|As we live, we will go through the processes of opening to new information, integrating it, and stabilizing our worldview.|
Living in an information age, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the constant influx of scientific studies, breaking news, and even spiritual revelations that fill our bookshelves, radio waves, and in-boxes. No sooner have we decided what to eat or how to think about the universe than a new study or book comes out confounding our well-researched opinion. After a while, we may be tempted to dismiss or ignore new information in the interest of stabilizing our point of view, and this is understandable. Rather than closing down, we might try instead to remain open by allowing our intuition to guide us.
For example, contradictory studies concerning foods that are good for you and foods that are bad for you are plentiful. At a certain point, though, we can feel for ourselves whether coffee or tomatoes are good for us or not.
The answer is different for each individual, and this is something that a scientific study can’t quite account for.
All we can do is take in the information and process it through our own systems of understanding. In the end, only we can decide what information, ideas, and concepts we will integrate. Remaining open allows us to continually change and shift by checking in with ourselves as we learn new information. It keeps us flexible and alert, and while it can feel a bit like being thrown off balance all the time, this openness is essential to the process of growth and expansion.
Perhaps the key is realizing that we are not going to finally get to some stable place of having it all figured out. Throughout our lives we will go through the processes of opening to new information, integrating it, and stabilizing our worldview. No sooner will we have reached some kind of stability than it will be time to open again to new information, which is inherently destabilizing.
If we see ourselves as surfers riding the incoming waves of information and inspiration, always open and willing to attune ourselves to the next shift, we will see how blessed we are to have this opportunity to play on the waves and, most of all, to enjoy the ride.
The question “How are you?” has long been a go-to greeting, a way to spark a bit of small talk. But this year, as our lives have been impacted by a myriad of challenges — the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, political stress, and more — we have an opportunity (and need) to deepen our connections with others. And asking more meaningful questions can help spark those productive, compassionate conversations.
We asked our Thrive community to share with us thequestions they’re asking others right now that are strengthening their connections. Which of these will you start asking others?
What’s something you’re excited about?
“Asking someone what they’re passionate about at the moment can be a great conversation starter. Even before the pandemic, my favorite conversation opener was, ‘What’s something you’re excited about right now?’ It’s open-ended enough for someone to talk about their work, their favorite TV show, or anything else that they’re loving at the moment. I love watching someone’s face light up when they get to talk about something that excites them.”
—Craig Inzana, content creator, Omaha, NE
What’s been keeping you busy?
“I’ve recently found that asking people more specific, but not intrusive, questions leads to a more authentic exchange. Some of my go-to questions are asking people what’s been keeping them busy lately, how they’ve been spending their time, or even asking about movies or books they’ve come across lately. Since there is so much stress and uncertainty in many people’s lives, striking the balance between curious and compassionate is key.”
—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France
What have you learned about yourself lately?
“I have enjoyed asking people, ‘What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself this year?’ Not only have I realized that they usually open up and are willing to share personal stories, but they also get excited about sharing something positive related to personal growth. I find that asking this question always leads to very vulnerable conversations.”
—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Orange County, CA
How are you feeling?
“One thing I try to always ask my family and friends is how they are feeling emotionally and mentally. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I know that when you are in the depths of the fog, it’s easy to just say, ‘Yeah, I am good’ when someone asks how you are. But taking things a bit further and asking how someone is feeling shows that you understand that feelings are more complex than just being ‘fine.’ It also helps the other person know that they can confide in you if they need.”
—Melinda Jackson, Raleigh, NC
How are your spirits today?
“The number one question I am asking everyone in my life, from family, friends, clients, and strangers, is ‘How’s your spirit today?’ At first, people are surprised, because it’s usually the first time they’ve been asked that question. But once they take a moment to reflect, they openly share, and always thank me for asking. They often say that it’s the first time they’ve stopped to reflect on their spirit in a long time. It’s a question that grounds us in the present moment.”
—Nory Pouncil, self-awareness coach, Fort Lauderdale, FL
What are you doing to care for yourself right now?
“Since I’m working with clients consistently on often long-term projects, I like to check in first by asking others what they are doing to care for themselves right now. It’s a good conversation starter to get people thinking about how they are tending to their own self-care and well-being, even as they work on external goals and projects.”
—Henna Garrison, life coach and educator, Sicily, Italy
How can I help support you?
“I am finding power in the leadership question, ‘How can I help support you?’ This simple question cuts through organizational hierarchies and helps us meet the person where they are at that moment in time. Most often, people don’t have an immediate answer because we aren’t terribly good at asking for help. But if you ask the question, and then sit in the silence for a few seconds, people realize you’re there for them now and later when needed.”
