Day 11 – Being Happy when You’re Not Happy
Ok, so I sit at a desk for a large percentage of my life. This can be dull. How then can I be happy when I’m not really feeling happy? This is what Buddhist’s call skilful means and there are many, many, many different means. Some have a temporary effect and others a more lasting effect and some can be seen as stepping stones or stop gaps to learning more skilful means. The best means though have the ability to transform our minds. What does this mean? It means that we might feel a mood brewing and be harbouring a particular attitude. Ordinarily we would think ‘Oh, I’m in a bad mood’ and carry on without thinking that there is actually something we can do about it. We stew and simmer and smoke and heaven forbid someone should get in our way – watch out because it is probably your fault! However, we can learn to catch ourselves and to generate a level of awareness that enables us to, kind of, see around the sides of the mood and see that ‘ah, this is a mood. It is fleeting and temporary and it will pass.’ This recognition in itself is a shift and could often be enough for us to be able to drop the storyline of ‘I’m in a bad mood.’
Sometimes recognition is not enough and we need to apply an antidote. One of the greatest ones is to do something for someone else. It doesn’t have to be anything impressive but rather that you give your full attention to another for just a moment. I was on a retreat last year and had been in a stinking mood for a couple of days – heaps of insecurity and anxiety (yes, this is not uncommon on retreat!). We were receiving teachings on ‘Lo Jong’ or ‘mind training,’ which have a large emphasis on decentralising from ourselves by expanding the self-cherishing attitude that we hold for ourselves to include others. I was brooding away ,having a good old pity party, focused entirely on myself and then I was inspired to just ask, genuinely, how my friend was going. I listened with interest to what she had to say and for those few moments I forgot myself, I was one in the action of listening or, should I say, I was listening. Amazingly I felt heaps better. The tension that had built over the last few days was released and my mind relaxed. It was so simple.
Why am I telling you all about this today? Because I find sitting at my desk each day pretty dull and, by the end of the day, I am often feeling a little ‘hhmmph’! I can see this though and know I have a choice. So this is me applying skilful means to transform the environment of my mind. Sharing the teachings, my practice and the little experience I have of applying them to my life brings me much joy. I am so honoured that I have learnt anything at all, so grateful to those who have taught me and am so humbled by your interest in listening. Thank you. You have helped me transform my mind today!
I think one of the bravest and most rewarding things we can do is to really get in touch with our fundamental nature and discover what, on a deeper, lasting level, makes us happy. Not the fleeting happiness of pleasure, but a lasting mental contentment, as my teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, would say. When I first heard this I didn’t ever really know what contentment was but, as I learn to recognise and rest in my fundamental nature, I am beginning to see and feel it. The best thing is, when you learn these sorts of practices (and they are accessible to all of us these days), you learn how to enter these states of being at your own will, rather than waiting for external circumstances to be just right (and face it, they can be few and far between sometimes).
To make matters worse sometimes we can actually enjoy the pity-party. It can be a convenient excuse to self-indulge in all those thoughts we have about things being so bad and ‘why me?’ These days I know there is even certain music that I have to avoid listening to (like all those heart-broken ballads) or I will sink into the depths of a self-imposed pity-party! It might be stickily enjoyable for a while but with a hang-over of depression I’ve learnt it’s not worth it!
When the emotions are strong like that they are pretty easy to recognise. However, more subtle moods like boredom or dullness can be much more insidious and difficult to shift, especially if you let them settle in and get comfortable. They sit there like a droning sound in the background, largely unnoticed but audible enough to slowly sap your energy and enthusiasm and can remain for years. This is what I am working with today. I am fairly new to playing with this one but would say that doing things that are enlivening such as having a good laugh, doing rigorous exercise or something that you really enjoy or inspires you is helpful. Actually, I find looking up inspiring quotes on the web is really helpful or watching an inspiring teaching. Reading the first few is a bit’ hhmmph’ but then, slowly, the environment of the mind begins to transform and lighten. I think it’s pretty personal but it does involve a firm decision to shift the mood / transform the mind rather than allowing the habit of dwelling in it to remain.
So, I do feel a lot better, thanks to a large degree to you – otherwise there would be no point in writing really! The more I practice transforming my mind, the easier it gets as I know I have done it before and can do it again.