Happiness Day 17

When s*** hits the fan.

I focus on feeling good. I make headway, my mood rises, I appreciate subtle and obvious changes around me.

And then something unwanted shows up. A bad mood hits me from “out of nowhere”, or an issue arises that sparks bad feelings and inner turmoil.

But over time I adapt and adjust and the conflict is resolved and…looking back, I’m changed by it.

I’m growing by facing these unwanted things and allowing the wanted instead.

And though at first it was dire and stomach-churning and dramatic and full of fear, over time and with practice the process has gotten easier.

Abraham describes it as “learning to handle contrast better”.

Not only can we learn to allow better-feeling thoughts on contrast-rich subjects, but we can also allow greater ease and comfort in the process.

We can even get to the point of appreciating contrast because it inspires the expansion and growth that is the whole point of our life here.

Let it be easy!

At first I wanted to make rapid, powerful changes to my mood and my life.

But people who have done this advise against it. Don’t be in a hurry, take it easy.

The whole point of life is to enjoy the journey. And while we might tell ourselves we are ready to go straight from utterly depressed to profoundly joyful in an instant, there’s actually a desperation and a denial of enjoyment in that pledge.

The harder you push, the more it hurts, not least because you’re used to feeling bad and so your efforts to “try harder” tend to be instinctively geared to more pain and struggle.

“Feel good” really is too easy an answer for most of us. It takes time to accept that there’s no benefit to pushing and no merit to hurting along the way.

So let it be easy! Don’t worry! The path of greatest ease is the path of least resistance and of most allowing.

There’s no rush. Don’t make it an uphill climb; the point after all is to learn how to feel better, and you can’t struggle to make that happen, earn it through suffering, or make it come faster by gritting your teeth in bitterness.

Count Your Blessings Day 1

Today I was inspired to start focusing on all the good things happening to me each day.

The whole point of feeling better is to feel better, but our progress can also be measured in the circumstances of life.

Better yet, appreciating the good things we already have is an excellent way to feel better about life right now.

So I thought it a good idea to begin adding up and appreciating these good things in life and posting them here to help me focus.

First up: I slept really well last night! I woke up feeling relaxed and rested.

My wife’s plans for the day changed, and instead of cleaning up the house for guests she’s gone out to a cafe and the baby is asleep so I have unexpected alone-time to relax and think about things and feel good!

I had an insight into my planned Four Temperaments book. I realised that trying to be methodical and exhaustively detached just didn’t suit me. I don’t just want to rehash what others have said; I want to share my own experiences and reflections and that means taking an unapologetically melancholic perspective for a determinedly melancholic audience!

My wife spontaneously did a couple of chores around the house that we’ve both been meaning to do for ages but never got around to!

It’s delightfully cool and windy today – the autumn weather I love most!

I roasted my last batch of coffee and ordered twenty kilos more of green beans!

We had a great Easter with a big family lunch yesterday and it all went really well!

This morning I heard an excerpt from an Abraham-Hicks talk, and it inspired me to write a blog post that really homes in on my spiritual perspective. I was really pleased with that post, and it even drew together a poem by Kabir, a passage from the Dao De Jing, an excerpt from Samuel and a bit of Theology of sacrifice and atonement. Suitably eclectic, interior and mystical!

I took my daughter for a walk this afternoon and met up with my wife. We enjoyed looking at beautiful and interesting houses on the way home.

My wife saved me some delicious churros. I don’t think I’ve had them before.

We had enough ingredients for a tasty salad for dinner, drank a beer brewed by a friend, and watched one of my favourite tv shows.

An easy, pleasant day full of enjoyment and peaceful relaxation!

A reflection

Counting blessings is an interesting process because it begs the question prompts me to wonder: what are blessings to me?

Something prosaic like my wife spontaneously finishing an old chore is meaningful to me in my life.

And it’s translatable to others in the form of: a lingering domestic burden suddenly and easily taken care of. Nice!

But more personal to me are things like: being inspired to write a post that hits all the right notes for my spiritual beliefs and experiences.

It doesn’t need to be translated to others, but perhaps I need to translate it for myself? Because things like money and property and relationships are often easier to assign value to, since their value is widely accepted (though still variable and subjective).

We can “count our blessings” financially and familially and in terms of health and relationships. But ultimately blessings are for us as individuals to appreciate, and what I appreciate as an individual needn’t have currency to others more broadly.

Like finding an article in Chinese about the martial art i practice. It’s a rare art and resources are scarce, so even a humble newspaper article means a lot to me. Count my blessings!

But even that can be translated to others.

Let me then consider a blessing the ease with which I thought of, and found online, the quotations I used in my blog post.