—-Donna Peters, career coach, podcast host, lecturer, Atlanta, GA
What have you been cooking?
“‘How are you?’ is typically the first question we think of, but a more meaningful one I ask, especially to my 79-year-old mom is, ‘What are you cooking today?’ Talking mutually about what we cook that day or week is always heartwarming, and it’s a great conversation starter. Exchanging recipes and sharing ideas on dishes based on seasonal ingredients gives us a sense of safety and closeness as we share those small but essential everyday things, putting the stressors of the pandemic aside for a moment.
—Esin Sungur, Brand Consultant, İstanbul-Turkey
What are you grateful for right now?
“One question that I’ve been asking lately is, ‘What is something that you are grateful for during this time?’ How we frame things can often elicit certain feelings because it asks for the person to focus on something in particular. In this case, that would be things that bring joy, gratitude, and connection. When we face challenging times, I always find it helpful to remind ourselves what we should be centering on, and that starts with gratitude.”
—Simon Tam, author and musician, Cincinnati, OH
What are you looking forward to?
“I prefer asking this question these days instead of ‘How are you.’ I find that itgives whomever I’m speaking with space to assess their answer and reflect. Rather than a thoughtless ‘fine’ or ‘meh,’ their answer is typically more thoughtful and it helps them stay optimistic during this time. This question creates opportunities for engagement that move static conversations into more meaningful directions.”
—Ampy Basa, community director and HerSpace, Oslo, Norway
What’s been the highlight of your day?
“The questions we ask one another can spark a sense of validation and connectivity. I’ve been asking people, ‘What has been the highlight of your day?’ This question shifts the focus away from the expected ‘how are you?’ and ‘I am fine’ interchange, and instead makes the receiver of this question really think about what has brought them a sense of meaning and fulfillment that day. It’s a great conversation starter and an energy-booster. I find that it’s also a great opportunity to focus on our small wins.”
—Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, NJ/ NY
What question is helping you connect with others right now?
The world changed for all of us in the first quarter of this year. All of the plans we had in place for 2020 were disrupted as the coronavirus spread around the world. Our well-thought-out goals to grow and develop were quickly set aside as we switched gears to simply get through the day. We all became agile, adaptive, and reactive, changing strategies as the situation demanded.
“Now that we have a better sense of what we are up against, that this will be a marathon and not a sprint, we need to take a look at where we stand. What are our goals for moving forward into the next 18 months?”
When setting goals, Blanchard suggests a three-step formula:
- Assess your current situation.
- Decide where you want to be, keeping in mind your new reality.
- Outline a clear first step that’s achievable.
Assessing your current situation
“COVID has put a lot of pressure on us. And when pressure is applied, cracks form along fault lines. It’s likely that frailties you may have had before this have flared up. Many of us are familiar with the typical coping strategies of overeating, overdrinking, or binge-watching TV shows. But other, more subtle tendencies, especially those connected to core personal needs—such as the need to control or the need to judge—can rear their heads when life is disrupted. It is really important to pay attention to these tendencies so that they don’t inadvertently run the show.
“Do you know where your fault lines are? Have you noticed your frailties? Addressing them starts with naming them and claiming them. Bring your limiting coping mechanisms under control and shore up those frailties. If a coping strategy is getting the best of you, get some support from a friend, a significant other, or your manager. Find small ways to get your needs met that don’t cause you to alienate others.”
Decide where you want to be
Next, get back to your original vision of who you wanted to be, says Blanchard.
“We can’t do everything at the same time, so it is important to use your values—what you say is important to you—to decide which part of your vision is most significant right now. If you have never done purpose work (often referred to by Simon Sinek as finding your “WHY”), now is the perfect time to give it some thought.
“When creating a vision for your team, or possibly reclaiming it after being knocked off course, you might think about asking team members: What is our purpose? What have we lost in the last few months that we should try to get back? What have we never had that, if we had it, would make us stronger and more likely to achieve our purpose?
“Asking questions like these will do two things: (1) generate feedback you may need to hear; and (2) help your team members to reconnect with the powerful basics that will drive the changes needed to get moving in the right direction.”
Outline a clear first step
This is where you turn the vision into action, says Blanchard.
“Think: What is the first thing I can do that is a manageable task and has a beginning, middle, and end? An example might be to complete a ten-minute workout on a free workout app between ending your workday and getting dinner started. Your first task should be small and completely doable.
