to see that all arguments have elements of right and wrong.

My understanding of the message in Verse 2 of the Tao is to refrain from judgement; refrain from casting an opinion. Give without expectation of anything in return. Act as you see fit for any given situation and then let it go. Teach by example rather than with words.

Many are able to see this truth and have already taken steps towards making the world a better place. Few would consider a person with a facial disfigurement as ugly. There is compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves when they do unacceptable things out of desperation.

Yet we still find ourselves criticising and gossiping about friends, family and those in the public eye. It gives us pleasure to tell others of someone else’s inadequacies because it makes us feel better than them. It strengthens our sense of self and boosts our ego.

If we don’t like the clothes someone is wearing or their political stance the Tao is asking us to accept that it is just our opinion and let it go. Be truthful if asked but do not be tempted to gossip or put down others for our own satisfaction. It serves no purpose.

Start with the little things.

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Tao Te Ching Verse 1

After listening to a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Wayne Dyer, discussing the Tao Te Ching, I became interested in exploring its hidden depths.

The Tao encourages returning to a simple way of life. Its aim is to provide insight that can be used in everyday life to bring peace and harmony to ourselves and others. As simple as this sounds, applying the wisdom contained in the Tao requires discipline and commitment and often the ego gets in the way of good intentions.

There are many translations of Lan Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. I have used a translation by John McDonald

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Verse 1

The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.

The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of creation.

Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.

Yet mystery and reality emerge from the same source
This source is called darkness.

Darkness born from darkness,
The beginning of all understanding.

To those new to the Tao Te Ching this paradoxical first verse may give the impression that much of the Tao is beyond our understanding; that trying to unravel its meaning is far beyond our capabilities. While some verses require deep reflection, however, others are easier to digest so do not be deterred by the challenge some of the more difficult verses offer.

The first two lines of Verse 1 say that there are no words in our vocabulary that can describe the hidden depths of our existence. It cannot be named; it cannot be labelled.

David James Lees says:

I believe the message he is transmitting is that the verses in this book go deeper than just spoken or written words, in fact deeper than just a mere book of poetry or verse.

For the Tao Te Ching to be completely understood and absorbed it has to be looked on as more than just ‘a read’, it almost has to be inwardly digested and ruminated on so that it may strike a chord at our deepest level. I believe that is what the opening two lines do

Have you ever tried to describe a work of art, a beautiful sunset or an emotion that has moved you? It is very difficult. Words cannot always express how you feel and I believe this is what the first part of the verse means.

When it comes to unravelling the mysteries of life we seek definitive answers but they usually remain elusive. Lines 5 & 6 suggest that it is only when we let go of the desire for definitive answers that the truth reveals itself.

How often have you sought an answer to something only to find that as soon as the mind becomes quiet – often just before you drift off to sleep – that the answer miraculously appears? The answer is there all the time but the constant chattering of the mind obscures it.

Searching for the truth to existence and chasing the desire for spiritual knowledge can sometimes impede progress. Too much thinking with the physical brain leaves no room for the answers, that lie deep within, to emerge. It is only when the mind becomes quiet and reflective that the mysteries are revealed to us.

Charlie Amber says:

You think the wisdom and happiness you need is out in the world somewhere to be discovered by you. So you wander around desperately grasping at whatever you can to fill the void…(but) there is nothing to seek and nothing to find. The only thing lacking is your own awareness of what you already have, what already exists.

Verse 1 is simple yet profound. What I take from it is that everything – whether it’s the physical world we can perceive with our five senses, or the spiritual world which we cannot access with our physical senses alone – comes from the same source. (darkness born from darkness). That source is consciousness and is beyond explanation with words.

In our efforts to understand the mystery of life – which we all see through the filter of our own experiences – we seek a definitive explanation from the outside world. Our desire for an answer forces us to seek outside of ourselves. The Tao is saying that if we let go of this desire and let the world unfold as we seek for the truth within ourselves, that is the beginning of understanding.

For those on the spiritual path the goal is generally enlightenment. It is perceived as a target to be reached in order to be at peace; to achieve Nirvana. The spiritual path will unfold, however, if we let go of the need to control what happens ‘out there’. Things will happen. Life will be difficult at times and during these times it is ok to feel sad or angry but once the event has passed try to let it go. When life is more enjoyable, enjoy it rather than hanging on to – and constantly reliving –  the more difficult times.

The desire to find answers keeps us bound to the limits of what we can physically perceive whereas acceptance of ‘what is’ will reveal the hidden mysteries.

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Forget the goal; focus on the journey!

What does it mean to walk the spiritual path? What is it we hope to achieve?

The answers are different for everyone but there will always be some sort of end goal:

Enlightenment;  Peace and happiness;  Nirvana;  To be free of suffering

But are these goals ultimately achievable in this lifetime?

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Does the path lead anywhere? Does it have an end?

Often we set off on The Path with a huge amount of enthusiasm but soon find we flounder and – worst of all – criticise ourselves for lack of commitment and discipline.