Let me consider it a blessing the ease with which I put into words my experience of finding God within me, and the work of soothing and reconciling worldly thoughts that take me away from that inner peace and knowing.

Let me count as a blessing how I managed to soften and soothe a painful thought, rather than digging into it looking for resolution.

If we rely on others’ real or imagined criteria for what a blessing is, we might think we are hard done by.

But laying claim to the things that I value, the things that are blessings to me, I can appreciate more fully the abundance at my disposal.

After all, I’ve been wanting and asking for unusual things like deeper understanding of prayer and mediation, greater familiarity with sacred texts, and an instinctive sureness in finding my own answers.

If I count them all they will add up to a great deal, regardless of how much store others place in them. I’m the one who values them, so let me value them properly and feel the appreciation of being so blessed!

The garden within you

There’s a place of peace and clarity within us. You can go there if you retreat just a little from all your worries and cares.

Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside the body and out of it,
before gardens and after gardens.
– Kabir

Getting there is easy. Staying there is harder, because we’ve spent all our lives investing in stories of “out there”.

Stories of how important it is to worry, strive, prove yourself, accomplish something.

Stories that began with us accepting there was something wrong or broken or inadequate about our own existence.

Stories where it’s a mean world out there and your success is a measure of your worthiness and your happiness is a reflection of your success.

Guard your heart

Guarding your heart means not allowing your thoughts about life to force you out of the peace and happiness within you.

After all, we have God’s own assurance that nothing can go wrong for us.

Christ didn’t let himself be killed to pay a price required of us by his own Father. His was a sacrifice to end all sacrifice, not because God requires or demands sacrifice but because we humans had got it into our heads that sacrifice was necessary.

Sacrifice was never necessary.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

To obey originally meant “to listen”. The Hebrew for “obey” likewise means “to hear”.

We tend to interpret this verse as saying “enough with the sacrifices, just do as you’re told!”

Because obedience conjures images of dutifully following commandments. Listening and hearing God’s guidance is conflated with following orders.

Yet the whole point of the Bible is that God desires a genuine relationship with us.

Or rather, God has never ceased pouring out His love and blessings upon us. We are the ones hiding, refusing, and rejecting the grace available to us.

The garden within

It’s easy to find the quiet place within you where God dwells. But to carry that peace and love out into life requires us to let go of the worries and cares that have accrued around our external circumstances.

I can close my eyes and feel close to God, but open them and feel the tie of thoughts about everything I see before me: house, belongings, family, YouTube, chores, plans, worries and fears and hopes and wishes.

The work before us is to let our thoughts be changed by the peace and love we find within.

Bit by bit, soothe and soften and ease the story of our lives until we can remain in this love always.

The Way is like an empty vessel
That yet may be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless; the very progenitor of all things in the world.
In it all sharpness is blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered,
All dust soothed.

It is like a deep pool that never dries.
Was it too the child of something else? We cannot tell.
But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.

– DDJ 4. Waley

Happiness Day 16

Happiness flow chart (sorta).

I had the idea just now to make a flow chart about feeling good that covers all the general possibilities.

How do I feel right now?

Good! -> appreciate it!

Not good.

Can I find a better feeling?

Yes! -> appreciate it!

No.

Can I accept/make peace with where I am right now?

Yes. -> appreciate it.

No.

Can I soothe myself?

Yes. -> keep soothing.

No. -> go have a nap, find a simple distraction, change the subject, get your mind off what is bothering you.

A more positive approach?

But this flow chart feels like it could be more positive. I mean, it’s good to demonstrate what to do when you feel bad, but it doesn’t really develop a good feeling.

For all intents and purposes, good feeling is the grace, spirit, divine presence, whatever you want to call it, that we seek to cultivate by prayer or meditation.

When people visualise a pure white light surrounding and infusing them, the whole point is that this visualisation feels good.

If it doesn’t feel good, it isn’t working for you.

I can visualise all sorts of things and have no effect whatsoever.

That’s where I went wrong in the past: not by visualising per se but by thinking the point of all the different spiritual practices was something other than feeling good.

Meditation should feel good. Prayer should feel good. Sometimes it’s difficult, sure. But it mostly should feel good.

If you’re accustomed to feeling bad and distrusting ordinary good feelings, you might make the mistake of thinking spiritual practices should not feel good.

You might overemphasise stories of struggle and effort and how “different” spiritual practice is from everything else in life.

But the bottom line is that it should feel good. And for my purposes I should treat good feeling as a direct sign of the spiritual substance I’m seeking to connect with.

The presence of God feels good. Divine love feels good. Our hearts’ desire is to feel good.

Feeling good is the path and the destination. Accept it, embrace it, and be changed by it until everything feels good for you.

Happiness Day 15

Dealing with contrast.