“The best way to ensure that you will actually take your first step is to find a buddy who will also do it, or who will do something else they commit to during that same ten-minute period. You can easily sabotage yourself by making the task too big or too involved. The key is to choose something you can succeed at right away—because there is nothing quite so compelling as success.”
Take action now
In any case, it’s getting started that counts says Blanchard.
“It has been a challenging year—but perhaps the time has come to commit to our own growth and development.”
That’s great advice. Abraham Maslow famously said, “You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.” To the degree that each of us can see the road before us, let’s take that step forward by rediscovering our purpose, taking a realistic view of our current situation, and committing to action!
By David Witt, based on the work of Ken and Madelaine Blanchard.
|When we live fully in the moment, there is an aliveness that comes easily.|
When we are fully present, we offer our whole selves to whatever it is that we are doing. Our attention, our integrity, and our energy are all focused in the moment and on the task at hand. This is a powerful experience, and when we are in this state, we feel completely alive and invigorated.
This kind of aliveness comes easily when we are absorbed in work or play that we love, but it is available to us in every moment, and we can learn to summon it regardless of what we are doing. Even tasks or jobs we don’t enjoy can become infused with the light of being present. The more present we are, the more meaningful our entire lives become.
Next time you find yourself fully engaged in the moment, whether you are making art, trying to solve an interesting puzzle, or talking to your best friend, you may want to take a moment to notice how you feel. You may observe that you are not thinking about what you need to do next, your body feels like it’s pleasantly humming, or your brain feels tingly. As you enjoy the feeling of being located entirely in the present moment, you can inform yourself that you may try to recall this feeling later. You might try this while driving home or getting ready for bed, allowing yourself to be just as engaged in that experience as you were in the earlier one.
The more we draw ourselves into the present moment, the more we honor the gift of our lives, and the more we honor the people around us.
When we are fully present, we give and receive aliveness in equal measure.
For today, try to be fully present in your daily activities and watch a new reality open for you.
Because there are lessons more difficult than others, we may need the teacher for a longer time and in a deeper relationship. Sometimes the lesson will come like a bolt and that person may come in and out of life.
“Every person we meet is our teacher and student.” iPEC Core Principle
We attract people into our lives for a reason, a lifetime or shorter and always for a two-way learning experience. They constantly add something to our life journey.
The nature of the relationship may determine which topic we are learning or teaching. For example, we may learn the dos and don’t’s of social interaction from our family and people at school. We discover how to behave at work from colleagues, managers, and mentors.
“The purpose of a relationship is to remember more of who we are… in relation to another.” Bruch Schneider, founder of iPEC
Covid has been a collective experience with numerous lessons and counting. I am now reflecting on the investment I have made in my current and past relationships. We now have other sources of ‘teachers and students’. And the importance of having a solid family structure is more apparent now than ever.
This week I reconnected with an old friend. We talked for a long time catching up with our current lives and strolling through memory lane of times that were simpler and more fun. This encounter made me realize how much I missed having her friendship all this time, how much we encouraged each other back then, and how those decisions we made changed our paths forever.
A few months ago my team was moved to another group resulting in having a new leader. I have learned so much from this relationship. It has been like an immersion on knowing myself, how I want to show up as a leader, and in changing the order of what is important in our jobs.
With every new and old encounter and relationship, I learn something about myself and how I want to approach life. I realized that trust and empathy are at the top of my list when I think about how to show up as a leader. My old friend reminded me about openly expressing thoughts and feelings. I tend to be more reserved and self-conscious.
Great leaders focus on people: what to learn from them and how to show up for each person. They know that each of us is a treasure of experience, views on life, values, and feelings. Amazing leaders channel their essence to create growth, encourage others to fulfill their potential, and to inspire them to take the leap.
By Gertrudis Achecar
There are so many messages on how we’re supposed to live life, and on how to do it well. This can feel overwhelming, even paralyzing. So if you want to live the best life possible, how do you figure out what to do?
It’s simple. Get in the habit of going light. When you take this route you’ll make the right choices for you.
This seems like such an obvious suggestion, but as humans, we‘re naturally drawn to the rich fabric of anything complicated, chaotic, and dramatic. This heaviness ends up distracting us from true peace, joy and contentment. And we’re so overwhelmed by our own clutter—all the physical, mental and emotional stuff we’re carrying around day-in and day-out, that we miss out on the things that matter most.
So what can clutter look like?
Mental clutter is just as real as physical clutter (what we own and what we eat). Examples of mental clutter are thoughts that you should be or shouldn’t be doing something. Thoughts that you’re not enough or that you’re too much. Thoughts that you need to do it all to be lovable.
