Tag Archives: happiness

Internal Conflict (not desires) Causes Suffering

It is not desires that are the root of misery, angst and suffering. It is conflict of desires.

On Desires—
Firstly, many desires may be seen as intrinsically noble, such as the desire to be enlightened, or, the desire to serve the world through one’s unique skill set. Secondly, many desires are simply natural, such as the desire for the next breath. Thirdly, many desires may be classified as “neutral,” such as the desire to learn to play the violin. With all of them, problems and frustrations arise only when we don’t know how to manifest them, or when there is a conflict with another desire. It is this latter point that I will focus mostly on, below.

Of these many varieties  of desires, there is only one sub-species that I would call inherently “bad,” namely those that include causing harm to others as a motive. The others are not inherently bad, in and of themselves.

Internal Conflict—
The real problems start when we are torn and divided. This is what I’ll call internal conflict and it is at the root of all disharmony, frustration and all havoc, from benign to catastrophic. From the everyday nuisances, like wanting to eat the whole bag of cookies to the huge life-changing situations, such as divorce.

There is always conflict underneath. In the first example, there is a conflict of more than one desire, since on the one hand, you may want to eat the cookies, but on the other, you don’t want to consume all that sugar, or gain weight (so, the other desire would be to maintain your weight). And, in the second example, you may want a long-term marriage, but you also want an honest marriage. If you’re in a situation where this isn’t possible, it will likely blow up in some way, such as in a divorce.

Another example may be: you want to go to Europe for a month, but you don’t want to miss work (so, the other desire would be to continue being productive at work). Again, the internal conflict will likely blow up. Not in such a cataclysmic way, as in divorce, but in a subtler way, such as in the everyday vexations that we all experience in life.

Lurking underneath what Buddha called dukkha, or suffering, you will find that there is an unacknowledged secondary desire. It is just a matter of digging a little deeper in your contemplation.

As a final example, imagine you were a homeowner who wanted very much to get going on the construction of your house. It is taking too long, and if you had it your way, you’d simply call a contractor and tell him to “make it happen.” But real life is more complex. You have to wait for your spouse, who is too busy with work priorities to share in the planning and expenses. So, you have to wait. In this case, we can say that underneath the desire to continue with construction is the pre-existing desire to keep peace in the household.

If it were as simple as wanting to build a room, with nothing standing in your way, you’d simply manifest the desire and move on. The desire, alone, would not be the problem. When something is standing in your way, such as lack of funds, or bad-timing, as in the play-out above, the obstructed desire transmutes into an unhealthy attachment.

As such, it is the internal conflict, caused by discordant desires, that causes suffering.

Gratitude

No matter who you are and what your struggles are, there will be 159 people who seem to have it worse than you and 159 more who seem to have it better. And whatever your situation, there will also be 159 things to blame it on—your family, your culture, your ex, or just plain old bad luck.

But, the judgment of better or worse is all fantasy to begin with, since it is based on speculation and on external yardsticks, such as material wealth and physical attributes. The reality is on the inside. This is why oftentimes, the rich seem miserable and the unfortunate seem happy.

All good treasures are always on the inside.

The greatest of these jewels is the joy that springs forth, like a holy well, from the heart. And the quickest route there, is by way of gratitude, for, like a logical contradiction, it is virtually impossible to be resentful and grateful at the same time. They just don’t go together.

Small steps are the most reasonable way to get there. Big steps into the past or the future can be dangerous. Better to start with this little, tiny, infinite moment…

At this moment, I have my health, or this breath, or this warm home, or this one meal in front of me.

Three Tricks to Forgiveness (how to stay married)

A man asks his friend what he can do about his wife’s annoying habit of speaking rudely to people. Besides this fault of hers, one that causes him frustration, she’s a good person, he says, and he loves her. He also values his marriage of 25 years.

Should he try to change her? Can he help her fix this bad habit? What can he do?

I would offer him these three steps, the combined effect of which, leads only and inevitably to forgiveness.

1. Look Inward (acknowledge your own stuff). 

You have “stuff,” too, I’d remind him.  We all do. Acknowledging our own stuff takes courage and humility. These are the qualities that make this step an important part of living an enlightened life. Turning the pointer inward rather than outward, brings us in touch with a more profound and interconnected view of reality; we begin to see the world as a reflection of ourselves, shaped by our interpretations, which themselves, are shaped by our frame of mind and limitations. The effort to  “expand our consciousness,” boils down to the increasing ability to see reality this way—as a construct of our minds.

