Happiness: the state of being happy; an experience of happiness.
It is a feeling that is often too fleeting. When we have it we want to keep it and make it linger in our heart and minds. Can it be cultivated and created? Yes, the ancient traditions say… Happiness can be achieved by a consistent mindfulness practice. Here’s why:
1. Mindfulness connects us to an ancient practice that is tried and true and successful in the art of happiness. Christian orders, buddhist sanghas and others have been practicing and teaching mindfulness for centuries. You can see the peace, tranquility and calm on the faces of these monastic believers. The monastic’s simple lifestyle paints a picture of calm reflection of what is necessary for life and happiness, which are basic. The benefits of mindfulness practices is that it helps us tune out the noise where happiness results from a life of the mind that is not distracted and pulled by materialistic desires. I call it, “cognitive asceticism.” Happiness ensues when we focus on the gifts of the moment, not the weight of the world.
2. Mindfulness allows us to tune in to who we are and confront negativity in life, releasing us and others from unhappiness. This past week, I learned about the power of a lojong slogan about confronting resentments for Buddhist followers. Lojong comes from Tibetan Buddhism, of the Mahayana (“big vehicle”) tradition. Training one’s mind toward letting go of resentments is based on effort within because we have everything we need in order to be enlightened, according to this belief system. For a Christian, the central truth is that our God is one of forgiveness. In Matthew 18:22, Peter asks how many times we should forgive someone who has wronged us, “up to seven times?” Jesus responds, “…up to seventy-times seven.” Happiness comes when we can sit in mindful meditation, working on forgiveness–asking for it and receiving it.
3. Mindfulness provides a brain pause: The practice is an instant retreat from the busy thoughts inside our heads. There is nothing to do but to focus on connecting with God. At the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights (Where these pictures come from) as I sit in quiet mindfulness meditation in a simple room, happiness bubbles up. I use the time to focus on breath, as instructed, and center my thoughts on the compassion of Jesus. It is a true treat to just have one thing on my mind. My only job for that hour was just to meditate and connect. For the buddhist, the mind connection is to the prakrtri, the true buddha nature that resides in everyone and everything. For the Christian, like me, we can connect to the person of Jesus– transforming into His nature while giving mental and spiritual space to the Holy Spirit to work within.
4. Mindfulness allows scripture to sink deep within: I’m learing more about the dharma, particularly how mindfulness leads to moral behavior and right thinking, which then creates a rippling effect on the world. Dharma and mindfulness practice go together and Master Hsing Yun states, “The biggest reason people do not gain much from their [mindfulness] practice…is they do not properly balance practice and learning [of the dharma]”. (For background, I am studying under Mahayana schools of thought, particularly the Humanistic Buddhist tradition and Tibetan Buddhism).
This rings true for us as Christians as well. Sometimes we focus on scripture, but read it half-heartedly or with half our minds. I have re-connected with the practice of Lectio Divina, Latin for “divine reading”, which focuses on reading scriptures slowly, out loud and in meditation. The slow art of meditating on God’s word has opened them back up, allowing them to sink deeper, drawing on them for support and happiness amidst troubles.
5. Mindfulness leads to transcendence, which are the fruitful seeds of happiness. While sitting in silence, our minds become trained in all of the aforementioned characteristics: simple life, forgiveness, retreating while connecting and scripture-focused. I count all these things as achieving transcendent moments planted in the presence of God. Whatever is going on today can be placed on hold for a moment to be reminded of what is good, what is true, what is noble… the fruits of each resulting in happiness. To experience transcendence, leading to happiness, we must heed the call from Psalmist who states, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Reference: Yun, H. (2012). The core teachings: Essays in basic Buddhism. (4th ed.) Los Angeles, CA: Buddha’s Light Publishing.