Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Month: November 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Is Attachment Destroying Your Happiness?

Although the word has a stark connotation, I think the general trend toward minimalism is a smart one.  You can indeed “be more with less.”

However, minimalism does not guarantee happiness.

As Gail Brenner from A Flourishing Life wisely said in her recent comment on this blog, “…it’s not stuff that is the problem, but our attachment to it. Attachments start with a sense of desire and lack.”

You may have less than 50 or 100 possessions and still be prone to attachment.  You may still suffer from worry about your possessions, however few you may have.

Attachment comes in many other guises too – to people, beliefs, emotions.

Reflection:  Is Attachment Destroying Your Happiness?

For our reflection this week, I’ve chosen the theme of attachment and one my favorite stories about the 17th century spiritual master Yukhok Chatralwa Choying Rangdrol.

“Chatralwa had a rather big, comfortable house with lots of sunlight, filled with religious objects and books.

One day a well-known lama called Rinchen Dargye visited him. After entering Chatralwa’s room, the lama kept looking around instead of sitting down. Chatralwa sharply asked him, “A-we! What did you lose?” The lama answered, ” I heard you are a Chatralwa, a hermit. But in fact, you have collected enough to be a rich man.”

Chatralwa replied, “Chatralwa means someone who has got rid of his or her emotional attachments to worldly materials or to life itself. It does not mean being poor and hankering for them, as many do.”

– from Masters of Meditation and Miracles by Tulku Thondop

I’m not suggesting giving free reign to consumption. Over-consumption is ruining our health, our peace of mind, and our planet.

But let’s take a deeper look into the root of the problem: attachment.

I invite you to take a moment to explore your own attachments today – to possessions, to people, to beliefs, to emotional states, to habits and patterns.  Do you find attachment giving rise to discontent and unhappiness? Let us know what you discover!

I’ll start off with one of my attachments.  I love books!  I love well-tuned information!  But I’m sensitive to the musty, mildew smell of older books.  Still, it’s hard to resist the urge to revisit one of my tried and true book friends, even though I know it’s not healthy for me.  It’s simply attachment rising up in one of its many forms, bring along its buddy – suffering.

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The Secret to a Truly Abundant Holiday

If I had one wish this Thanksgiving Day, it would be to liberate everyone around the world from over-consumption.  Because stuff never brings genuine happiness.

It may bring fleeting moments of happiness, but not a deep abiding joy.

Karen Ruby beautifully explains the sense of freedom that comes from recognizing this simple truth:

“Now that I am debt-free, I look around at all the things that I had put on my credit card and line of credit and can just smack myself in the head. What was I thinking? I was probably thinking that since I couldn’t stand my job and since I worked so hard (if sitting in front of a computer all day long is hard work), that I deserved to spend my money on some retail therapy. Instant gratification.  On things I ”wanted”, rather than ‘needed’.”

Doesn’t she hit the nail on the head?

Think about it for a moment.  Isn’t excessive spending often driven by a need to fill an emotional gap of one sort or the other?  Do you ever find this to be true for you?

Somehow though it almost always backfires.

The satisfaction is momentary and then we crave more, which creates an endless cycle of never having enough.  Stuff never really fills the gap.  Most of the time it brings a slew of its own problems. Like bills, debt, repairs, loss, fear of theft, breakage, wearing out, not meeting our expectations, or not giving us the same charge as when it was new.

It’s mind-boggling to learn that:

“Americans spend more money trying to look young than we spend on educating our young.  We also spend more on dieting than on feeding the hungry, although modern agriculture has made feeding the hungry an attainable goal.” – Eileen Flanagan

Despite all these pleasures and indulgences, we never seem fully satisfied.

A New Vision of Abundance

The minimalist movement is all about nipping over-consumption in the bud and embracing simplicity to secure a deeper happiness.  Don’t worry,  I’m not proposing that everyone become a minimalist.  I don’t think it’s necessary to do away with consumption altogether.

But I do wish –  with all my heart – for a new vision of abundance.