But, we are so busy judging what others are doing that we miss the opportunity to see what we, ourselves, are doing. And we spend a lot of energy doing it; we spend our time trying to fix others’ broken knobs and loose screws, rather than our own. It’s a bit funny, when you think about it, that imperfect people spend time and energy trying to make others perfect!

2. Acknowledge that Your Partner Puts Up with Your Stuff (all these years).

Now that the pointer has been courageously redirected inward, we can take the next step, which is to acknowledge that our wonderful other has been putting up with those loose screws of ours…all these years! This is certainly cause for gratitude—a delightful, grudge-dissolving feeling, that swells forth from the heart, like chocolate from a wedding fountain, which, in its simultaneous sweetness and ridiculousness, enables us to laugh at ourselves and celebrate our perfect imperfections.

(It is only a half-joke to say that successful long-term relationships are proportional to the combined ability of each partner to put up with each others’ stuff.)

3. See the Positive in Your Partner (it actually takes effort).

For every one annoying habit, there are surely 100 good ones. It takes practice to remind ourselves to see them. The positive mind needs flexing, like any muscle.

One of my own teachers once spoke of a beautiful teaching; to see and then unsee a fault. Taking the time to consciously recognize and remember what we have forgotten, through time and familiarity, is one way to unsee what may not be a fault at all, but rather…our own lesson in disguise, waiting to be discovered.

The Importance of Self Love

self-love-KundaliniI decided to repost this short article about Self-Love. I added the third notation, as well as the meditation, that follows. It is a meditation that I just did recently, at a training retreat. I loved doing it—I hope you try it and that you love it, too! The way I see it, the words are for our understanding (for our head) and the meditation is for our realization of Self-Love (for our heart).

For the Head…
We are so often told, in spiritual teachings, as well as in self-help manuals, that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves first.

Is this true?

It is!

Why?

Firstly, because if we are angry and hateful on the inside, we have only those emotions to project. Your body and mind respond to those feelings, consciously and unconsciously, and this negative reverb squeezes the joy out of life. What can you bring the world if there is no joy behind what you are doing?

Secondly, because if we’re angry and hateful on the inside, the object of those emotions is automatically set upon ourselves and this sets in motion, a mechanism of victimization. By directing negative energy onto ourselves, we make ourselves the object of our own discontent. Then, our mind gets to work to find a source of blame in opposition to that object. Simply put, when we make ourselves into victims, the rational mind, in its inherent dualistic structure, will then seek a culprit.

Unable to find one, everyone becomes an offender and those negative emotions are then displaced outward unto the whole world—we become angry at the world.

Thirdly, when we do not find within ourselves, a cozy sanctuary to come home to, we tend to relate to others from a place of neediness—a need for approval, validation and affirmation of self-worth. But, when we begin to nurture a connection to our own divinity, we begin to heal within. This kind of love has nothing to with egoism—it is where compassion begins. We forgive our faults and accept ourselves as whole and complete, as we are, before we can do the same for others. In this wholeness, we feel centered, empowered and no longer need to place blame on others or look to external sources for fulfillment. And when we take our power back, in this way, we begin to truly heal.

We feel love, which when real, needs no object at all—it’s a projection and an opening of the heart space.

For the Heart…
Meditation: Affirmation For Self-Love

Posture: Sit straight in a cross-legged position.

Mudra/Movement: Place your right hand on your heart and say, “My heart, I love you.” Place your right hand on the eyes and say, “My eyes, I love you.” Move to the top of your head and say, “My head, I love you.” At the navel point say, “I love you.” And placing your hands on both your knees say, “I love you.”

*Find your rhythm and continue on, for at least three minutes.

Reconciling Free Will with Destiny (and how about fate?)

free-willIt’s hard to imagine Pavarotti or Maria Callas not ending up as singers. It’s as if they came to uplift, inspire, heal and delight the world with their voices. Each soul is incarnated to fulfill its destiny, according to Yogic philosophy, and when we awaken to that purpose, we are living according to our destiny.

A poetic expression of this idea is found in this passage:

Your mission is to vibrate higher in your vessel so you awaken completely to your sacred purpose. ~Dror B. Ashuah

This awakening is the key to our sense of fulfillment. But it is a huge challenge in a society, which would tempt us, left and right, to seek fulfillment from external sources and all things pinned to appearance—from the allure of a sexy body to the amusement of a new gadget, to the promises of the perfect dream vacation. Profit is made by keeping us trapped in a cycle of codependency and separateness. The tragedy is that we are kept from our own inner power. The result is a never-ending cycle of unrecognized addictions of every sort, in which, fueled by a vague neediness, we go on supporting this infrastructure—a mega-system that thrives on our insecurities.