Experts claim we have 60,000+ thoughts a day, with 80% being negative and 95% a repeat of the thoughts we had the day before. How’d we get this way? We no longer have to watch out for threats of our ancestors like sabertooth tigers or wooly mammoths. Instead, we have impossibly full schedules with long lists of to-dos and fast-food easily available on every corner. As a result, we are living in a constantly stressed state—both mentally and physically.
Emotional clutter stems from mental clutter that things should be or shouldn’t be a certain way. Emotional clutter consists of feelings that keep you trapped in a reality that you don’t like. Usually, these feelings stem from thoughts that cause us to feel shame, want us to blame, or lead us to complain. One way to know that you’re carrying some emotional clutter? Wishing things were different but not doing anything to make them different.
So what do we do?
How do we uncover and honor the things that matter most?
We pause. We sit still. We create gaps in our thoughts and we listen. And then when confronted with a choice, we intentionally simplify and choose to go light.
I don’t say go light, lightly. Going light isn’t superficial, it’s one of the most powerful pathways to intentionality there is. So trust the deep knowing inside of you. Ask yourself, does thinking this thought, feeling this feeling, or taking this action feel light or heavy? If it feels light go with it. If it feels heavy, that’s where you have work to do. So go ahead and get quiet. And then when you’re ready, take a deep breath and choose to go light.
With every decision—what you eat and drink, how you move your body, what time you go to bed, who you hang out with, how you spend your time and money—you have the power to choose simplicity over complication.
One thing is for sure. You won’t go wrong if you go light. When you go light, life feels easier, you find your flow and you can’t help, but flourish.
Based on an article from Heather Aardema
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.– American inventor, Thomas Edison
According to legend, Thomas Edison made thousands of prototypes of the incandescent light bulb before he finally got it right. And, since the prolific inventor was awarded more than 1,000 patents, it’s easy to imagine him failing on a daily basis in his lab at Menlo Park.
In spite of struggling with “failure” throughout his entire working life, Edison never let it get the best of him. All of these “failures,” which are reported to be in the tens of thousands, simply showed him how not to invent something. His resilience gave the world some of the most amazing inventions of the early 20th century, such as the phonograph, the telegraph, and the motion picture.
It’s hard to imagine what our world would be like if Edison had given up after his first few failures. His inspiring story forces us to look at our own lives – do we have the resilience that we need to overcome our challenges? Or do we let our failures derail our dreams? And what could we accomplish if we had the strength not to give up?
The Importance of Resilience
Resilience (or resiliency) is our ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Resilient people don’t wallow or dwell on failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and then move forward.
According to the research of leading psychologist, Susan Kobasa, there are three elements that are essential to resilience:
- Challenge – Resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. They look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth. They don’t view them as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
- Commitment – Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals, and they have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Commitment isn’t just restricted to their work – they commit to their relationships, their friendships, the causes they care about, and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
- Personal Control – Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident. Those who spend time worrying about uncontrollable events can often feel lost, helpless, and powerless to take action.
Another leading psychologist, Martin Seligman, says the way that we explain setbacks to ourselves is also important. (He talks in terms of optimism and pessimism rather than resilience, however, the effect is essentially the same.) This “explanatory style” is made up of three main elements:
- Permanence – People who are optimistic (and therefore have more resilience) see the effects of bad events as temporary rather than permanent. For instance, they might say “My boss didn’t like the work I did on that project” rather than “My boss never likes my work.”
- Pervasiveness – Resilient people don’t let setbacks or bad events affect other unrelated areas of their lives. For instance, they would say “I’m not very good at this” rather than “I’m no good at anything.”
- Personalization – People who have resilience don’t blame themselves when bad events occur. Instead, they see other people, or the circumstances, as the cause. For instance, they might say “I didn’t get the support I needed to finish that project successfully,” rather than “I messed that project up because I can’t do my job.”
In our Expert Interview with Dr. Cal Crow , the co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Learning Connections, Dr. Crow identified several further attributes that are common in resilient people:
- Resilient people have a positive image of the future. That is, they maintain a positive outlook, and envision brighter days ahead.
- Resilient people have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals.
- Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate, however, they don’t waste time worrying what others think of them. They maintain healthy relationships, but don’t bow to peer pressure.
- Resilient people never think of themselves as victims – they focus their time and energy on changing the things that they have control over.
How we view adversity and stress strongly affects how we succeed, and this is one of the most significant reasons that having a resilient mindset is so important.