Despite a deep desire to ‘become a better person’ to ‘discover reality’ and to ‘be free from pain and suffering’ the truth is that not much seems to really change. The progress is slow. Meditation and study is sporadic and, just as we believe we are finally getting somewhere, an incident occurs that proves we have not come as far as we thought.

The great spiritual teacher Ram Dass said:

“If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents

After many years of struggling on the path to enlightenment I have recently felt frustrated that progress appears minimal. I have devoured hundreds of books, spent years practising mediation and yet still, when pushed, throw tantrums when annoyed and often lack empathy and compassion. I can be like Jekyll and Hyde: kind and tolerant one minute; mean and irritable the next.

Despite all the books saying this is fine, this is what happens, this is actually ok, a sense of failure envelopes me causing a break in meditation practise for a few days – sometimes weeks – until I manage to centre myself again and get back on track. It is very similar to breaking a diet with a binge of chocolate and cakes. It breaks the resolve and takes a while to regain momentum.

After much reflection I am understanding that spiritual practice is not about attaining goals – especially ones that are so far out of reach –  but is more about the journey and an immense weight has been lifted. I feel calmer and more accepting of the process.

I realise, after comparing my responses now with how I would have behaved, say, ten years ago that I have made progress. I cope much better with what life churns up. I panic less. I am learning to let life ‘just happen’.

I previously had this vision that with meditation practice, and a concerted effort at controlling my emotions, life would be free of problems but I understand now that life’s problems will continue. The car may get bumped, my children may be unhappy, life will not always be kind. But it is how I respond to these issues that define my progress. Can I remain calm and centred? Can I accept these situations and let them pass through me rather than dwelling on them far into the future?

Clearly, some situations will pass through quicker than others but the key is to let go of them as soon as possible. Don’t hang on to life’s traumas. Experience them, cry and moan if necessary and then let them go. Don’t keep relating them, with relish, to everyone we meet.

I haven’t posted regularly on this blog for some time as I had lost focus of what I was trying to achieve so have decided to take a new direction.

I will take words of wisdom from works such as the Tao Te Ching and attempt to analyse them – with the help of others – in order to reach some clarity of their meaning and how they can influence our everyday lives. I will also review books – old and new – which provide insight and guidance to those interested in the spiritual and metaphysical. Authors such as Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and Michael A. Singer have a lot to say!

I have just reposted a review of Buddha by Karen Armstrong – which I originally posted last October – because it is an excellent book and well worth a read.

I hope you will find the posts interesting and useful and I know that the process will provide me with greater insight into what I am trying to achieve.

I invite you to join my journey.

 

Buddha by Karen Armstrong

For those seeking peace in the midst of this chaotic world Karen Armstrong’s book, Buddha, offers hope. It talks more about a way of life than religion. Words such as enlightenment and Nirvana are inspirational but remain elusive and theoretical to all but a few. To know that the Buddha was born an ordinary man and through his own personal search reached enlightenment gives encouragement to those who are trying make sense of life in this troubled world.

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Siddhatta Gotoma (often spelt Siddhartha Gautama) was born into a wealthy family, his father being a prominent figure in Kapilavatthu, Nepal. Cosseted by his over indulgent father, Gotama had everything he desired and was sheltered from every form of suffering. He knew nothing of sickness, pain and death while growing up.

When he did finally encounter the misery and hardship that blighted the existence of those beyond his ivory tower he was appalled and became obsessed with the suffering that is the human experience. So much so that he decided to leave his comfortable home to seek a solution to life’s ills. He believed there had to be a way to “enjoy a calm in the midst of life’s tragedies that gave meaning to existence in a flawed world”.

One night, at the age of twenty nine, Gotama donned the robes of an ascetic and left behind his wife and baby to roam the forests in search of “a solution to the puzzle of existence…everything in the mundane world had, it was thought, its more powerful, positive replica in the divine realm” and Gotama was determined to find it.

So the search began.

Over the next five or six years Gotama joined various groups, partaking in their teachings but found they had little effect on him as a person. Physical and sensory deprivation did not lead to overcoming desire and greed – in fact it often had the opposite effect.

“He was not ‘entering into’ the doctrine and dwelling in it…the teachings remained remote, metaphysical abstractions and seemed to have little to do with him personally…try as he would he could gain no glimmer of his real self, which remained obstinately hidden by what seemed an unpenetrable rind of Praktri (nature)

As time went by Gotama believed that the teachers could not provide him with what he sought, that he must seek it directly; experience it directly. He was convinced that the answers lay deep within him and only he could “release the treasure that was held within”.

Whereas the ancient religions taught that salvation was through ritual and sacrifice, Gotama – and others at that time, such as Socrates and Confucius – thought that salvation lay within the reaches of each individual but that there was something inherent in human nature preventing the spiritual experience.

“The sages and prophets of the Axial Age (800bc – 200bc) were gradually realising that egotism was the greatest hindrance to the experience of the Absolute and sacred reality they sought. A man or a woman had to lay aside the selfishness that seems so endemic to our humanity if he or she wishes to apprehend the reality of God.

