I am overjoyed with the incredibly beautiful Spring weather that surrounds me as I write to you. The sensory experiences of Spring are a natural invitation to step into the present moment…literally stopping to smell the roses (or peonies or lilac), feeling warm sunshine on my back, enjoying an evening sunset with a loved one, savoring the taste of seasonal fruits and vegetables…the sensory experiences are endless.
The beauty of this season is juxtaposed with political unrest, gun violence, inequality of all kinds, and grief and loss around the globe and it can feel overwhelming at times to know which set of emotions from which to live. How can I enjoy the bounty of my life while so many are suffering in catastrophic ways? I don’t want to turn away from world events yet I feel overwhelmed by the constant barrage of suffering in the news. I want to help but how can I, as one person, bring about change when the issues we face appear soulfully and environmentally insurmountable? One of my Buddhist teachers reminded me that in rejecting the beauty of my own life I am perpetuating self-violence and I am missing an opportunity to be engaged with life at large. Further, if I humbly “take my seat” and from this compassionate platform be of service to others then I am aligned to being fully present in life.
In dharma study we can look at life from a place of aversion, attachment, or equanimity. Aversion would look like avoidance of worldly reality while I live in my own bubble of (perceived) safety. There is an attitude of ME-ness in this approach and a feeling of separation from others. Attachment feels like over-identification with the pain and suffering in the world (an within ourselves) at the expense of living in the fullness of our own life. Equanimity is living with it all and finding a place to be with “all of life” with an attitude of acceptance. Acceptance does not mean allowing injustices to continue but rather accepting that life is sometimes overwhelming, sometimes joyful and sometimes infuriating. With acceptance of the present moment experience we begin to practice equanimity and we can see more clearly a path to social engagement that does not perpetuate violence.
Here are a few examples of how this practice looks in my day-to-day life: Upon waking taking a few breaths and checking in before I check my phone, reading the newspaper and sending out Metta (loving-kindness phrases) when I read a story of heart-breaking violence or allowing myself to feel shared joy when reading an article of celebration. Enjoying a hot cup of coffee and spending time in appreciation for my home, family and current sense of safety; honoring my body through gentle stretching and meditation practice and looking inward for ways that I may be harming myself through negative thoughts, self-criticism or perhaps an attitude that is not serving me; going to the drive-through coffee shop and I remember to bring my own mug and I stick to the “no straw” challenge I have with my teenaged daughter as I understand the impact my daily choices (plastic habits) have on the health of the planet. This way of “being with” life allows me to move through my day with a sense of connection, ease and wakefulness.
Part of my path was and continues to be to explore imbedded feelings of unworthiness that came to me from past generations as well as a response to my own childhood trauma. As I realized that I did not have to choose to be present in my own life at the expense of worldly ignorance, I felt a sense of relief move through my body. In fact, I am even more deeply motivated to engage in service as one way to fully honor the life I live and because I believe that I am not separate from my brothers and sisters around the globe. We are part of the same living organism. In fact, I WANT to know what is happening on our planet so that I may use the energy of outrage, anger or grief to fuel non-violent activism. This type of wakefulness is imperative in this time in history. Thankfully, truly, I have begun to feel worthy of goodness over time and I realize how important it is to me to live a life of meaning. This is my guiding light…love of life and service to others has become my “happiness compass” from which I make decisions about how to spend my time and energy.
Let’s talk about the two kinds of happiness, as researched by happiness researcher Emma Seppälä. One is hedonic happiness and one is eudaimonic happiness. “Hedonic is the pleasures of life. The sex, drugs, rock and roll, money, achievement, awards. All the things that give you that high. It could be a notification on Facebook or a lot of notifications. It’s a release of chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. Yet, they don’t last for very long. That’s why if you had a burst of happiness from let’s say, a piece of chocolate cake, or a raise, or a promotion, or something, soon thereafter, it’s worn off and you want more,” Seppälä says.
On the other hand, eudaimonic happiness is more closely related to self-actualization. According to Seppälä, the eudaimonica type “comes from a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning, and a sense of connection to others. A sense of something greater than yourself. It’s what you feel if you’re a parent. It’s what you feel if you’re doing service. It’s what you feel if you’re contributing to something that’s helping others in some way.”
What does the science show? A strong basis in eudaimonic happiness effects our physical well-being. In fact, if you base your life mostly on eudaimonic happiness, research suggests that you have lower inflammation at the cellular level, and your longevity’s increased. This increases your ability to bounce back from disappointments and be more resilient. According to Seppälä, it isn’t bad to have fun; the pleasures in life are here for us to enjoy. The secret to resilience, then, isn’t to give up that ice cream, but to make sure the ice cream-type pleasures aren’t becoming more important to your happiness than your relationships and personal goals.
If we base our life on seeking pleasure rather than meaning then we are often less happy, or experience a decrease in well-being. If we live a life where we seek out and cultivate meaningful connections, meaningful use of our professional time and acts of service we tend to experience a higher degree of well-being. Somewhere between pleasure and meaning is the middle path of well-being which is unique to each one of us.
As I watch the buttery-yellow colored peonies resting in a vase on my desk, I see the tight blossom has loosened and dropped petals rest at the base of the vase. I am reminded that the seasons and moments of life continue no matter what, change continues to take place, and there is no need to avoid the beauty of the process. I can rest in the flow of life and pay attention to what brings abiding contentment.
**Italicized paragraphs were extracted from an interview between Emma Seppälä and psychologist Anett Gyurak on Heleo. They are not my words.
UPCOMING CLASSEs and opportunities
Our Art + Mindfulness Course for Girls 9-12 is almost full! Learn More
Sept. 10th - Nov. 5th: 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course: This much loved and requested 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion Course will be offered beginning in September. In this program you will learn: how to stop being so hard on yourself, how to handle difficult emotions with greater ease, how to motivate yourself with encouragement... Learn More
Oct. 13th Day-Long Retreat With Zen Buddhist Teacher, Deborah Eden Tull: I hope you will join me for a day of Retreat with Deborah Eden Tull on Saturday, October 13th. The details are forming but I have a waitlist started already. If you’d like to reserve your spot then please email me with your name, preferred phone and email address. I will send out more information in the coming weeks. Learn More
Nov. 6th- Dec. 11th: MAPS II Cultivating Positive Emotions: Take a peek at my upcoming course offerings…THERE IS A NEW COURSE CALLED…MAPs II: Cultivating Positive Emotions for those of you who have already taken MAPs I...Learn More
When we remember that change in our lives is inevitable and that we have a choice about how we respond to difficulties as well as how to let in happiness then we are living in presence.