How can we wake up from this codependency and align ourselves with our destiny? This wisdom, this sense of knowing is already within. It is the little spark of light that shines forth from within. But because the fog of our emotions and obsessions is so thick, we often miss it. But when we pause for a moment to let the fog settle, we find it. And we delight in its warmth. And sometimes we summon the courage to trust that light and let it guide us along our path.

Where does free will fit into this?

The minute we come to center, we find ourselves nourished. Like drinking from the nectar of our own internal fountain of bliss, we feel full. Those things on the outside seem to lose their appeal. We realize that what we tend to call free will, is but a confused mix of desires shaped by others and meant to mask insecurities. We have taken the reins of our life. But this requires the choice to wake up from those things that have held us hostage for too long—the things on the inside, like unhealthy emotions and insecurities, as well as the things that keep us wobbling around on the outside. As soon as we stop believing that there’s a quick fix “out there” in the world of pills and thrills, we begin to take steps on our true path. And we begin to resist those things that take us off our path. This is the beginning of waking up.

So, what is fate?

Fate, according to Yogic wisdom, is the black hole of other people’s opinions and ideas. It is the nowhere land, in which we get lost in the web of expectations and pressures set by others, be it society, parents, or personal delusion. These pressures drown out the voice of the spirit and over-ride our own sense of self-authority and purpose.

Every time we come to center, we have made a choice. We have honored our commitment to align with our sense of purpose. This is free will.

Walking our path, guided by our ever-brightening inner light, we encounter our karma (which doesn’t mean punishment). Think of karma as the residue of our actions, either in the here and now or in the here to fore. It is everything we have inherited, assumed, absorbed and adopted—from our DNA, to our zodiac sign, to our first kiss, to our first break up. It’s the record of all the patterns and habits that are embedded in our mental, physical and psychological selves, right down to our very cells. Why bother about it? Because that which would transform has first to be exposed.

And this process of transformation is strengthened by our moment-to-moment commitment and through the tools of practice—which we may call “spiritual,” since the desire to come back to center and to wholeness is a spiritual one. These tools include, but are not limited to, the uplifting presence of community, meditation, movement, and especially, intention.

Waxing philosophical.

Am I, as the western philosophers would say, pre-supposing the existence of free will? To that, I extend a brief summary of Sartre’s position, that as conscious beings, we are innately free. Where I differ (and where I differ from my earlier position, as expressed in my book, Buddha in the Classroom), is on how this relates to destiny. Diehard existentialists, like Sartre, reject any suggestion of a deterministic universe, one which would open up a world of easy excuses that render us helpless, like puppets on the strings of our inherited tendencies. Typical of the western tendency to polarize beyond repair (and even more typical of an existentialist like Sartre, who was allergic to any species of God-talk), destiny and free will are seen as irreconcilable.

But, what if we instead, look upon destiny as a flexible journey, in which my will and God’s will (or universal will…or divine will) are one and in sync?

To be clear, free will, as it is typically defined, is the ability to choose from among genuine alternatives. In the world of eastern mysticism, we go further here, too; while existential freedom describes our conscious choosing, the Yogis were more interested in our state of consciousness, itself.

The difference is subtle but immense, since it is our state of consciousness that structures what we see as choices, in the first place. What most people think of as freely choosing is nothing more than habit patterns and uncontrollable desires for things that aren’t necessarily good for us. The more conscious we are, the more inclined we will be to investigate those ingrained tendencies (what the Yogis call samskaras), and the more adept we will be to change what we can and reconcile ourselves lovingly with those we can’t. This happens through those Yogic tools and through all meditative practices, which temper our reactive mind while taming the twin dragons; fear and anger.

Ultimately, the more conscious we are, the more freedom we have.

Love Thyself First

self-love-KundaliniI decided to repost this short article about Self-Love. I added the third notation, as well as the meditation, that follows. It is a meditation that I just did recently, at a training retreat and I loved doing it—I hope you try it and that you love it, too! The way I see it, the explanation is for our understanding (for our head) and the meditation is for the realization of Self-Love (for our heart).

For the Head…
We are so often told, in spiritual teachings, as well as in self-help manuals, that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves first.

Is this true?

It is!

Why?

Firstly, because if we are angry and hateful on the inside, we have only those emotions to project.