It’s a vision of prosperity defined not by:

“having an abundance of material wealth but more in the sense of flourishing mentally and emotionally.” – the Dalai Lama

In short, to be always well within.

When you are always well within, outer circumstances can change – they always will – but your sense of contentment, confidence, and happiness will not be troubled too much.  Big sufferings may come, it’s just a fact of life, and you might be thrown off balance for awhile.  But in time you will find your way back to center and reconnect your own inner spring of genuine happiness.  Real happiness is an inside job.

So before you are lured into unnecessary spending on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, take a moment to consider:  what do you truly need?  What do others truly need?  What will bring you true happiness?

Sure, it’s the holiday season and there’s no reason to be a Scrooge.  But there are many reasons to be moderate, including your own sense of sanity as well as the health of the planet.  Enjoy yourself fully but in a sensible way that doesn’t bring more stress and hassle now or in the future.

Ideas for Green Gifts

Here are some green gift ideas to help you keep it simple and sane this holiday season.

The Joy of Gratitude

While you are still in Thanksgiving mode, you might also enjoy my article on gratitude:  101 Rays of Gratitude.  Creating a list of 101 gratitudes is an incredible exercise that I recommend to you.  It will definitely strengthen your gratitude muscle.

I also want to take a moment to tell you how enormously grateful I am to all of you.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, leave comments, tweet and share my posts, and support me in so many other ways.  Your interest, kindness, and insights bring a sense of richness to me each and everyday.  Thank you with all my heart.

This Thanksgiving, I wish you true abundance and prosperity.  May you always be well, happy, and safe.

Any thoughts to share on true abundance?  What are your plans for a saner holiday season?

Thank you for reading.  If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much!  Sandra

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Happiness Is An Inside Job

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Are you happy?

What makes you happy?  Does your happiness depend on external factors?

What would happen to your happiness if circumstances changed?

Truth be told, most of us spend our lives chasing after transitory moments of happiness, without ever recognizing the possibility for genuine, lasting happiness.  Did you know there’s a difference between transitory happiness and genuine happiness?

This is Part 4 of my series on Inner and Outer Harmony is based on advice from the Dalai Lama.

In Part 1 the Dalai Lama reviewed the man-made challenges we face today and concluded that only a spiritual revolution can fully change the world. We need to take practical action too, but without a spiritual revolution, there is no hope.

In Part 2, he clarified precisely what he means by a “spiritual revolution” – the rekindling of basic human values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness among others. These qualities of the human spirit need not be linked to religion. They can be cultivated by one and all.

In Part 3, we explored the Dalai Lama’s view of the nature of reality, which illustrates how we are all inextricably connected for better or for worse, the choice is ours.  Due to this interconnectedness, helping others ultimately helps you whereas harming others, harms you.

Happiness:  The Fundamental Facts

There are some fundamental truths about happiness, which you can easily confirm by taking a solid look at your own experience of life.  Here they are:

1. We all wish to be happy and we all wish to avoid suffering.

2. While material possessions and enjoyable sensory experiences can bring about happiness it is only a fleeting, temporary state of mind.  The new car breaks down, the bathwater gets cold, our stomach aches after a rich meal.  Whatever causes our happiness in the first place eventually changes and thus our happiness also dissolves. Possessions and experiences actually contain the “seed of suffering.”

3. The transitory nature of this type of happiness – the kind that depends on external factors – only leads us to crave more and more.  This put us into an endless cycle of seeking the next object or experience that will bring gratification.  As one astute Indian writer once said, “Indulging our senses and drinking salt water are alike: the more we partake, the more our desire and thirst grow.”

4. If we take this perspective on the transitory nature of happiness to heart, we realize it’s a mistake to place too much emphasis on material development and material possessions.  True and lasting happiness can never come from gratifying the senses alone.

5. Human beings have the capacity to experience a deeper happiness than that which is evoked by a material or sensory pleasure.  A deeper level of happiness can even override unhappiness or pain. For example, a person who donates a kidney so that another can live will surely go through suffering, but this sense of suffering will be secondary to the sense of fulfillment derived from saving a person’s life.

