Turn the mind inward and cease thinking of yourself as the body; thereby you will come to know that the self is ever happy. Neither grief nor misery is experienced in this state
 --Sri Ramana Maharshi

I hope you had a chance to catch the radio show, The Human Spirit Rises with testimonies of hope, transformation and recovery from addiction and difficult circumstances.

Circumstances seem to have us so very trapped don't they?  They come in the form our own habits and compulsions as well as in the ways other people seem to be able to step on our lives, interrupt our peace of mind and just generally create havoc in our world. 

Even though we can see that no thing can truly make us happy, it is much harder to see clearly that no thing, person or circumstance has the power to ruin us.  For me to have any sense that this is true in my life, I am often questioning the power of things.

How does a diagnosis have the power to make us fearful?
How is stress created in us?
How does someone disappearing from your life create sadness in you?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these feelings don't or shouldn't happen.  But I do spend time reflecting on how sadness, stress and fear arise within me.  What is the mechanism?  How does it work?

It may seem like thinking about such questions is pointless.  That pain is just pain and sadness just is. And that's it.  All I suggest is that for any of you reading who do work with others, this is a rich field for inquiry.  Those of us who coach and work powerfully with people who are suffering and in pain, must reflect deeply on the true sources of pain and the means by which humans experience their troubles. If we do not, we can't help people as much or as well.

The closer we look at human feelings and all human experience, the more we notice a simple truth: that all people simply feel whatever they are thinking in the moment.  Even the past and the future are experienced as thoughts in the moment. They cannot be experienced in either the past or the future, for obvious reasons.

So all life is made of thought. All thought comes to life within us.  The truth about everyone who has a human body is that the nature and depth of pain and suffering arises in the present moment through our present moment thinking. And through nothing else.

I consider the work I do to be the work of liberating people not only from the depressing cycle of having things on the outside make us miserable, but also to free souls to be happy regardless of all the things we try to acquire, resolve or make disappear so that we can experience being satisfied and fulfilled. It seems to me that I am teaching people how to live an uncontingent life.  (To the extent that I go first!)

I just cannot think of anything more important.
This week I've been following the USA today series on "The Happiest Woman in America" and I don't recommend that you read it unless you are 1) ready to get deeply unhappy or 2) are a sociologist.

The story ran over a series of four days and analyzed the every movement of Mary Claire Orenic, age 50, "The Happiest Woman In America." It looked at her life, in conjunction with a recent Healthways study in well-being and 23 pieces of data identified as keys to well-being.   Mary Claire was presented as the poster child who demonstrated that when you have these 23 things on the Well-being Checklist, you will be happy.

Nice idea.

Wrong conclusion.

Here's the thing, Mary Claire does seem to be a genuinely happy person. And that's wonderful.  What is less convincing is the assumption that the trappings of her wonderful life are what caused her happiness.  

This is a case of confusing the effects of happiness with the cause of happiness.  Let's look more closely. 

For example:
  • "Eating five small meals a day and taking frequent walks has helped this busy mom stay in shape." 
Assumption: stay in shape and you will be happy. 
  • A well-timed empty nest is critical for well-being.  "You need to have launched your last child by the time your reach age 50."
Assumption (stated outright):  Because "the intersection between your stage in life and the age of your children will have a profound effect on your happiness."

These assumptions and many more, whether implicit or explicit, make happiness a function of your body shape, of your wealth, of your children and of your friends. 

This well-intentioned article dissects these so-called causes of happiness with a view to instructing people in how to carve their own way to well-being. It misses the elephant in the room.

Well-being is not a stop on the tramway, or a lost sock.  

I know articles like these intend only to be helpful, but they do more harm than good.  At best an article like this does nothing to point to the true causes of happiness. At worst it reinforces the already too-widely unquestioned idea that our contentment and well-being are out there somewhere and the problem is to define the "somewhere" and somehow sneak up on it before you die.  

Only from this logic could it ever make sense to prescribe "1-5 hours of social interaction per day," "Strong support of family," and the other 21 things that are listed as essential contributors to high well-being.  

What a disservice to humanity.  What a lie. 

Look more deeply.   

Rummage around a bit in Mary Claire's real story and you will see that the key information was mentioned only in passing -- cast aside as if it had no bearing on her long-term happiness -- and the real questions were never asked. 

How did she know to follow the roads that she did?  How did she hear her own inner direction to "learn from a past mistake" and to turn away from "being a slacker in high school," to "wait to get married later in life."  Where did her decision to become "an achiever" suddenly spring from? These questions deserve attention because they point to something more important than what happened next.  What was she listening to?  How did she know to follow it?

Something inside her told her to get a sponsor to help further her career.  She and her husband were "deliberate" about when to have children.  Mary Claire keeps up with friends from her past -- all results not the causes of her happiness. Ask rather,  how does she "know" to do that? How does she know to do any of it?    

Where is she getting her information?   

