Happiness Challenge Day 10

Feeling good is your magic power.

I used to love fantasy stories as a kid, and even as I grew up I longed to find magic in the real world.

Eventually I grew disenchanted, and sought my magic in spiritual teachings instead.

But I’ve found my magic power after all. It’s called feeling good, and though I’m only a novice at it I can already see the effects of this magic in myself and in my world.

If I could go back in time I would teach my younger self exactly what I’m learning now.

Feeling good is the key; practice reaching for thoughts that feel good, no matter what the circumstances.

My favourite thing to do right now is to sit and simply feel good.

Well I say “simply” but I’m also aware that by feeling good I’m allowing this magic to spread within myself and through the farthest reaches of my reality.

In untold and mysterious ways, my feeling good benefits and improves everything and everyone around me.

My feeling good works magic on the whole of life, because in fact it is “life” itself that causes the good feeling in me.

It might make more sense to some readers if instead of “feeling good” I called it meditation or contemplative prayer.

All those monks and nuns and hermits and spiritual people around the world, sitting daily or on their knees communing with God or drawing on the great reserve of love and compassion and radiating it out to the entire world: they know what they’re doing is magical. They feel their part in the deep wellspring of peace and joy that flows to all of us, even if we are not ready to receive it.

Do you know that what we call God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and exists outside of time and space? So when we pray or meditate on this pure Being we participate in something totally transcendent.

And at the same time we allow that totally transcendent Being of pure love to participate in us and in our reality.

That is why this practice feels so good that it might as well be magic.

The Way of abundance

The way I lost weight and the way I healed my autoimmune pain had a lot in common.

One of the commonalities was my underlying belief that health is natural. Our bodies naturally incline to a healthy weight. Our immune systems naturally protect the body rather than attacking it.

According to Daoism it is our interference in nature and our contrived efforts to control nature that end up causing illness and dysfunction.

So the whole time I was searching for the solution to these physical problems, I had great faith that my natural state of health would re-emerge if I stopped interfering.

And it did. I took away compulsive overeating, listened to my natural hunger, and my weight decreased naturally.

I stopped pushing myself and let go of various stressful thoughts, and my pain and inflammation went away.

What about life?

But when it came to the rest of life, that faith dissipated.

Why?

Partly because “nature” is easier to associate with the body than with society, economy, and meaning in life.

These “higher order” subjects are usually associated with the problem of human interference, rather than with the movement of the Way.

But it’s also partly because physical health is not under our direct control. It makes sense that our health would follow nature, but how can our career choices, income, daily interactions, or the flow of traffic?

False dichotomy

I didn’t give up on finding the Way in daily life, but because of this dichotomy between the human and the natural I concluded that finding the Way in everyday life was much harder and required more effort.

I was fixated on the problem of “ego” and the Daoist idea of being free from desires. I thought I had to attain a special spiritual state before I could find my Way.

It didn’t occur to me to equate living a good life with the natural health of my body.

Yet health and wealth are not so different. The Dao or Way that governs my physical body and draws it naturally to health is the same Way that guides my life into ease and abundance.

So by inference, what I require is faith that the Way wills abundance in my life just as it wills health in my body, and the only obstacle to both is my own interference.

I don’t need to attain a special spiritual state, just stop interfering in the natural flow and movement of the Way.

Health and wealth

Wealth is not just about money and property. The word itself actually means “well-being” and comes from the same root as “weal“.

In fact health isn’t just about the absence of illness and disease either. Health is wholeness and completeness, and by extension well-being also.

Daoism teaches that the Way nourishes and cares for all beings. Reminiscent of “Consider the lily” or the birds of the field, the mysterious power of the Way assures us of well-being.

How do we get out of our own way? How do we stop interfering with the wholeness and well-being that flow to us?

As I’ve been learning, the answer is twofold: first and most importantly, appreciate and savour the well-being that already flows to you, because in so doing, we tune into the source of that well-being and reaffirm its full availability to us.

