Our mindfulness practice helps us to be more present, awake and alive for life as it unfolds. We don't practice to get better at meditating, we practice to be able to live more fully, deeply and openheartedly. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our inner world and how we respond to the world around us. It gives us the space and precious time to connect inward and find our inner compass so that we have a better sense of who we are, what we want and how we want to move through our days. It also gives us a skill set to be abe to slow down, to turn off our over-thinking brain so that we can simply notice and experience our life as it unfolds. Finally, through our mindfulness practice, we develop the amazing internal power of choice. When we slow down and stop our habitual patterns of behavior and reactivity, we can see that in each moment we have the power to choose how we wish to see the world and how we wish to respond to it.
Mindfulness practice is just that - a practice. And, it takes practice. As my kind and patient family will attest, it is not easy to break habits, and when we feel overwhelmed or sad or frustrated, we act out and those long-ingrained patterns of behavior which are often our default mode. When that happens, our mindfulness practice teaches us that we must treat ourselves just as we would treat others, with kindness, patience and compassion. We invite all of those feelings in and sit with them. We give ourselves permission to be human. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "Everything is part of the curriculum."
Joy on Demand in 2017
After a challenging end to 2016, I have been feeling a persistent malaise and unease lately. So, I have been looking to pump up my daily dose of happiness and joy in 2017. Awareness is the key. I look at what brings me joy - dancing in the kitchen, listening to my favorite music, cuddling with my kiddos, finding peaceful, quiet times to just breathe and connecting with my friends. I also know what brings me down - too much news (the world will still be there if I turn off CNN or my phone for a while). I made a list of what makes me happy and put it on my refrigerator, then pledged to do more of those things each day. In 2017, I choose to do more of what makes my heart sing. You can too!
In his book, Joy on Demand, Chade-Meng Tan, the former software engineer and founder of mindfulness programs at Google, describes how he went from being someone who was "constantly miserable" to becoming the "Jolly Good Fellow" of Google.
As we say goodbye to 2016 and hello to a bright and shiny new year, we can start with the intention of finding more joy in each day. Meng explains that "thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere . . . and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it's always there. Joy becomes something you can count on."
(1) Easing Into Joy - Stilling the Mind - The first step in finding more joy is to quiet your mind. Suffering comes from our thoughts. As Shakespeare wrote, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." Many of us find that our minds are very busy and generally in a state of unrest. When we learn to quiet our minds by simply anchoring our attention on our breath, on our the bodies or on the warm sunlight on our face, we can create a stillness and an openness that makes way for joy. Easing our minds helps us be more open and present for the simple pleasures all around us.
(2) Inclining the Mind Toward Joy - When we are caught up in our heads (in thoughts of the past or future), we miss out on the present and opportunities for great joy now. We are usually caught up in thinking about things that are simply out of our control, and no matter how much we think about it, our thoughts won't change that. So, we can open ourselves up for more joy simply by being more present for what we are experiencing right now. We can learn to invite joy in by simply stopping to notice the simple pleasures all around us each day.
(3) Rediscovering What Brings Us Joy - Singing out loud, dancing in the kitchen, watching the sunset, being in nature, these are a few of my favorite things. Once we find more moments of ease and stillness, we can bring our attention fully into our actual experience. We can also choose to fill more moments with those things that make us happy. Think about what makes you happy and find more opportunities to do them each day. Then, fully immerse yourself in those moments and feel the joy envelop you.
(4) Uplifting the Mind - We can learn to invite in more wholesome joy, joy that is widespread, not ego-centric, and joy that can truly change the world. This joy arises from goodness, generosity, lovingkindness and compassion. We can volunteer, give time to those in need, help a stranger, call a friend. Research shows that joy we experience from helping others, joy that comes from meaningful acts of interconnectedness, is joy that last longer and is more deeply fulfilling.
As Meng writes . . .
“In modern society, with modern technology, pleasure is more accessible than ever, all around us, on demand. Our lack of joy is certainly not for lack of ways to gratify our egos and senses. However, the joy that comes from these sources is inherently problematic since it depends on external factors out of our control.
By contrast, joy that comes from within—from a peaceful mind as a result of taking a few breaths, joy from being kind toward others (which involves other people but does not depend on them), joy from our own generosity, joy from doing the right thing—all this joy is ours to have, independent of circumstances. If we do accidentally lose our joy, or something really bad happens and overwhelms us, there’s still joy in knowing we can get it back. We all have an infinite resource at our disposal, no matter how constrained or difficult our circumstances, and that resource is joy. Joy isn’t elusive when you know where and how to find it.”
I wish everyone a very healthy, joy-filled and peaceful New Year! I encourage you to keep up your mindfulness practice each day. And in 2017 . . .
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you be safe, and
May you have a 2017 full of peace!