In short, transitory happiness almost always results in suffering.  It is fundamentally flawed because you can never get enough.

Now please don’t take the Dalai Lama’s word for it. He always encourages you to think through the logic for yourself and arrive at a deeper experience of the conclusion.  Take a good look at your own life experience.  Are these facts about regular happiness true for you?

What is genuine, lasting happiness?

The Dalai Lama clearly distinguishes between transitory happiness and what he calls lasting or genuine happiness.

So what is genuine or lasting happiness, you might ask?  The Dalai Lama explains his own experience of genuine happiness like this,

“…so far as basic serenity is concerned, on most days I am calm and contented.  Even when difficulties arise, as they must, I am usually not much bothered by them.  I have no hesitation in saying that I am happy.”

The Dalai Lama says that in his own experience, the principal characteristic of genuine happiness is inner peace.  This is how we can explain the fact that some people who are abundantly endowed on the material plane feel constantly plagued by a sense of discontentment.  On the other hand, we find individuals in the most dire of circumstances who are able to remain happy nevertheless.

“If we can develop this quality of inner peace, no matter what difficulties we meet with in life, our basic sense of well-being will not be undermined.”

You might argue that good health, friends, freedom, and prosperity all contribute to our fundamental sense of well-being.  This is true and shouldn’t be discounted.  But they aren’t unchanging or reliable.  We can see for ourselves, these factors are all transitory and often become the cause of suffering in themselves.  These factors cannot bring about lasting happiness on their own, which is independent of external circumstances.

True happiness then arises from inner peace.  It is a stable sense of serenity, calm, and contentment that does not depend on external factors or circumstances.

How Do We Achieve Genuine Happiness?

If genuine happiness arises from a sense of inner peace, as the Dalai Lama proposes, then – like any other task in life – we need to identify its causes and conditions and set about cultivating them.  He defines two conditions which contribute to inner peace:  our attitude and our actions.

To achieve happiness, we need to cultivate the attitudes and actions that are conducive to inner peace and to avoid attitudes and actions that might obstruct it.  Attitudes and actions are two elements of life that are fully within the realm of your control.  Granted, it may take time, dedication, and practice to change the habits of your mind but it’s eminently doable.

As unbelievable as it may seem, even the Dalai Lama was, in his earlier years, somewhat hot-tempered, impatient, and even prone to anger.  Now he’s calm and serene. What changed?  His attitude.  He diligently trained in cultivating love and kindness, while simultaneously practiced dissolving anger whenever it arose.

You too can find inner peace and happiness because it is possible to change the habits of your mind and adopt new attitudes.

The Dalai Lama has observed that the actions that bring about lasting peace are generally those that involve doing something worthwhile and beneficial for others – ones that bring about happiness for both ourselves and others.  He believes that “altruism is an essential component to those actions which lead to genuine happiness.”

The Dalai Lama differentiates an ethical act and a spiritual act. He says,

“An ethical act is one where we refrain from causing harm to other’s experience or expectation of happiness. Spiritual acts we can describe in terms of those qualities mentioned earlier of love, compassion, patience, forgiveness humility, tolerance, and so on which presume some level of concern for other’s well-being.  We find that the spiritual actions we undertake which are motivated not by narrow self-interest but out of our concern for others actually benefit ourselves.  And not only that, they make our lives meaningful.”

Actions inspired by the wish to help others are the most effective way to bring about lasting happiness. These positive actions also lessen our own experience of suffering.  Why is that?  When we are in the midst of helping someone else,  we are less focused on our own worries and problems and thus suffer less.

The Dalai Lama concludes,

“…because our every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on other’s happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. …genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, and so on.  It is these which provide happiness for both ourselves and others.”

This doesn’t mean being a martyr or perpetual giver. It simply means having a good heart and consistently extending yourself on the behalf of others.  It means dedicating yourself to cultivating positive qualities like being more loving, tolerant, forgiving and to decreasing negative emotions like anger and ill will.  As explained in Part 3, it makes sense to help others even from a selfish perspective because – in the end – helping helps you whereas harming harms you.