I know one thing, she didn't have a copy of the Well-being Shopping List with 23 things on it.  Many of her choices in life flew in the face of logic, reason and what other people told her to do.  She went her own way.

Everything she has now arose from herself first. Call it good judgement, common sense, self-listening, or just tuning inward.  It doesn't matter what you call it. The point is, she is not special or gifted or amazing.

We all have what Mary Claire has.  She's just using it.

And thus the most important part, the universal and most hopeful part of her story was completely missed.  She's not "The Happiest Woman in America" because she can cross off everything on the well-being check list, she's happy because she listened well to her own good counsel.  She followed her compass.  She saw her own north star and said "that way!"

That's possible for any of us.  That directional mechanism is inside all of us already.

What do you think Steve Jobs was listening to?

So burn the case studies, the research and the shopping list for "Wellbeing."

When you can hear the guidance within you that is telling you what's right for you, make the choices that are in line with you. They will feel right.  Learn what that feels like.  Louise Hay used to call it, "listening for the inner ding."  

Mary Claire is a good example of someone who did just that. 

Forget the rest. 

 "Before enlightenment I was depressed, after enlightenment I continue to be depressed"  -- Anthony de Mello

One of my clients once asked me, "If I'm so spiritually evolved, why am I having a bad day?"

Don't we all have this question in various forms?   

"I'm a coach, why am I having difficulty with this issue?"
"I'm a therapist, why are my own relationships in trouble?"
"I've been doing self-development for years, why am I still getting angry?"

Or perhaps you've had the question tossed at you... 

"If you teach this to people, why don't you go practice it yourself!"  

We tend to see these questions as pointing toward some issue within us; something we need to clean up or some way in which we are inauthentic or out of integrity.

Not so.

... unless the purpose of self-development (or spiritual growth) is to never have a bad day again.

It's not that I think becoming issue-free is unrealistic or impossible.  Perhaps it is.  But what interests me more is this:  Do we study, have our spiritual practices, or hire someone to help us 'get better' in order to never ever feel bad again?

If we make our self-improvement all about becoming a perfect human being with a perfect life, we are in for trouble.  There is no greater suffering than striving to be a flawless human.  It is an endless moving runway with a carrot dangling -- always -- just out of reach.   You make improvements in one area and soon you are noticing all the ways that you are lacking in another and then you are right back on the treadmill. 

It's very easy when we read spiritual masters, reflect, meditate, study or hire someone to work with us, to fall into the trap of believing that a sign of enlightenment (or progress) is that we will stop having strong negative emotions.  Just look at how shocked we are when a one of our icons admits to feeling depression, gets mad at a being stuck in traffic, gets a divorce or declares bankruptcy!  

No matter how much 'work' you do on yourself, you cannot get rid of your emotions -- because you cannot get rid of the fact that you are a thinking being.  The two go together, hand in glove. We always feel whatever we think. 

Thoughts themselves are a kaleidoscope of infinite colors and shapes, many of which are not all that pretty.  We define the bad, uncomfortable, unworthy and wrong ones and then set about trying to extract them as if they were cavities. How would you do that, really?  And more importantly, why would you want to?  You are by definition as 'sentient being'.

'Bad thinking' isn't something to rip out and replace with positivity.  Maybe life would be better if we could do this; but have you ever actually succeeded? Are you sure that's purpose of personal growth? 

For me it proved stressful, and ultimately unsuccessful! 

A turning point for me was when I noticed that I actually do not take EVERY thought seriously.  I've had thoughts of punching someone, and not followed through. I realized I am actually already naturally and effortlessly ignoring all kinds of thoughts. You probably do too, within the last hour perhaps.  

You know how they say "the thought crossed my mind"?  It's true. Thoughts do cross your mind.  AND if you notice, you might also find that, you too have plenty of experience in not taking them seriously. Thoughts themselves cannot compel action from us.  Thoughts are not us. So the types of thoughts you have do not define the kind of person you are.

Seeing this, we can relax. We can understand that thinking is not problematic. It just happens.  It's not who we are, but it happens in us.   

I have given up on trying to change and get rid of certain thoughts.  My life is the better for it.

Last week I was teaching at our CSC Retreat by the Sea and for the 9 hours driving up and back to Santa Cruz from San Diego, I was listening to Anthony de Mello's Wake Up To Life lectures (which I highly recommend!).  He asserts,  

"Do you know it's possible to be anxious, yet not troubled?  Do you realize that you can be happy in your anxiety and in your depression?  The only reason you don't is because you don't understand what happiness is. You think happiness is 'thrills'. It's not..."

Most of us are trying to be happy without knowing and without inquiring into what happiness is.  When we define it as 'never having a bad day' or 'never being upset' no wonder we are never happy! 

I am wondering if perhaps the purpose of life is not to get happiness or even to be happy, but to understand what happiness really is.   

Only then, does happiness have a chance to unfold within us and be recognized.