Physical pain, a screaming baby, a dozen minor annoyances.

It’s a pretty good place to be, to be feeling like ****, dealing with a bunch of small gripes and irritations, and knowing inside out that this is exactly where you are meant to be.

Not lashing out or exploding or spiralling downward. Not making things worse or losing hope or giving up entirely – though you may have done all that plenty of times in the past.

But knowing that things only feel bad because they have to get better. Knowing because you’ve seen this pattern repeat six or seven times in the past half-year alone.

Knowing, thank God, that these are questions calling forth answers by the mere fact we notice them and want an answer.

We don’t have to have the answer at hand or know what it will look like, because the question itself is what brings the answer to us.

And all we need to do is not cling so tight to the contrast, and not keep focusing so much on how difficult or troubling or impossible the situation feels.

In other words we need to have a little bit of faith in the process.

I’ve been around long enough to know that these small everyday burdens can feel excruciating in the moment, but they are not forever. And in their passage we are raised up and brought to a higher perspective.

They’re questions! Our struggle with them is a question! Our inability to cope with them is a question!

And in time we may go from struggle and frustration to eagerness and excitement when we see a new question form and wonder what the answer is going to be.

My pain is going to subside, my baby is going to sleep well, and the other nuisances are barely worth mentioning and will shortly be forgotten and submerged in the rising tide as I get better and better at feeling good.

This is the worst I’ve felt in fifteen days of focusing on happiness. That alone is a sign of how far I’ve come. If this is the worst I’ve felt, then that alone is something to appreciate.

My happiness work is going so well I even feel good about feeling bad right now!

That’s a suitable paradox as I wish you all a Happy Easter.

Happiness Day 14

What moves you to worry?

Being open and feeling good, I suddenly start to worry:

What time are we supposed to leave? Do we need to bring drinks? Will any shops be open? Are we swimming? What is the plan?

I want to stop the worry before it arises. But how can I do that?

Motivation – what moves you?

Motivation is literally what moves you – into action, into thought, into focus.

I don’t enjoy the worry, so why am I embracing worried thoughts? What moves me?

It’s always either desire or aversion that makes us move. I’m moved to worry because I desire something or because I’m trying to avoid something.

If I pay attention I can feel a more intense fear behind the worry. A fear of consequences if I don’t start worrying.

Worry gives the illusion of control, a sense of preparedness, but it is still an expression of fear and a focus on the unwanted aspects of life.

Unhappy distractions

This is a big deal. Worries feel bad, but we reach for them to avoid feeling something worse.

We want to be worried, we just aren’t at all happy about it. We don’t like being worried, but we keep unconsciously choosing it.

Knowing that I want to worry helps me understand why worry is so hard to shake. It’s hard to shake off something that you keep picking up!

Facing the fear

Fear of consequences is what motivates me to worry.

I fear what will happen if I’m late, or if I don’t plan the trip well or if I make a social faux pas.

Fear of vague and unspecified consequences is deeply uncomfortable, and it makes sense that I would choose to worry about more specific and tangible things.

There’s not much more to say at this point, but by becoming conscious of worry as a choice I can choose not to worry and experience the fear instead.

Face the fear, see that the consequences never come, and enjoy the relief of letting the worry go.

Happiness Day 13

Chasing your shadow.

Today I’ve been caught up in the parallels between my approach to weight loss, and my current efforts to improve my life by feeling better.

I like my weight-loss approach because it cut out all my uncertainty and confusion, but also took me deep into my own motivations and feelings around eating.

I like it because it took something that was simply a struggle and showed me the cross-purposes in my own mind, hidden behind self-deception.

Most of all I liked it because it worked. That’s why I’m applying the same process and intensity to my goal of feeling better.

Reality is a shadow

Chasing your shadow means mistaking the effect for the cause, the symptom for the underlying disease. In the context of weight loss I learned to stop focusing on being overweight as an undesirable state, because it was really just the symptom or effect.

The real issue was my relationship with food. I even went so far as to say that being overweight was a healthy physical response to unhealthy eating habits.

I viewed my weight as always good, always a clear indicator of my relationship with food.

What was undesirable was not my weight but my approach to eating.

Reality is like your body weight

By analogy my experience of life is always a clear indicator of my relationship with God, my inner being, the spirit within me.

Because God is always reaching out to us. Our inner being is always pouring love and appreciation into us. And this spiritual reality would colour and infuse our whole existence and physical reality if we stopped turning away from it and clinging to unwanted things.

I’ve seen it today in my own mind: I may be feeling peace and happiness and appreciation, but then I reach for thoughts of worry and deadlines and “I need to get the kids dressed in the next twenty minutes or we’ll be late!”

What do I get out of it?