The Dalai Lama is asking us to take quite a leap here. Frankly, most of our lives revolve around the notion of acquiring moments of transitory happiness via possessions and experiences.  There’s even a whole slew of personal development bloggers that will tell you that you can live whatever life you want and be rich too.  On the other hand, pioneers in the minimalist movement will tell you that less is more.  They say that overindulgence in material possessions brings more headaches and heartaches than happiness.

What do you think?  What is genuine happiness in your view?  Do you think altruism is an essential component for lasting happiness?

This series – A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony is based on Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama.

Image of the Dalai Lama from his Facebook Page.

Please let your friends know about this article by using the share buttons below.  Every share helps me reach out to others.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra

Taming the Wild Elephant of Mind

Elephant for Mindfulness post

Image courtesy of Farnoosh Brock, www. prolific living.com

When was the last time you misplaced your car keys or another item? How about the last time you missed taking a turn while driving?

Confession:  I spent the last day looking for my checkbook which was sitting on the nightstand next to my bed.

So much time is wasted, special opportunities missed, and unnecessary problems created through mindlessness.

As you can see from these examples, mindfulness has many practical benefits.  It will save you time, cut down on unnecessary hassles, and may even help you tune into an extraordinary opportunity.  On top of that, it brings a greater sense of calm, clarity, and confidence into every aspect of your life.

There are 1,140 minutes in a day.   Have you ever considered how many you actually spend in the present moment, mindful and aware?

A Few Pointers on Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the first practice on the path of meditation. It’s not the ultimate goal of meditation. However, without mindfulness true meditation will never arise.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean being overly concentrated. This will only bring more tension and stress. Ideally, mindfulness is balanced with watchful awareness and a relaxed sense of spaciousness.

How does it work? You place your attention lightly – not intently – on an object in meditation like watching the breath. Or on an activity in life like being fully present when you are eating, listening, walking and so on. At the same time, there’s a sense of watchful awareness that recognizes when you become distracted and lose the mindfulness. When that happens, you simply return your attention to the object or activity. The entire process is held is the arms of relaxed spaciousness.  That means you are mindful but not oblivious to the world around you.

Reflection – Taming the Wild Elephant of Mind

For this week’s reflection, I’ve chosen a quotation from the eight-century spiritual master Shantideva, which highlights the enormous benefits that arise from simply being mindful and aware in the present moment.

“If this elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness,

All fear disappears and complete happiness comes.

All enemies: all the tigers, lions, elephants, bears, serpents [of our emotions];

And all keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,

All of these are bound by the mastery of your mind,

And by taming of that one mind, all are subdued,

Because from the mind are derived all fears and immeasurable sorrows.”

– from Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Shantideva by Marion L. Mactics

With all these remarkable gifts, you can’t help but wonder why there isn’t a stampede on to learn mindfulness.  In case it’s not clear, the wild animals mentioned in this quote symbolize our wild and out-of-control emotions.

A Mindfulness Challenge

I once heard that the contemporary spiritual teacher Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche would sometimes give a pen to a student and tell them not to lose it as a form of mindfulness training. Now, I don’t know if this story is true but it sounds like a great experiment.

Why not experiment with using just one pen for a week and see what happens! If you take the challenge, please be sure to let us know how it goes.

There is so much more that could be said about mindfulness meditation. I will be writing more about mindfulness and meditation in the future. The main point for today is simply to to consider the benefits of mindfulness, and to take a peek into how mindfulness might help you.

After the checkbook episode, it’s clear I need to get back to my mindfulness practice!  It’s also healthy to have a sense of humor about one’s imperfections.

Speaking of magical encounters, don’t miss out on this delightful story chocked full of elephant facts, fun photos, and a love affair with a few gentler gray friends from Farnoosh Brock.

Is your mind like a wild elephant? How often does it go on a rampage? Do you practice mindfulness meditation?  Mindfulness in life?