I did this automatically with my health issues: recognising that the rest of my body functioned perfectly well; and even going so far as to recognise that being overweight was actually a healthy response to overeating, and that my autoimmune pain was a healthy reaction to internal stress and emotional tension.

The second part of aligning with our natural well-being is to recognise that it is our negative thoughts and ensuing emotions that interfere with this well-being.  The Way does not abandon us, we are the ones who deviate from its path.

In that sense, our negative feelings and the absence of well-being is an indicator that we are straying from the path. The gaps in our welfare and happiness are self-inflicted, if we stop entertaining them our natural well-being will quickly reassert itself in our experience.

Imagine, then, the streams of well-being flowing to you from the Way, the mysterious being that governs and nourishes all things, nourishing and guiding you into the wholeness and well-being you desire.

Remain in that stream, appreciate the goodness and relief and happiness it contains and let it carry you forward in grace.

When I found God

“There is no better advice on how to find God than to seek him where we left him: do now, when you cannot find God, what you did when last you had him, and then you will find him again.” – Meister Eckhart

I found God many years ago. He wasn’t hard to find, though it took me a while to realise that “He” was more like an “it”.

I found Him easily.

But doubts came even easier.

Why didn’t God talk to me or give me directions like in the bible or in some people’s accounts?

And how could I reconcile my experience with my parents’ demands that I go to church with them, even though I felt no real connection there?

Many of the books I read said how hard it was to do what I was doing. So maybe I wasn’t doing it after all?

More urgently, my life didn’t change. What value was there in my experience of God if the rest of my life still felt like a hopeless and crushing ordeal?

Finding the answers

I have answers to all my questions now.

I know now that other people’s opinions and experiences simply don’t matter unless I make them matter.

No one else can live my life for me. No one else will take responsibility for my happiness. So if my experience of God doesn’t match their personal spiritual or theological or philosophical view, that isn’t my problem.

After all, not a single person thinks they might have it wrong after meeting me, and nor should they. I don’t expect others to rethink their worldview just because I don’t agree with them.

All of these doubts and second-guessing are typical of my internal struggle between how I feel about things versus what other people think. (I’ve discussed it before in MBTI terms as the dominant-inferior dichotomy of the INFP.)

I spent many years rethinking my experience of God, hoping to find answers that would satisfy everyone.

I literally hoped to find the singular common truths underlying different religions, but I can see now that I also sought to bridge the gap between how I feel and what others seem to think.

Change of plans

I don’t need to do this anymore, because I know that it’s not possible and it’s not really what I desire.

All I ever wanted can be found in my own experience of God. Trying to answer others’ doubts and my own was really just giving voice to my fears and insecurities.

I don’t need that permission anymore, and it was never enough anyway.

Gaining momentum

My experience of God is the lodestone of all that is good and uplifting and joyful in life.

It’s the centre of my happiness because it is happiness itself.

The only reason it seemed insufficient in the past was that I kept looking at the world around me, at the things I didn’t like.

I didn’t practice enough the presence of God in my life and so it always remained marginal and “not enough”.

My practice of happiness, joy, and satisfaction could not gain momentum so long as I continually looked around to see if my frustration, misery and hopelessness were still there.

The good that came

I could have been happy much much earlier. I didn’t need so many years of struggle.

But it’s still okay. The struggle gave me a desire for clarity, for certainty, understanding.

My search brought me into touch with perspectives of God from vastly different religions and cultures.

And my experience of God deepened and expanded as I found it again and again under different guises: in the emptiness and insight of Buddhism, in the Holy Book of the Sikhs, in the poetry and ecstasy of the Sufis, in the nonduality of Vedanta, in the metaphysics and liturgy of Christianity, and in the mystery and flow of Daoism.

I found God again and again and eventually I also found out why those encounters had never seemed “enough”.

If you want to let go of doubt, you have to stop picking it up.

It’s up to us to decide what we focus on. We can’t fill our minds and hearts with troubles and fears and expect God to make them go away.

My Happiness Challenge has brought this out of me, because at last I’m finally determined to feel good and be as disciplined and as focused as feeling good requires.