My relationship with food changed when I realised I didn’t like being overweight, but part of me quietly, determinedly, wanted to eat as an escape and distraction from unpleasant feelings.

Losing weight was always a struggle because I was wanting contradictory things and hiding the conflict from myself.

So by inference there must be something I want to get from feeling bad. I must want to focus on bad feeling thoughts even while I’m trying to focus on good feeling thoughts.

Why?

Well perhaps it’s because feeling bad, worried, and stressed gives the illusion of safety.

Feeling crappy all the time might be draining, but it’s much better than walking unawares into danger.

At least, in any given moment it’s much much better to feel worried and vigilant than to be caught by surprise and feel the sudden shock and terror or hurt or panic at being accused, threatened, ridiculed, or tricked by others.

In other words, thoughts that feel bad might help us approach situations with caution and self-protective guardedness.

But as a long term strategy the cost is too great. And since we create our reality it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I imagine letting go of that guardedness and protective cynicism I do indeed feel afraid of something worse. Better to get hit when you’re expecting it than to go down to a sucker-punch.

But it’s much much worse to go through life flinching at every imagined blow.

I think the way forward is to face the fear of being open and unsuspecting of harm, and not seek to avoid that fear by dampening my happiness.

It might be intimidating at first but it will also be a huge relief to own the fear directly rather than taking so many demoralising efforts to avoid it.

Redirect your attention

Each day take attention away from thoughts and things that feel bad and give attention to thoughts and things that feel good.

In time you will no longer have any bad feeling thoughts in your mind or things in your life.

In time the redirection of your attention won’t be from bad to good, but from good to better.

Always finding better feeling thoughts no matter what the circumstances or conditions around you, even the most unpleasant thought can be soothed and even the happiest thought can expand further.

In time your whole existence will be one of joyfully keeping up with the expanding happiness within you and around you.

Is happiness challenging?

Today is day 12 of my Happiness Challenge and I’m pleased to say that happiness is not feeling like a challenge anymore.

I’ve been training myself to feel better regardless of the circumstances, and I’m really glad to report that my focused effort is paying off.

I’m pleased to give credit to Esther Hicks and the Abraham teachings. I found them at the right time, letting go of my resistance and accepting that feeling good really is my goal in life.

Other teachings inspired me and gave me hope, but none of them were exactly right.

Of course it wasn’t about the teachings per se, but my own reluctance to accept the simple answer of feeling good.

In hindsight I was seeking Truth and insight and understanding because I thought these would help me feel good.

But I was so caught up in my intellectual seriousness and wanting to justify and explain myself that I couldn’t just feel good directly.

Now I look at all those teachings as…surplus. I don’t need them in order to feel good.

Maybe other people do need them, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way but in the sense that we all have different questions and hence desire different answers.

People could just as easily look at me and wonder why I’m making such a big deal about relaxing and feeling better.

Ultimately we can only live our own lives and no one else’s. I take pleasure in letting go of my efforts to explain myself and make my thoughts comprehensible to others.

I take pleasure in allowing my authentic feelings to develop and change without looking for consistency with others’ words and actions.

In the end other people can’t validate my own thoughts, feelings and desires, because they are mine. Validity was never truly the question.

That’s why my interests and passions have so frequently turned out to be marginal and obscure by others’ estimation.

I studied philosophy but I’m not really a philosopher. I learn a martial art but it’s rare and unusual. I love coffee but roast and brew my own.

Everything I do, I tend to take in a direction of my own utmost individual experience.

Because in the end it’s all about individual experience. That’s the vantage point life affords us.

We haven’t come into being only to quickly die and be reabsorbed back into some cosmic whole. God didn’t create us as individual points of consciousness only to have us immediately blend into one.

The point is simply to feel good, and enjoy the unfolding of this experience; and if you’re not enjoying it, the tools are available to help you remember how.

Happiness Challenge Day 11

Your attention is your most valuable resource.

This is Day 11 of a process designed to help me focus on feeling good.

I want to feel good all the time.

But I can’t keep score along the way. And I don’t want to go back and tell the story of where I came from and why I want to feel good.

At some point these justifications and explanations and score-keeping only serve to remind me of the past.

Why remind ourselves of the past? At first it might feel good to say “look how far I’ve come” but even a positive reminder still keeps that reference point alive in our minds.

I’m beginning to realise how valuable my attention is.

We can only focus on one thought at a time. Telling the story of how I used to feel might not be a bad thought, but aren’t there better-feeling thoughts I could be focusing on instead?

I’m getting better at picking thoughts that feel good. I’ve even drafted and redrafted this post because I keep wanting it to feel better and better. I have a tantalising sense that something far far greater is on its way.

So without keeping score, but maybe keeping track: at the end of day eleven I’m feeling very very good.