The road to happiness

Growing Younger - Help for would-be meditators

From the time we learn to speak we are told how we should and should not be, what we should or should not believe to be true, how we should and should not behave.  Small wonder we grow up conflicted, confused, insecure, guilty.  So what can we do?  How can we find that elusive thing called happiness….. and if we do – how can we make it our default setting? 

Spiritual exercises such as yoga, meditation and religious rituals  would like to be the answer. And often claim to be the way.  But are they?   Chances are, despite all your best efforts, you will have to admit you are still swimming along with the rest of us in an ocean of self doubt and insecurity.  If you are still judging yourself or concerned about the impression you make on others, feeling guilty about any past actions or relationships or harbouring any other negative images of yourself or the world, it’s no big deal.  This is where we all live.

And yet  all the masters and saints and yogis tell us that our true nature is radiant bliss.  They assure us that we are eternal beings, peaceful, compassionate and joyful beyond measure.   How can we begin to fathom what they mean?

Imagine a 4 year old child demanding a nuclear physicist explain to him (in a fully understandable way of course) how the large Hadron Collider works and what exactly the experiments are that are being conducted there.  Well, begins the professor, the LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator………. and already our child is lost.  And this is how it would be should an enlightened being attempt to explain concepts such as ‘oneness’ or ‘eternal bliss’ to us.  We are trying, with our rational, conscious minds, to grasp  that which exists beyond the realm of our understanding.

We are surrounded by spiritual teachings and writings of every description.  So what’s the point of all the words?  Perhaps to point us in a particular direction?  Give us hope that life is not all for nothing?  Ignite in us a spark of something like… what…recognition?  We have to start somewhere and I guess the mind is as good a place as any.  But all the talking and philosophising and reading in the world will give us not one hint, not a single glimpse of this mysterious reality.  We are not really on a path or a journey for there is nowhere to go, the masters say.  But how do we explain that to ourselves?  We feel if we continue to seek long enough we will find.

And that is where our practice comes in.   Only you can know if your own practice is making you a happier, less conflicted, less guilty, more secure human being.  If it is, you are one of the lucky ones.  If your practice is allowing you to feel, even just occasionally, more tolerant or compassionate then that is worth more than all the words in the world.  Does how you practice your yoga or meditation manifest in your life as a spaciousness, off the mat, that affords you time to think before you speak.  Does it  remind you that kindness is more important than always being right.  Does it connect you more gently to your life?  If we are interested in what the masters speak of as True Reality our practice must be our entry point.  Words may enthuse us, they may excite us, they may indicate what direction needs to be followed but they can never enlighten us.

So how exactly does this relate to our practice?  It is what we learn on our mat or cushion that counts.  And the subsequent taking of that into our daily lives.  If we are attentive to what is happening during our practice we will see that we are offered the opportunity to learn patience as we hold poses.  We can learn to be non-judgmental of ourselves and non-attached to outcomes if our poses are less than perfect.  We can learn fortitude and courage as we attempt things outside our comfort zone.  We may learn to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves as we struggle with the desire to give up or fear we will never find a certain pose easy. We made even learn to give up the need for that pose to be easy.

But if our practice is simply reinforcing negative beliefs we may hold about ourselves (our should-and-should-not list of self-judgment and self-criticism,) or we are driven by the ego rather than gently lead by intuition, only surface changes may occur.  We need to understand that our practice must be the process that will lead us to true happiness.

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