Secondly, because if we’re angry and hateful on the inside, the object of those emotions is de facto set upon ourselves and this sets in motion, a mechanism of victimization. By directing negative energy onto ourselves, we make ourselves the object of our own discontent. Then, our mind gets to work to find a source of blame in opposition to that object. The result of this process is that we then assume ourselves to be victims and when there is a victim, the rational mind, in its inherent dualistic structure, will then seek a culprit.

Unable to find one, everyone becomes an offender and those negative emotions are then displaced outward unto the whole world—we become angry at the world.

Thirdly, when we do not find within ourselves, a cozy sanctuary to come home to, we tend to relate to others from a place of neediness—a need for approval, validation and affirmation of self-worth. But, when we begin to nurture a connection to our own divinity, we begin to heal within. This kind of love has nothing to with egoism—it is where compassion begins. We forgive our faults and accept ourselves as whole and complete, as we are, before we can do the same for others. In this wholeness, we feel centered, empowered and no longer need to place blame on others or look to external sources for fulfillment. And when we take our power back, in this way, we begin to truly heal.

For the Heart…
Meditation: Affirmation For Self-Love

Posture: Sit straight in a cross-legged position.

Mudra/Movement: Place your right hand on your heart and say, “My heart, I love you.” Place your right hand on the eyes and say, “My eyes, I love you.” Move to the top of your head and say, “My head, I love you.” At the navel point say, “I love you.” And placing your hands on both your knees say, “I love you.”

*Find your rhythm and continue on, for at least three minutes.

Top Three Secrets to a Happy Marriage

My husband and I celebrated 18 years of marriage this week. In today’s climate of dissatisfaction, conflict and ultimately, divorce, it seems to be a minor accomplishment! Here I offer my own top three tips for a successful long-term relationship:

1. Don’t colonize another person. Any other person. 

This means, refrain from imposing your own agenda on them. As one of my own teachers so beautifully put it, “watch your prayerful stillness dissolve whenever you try to control another person.” We kid ourselves by pretending that we would never do this, but watch the little ways in which you press your will on others, even your partner. You’re watching more golf? Are you really still hungry? It means not interrogating. Even questions about whereabouts fit into this category. This means that you must be centered. So look after your own inner peace and spiritual fulfillment because even if you are the only one practicing, watch as it transforms your world. This may be as simple as being fine by yourself. The presumption, of course, is that you have trust in place and so with confidence as the foundation, you may coexist as two independent people who are compatible and who enjoy spending time together, by choice.

2. Be the “Deciders.”

Know that you are adults, and one of the perks of being an adult is that you get to make the decisions that are right for you. In a relationship, that means feeling free to forge arrangements that work to promote harmony in the home, regardless of traditional norms. We have all imbibed a lifetime of ideas from society, media, family and friends, often without considering whether or not we agree with them. And even though we think of ourselves as independent thinkers, notice the ways you unconsciously allow yourself to look upon those ideas as standards. It is especially revealing to notice when you allow yourself to measure your habits and domestic arrangements against these societal norms, allowing insecurity to sneak in when they don’t measure up. This includes everything from when you eat, if you eat together all the time, when and how often you have intimate relations and whether you even sleep in the same room, to whether you take Sunday off. It especially includes issues related to child-rearing, which can be the toughest area in a marriage.

3. Show Gratitude.

So simple, yet so difficult. Say I love you. Everyday. And say thank you for all the little things. This means seeing the positive and letting those myriad positive things serve as a counterbalance to the irksome things. Surely the former outweighs the latter! This also means “un-seeing” those little irksome things because you know that in the big picture, they don’t matter. Unseeing also happens when you use those irksome things as mirrors—what similar things do you do? This diffuses frustration and prevents anger from arising in the first place. It means valuing being happy over being right. It is so easy, but it is always the easiest things that we forget (like being present, or breathing consciously). The tension and stress of everyday living keep us unconscious. And so, we allow annoyance and disappointment to grow within. Be willing to be honest with yourself—how often do you really say I love you? Or, I appreciate you. This preserves the feeling of connection between you—the bedrock on which everything else depends. Remember, your shift in this direction will naturally and magically create a similar shift in your partner. And in this spirit of gratitude, the feeling of love and beauty will begin to permeate the domain, displacing all negativity, the way the evening breeze relieves the afternoon heat.

10 Houses of Suffering

Intro: These stories originally appeared on my old blog–I wrote them to illustrate the many ways that ordinary people, living seemingly ordinary lives, make themselves suffer. And in virtually every case, it is some particular shade of mental angst-a particular varietal of suffering, although none the less…ordinary. And in virtually every case, as my students quickly recognized, it has arisen because of the unwillingness to come to acceptance with the inevitable changes of life.  I recently used these in class (lecture recorded on Youtube) to introduce Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, which summarily present the madness of the human situation, namely, this inability to accept the inevitable and the pain we cause ourselves in persisting to look everywhere else but within for our peace of mind.