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If you liked this article, please share it with others using the share buttons below.  Thank you and aloha, Sandra

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Blogging Insight – Make new friends, endlessly!

Rainbow image for Blogging Insights postIs there any place that mirrors change and impermanence more rapidly than the worldwide web?

I’ve seen my share of blogs – even blossoming ones – bite the dust since I began blogging just seven months ago.

Now, my new found blogging friends have been disappearing – one right after the other.

It seems like everyone’s disconnecting since reading Leo Babauta’s new ebook on focus. Some are taking a digital sabbatical one day a week or on the weekend. Others are taking a full month or two away.  Still others are shifting their focus to new interests or projects and have less time for blogging and social media.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is very good.  I encourage you to follow your passions.  I encourage you to nurture yourself with personal white space and real-time connections.

But I’m missing my friends, especially the ones that are taking longer breaks.  I feel sad.  I miss their frequent infusions of joy and inspiration.  I miss their thoughtful and provocative blog posts.  I miss their unique and fascinating spirits.  I miss their visits to my blog.

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m not cut out for this fast-paced internet life where people bounce in and out of your vision for a few weeks or months at a time.  Maybe I place too much value on the idea of friends.

It makes me wonder – are internet friendships real?  Or has this just been an illusion of connection that I alone have created in my mind?

The Practical Impact on Your Blog

Then there’s the practical side – the way friends disconnecting impacts your blog.

Every seasoned blogger knows that your ability to promote a blog successfully depends upon friendly interconnections.  As Dragos Roua points out,

“The blogs ecosystem is an incredibly complex web of interactions, links, authority and trends. This web is changing constantly and the chances that you will survive as an isolated blogger are incredibly small. You need a solid team of partners who will support you. Partners that you will support too, enforcing the power of your links in the blogging ecosystem.”

There are over 130 million blogs on the internet.

Even with tip-top content, few will find your blog without skillful promotion.  To attract new readers, you need blogging friends – to share your articles on social media, comment on your blog, allow you to guess post, and to partner with you in collaborative projects.

If your blog is already a moderate or huge success, having a few blogging friends drop away will not faze you in the least.

But if you are in the early stages of building your blog, beware. Should a slew of your friends suddenly break away, your once active comment section can suddenly seem like a ghost town.  Article tweets, Facebook links, Stumbles, and other social media favors may be few and far between.

Ah, the endless endeavor to make more friends.

How many friends do we need?

We need blogging friends, that’s clear  How many?

Srinivas Rao says we only need 150 followers on twitter to be a success.  This is the number of social relationships a person can effectively manage and it’s the number needed for an idea to spread according to Malcolm Gladwell.  Rao suggests creating an “inner circle” of 150 followers who retweet your tweets, mention you, link to your blog, and/or comment on your blog.

The secret is to engage these real people in real conversations on twitter. Rao says this strategy is working exceptionally well for him.  I don’t doubt this is the case.

But for me, the idea of remembering and interacting regularly with 150 people is mind-boggling to say the least.  And, with the current trend toward periodic disconnection, you will need quite a few more than 150 as a buffer when some do take a break.

I can’t help but ask – is this how I really want to spend my time?  Glued to a computer endlessly searching for new friends?

Lessons to Be Learned, Questions to Be Asked

What are the lessons to be learned from all this?

  • Friendships are like rainbows. Enjoy yours – virtual or live – while they last.  Don’t expect them to last forever.  Or even more than a few months!
  • You’d better make new blogging friends constantly.  You never know when a few will suddenly disappear from your blog life.

Now for the questions I have for you:

  • Is this fast-paced internet the world of your dreams?
  • Is the blogosphere setting your life’s pace or are you?
  • How are you managing your time?
  • What’s your take on friends in the blogosphere?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

If you liked this article, please share it with others via your social network.  Thanks so much! Sandra

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How To Focus – 10 Practical Tips

I was a workaholic.  So much so that I burned out my body and brain.