The fact is that we’re going to fail from time to time: it’s an inevitable part of living that we make mistakes and occasionally fall flat on our faces. The only way to avoid this is to live a shuttered and meager existence, never trying anything new or taking a risk. Few of us want a life like that!
Instead, we should have the courage to go after our dreams, despite the very real risk that we’ll fail in some way or other. Being resilient means that when we do fail, we bounce back, we have the strength to learn the lessons we need to learn, and we can move on to bigger and better things.
Overall, resilience gives us the power to overcome setbacks , so that we can live the life we’ve always imagined.
Build Up Resilience
The good news is that even if you’re not a naturally resilient person, you can learn to develop a resilient mindset and attitude. To do so, incorporate the following into your daily life:
- Get enough sleep and exercise, and learn to manage stress. When you take care of your mind and body, you’re better able to cope effectively with challenges in your life.
- Practice thought awareness . Resilient people don’t let negative thoughts derail their efforts. Instead, they consistently practice positive thinking. Also, “listen” to how you talk to yourself when something goes wrong – if you find yourself making statements that are permanent, pervasive or personalized, correct these thoughts in your mind.
- Practice Cognitive Restructuring to change the way that you think about negative situations and bad events.
- Learn from your mistakes and failures. Every mistake has the power to teach you something important; so don’t stop searching until you’ve found the lesson in every situation. Also, make sure that you understand the idea of “post-traumatic growth” – there can be real truth in the saying that “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
- Choose your response. Remember, we all experience bad days and we all go through our share of crises. But we have a choice in how we respond; we can choose to react negatively or in a panic, or we can choose to remain calm and logical to find a solution. Your reaction is always up to you.
- Maintain perspective. Resilient people understand that, although a situation or crisis may seem overwhelming in the moment, it may not make that much of an impact over the long-term. Try to avoid blowing events out of proportion.
- If you don’t already, learn to set SMART, effective personal goals – it’s incredibly important to set and achieve goals that match your values , and to learn from your experiences.
- Build your self confidence . Remember, resilient people are confident that they’re going to succeed eventually, despite the setbacks or stresses that they might be facing. This belief in themselves also enables them to take risks: when you develop confidence and a strong sense of self, you have the strength to keep moving forward, and to take the risks you need to get ahead.
- Develop strong relationships with your colleagues. People who have strong connections at work are more resistant to stress, and they’re happier in their role. This also goes for your personal life: the more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be, because you have a strong support network to fall back on. (Remember that treating people with compassion and empathy is very important here.)
- Focus on being flexible. Resilient people understand that things change, and that carefully-made plans may, occasionally, need to be amended or scrapped.
“The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. Here, he offers five practices to nourish our happiness daily.
We all want to be happy and there are many books and teachers in the world that try to help people be happier. Yet we all continue to suffer.
Therefore, we may think that we’re “doing it wrong.” Somehow we are “failing at happiness.” That isn’t true. Being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.
One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed. As soon as we open our mouth to say “suffering,” we know that the opposite of suffering is already there as well. Where there is suffering, there is happiness.
According to the creation story in the biblical book of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light.” I like to imagine that light replied, saying, “God, I have to wait for my twin brother, darkness, to be with me. I can’t be there without the darkness.” God asked, “Why do you need to wait? Darkness is there.” Light answered, “In that case, then I am also already there.”
One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed.
If we focus exclusively on pursuing happiness, we may regard suffering as something to be ignored or resisted. We think of it as something that gets in the way of happiness. But the art of happiness is also the art of knowing how to suffer well. If we know how to use our suffering, we can transform it and suffer much less. Knowing how to suffer well is essential to realizing true happiness.
The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption. Retailers peddle a plethora of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.
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There are many people who have enormous suffering, and don’t know how to handle it. For many people, it starts at a very young age. So why don’t schools teach our young people the way to manage suffering? If a student is very unhappy, he can’t concentrate and he can’t learn. The suffering of each of us affects others. The more we learn about the art of suffering well, the less suffering there will be in the world.
Mindfulness is the best way to be with our suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Mindfulness is the capacity to dwell in the present moment, to know what’s happening in the here and now. For example, when we’re lifting our two arms, we’re conscious of the fact that we’re lifting our arms. Our mind is with our lifting of our arms, and we don’t think about the past or the future, because lifting our arms is what’s happening in the present moment.
To be mindful means to be aware. It’s the energy that knows what is happening in the present moment. Lifting our arms and knowing that we’re lifting our arms—that’s mindfulness, mindfulness of our action. When we breathe in and we know we’re breathing in, that’s mindfulness. When we make a step and we know that the steps are taking place, we are mindful of the steps. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. It’s the energy that helps us be aware of what is happening right now and right here—in our body, in our feelings, in our perceptions, and around us.