Happiness Challenge Day 5

Trying instead of doing.

There’s a difference between trying to feel good and actually feeling good. There’s a big gap between feeling satisfaction and just telling yourself you’re satisfied.

It’s time to recalibrate.

I noticed a pain in my SI joint returning, which happens whenever I push myself to do something, whenever I think “I just have to do this from now on…”

Feeling good shouldn’t require any real effort, just persistent practice. But four days in, the feeling of effort and tension is telling me I’m “trying” rather than doing.

Actually feeling good

Course corrections like this are exciting because it means I’ve made enough progress to have something to correct!

I’ve done something different for the past five days, enough that I’m now wanting to refine my course and check where I’m heading.

But I’m heading somewhere! That’s actually exciting and a great affirmation.

In practice, what I’m doing to correct my course is to spend more time actually feeling good, rather than just thinking about it.

A practice

To actually feel good requires stepping back from normal activities. The kind of good feeling I’m after is visceral. It comes with a deep breath slowly released. It comes with a feeling of genuine physical relaxation and relief.

It comes with a change in focus away from my present reality and into a vague and general good feeling.

It comes with a sense of ease and letting go of complicated details and specifics.

And with it comes a desire for more, a sense of anticipation as if I’m close to some kind of great revolution or turning point in my life.

It comes with a sense of something vastly greater than myself, a spiritual Being that is pure and transcendent and increasingly within reach.

Making this transcendent yet immanent Being the centre of my reality is the goal, because it is within this Being that my greatest and unconditional happiness resides.

Killing the Buddha

If you meet the Buddha, kill him. – LinJi

The basic dichotomy of melancholic spirituality is that we are prone to despair and we require faith in providence to see us through.

But lots of spiritual teachers accentuate the suffering and disappointment in life, as if they are keen to get us disillusioned with worldly happiness and craving something more refined.

Buddhism hits the ground running with the first noble truth, frequently rendered in English as “life is suffering”, but with the more nuanced translation of “dissatisfying” also on offer.

In hindsight I don’t think melancholics need to be encouraged to view life as intrinsically dissatisfying. I don’t think it serves us to take such a negative principle on board as the premise of a spiritual path.

Killing the Buddha

The Zen Koan about “killing” the Buddha is a warning against religious idolatry, sanctimony, and the kind of spiritual practice that forgets the real meaning of the Buddha in favour of an image or a vision.

But today for me it means letting go of spiritual principles that don’t serve me – no matter how esteemed their author or noble their pedigree.

Is life suffering? No. Is life dissatisfying? No. It might have felt that way at times, but thinking there was something intrinsically negative about life and existence only made me feel worse about it.

Life is meant to be happy and joyful and satisfying, and if killing the Buddha helps me get there, I’m sure he won’t mind.

Happiness Challenge Day 4

Old spiritual hang ups.

Committing to feel good all the time has quickly shown me obstacles I’ve been putting in the way of happiness.

I used to think we have to choose between worldly happiness and spiritual happiness.

Lots of spiritual teachings claim that the world keeps us stuck in illusion, ignorant of the truth. Worldly happiness is presented as a false promise, whereas true happiness is spiritual.

But the dichotomy is false. We don’t have to choose, because all happiness, fulfilment and abundance come from the same source.

Spiritual gifts and material blessings are the same, grounded in our desire and the inspiration that asks for them, and the source that provides them to us.

Is it good to receive wisdom but bad to receive wealth? Is the desire for freedom a true expression of our innermost being, but the desire for a beautiful home is not?

I thought that the desire for anything material or worldly was some kind of trap that would keep me stuck in Maya, stuck in delusion, stuck in a fallen world.

Even though God promises us abundance, even though the Old Testament is full of all kinds of worldly prosperity, even though God swears he wouldn’t hand us a stone when we ask for bread.

What does it mean to want something, but also worry that having it would be bad? It means we are resisting our own desire, and fighting our own happiness.

My determination to feel good all the time is like setting out to clean house. All kinds of crazy junk appears and I find myself thinking “what on earth was I hanging onto this for?”