In fact, I burned myself out by not being focused.  I tried to do everything and that’s impossible.

As you can imagine, I now highly value relaxation and rejuvenation.

In fact, I spend several hours each day relaxing and caring for my body, mind, and spirit.

This commitment to myself limits the amount of time available for work.  Therefore,  I need to focus and use work time efficiently.

But – as you probably know quite well yourself – it’s easy to get distracted.

Whether you are too busy working or – like me – too busy relaxing, the answer to distraction is the same:  focus.

10 Ways I Focus

Here are 10 ways that I focus inspired by Leo Babauta’s excellent new ebook called focus, a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.

1.  Resisting the pull of email

Without thinking about it too much, I had my email program set to auto check every five minutes.  Yes, almost every time it beeped, I would disrupt my work flow to have a “quick” look.  Of course, that often led to more distraction.  Now it’s reset to check every hour.  The sound notification is turned off.  I will probably turn the auto-check off completely and just check email once or twice a day.

2.  Turning away from excess entertainment

My husband and I haven’t had a television for over four years now.  We watch a movie or documentary, but we limit it to just once a week.

We often choose movies or documentaries about nature or ones with an uplifting message, which inspires our mind and heart.  The violence that is an ordinary part of many television programs adversely effects all of us, but children and highly sensitive people – up to 20% of the population – are at greater risk.

Limiting television, movies, and other forms of mindless entertainment opens up so much time and space in your life, and allows you to focus on what’s really important to you.  It’s such a wonderful way to find more peace, freedom, and creativity.

3.  Limiting social media time

I value social media and the wonderful connections I’ve made there.  But it can be a place where I easily fritter away time.  I’ve decided to limit myself to 30 minutes a day.

4.  Unsubscribing

I have hundreds of blog posts in my inbox. Since I follow all my blog friends on twitter, I see their new posts there – far before I see them in my inbox. I don’t need to receive them in my inbox too.  I’d rather follow the twitter link and visit their blog.

I’m gradually unsubscribing to blogs – one a day.  Don’t take it personally if I unsubscribe from your blog.  I’m still reading it!

5.  Turning off email notifications from social media.

I don’t need to know every time I have a new follower on twitter or a friend request from Facebook.  This further clogs up my already hopeless inbox, which takes more and more time to clear.

6.  Cleaning up my computer desktop

I tend to let files accumulate all over my desktop so I can barely see the bright blue sky behind them.   It makes it difficult to find what I need, another time waster.

7.  Choosing only the most important tasks each day

I love Leo’s suggestion of selecting just 1-3 most important tasks each day, focusing on the single most important task first, and single-tasking until it’s finished.  This is proving to be a much more relaxing and productive way to work.

8.  Blocking off undistracted time

I’m learning to work in 50 minute blocks of undistracted time interspersed with 10 minute breaks for stretching, resting, breathing, meditating, and other rejuvenating activities.

9.  Disconnecting

Since the publication of Leo’s book, so many of my internet friends are disconnecting – some for short periods of time and others for far longer.  To be honest, I miss them although I support them too.  I’m myself plan to unplug periodically to focus on – you guessed it – relaxation, inner focus, and my close relationships.

10.  Simplify my writing style

I tend to write long blog posts.  There are times when I can deliver the same value with fewer words saving both myself and my readers time.

I’m putting these new habits into place gradually, there’s no need to rush.  With every small step, I’m already enjoying the increased clarity and added simplicity that is blossoming in my life.

I recommend focus

In his simple, yet compelling writing style, Leo Babauta helps you step back and explore your own personal obstacles to focus.  He tells you how to beat the fear of disconnecting and the rewards that focus will bring to your life.  You’ll find easy to use ideas and methods for clearing distractions, simplifying your life, and finding focus.

Leo is a deep thinker and caring person, which sets Babauta’s focus apart from other ebooks on the topic.  Whether you get the free, premium, or Kindle version, you will benefit from reading this manifesto.

How are you finding focus in your life?

If you liked this article, please share it with others on your social networks.  Thanks so much!  Sandra

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