With mindfulness we are no longer afraid of pain. We can even go further and make good use of suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us and we can help others to heal and be happy as well.
With mindfulness, you can recognize the presence of the suffering in you and in the world. And it’s with that same energy that you tenderly embrace the suffering. By being aware of your in-breath and out-breath you generate the energy of mindfulness, so you can continue to cradle the suffering. Practitioners of mindfulness can help and support each other in recognizing, embracing, and transforming suffering. With mindfulness we are no longer afraid of pain. We can even go further and make good use of suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us and we can help others to heal and be happy as well.
The way we start producing the medicine of mindfulness is by stopping and taking a conscious breath, giving our complete attention to our in-breath and our out-breath. When we stop and take a breath in this way, we unite body and mind and come back home to ourselves. We feel our bodies more fully. We are truly alive only when the mind is with the body. The great news is that oneness of body and mind can be realized just by one in-breath. Maybe we have not been kind enough to our body for some time. Recognizing the tension, the pain, the stress in our body, we can bathe it in our mindful awareness, and that is the beginning of healing.
If we take care of the suffering inside us, we have more clarity, energy, and strength to help address the suffering of our loved ones, as well as the suffering in our community and the world. If, however, we are preoccupied with the fear and despair in us, we can’t help remove the suffering of others. There is an art to suffering well. If we know how to take care of our suffering, we not only suffer much, much less, we also create more happiness around us and in the world.
Why the Buddha Kept Meditating
When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours.
We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
Even if happiness is already manifesting, we have to continue to nourish it. This is sometimes called conditioning, and it’s very important. We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
1. LETTING GO
The first method of creating joy and happiness is to cast off, to leave behind. There is a kind of joy that comes from letting go. Many of us are bound to so many things. We believe these things are necessary for our survival, our security, and our happiness. But many of these things—or more precisely, our beliefs about their utter necessity—are really obstacles for our joy and happiness.
Sometimes you think that having a certain career, diploma, salary, house, or partner is crucial for your happiness. You think you can’t go on without it. Even when you have achieved that situation, or are with that person, you continue to suffer. At the same time, you’re still afraid that if you let go of that prize you’ve attained, it will be even worse; you will be even more miserable without the object you are clinging to. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.
If you come to look deeply into your fearful attachment, you will realize that it is in fact the very obstacle to your joy and happiness. You have the capacity to let it go. Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around searching for it.
Imagine you’re a city dweller taking a weekend trip out to the countryside. If you live in a big metropolis, there’s a lot of noise, dust, pollution, and odors, but also a lot of opportunities and excitement. One day, a friend coaxes you into getting away for a couple of days. At first you may say, “I can’t. I have too much work. I might miss an important call.”
But finally he convinces you to leave, and an hour or two later, you find yourself in the countryside. You see open space. You see the sky, and you feel the breeze on your cheeks. Happiness is born from the fact that you could leave the city behind. If you hadn’t left, how could you experience that kind of joy? You needed to let go.
2. INVITING POSITIVE SEEDS
We each have many kinds of “seeds” lying deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly.
So in our own consciousness there is hell, and there is also paradise. We are capable of being compassionate, understanding, and joyful. If we pay attention only to the negative things in us, especially the suffering of past hurts, we are wallowing in our sorrows and not getting any positive nourishment. We can practice appropriate attention, watering the wholesome qualities in us by touching the positive things that are always available inside and around us. That is good food for our mind.
One way of taking care of our suffering is to invite a seed of the opposite nature to come up. As nothing exists without its opposite, if you have a seed of arrogance, you have also a seed of compassion. Every one of us has a seed of compassion. If you practice mindfulness of compassion every day, the seed of compassion in you will become strong. You need only concentrate on it and it will come up as a powerful zone of energy.
Naturally, when compassion comes up, arrogance goes down. You don’t have to fight it or push it down. We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds. This doesn’t mean we ignore our suffering; it just means that we allow the positive seeds that are naturally there to get attention and nourishment.
3. MINDFULNESS-BASED JOY
Mindfulness helps us not only to get in touch with suffering, so that we can embrace and transform it, but also to touch the wonders of life, including our own body. Then breathing in becomes a delight, and breathing out can also be a delight. You truly come to enjoy your breathing.
A few years ago, I had a virus in my lungs that made them bleed. I was spitting up blood. With lungs like that, it was difficult to breathe, and it was difficult to be happy while breathing. After treatment, my lungs healed and my breathing became much better. Now when I breathe, all I need to do is to remember the time when my lungs were infected with this virus. Then every breath I take becomes really delicious, really good.
