Happiness Challenge Day 7

If you had the ability to teleport yourself to a beautiful deserted island in the blink of an eye, how often would you go there?

Would you go there all the time? Would you want to live there? Or would your normal life pull you away from this magical paradise?

We have the equivalent power to go to a feeling place that is just as much a beautiful paradise.

But we don’t.

Ironically, I think we are afraid of missing out.

When we look at our friends and family, our work, our communities, and our own projects and struggles, we simply cannot reconcile these things with an immediate experience of unconditional happiness.

We have grown up learning that life is not perfect, and feeling joy and love and well-being is the reward for accomplishing things.

If we were overflowing with well-being we would no longer fit our old lives.

So instead we inhibit the flow of well-being in our lives. With varying degrees of severity and intention we restrict how good we can feel.

We limit ourselves to the amount of good feeling we can “earn” or justify based on our circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it only is this way because of our resistance to the well-being that otherwise seeps into every fibre of our existence.

That’s where I’m at on day seven of my Happiness Challenge. I’m learning to view overflowing well-being as natural, and therefore inevitable if I just stop whatever it is I’m doing to resist it.

Happiness Challenge Day 6

As we are working at feeling better, new ideas and emotions can come up.

We might have great sudden insights into problems that have plagued us. Or we might have painful incidents arise, reminding us of old problems or anxieties.

It’s tempting to pursue and try to wrestle with these ideas and emotions. But we have to remind ourselves that this is not our job.

Your job is to feel better

It’s never our efforts that bring great ideas, and it’s never our efforts that resolve painful issues and emotions.

Instead it’s by feeling better, intentionally giving ourselves feelings of relief and appreciation and contentment, that we make progress.

Bad feelings that crop up or new ideas that come to mind are just signs of the progress we are making.

So don’t get disheartened or distracted. Just feeling good is enough. It’s by feeling good that life will change, not by understanding insights or grappling with painful feelings.

Greater insights await, and negative emotions will have even less hold, as we progress in feeling good.

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.

Happiness Challenge Day 3

Good things happen to me because I feel good.

I’ve hemmed and hawed around the law of attraction for years, and I thought it was due to embarrassment.

I’d cringe at the thought of being one of those people who throws around allusions to quantum physics while avowing that I always find parking spaces right where I want them.

Why? Because I’m an intellectual snob obviously. But the truth is I wasn’t holding back out of embarrassment. To my own surprise it turns out I was holding back because it is profoundly confronting to have no more excuses.

Do I want a better life, or do I want excuses?

The law of attraction is as rigorous as the rules I came up with in my diet journey. It’s so intimidating to accept an uncompromising rule of life that shows us the inevitable outcome of our choices is…inevitable.

If I feel good, good things will happen. Good things happen because I feel good.

That’s a lot tougher than blaming society, my parents, my family, the job market, God, or stinking reality itself.

It’s really tough to feel like a victim and then hear that feeling like a victim is a choice with inevitable consequences of victimhood.

It’s tough to think that I can’t be undisciplined anymore and hide behind uncertainty and doubt.

But it also makes things a lot simpler. Doubt never satisfied anybody in the long run, neither did irresponsible meandering.

I might have cringed with embarrassment at owning the law of attraction, but the real embarrassment lies in shrugging and dithering while people with no intellectual pretensions actually do the work and improve their lives.

The Happiness Challenge has quickly shown up my reluctance to commit authentically to being fully responsible in my life.

Either it works or it doesn’t. It’s up to me to decide. Does being happy make my life better? Or is happiness the end result of life’s vicissitudes?

I’ll let you guys know 😄

Happiness Challenge Day 2

It’s day two of my Happiness Challenge and I wanted to share some insights even at this early stage.

Half-full or half-empty?

First off, making a commitment to feel good all the time has completely changed how I perceive my emotional state.

Our emotional state fluctuates throughout the day with natural peaks and troughs. Previously I fixated on those troughs, the low points, and they defined my emotional landscape.  