In conjunction with the skilful meditation techniques he had learned over the years, Gotama set about the practise of ‘mindfulness’ and self analysis. Gotama realised that even though he could achieve elevated states of consciousness “when he came out of his trance he was still subject to passion, desire and craving. He remained his unregenerate self. He had not been transformed by the experience and had attained no lasting peace”.

He believed that alongside the mediation practise, it was essential to cultivate kindness and compassion and to relinquish the unhealthy states of greed, violence and anger. He believed that right thought and right action would lead to peace in this challenging world. Daily, he would reflect on his thoughts and actions and determine if he could be kinder and more harmonious with those around him. He believed that compassion was the key to advancement on the spiritual path and he believed that “the new self developed imperceptibly over a long period”.

Although history relates that Siddhatta Gotama reached sudden enlightenment whilst sitting one day under the Bodhi tree, some think that it was at this time he received the revelation on how to reach enlightenment; that personal transformation had to come first.

The words of the Buddda are as practical today as they were over two thousand years ago. Compassion is the key to spiritual advancement and to practise compassion it is necessary to become free from the control of the ego. To consider others; to put others before our own selfish desires and not alway think of ourselves first.

The ego, in its fight for self-preservation, controls thought and action: The need to be right in an argument; the anger experienced when someone fails to consider our needs; the desire to obtain more wealth rather than sharing what we already have. These are all part of the human condition and which, if we wish to find peace in the midst of chaos, we must let go of. The Buddha believed that Instead of ignoring, denying or fighting suffering it is necessary to see it, understand it and work with it. It is our lessons. It can make us better people if we do not work against it or refuse to acknowledge it.

There seems to be within us an inner resistance to change and the awakening of our true selves, our inner being. The desire to meditate is often thwarted by distraction. The ability to stick to any serious research for the ‘inner spirit’  becomes an ongoing struggle.

What the story of Siddhatta Gotama highlights is that this struggle is experienced by everyone – even, or especially,  those who finally achieve enlightenment – but that with tenacity and strength of mind we all have the possibility of finding calm in this challenging world. Problems will aways arise, troubles forever on the horizon. The key is to learn how to deal with them in a manner that reduces suffering.

Buddha is telling us that we are often architects of our own suffering but that a different mindset can allow us to be happy in a world fraught with pain.

“The attainment of Nirvana did not mean the Buddha would never experience any more suffering. He would still grow old, get sick and die like everyone else and would experience pain while doing so. Nirvana does not give an awakened person trance like immunity but an inner haven which enables a man or woman to live with the pain, to take possession of it, affirm it, and experience a profound peace of mind in the midst of suffering

Karen Armstrong has provided a wonderful, easy to digest, insight into the life of an ordinary man who found Nirvana and achieved enlightenment. Although this book is about Buddha I think it provides hope and encouragement for anyone trying to find meaning in life. I do believe that the basic tenets of most religions are those of love and compassion and Buddha has provided a practical approach to work towards achieving these qualities to enable every individual access to a better quality of life.

Law of Attraction

I read recently that there are 36 spiritual laws governing the rules of life on Earth, one of these being the Law of Attraction.

The premise of this law is that whatever you focus on you attract into your life. Negative thoughts attract negative situations and likewise positive thoughts bring positive circumstances into your life. It’s all to do with the vibrations with which we resonate. Sounds great doesn’t it? This means if we all think constructive thoughts we will all be very happy…maybe.

Conceding there was some sort of logic to this and because it sounded simple to put into practise I wondered whether the Law of Attraction could be used to improve the pitiful state of my financial affairs and supply me with a replacement for my clapped out car.  Could it help me win the lottery for example? I decided to put it to the test.

I selected six random numbers – well, almost random. I put pieces of paper with numbers 1 – 49 in a box, shuffled them in the usual manner, and pulled out the following:

6          7          9          18        32        41

I thought it unlikely that three numbers under ten would come up so I put number seven back and chose again. I got 26 and felt that was a much better balance.

I printed the numbers using font 36 – nice and big – and stuck them to my desk. I found a picture of a luxury car and put it next to the numbers. Would it work? Would I clear my debts and be the proud owner of a decent car? I was dubious.

car 3 How nice is this?

When practising positive thinking I understand that it is necessary to believe you have already received what you desire rather than hope for it.  So, with this in mind, I spent the next three days frequently looking at the pictures on my desk chanting with excitement that I had won the lottery.

When I had some time to reflect on my win I wondered what I would do with it. If it was less than £50,000 I would pay off my overdraft and the maxed out credit cards. If there was enough left, which was unlikely, I would get a nice car. However as soon as I started to think in larger sums, especially when I got into the millions, I wondered how much I would gift to relatives and friends. Then it got tricky.

I’m sure you’ve done the same and come to the conclusion that you would have lots of money but no friends because distributing it fairly would be difficult. I was so overwhelmed trying to decide what to do with the money if I won it (sorry, when I won it) that I was terrified by the prospect of actually winning.

I ripped the numbers and the picture  of the lovely car from my desk and resigned myself to the fact that an overdraft and full credit cards were not the end of the world and winning the lottery was not worth losing my friends for.

 

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