When we practice mindful breathing or mindful walking, we bring our mind home to our body and we are established in the here and the now. We feel so lucky; we have so many conditions of happiness that are already available. Joy and happiness come right away. So mindfulness is a source of joy. Mindfulness is a source of happiness.
Mindfulness is an energy you can generate all day long through your practice. You can wash your dishes in mindfulness. You can cook your dinner in mindfulness. You can mop the floor in mindfulness. And with mindfulness you can touch the many conditions of happiness and joy that are already available. You are a real artist. You know how to create joy and happiness any time you want. This is the joy and the happiness born from mindfulness.
Concentration is born from mindfulness. Concentration has the power to break through, to burn away the afflictions that make you suffer and to allow joy and happiness to come in.
To stay in the present moment takes concentration. Worries and anxiety about the future are always there, ready to take us away. We can see them, acknowledge them, and use our concentration to return to the present moment.
When we have concentration, we have a lot of energy. We don’t get carried away by visions of past suffering or fears about the future. We dwell stably in the present moment so we can get in touch with the wonders of life, and generate joy and happiness.
Concentration is always concentration on something. If you focus on your breathing in a relaxed way, you are already cultivating an inner strength. When you come back to feel your breath, concentrate on your breathing with all your heart and mind. Concentration is not hard labor. You don’t have to strain yourself or make a huge effort. Happiness arises lightly and easily.
With mindfulness, we recognize the tension in our body, and we want very much to release it, but sometimes we can’t. What we need is some insight.
Insight is seeing what is there. It is the clarity that can liberate us from afflictions such as jealousy or anger, and allow true happiness to come. Every one of us has insight, though we don’t always make use of it to increase our happiness.
The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
We may know, for example, that something (a craving, or a grudge) is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings us anxiety and fear. We know this thing is not worth the sleep we’re losing over it. But still we go on spending our time and energy obsessing about it. We’re like a fish who has been caught once before and knows there’s a hook inside the bait; if the fish makes use of that insight, he won’t bite, because he knows he’ll get caught by the hook.
Often, we just bite onto our craving or grudge, and let the hook take us. We get caught and attached to these situations that are not worthy of our concern. If mindfulness and concentration are there, then insight will be there and we can make use of it to swim away, free.
In springtime when there is a lot of pollen in the air, some of us have a hard time breathing due to allergies. Even when we aren’t trying to run five miles and we just want to sit or lie down, we can’t breathe very well. So in wintertime, when there’s no pollen, instead of complaining about the cold, we can remember how in April or May we couldn’t go out at all. Now our lungs are clear, we can take a brisk walk outside and we can breathe very well. We consciously call up our experience of the past to help ourselves treasure the good things we are having right now.
In the past we probably did suffer from one thing or another. It may even have felt like a kind of hell. If we remember that suffering, not letting ourselves get carried away by it, we can use it to remind ourselves, “How lucky I am right now. I’m not in that situation. I can be happy”—that is insight; and in that moment, our joy, and our happiness can grow very quickly.
The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
It requires first of all that we come home to ourselves, that we make peace with our suffering, treating it tenderly, and looking deeply at the roots of our pain. It requires that we let go of useless, unnecessary sufferings and take a closer look at our idea of happiness.
Finally, it requires that we nourish happiness daily, with acknowledgment, understanding, and compassion for ourselves and for those around us. We offer these practices to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the larger community. This is the art of suffering and the art of happiness. With each breath, we ease suffering and generate joy. With each step, the flower of insight blooms.
From No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. © 2014 by United Buddhist Church. Published with the permission of Parallax Press. www.parallax.org.
Like birds flying in a “V,” when we feel the presence of others moving along side of us, there is little we cannot accomplish.
As they swoop, drift, and glide, inscribing magnificent patterns across the sky, birds are serene displays of grace and beauty. Long a source of inspiration, birds can be messengers from the spirit realm, or a symbol of the human soul, as they cast off their earthly mooring and soar heavenward.
An upturned wing, a graceful flutter, all so effortless and free… More magnificent still is the inspiring sight of birds migrating, progressing steadily across the horizon in a solid V formation that is a singular pattern too unique to be mere chance.
Pushing steadily forward, this aerodynamic V reduces air resistance for the whole flock. With wings moving in harmony, the feathered group continues its course across the sky, covering more ground together in community than as individuals.
When the bird at the front gets tired, she will move to the rear of the formation where the wind drag is lowest, and a more rested bird can take her place.
