Happiness Independent of Conditions

A student recently asked me to share my thoughts on “happiness independent of conditions.” This phrase is widely used in meditation circles, but many people have only a vague intellectual sense of what it means, or worse, a belief that it’s an unattainable goal.

Rather than deepen the intellectual hole, here’s a bit of pragmatic, direct experience…

The way things seem to be going, as I become more mindful, a wider and wider range of sense experiences (the sounds, sights and sensations that make up each moment) become ok. Acceptable. Peaceful. Safe. Sometimes even quite wondrous and beautiful. I still want to improve my life in various ways, but I am willing to be with sense experience as it is, more deeply, and more consistently. In other words, there’s less resistance to the way things are, and therefore, as the Buddhists put it, less suffering.
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The Most Important Thing You Never Knew About Relationship

Most people, most of the time, treat conversation as a form of information exchange. You tell me what you're having for dinner tonight, I tell you what I did at work today, you tell me where you went on your vacation, etc. The assumption is: the value of connection comes from the content we exchange.

Similarly, when communication doesn't work or a relationship falls flat, we often blame the content. "They don't care about things that interest me." "We never talk about deep stuff."

While there is some value in shared interests, much research has pointed to the far greater value of non-verbal cues in the overall experience of communication. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian famously discovered that in communications of our attitudes and opinions, only 7% of the meaning comes from the words themselves. The rest is embedded in our facial expressions and body language. More recent research has pointed out that when we are most deeply connected, we feel each other’s feelings in our own bodies—this is true empathy.

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Equanimity and Resistance

horseI woke up yesterday morning to an email from psychologist and mindfulness teacher Rick Hanson. Rather than his usual kind, neuroscience-informed tip-of-the-day for wellbeing, this is a strong-willed invocation to know the facts and your values as they pertain to the current political situation.

I’m proud of my colleague for speaking out in this way. This message, coming from a meditation teacher, speaks to an important point about meditation, and spirituality in general: A holistic spirituality is political. It is ethical. It holds people to their word. It acknowledges bias, and class, and caste and color and the ways our world is out of balance.

One of the central aspects of mindfulness is the concept of non-resistance. We often talk about not resisting pain, “turning toward” emotional discomfort, “letting go.” Another word for this is “equanimity.” While this is a tremendously valuable teaching, it can often get us stuck on notions of calm, passivity, even indifference as the goal of meditation. This represents an incomplete understanding.
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“You give yourself a command”

Shortly before his death, the writer and spiritual teacher Carlos Castaneda was interviewed over lunch in Los Angeles. The interviewer, Michael Ventura, describes a moment during the meal…

A woman at the table said she loved her job, her husband, and her child, but still she felt a lack — it was that she had no spiritual life. How could she achieve a spiritual life?

Answering this woman, Carlos didn’t change the lightness or generosity of his manner; yet a steely thing came into his voice, a tone that made his words pierce all of us. He said that when she got home at night she should sit in her chair and remember that her child, her husband, everyone she loved, and she herself, were going to die — and they would die in no particular order, unpredictably. “Remember this every night, and you’ll soon have a spiritual life.”…

Later in the conversation this woman asked how she could discipline herself to follow his advice, deeply follow it, so that it wouldn’t be just an exercise. Carlos said: “You give yourself a command.”
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6 Tips for Mindful Self-Care Over The Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching, and many of us are heading home to spend time with family. For some, this means confronting challenging political views and challenging interpersonal dynamics. As far as mindfulness is concerned, these are the moments where the rubber meets the road!

If you’re anxious about holiday family time, here are six tips to keep your mindfulness and compassion alive:

  1. Schedule time to connect with friends. Though you may be across the country from your social circle or romantic partner, a few well-placed phone calls can provide a much needed dose of connection and co-regulation. Let it be a good 20 minutes, and be present for it—find a quiet place, lie down, and soak in the connection. No need to complain about Uncle Bob’s misogynistic comments—you can talk about anything! A large part of the psychological benefit that comes from connection comes regardless of the content being exchanged.
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