Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Root of Happiness

Pema Chodron, in her brilliant little book, "The Places That Scare You," talks about the four limitless qualities, which are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Here is how she introduces them:

It's up to us. We can spend our lives cultivating our resentments and cravings or we can explore the path of the warrior--nurturing open-mindedness and courage. Most of us keep strengthening our negative habits and therefore sow the seeds of our own suffering. The bodhichitta practices, however, are ways for us to sow the seeds of well-being. Particularly powerful are the aspiration practices of the four limitless qualities--loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
~p. 51, The Places That Scare You

In four chapters, she describes meditations that explore and expand these qualities in ourselves towards all people. The first one, which I have actually tried, focuses on happiness. It is based on the following chant:

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

This meditation has seven parts. Basically, you first focus on yourself: May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. Then you focus on the same thing for someone very close to you--your mate, your closest friend, etc. Then you expand that thought to someone you feel fondly about, but are not terribly close to. Then you expand that thought to someone you feel neutrally about--the mailman, or the barista you order your coffee from. Eventually you focus this thought on someone you dislike or who annoys you. Then you try to keep all of these people in your thoughts and expand your wish for all of these people, and for all beings everywhere, to enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. The idea is to practice feeling the same expansive wish for joy for all people, and ultimately to realize that the idea that we are separate from any other beings is an illusion. Why shouldn't we wish for every being to experience happiness? Even the ones we dislike.

I found after practicing this meditation that it stayed with me for quite a while. I saw people out in the world that I didn't know, and thought that thought: May he enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. One of the people I dislike that I meditated about was a doctor I work with, and when I saw him at work I thought: may he enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. The thought actually made me happier; instead of seeing him and feeling surly or irritated, I felt more expansive and less separated by my dislike or resentment.

The root of happiness, as I see it, is freedom from suffering. The Buddha taught that suffering is caused by attachment, which is characterized by clinging. I think this is one of those deceptively simple teachings that one can learn about one's entire life. How simple, just stop clinging! Stop clinging to our ideas of ourselves and others, to our desires, our cravings for objects and endless affirmation from others and our hurts and pains that we nurture. This last one has particularly been on my mind, for I have been clinging to the ways that I have been wronged by my SA husband. I am trying to understand why I would cling to those resentments and hurts. After all, it only serves to increase my own suffering, and then I reflect that back on him, which doesn't make him feel very good.

I think I cling to these injuries because I am afraid that if I forget, and if he forgets, then it will happen again. I will become complacent, he will think I am spineless, and the cycle will continue until I finally leave. I guess that is the pattern I have known, so it makes sense that I would assume it will continue like that. But as I said, the clinging only increases my own suffering, and it doesn't prevent any of those things. I cannot control what anyone else does--not my husband, not my family, not even my cat. And nursing these wounds increases the feeling that I am special in that I am the only one who has ever been hurt like this--and that I am purely a victim, that I have never done any harm to anyone else. It increases that illusion of separateness from others, when in reality we are much more interconnected than our illusions suggest. (It will likely become a little harder to keep up that illusion of being purely a victim after I have done my inventory of character defects, and later have to make amends.)

I don't know exactly how to stop clinging to my little wounds, but I think this kind of meditation exercise can help. It is no small thing to learn how to stop clinging, how to release ourselves from our attachments. It is the very nature of our human minds to grasp for these things. But this is the goal if we hope to release ourselves from the endless cycle of human suffering. I don't actually know if I'll ever be released from the endless cycle of human suffering, but maybe I can reduce my own suffering and that of others a little bit while I am here, by learning to stop clinging to the perceived slights and very real injuries that have occured in the past, and practice expansive loving-kindness towards others. It certainly can't hurt to try.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

As It Is

It's been an interesting week for my program. My husband had to serve his week of jail time as part of his sentence for the DUI/accident. We live 400 miles away from the scene of the crime, as it were, so he had to travel there to go to jail. All told, he was gone about 9 days.

I didn't know what was going on with him when he was there. It turned out he was unable to call me because they didn't allow calls to cell phones, and we don't have a land line. I knew that he would have called me if he could, so the lack of phone calls from him indicated to me that he wasn't allowed to call. Still, without the reassurance of his voice telling me he was okay, I had to work hard not to worry. That doesn't come easy to me.

About all I could do was tell myself, "I'm not in control." It did help. I was very busy with school during that time, even had a class over the weekend, so there wasn't too much down time to really get into a good codie worry fest. And when I did have time, I was able to enjoy it. It has been a long time since I regularly had private time to relax, so I went for hikes and runs, went out with friends, and read. Sometimes the thought crept in that my husband wasn't having nearly as relaxing a time, and I would worry again. "I'm not in control."

I've been reading a book called "The 12-Step Buddhist" by Darren Littlejohn. I've gotten to the part on Step 1 where he describes meditating on "as it is." We have to learn to accept everything--life, people, situations, our thoughts--as it is. It isn't just addicts and codependents--everybody is in some degree of denial of things as they are. We all think we can change other people or change the future, but all we have is the present moment. Failure to accept others and ourselves as we are simply perpetuates our own suffering and denies us the lessons of the present moment. As a program friend recently said to me, "You are exactly where you need to be right now."

"As it is" has become a useful mantra for me. It helps calm me and reminds me that I am not in control of very much at all--really just my own actions. Especially when I spin out of control about the future, afraid that things in my life are inevitably going to go in a direction that I fear, saying this to myself helps remind me to stay in the present and realize I can't control others or the future.