By learning from the example of our winged guides, all of us can feel empowered to take on daring challenges as we chart adventurous courses.
Feel the strength of others moving alongside you, as their presence lends power to your wings during this journey across the sky of life. When buffeted by unexpected gusts, we can choose to find refuge in the loving shelter of friends and family. We may even marvel as an otherwise difficult day passes by like a swift wind, as a kindred spirit charts a way for us through the clouds and rain ahead.
If your wings begin to ache on your journey, look around for somebody else to fly at the front for a while. All of us move faster when we move together. Let your ego drop earthwards as we all soar ever higher.
At the start of the pandemic, when many of us were asked to stay home to stem the spread of the coronavirus, it seemed like a lot of people had one of two reactions. Some embraced sheltering in place, thinking to themselves, “Why not use this big ‘pause’ to do something I always wanted to do?” — whether that meant cleaning out the closets, picking up a home renovation project, or learning a new language. The rest of us — including me — had no such plans. My goal was never to come out of quarantine a different, more improved person. It felt like everything in the world was so overwhelming, and getting by — day by day — would be more than sufficient.
As time went on, however, many of us — myself included — came to realize that we can’t help but evolve and come away changed by these times. But rather than let change happen to us, we can be intentional and actively participate in our transformation.
Some of us will make small but meaningful tweaks to our lives. Others will strive for a larger, sweeping “reinvention.” There’s no one right way to go about change; the important thing is to be deliberate and purposeful, and keep moving forward.
Here’s what’s been working for me, as I take this opportunity to contemplate who I want to be and how I want to evolve. Perhaps some of these techniques can help guide you on your own journey.
Revisit your goals. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions — not because I don’t think they’re useful, but because I don’t think we should limit ourselves to reassessing the trajectory of our lives just once a year. Why not do that right now? Consider this turbulent time in our nation — both with the virus and the seismic reckoning over racism that we’re in the middle of — an ideal opportunity to review what you want to accomplish and who you want to be.
We’re living through something we’ve never lived through before, and that gives us all the chance to look at our lives from a different angle. Do your personal goals continue to make sense and resonate with your values? Have your priorities changed? If you realize you need to pivot some aspect of your life, make that choice now rather than waiting for next month, or next year.
Reflect on the events of this year. Are there things you’ve learned, or that you’ve been thinking about, that have troubled you? Were you bothered by the lack of human connection you felt during quarantine? Did you crave a more active lifestyle when you were spending most of your time at home? Reflecting on what didn’t work for you can be a great tool to help you decide if you want to do something differently going forward.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was pretty much on an airplane every week for work. These past few months have been the longest stretch of time I’ve been home in approximately 10 years. I have discovered a new passion: I love being home. This experience has made me realize that I can be an effective leader, colleague, and influencer without getting on a plane each week. It’s better for me and my well-being, for my family, and for the environment. Now that I have realized this, it excites me to think: How do I evolve to do all the things I want to do, but do them in a different way?
Use your own personal data to fuel change. Your emotions give you information — in fact, I think of my emotions as data. During this time, whether because of COVID-19 or racial injustice or economic challenges or any other circumstance, what were the highs and lows of your emotions? And what can you learn from them?
Observingmy emotions has highlighted the importance of finding joy in everyday moments. I always believed in it, but I was often too busy to fully recognize the joy in little things and hold onto that joy. Before, if my puppy did something funny, I’d laugh in the moment — then move onto whatever was next. Now I laugh and realize that she has no clue about what’s going on in the world; she is just living in the moment and living her best life.
Educate yourself. Sometimes in order to create change — personal as well as societal — we need to commit to learning more about why things are the way they are. I am a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and access, and I am constantly looking for ways to further the conversationi around mental health .
Lately, as the pervasiveness of systemic racism has become a larger conversation in our country, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the history of mental health in the Black community. Our mental health system needs to do better for everyone, and specifically for the communities of people of color. One way we can affect change is by elevating BIPOC voices in the mental health and well-being space. We can’t allow their voices to go unheard anymore.
Recognize your power. Even the most personal changes we make can have a powerful ripple effect through communities and our society as a whole. Think about the collective impact we could have if we all made one small positive change and put that out in the world. If we all decided “I’m going to travel less for work,” the impact that could have on the environment would be immense. Or if we each made the commitment to volunteer with an organization we’ve never worked with before, or committed to learning about racism and how we can all amplify BIPOC voices, the results could be transformative. Simply put, when we embark on positive change in our individual lives, everyone benefits.
By Thrive Global