It feels good to let these things go.

Turning disappointment into eagerness

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen

Religions stress the impermanence and emptiness of desire in contrast to the abundance of love and joy that awaits us in the divine.

Echoing the Buddhist Four Noble Truths we are told that life is dissatisfying, and lasting satisfaction proves elusive.

But at the same time we still live in this world. And even enlightened or holy men and women do not rush to end their lives to be closer to God.

Life has a purpose. But how could any purpose be higher than the ultimate goal that awaits us after death?

What value does this dissatisfying life hold? How are we supposed to engage with something intrinsically dissatisfying?

In fact it’s not a flaw in existence that our desires are never lastingly satisfied in this lifetime, because if they were lastingly satisfied we would cease to grow, develop, and expand.

The whole of creation is unnecessary, strictly speaking, but we are told that God went ahead and created everything anyway, because He is not a God of necessities.

Like a writer can’t help but write, it tells us something of the nature of the divine that it outpoured itself into the manifold forms of existence.

An abundance of life and matter and elements and being and movement and energy, coalescing and evolving and coming apart and expanding and growing and changing.

Creation is alive, and the creator is alive too.

What feels to us like dissatisfaction in life is only so when we look for things that complete, finish, or conclude life, even though we ourselves and everything else continues to grow and change and expand.

Dissatisfaction is like getting upset when my smartphone can’t run the latest apps.

But would we be happier if people stopped making new apps instead? Would we be satisfied if we got to iPhone X and said “okay, that’s enough now”?

Why stop there? Weren’t the old Nokia 3310s good enough in their day?

If we want to start complaining about new technology we can go back at least as far as Socrates warning that reading and writing would lead to forgetfulness and false presumption of knowledge.

Satisfied and eager for more

A much better place to be is in a state of appreciation for the things we have, and eagerness for what is coming.

My current smartphone is amazing and I feel good just imagining all the future forms that this technology will take.

I know full well that this particular smartphone, or any piece of technology, will not bring lasting satisfaction.

There will always be more. And as more comes, it too will not be the end point.

Because satisfaction does not come from things it comes from us. And it is out of our excitement and passion and wonder and inspiration that new things are dreamt into being.

Life is dissatisfying when we keep looking for things to satisfy us. But life is satisfying when we embrace the excitement and eagerness of the growth and expansion and change that we are a part of merely by being alive.

It’s not just about new technology, it’s about everything. We are all continually evaluating and refining what we want out of life. No sooner do we arrive somewhere but we begin to work out where we would really like to be.

The idea of “satisfied with what is and eager for more” comes from the Abraham Hicks material. So does the observation that we can either work with this process of refining and embracing what we want, or we can fight it by fixating on what we don’t want.

The latter is precisely what keeps us stuck in feelings of dissatisfaction and worse.

Eagerness and enthusiasm are so much more enjoyable! There is so much to be gained in embracing the positive and turning towards the wanted aspects of life.

And most importantly, doing so makes sense of the otherwise confusing disparity between the love and joy of our creator and the apparent flaws and faults of the world.

Dissatisfaction is a sign

What happens when a day of feeling good is followed by a day of dissatisfaction?

Why does yesterday’s positive feeling feel unreachable today?

This sense of dissatisfaction is a sign that we aren’t keeping up with our desire to feel good.

Desire is a living, evolving, dynamic thing. It doesn’t sit still. When we focus on a feeling like appreciation it feels good, but that good feeling is not a static, repeatable experience.

Maybe yesterday you felt appreciation, and now today what would really feel good is excitement?

It’s a bit like having a nourishing bowl of hot soup when you are cold and famished. That soup really hit the spot. But that doesn’t mean you’ll want to eat the same soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow.

The nature of desire is that you won’t enjoy the same soup in the same way immediately. But that’s not a problem, because there are so many other good foods to enjoy and plenty of time to enjoy them.

Unlike food, feeling comes in a hierarchy. We can enjoy deeper and more joyful feelings as we become better at practicing appreciation and enjoyment.