Once a spiritual seeker approached a great teacher and said, "I'd like to find my perfect mate."
The teacher responded with a question, "Are you happy?" she asked.
"Very much so! I have a nice house, car and a great job and I'm very grateful."
"Are you happy?" she asked again.
Surprised, the seeker responded, "Absolutely. I have wonderful teachers and I have studied a great deal. I've come a long way."
The teacher listened and looked gently at the student and asked again, "Are you happy?"
The seeker became irritated.  He pointed a finger at the teacher accusingly, and said  "You know, if I didn't know better I would think you were trying to get me to realize that I'm already happy so that I will forget all about my question!"
"Exactly," said the teacher.
We all tend to focus our attention on what we think is missing in our life.  
It is as if the journey of life were equivalent to completing a puzzle. Sort of like arriving here on this planet, each of us with the incomplete set and with the missing pieces scattered across the world, waiting to be sought out, claimed and placed in their rightful juxtaposition. 
Life becomes a continual search for the right pieces and a feeling of being unfinished until the last pieces arrive.  To cope with this we rely on faith or action -- or both. And I'm not surprised that people have crisis of faith, or that action eventually exhausts us and fails to deliver.
Not because action or faith are not helpful, but because there is a fatal flaw in the fabric:  The assumption that we are incomplete. We are not. There is no one on earth who came here needing therapy at birth.
No matter who we are or what has happened to us, we all possess capacities to live life that were never taught to us. Capacities that are a given from the time we arrive to the time we die.  No one taught you love for example, you arrived with the ability to love.  No one taught you intelligence, you came here with it and it is yours to use.  And if you think about it, love, intelligence, wisdom, and life itself, will still be here long after we are each gone.  
What this must mean is that you are not damaged, partial or in need of any of the true basic necessities. Assuming you define 'basic necessities' as these formless qualities, in other words as your ability to finish the puzzle -- not the puzzle pieces themselves.
When we focus on what is missing in life we will always find something.  Yet, when we look inward and reflect on who we are as part of the universal intelligence we are born into, we always find that we are completely well-equipped to guide ourselves through life.
The show Hot Pursuit of Happiness had so much material in it that you can use to be happier, I wanted to share it here. 

First, the idea is that Happiness is A Muscle.  You get better at being happy as you use that muscle. Which doesn't mean you walk around in bliss all the time, but it does mean that you meet life's challenges with greater clarity of mind and have a lot better time of living in general. 

Here's four non-painful ways to start pumping that muscle... (click 'Read More')
You know those moments when you 'space out' for a bit?  It just lasts a few seconds.  But it gives me shivers to think that could apply to a whole life. I  have this horrible thought that I might wake up one day  and realize I didn't have I life, just  a lot of Coach bags. A life who's motto would be "I came, I slept, I shopped."

One of the books that really fed my longing for more awareness and conscious action in my own life is Anthony de Mello's "Awareness." Please put this book on your 'read before I die' list.  De Mello was a Jesuit priest, a delightful, spiritual - and very frank - man who cared about all of us knowing that it was possible to live life awake.   He begins the book, which is a transcript of his lectures "Wake Up To Life" at Fordham University by saying we "are born asleep, we marry in our sleep and we die asleep."  Not a new idea. One that many other teachers would agree with, from Don Miguel Ruiz to Jesus.  The really horrifying this about this idea for me is that we can be asleep, but not even know it.  Like in the film, The Matrix.

Watched The Matrix lately?  It's interesting that first line.

Wake up, Neo...

Awareness for me is a commitment.  I wanted to live 'awake' (I use that carefully, as I try to be mindful of setting up some states as 'good' and others as 'bad') for some practical reasons: so I could stop repeating some old mistakes, not be so motivated by fear and become more open to getting better answers for myself.

It has proved to be a very fruitful place for me to explore. 

To hear my show on Awareness from December 23rd
It includes Anthony de Mello's 4 ways of taking action to come into greater awareness that you can try out for yourself

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Last week on the show "Will the Real Happy please stand up..." I spent some time digging below the surface of a very commonly accepted idea: happiness is inside you. Very few people would quarrel with that idea anymore.  We seem to have a sense that we can't find happiness outside ourselves, but guess what?  We look anyway.  As I heard this week.  "I know money doesn't buy happiness but I'd like the chance to find out for myself!"

The way to find out about happiness could well be to become a gazillionaire and see, but between now and then, there's lots you can do to understand what happiness is for you. The show looks at these, and you also have two archive shows with Robert Holden (on June 5th and July 24th) exploring the 10+ Keys to Happiness.  Great shows.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to explore this right now, here are some questions for you to journal on or think about:

What are the top  5 lessons on happiness your life has taught you so far
?  For each one....

            How has it influenced your life?

            How well have you learned it?

And you might want to take on a practice for the week to notice

When you are at your happiest

When you feel most alive / on purpose

Let me know how you go...