But my commitment to feeling good all the time has shifted my focus to the peaks, and in so doing I’ve noticed that the troughs are actually few and far between and easily avoided.

So the first bit of good news is that I feel okay most of the time, so long as I’m not fixated on the troughs.

My actual mood probably hasn’t changed that much, I just started asking how close to full the glass is, rather than asking how empty.

Feeling just okay is not good enough if you’re spending lots of time wallowing in your problems.

But if you are instead aspiring to the heights of happiness, just okay is an excellent launching pad or starting point.

The Happiness Challenge

A couple of years ago I wrote a super-intense, psychologically-driven diet book.

The heart of the diet was making a commitment to only eat when you are genuinely hungry, and only eat enough to sate that need for physical nourishment.

The rest of the book was about understanding why this approach works, and finding clarity around our true motivations for eating.

If you commit to the rule of only eating for nourishment, then it immediately becomes clear how often we are eating for other reasons, typically as an escape from unpleasant emotions. Excessive body weight is then best understood as just a by-product or symptom of eating for these other reasons.

Isn’t happiness the same?

Today it hit me that my desire to feel good is very very similar to my approach to diet.

The underlying premise is that we are meant to feel good, and that we would naturally feel good if we weren’t doing something to interfere with this natural state.

Just like we would naturally arrive at a healthy body weight if we weren’t interfering with our appetite, using food and the experience of eating as an escape from feeling bad.

The most confronting moment in my diet journey was contemplating a future of never again using food as an escape. It was an incredibly daunting thought, but I gradually saw that it was the next logical step for me. And so I resigned myself to fundamentally changing how I related to food.

The same sense of a daunting, yet logical next step is now arising in the context of happiness. Because I know from experience that I can feel good simply by focusing on better-feeling thoughts like contentment and appreciation.

And I know in theory that my circumstances cannot prohibit me from finding better-feeling thoughts.

So the situation is simple: I can choose, if I will, to focus on better-feeling thoughts all of the time.

Making a commitment

It’s a bit like committing to get up early every morning and do some exercise.

The next logical step is that I commit myself to make better-feeling thoughts my rule, and view worse-feeling thoughts as exceptional, accidental setbacks.

Without this commitment I’m liable to continue haphazardly feeling good when I remember to, and making little overall change to my consistent emotional state.

At first it’s going to take some effort, because I’m accustomed to just letting my mind wander all over the place.

But to be honest I prefer an “all or nothing” approach over an incremental one.

If this process continues to mirror my diet journey I’ll likely break my commitment a number of times over the next few days and maybe weeks.

Yet each time I break it, I’ll reinforce my intention to stay on track.

Discovering what a happy life looks like

Part of what kept me so intensely motivated during my diet journey was that I had never really been in the “normal” weight range as an adult. I’d always been 10-20 kgs overweight.

So I was inspired by my desire and curiosity to experience life differently, to see what it was like to finally be in the normal BMI range.

Once I got there and maintained it for a year or so the inspiration ran out, and other demands like a new baby changed my eating habits.

The old resolve is hard to recapture, because I already accomplished that body weight goal. I’m not curious about it anymore.

But I am profoundly curious and inspired to see what life will look like when I am consistently happy and feeling good.

Happiness is harder to measure than body weight, but my experience has shown me that small improvements make a big difference.

I also have faith that how we feel is intrinsic to the creation of our reality and the shaping of our individual experience of life.

When you feel really good, bad or irritating or disappointing things cannot insert themselves into your reality anymore.

Feeling good….feels good!

Finally, it’s actually very sensible to learn how to feel good all the time, because feeling good feels good after all!

And on reflection it’s actually deeply silly that we spend so much time either fixating on things that feel bad, or simply letting our attention drift and gravitate into whatever old patterns we have already formed.

It feels bad to feel bad, so why do it if you don’t have to?