So if we are finding it difficult to regain the sense of appreciation we felt yesterday, it is likely because we are ready for a deeper appreciation today.

This appreciation is, after all, the experience of our closeness to God, and God is infinite and illimitable love and happiness. The only limit is our own willingness to practice, and allow it.

How does “positive thinking” actually work?

It’s not actually about thoughts, it’s about feelings.

The whole point of any positive-thinking exercise or system is to feel better, and we can feel better by finding thoughts that are more positive, but we can also feel better just by finding a good feeling and practicing it.

We can all do it.  We can evoke the feeling of contentment just as easily as we can evoke the mental image of a pink elephant.

The problem is that we don’t rate these feelings as important or real or valid or true, unless they correspond to something in our circumstances.

It’s ironic, bordering on stupid, that a society awash with depressed and anxious individuals doesn’t see the value in learning to feel better regardless of our circumstances.

I was one of those people, chronically depressed and anxious, who nonetheless took some comfort in having a realistic view of the world, and not succumbing to supposedly false happiness and empty positivity.

But I was simply wrong. I underestimated…in fact I had absolutely no idea…how much better my life could feel if I felt better.

I refused to believe that what looked like real barriers or obstacles to happiness were purely a matter of perspective.

Even though I had studied philosophy and knew the finitude and limits of our knowledge of reality, I still persisted in clinging tenaciously to a “truth” based on how bad I felt.

And that’s okay. I don’t feel bad about that. In fact the decades of struggle and searching have only heightened my appreciation for the power I’ve finally realised – the power to feel good…as good as I want to feel, as good as I can imagine feeling, and to practice that until it becomes second nature.

How good can you feel? What is the most positive emotion you’ve ever felt? If you’ve felt it and remember it, you can bring it to mind, and if you practice bringing it to mind it will become more and more accessible, and your horizons will expand.

And the actual thinking aspect is there to help soften resistance to this power.

It’s to help people who can’t get their mind off everyday worries and concerns, or people who are obsessed with specific outcomes and circumstances they believe will bring them happiness, or people who fear and doubt that feeling good is more than pleasant daydreaming, or who stubbornly insist that life is meant to be full of suffering and heartache and disappointment, etc.

In other words, it’s to help all of us.

But most of what we’re seriously and strenuously thinking is just nonsense. People look for thoughts that are consistent with the feelings we are used to feeling, and we observe reality in the way we are accustomed to observe it. We rely on inertia. We interpret things through the lens we are already wearing.

Yet we are called to happiness and abundance of life. We can’t deny it forever, and in the end we’ll die anyway and everything will be sorted out that way.

While we’re hear we can at least lessen our resistance and start to heed the call of love and joy and appreciation and delight and freedom, and all the feelings we could never deny in the moment of feeling them.

All it takes is practice, giving ourselves permission to feel good, and having faith that in feeling good we really are connecting at last with all that is good within us and in all existence.

Love, and the kingdom of God

“seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

What is the Kingdom of God?

A kingdom is not a physical location. The suffix -dom is a state, as we see in freedom and wisdom.

The Greek βασιλεία can also be translated as kingship, authority, sovereignty.

So the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is not a place we are trying to enter, but a state in which God or heaven leads and rules.

And since we know that God is love, the kingdom of God means the rule of love.

Seeking the kingdom of God means being ruled by love.

I love the coming together of Christian spirituality and the Abraham Hicks material on this point.

In Abraham terms, we should try to feel good and seek the most positive feelings of love and appreciation, and be led and guided from within that state of alignment with our source (God).

And from within that state we will no longer be resisting the abundance of life prepared for us. And all these things shall be added to you.

It’s ultimately as simple as the commandments to love God and our neighbour, and to remain in a state of love.

The best of the mystics are like this. They simply live in a state of the highest love and appreciation.

Their lives are transformed because they remain focused on love. They bring joy to others because they are focused on love. They perform miracles because they are focused on love.

People came to them for guidance because of the love that enlivened and enlightened them, the love that ruled their lives.