The UK newspaper The Guardian has an interesting short piece out this week with a title and lead saying:
If you want to have a good time, ask a Buddhist
Buddhism argues that happiness comes from how deeply or mindfully you’re absorbed in an experience
Ha! I suppose we shouldn't object too much. Though it is reminiscent (for those of us over 35) of those notes scribbled on bathroom walls, "for a good time, call X at 555-1234."
Now it's just "ask a Buddhist."
The content which follows is, nonetheless, solid advice. It helps to start with a quote from one of the great meditation teachers of recent times, Ayya Khema:
“We may believe that it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.”
The author, Oliver Burkeman, continues, "That seems like a technical distinction and, to be fair, Buddhist teachers do love making technical distinctions. But this isn’t one. It’s a crucial point about human happiness that might make us all more cheerful if we grasped it."
And this is it. This is the secret that Buddhists have been holding on to for 2500 years (and that other religious -and non-religious- folks have found as well). The path to happiness is in our relationship to our experience of the world.
In every moment we can find something to be unhappy about. My new living situation includes a rather small room with no desk, so I work in a lounge chair or in bed, neither of which is great for my posture. My shoulders hurt, yada yada yada.
And in our situation there is sure to be something to be happy about. I happen to live on a sub-tropical island at the moment, a five minute walk from a gorgeous beach.
Politics is no different. There is plenty to be unhappy about and I'm among those who thinks that climate change will absolutely devastate humanity in the next 50 years. And there is hope: people are waking up to that fact - slowly, oh so slowly, but nonetheless.
As our author notes, this isn't any empty "positive thinking" movement. It includes full awareness of the awful truths of our experience. But it is a deepening awareness of the good, slowly but surely, so that we don't get overwhelmed by the awful stuff out there.
It comes through practice, diligence, discipline even of following the breath in and out, settling the mind on that most boring of activities. The magic, in my humble opinion, is that the breath itself becomes fascinating. Each one becomes unique and offers a fresh flow of sensations. A bit like flowers or sunsets: perfectly boring to some, but endlessly fascinating to those who have taken the time to really examine the intricacies of each and every one, to be fully present in their uniqueness.
It might not sound like a "good time" at first. I'm not one to get too much out of flowers, for instance. But I do get a great deal out of following the breath when I meditate and watching a lovely sunset. So I trust that I could develop the same sensitivity and care for flowers that I have for the breath and the setting sun.
This is what is meant by "our relationship to our experience of the world." Anything, everything can have that quality of fascination and depth, even impending climate disasters - if that's your sort of thing.
Check out my Patreon page if you'd like to support my work.