Lead-in: Imagine a row of ten houses facing a creek. Each one is big and beautiful, except the last one – the tenth one – which is smaller and needs some upkeep.

Inside the first house is a man who suspects his wife is sleeping with somebody else. He spends every minute of every day, in a state of paranoid suspicion. Right now, listening to her phone conversation, creeping along, crouching under the row of expensive paintings in the long corridor, he hopes the floor doesn’t crack with his sneaky footsteps, giving him him away, betraying his jealousy.

Inside the second house is a 25-year-old woman with an eating disorder. At least five days of every week are spent alternately binging and purging, and taking no pleasure from the compulsive acts. Her throat, her teeth, and her stomach are destroyed, and she lives with the fact that she is killing herself, and can’t stop. The other two days are spent in isolation, hunger, and vile self hatred.

Inside the third house is a mother too afraid to answer the phone, yet simultaneously too afraid to stray too far from the house, because her son is in Iraq, and news of her only son’s status might be delivered at any moment.

Inside the fourth house is a 33-year-old aging cover model, losing jobs to 18-year-olds. She curses at her face in the mirror, and doesn’t have any more will to get out of bed in the morning. She owes 20,000 dollars in debt from lost pay, yet just accepted one more credit card offer to schedule plastic surgery on her neck and eyes, in the hope that it will make her better and that it will make her like herself better.

Inside the fifth house is a heroin addict. He is missing out on his children’s young years, but can’t stop. Making it worse, is his wife, who calls him a loser, taunting him daily for his weakness. Every time he tries to give it up for good, he gets violently ill, and gives in to the urge to shoot up again, even though he knows it is only a temporary pleasure. It’s gotten to the point where he stands to lose his job, his wife, and the house. He no longer enjoys being sober because of the agonizing guilt that eats him alive.

Inside the sixth house is a 60-year-old woman who has just been diagnosed with incurable cancer. She knows her body will soon start to break down, and that she will have to soon face her death. She will have to come to grips with the fact that she will never see her grandchildren, or her husband, or her dogs, again.

Inside the seventh house is an 85-year-old woman who lost her husband five years ago. Having lost her will to live, she lies in bed all day long, surrounded by the dusty antique knick-knacks she spent her life collecting. Her social security checks go entirely to the illegal caretakers, paid to help her go to the bathroom, and take her to the doctor. She refuses to leave her home and go to an elderly home.

Inside the eigth house is a 19-year-old boy with agoraphobia. Stepping outside of the house is like hanging off a bridge, sweaty fingers slipping, no one to catch you. He takes his xanax, and sits in front of his computer, wearing the mask of his artificial identity, chatting in forums, witty and sarcastic on screen, hating himself all the while on the inside because he’s lonely and bored, and it never goes away.

Inside the ninth house is a 30-year-old ambitious office worker, who just missed out on a promotion due to the fact that his scheming female colleague in the next cubicle claimed his idea as her own, taking all the credit and the rewards. He takes his seething hatred out on other women, in the form of abusive relationships that leave him feeling more empty and worthless, rather than potent, and valued.

Inside the tenth house – the smallest house on the block – is a newlywed couple who bought this fixer-upper because it was the only house they could afford, given their loan qualifications. Because their house is at the end of the street, they are forced to drive past the other more glorious houses every day, going to and fro work. He imagines his neighbors’ luxurious lives, Saturday barbeques, and big TV screens; and she is filled with increasing bitterness toward him, for promising a new kitchen, plumbing that works, bathrooms she can decorate in coordinated colors, like in the magazines. Yet the months go by, and still her husband has done nothing to improve their house. Their relationship is quickly turning bitter.

To Reflect On
-This is the meaning of samsara (life sucks, but only if mind sucks.)
-This is the meaning of the expression, where ever you go, there you are (all is perception.)
-This is why it makes no sense to covet (addiction is an everyday affair.)
-This is why it makes no sense to look for happiness on the outside (pleasure is not happiness – it has a dark side)
-This is why it makes no sense to look for happiness at all – it’s not a thing to get! (it is a by-product of presence.)
-This is why the masters say to wake up to what is (to accept.)
-This is the meaning of the saying, you don’t have to believe your thoughts (thoughts are kind of like, secretions.)
-This is why monks meditate (meditating is dealing with what’s in front of you.)
-This is why you have to put out your own fire first (you create the world.)