Happiness in a minor key

Pink flowers

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false and true;

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

(from When You Are Old, by William Butler Yeats)

 

To see the pilgrim soul of another person, to love their sorrows – we are moved by stories filled with sadness; we instinctively respect the dignity of grief; we have all suffered loss, and we know there are many more losses ahead of us, including, eventually, the loss of our lives. And yet, despite this, many of us feel we have to hide our sorrows, to be relentlessly upbeat, positive, great fun to be around. We all have different temperaments, individual ways in which we experience the difficulties of our lives. Sometimes we feel too vulnerable to show the world what’s going on with us, and the ‘sorrows of (our) changing face’ might be seen by only one or two people close to us. Yet one of the gifts of mindfulness for me has been to become much more comfortable with the full range of my emotions. Apart from sitting with difficult emotions during the formal meditation practice, I’ve learnt to allow myself to experience sadness whenever it arises.  Instead of chastising myself – ‘what have you got to be sad about, there are many people much worse off than you’ (which is quite true) – I can accept sadness as a normal part of any life. Continue reading “Happiness in a minor key” »

Patience

Stone in creek

‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. By the time!
  2. Surely man is in loss,
  3. Except those who believe and do good, and      exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.’

This beautiful line, from the Quran (103, Surah Al-‘Asr), really struck a chord with me when I heard it presented by one of the Muslim ladies at an interfaith friendship meeting. To consciously encourage each other to be patient – we have become such an impatient society. Patience used to be more highly regarded – remember the saying ‘patience is a virtue’ – but now it’s often seen as being old-fashioned, an obstacle perhaps to instant and magnificent success. If we are patient, we might miss out on something! People might take advantage, and walk all over us! We might only get through 98% of our to-do list today instead of all of it plus a bit extra!

Continue reading “Patience” »

Our frame of mind

Prayer flags in light.jpg website

 

It is day three of the retreat, and I’m feeling settled into the daily routine of sitting meditation, walking meditation, cooking lunch for the group, and a walk after dinner along the river nearby. My mind is calmer than when I first arrived, but with greater calmness comes increased clarity, and by day three I’m a little dismayed by what I find. Not only am I judgemental towards myself and others in the group (I’m used to that!), I’m also critical towards almost every moment which arises and falls. It’s very subtle, and doesn’t prevent me from feeling deep contentment and joy at times. But the judging mind quickly weighs up each moment, and for some reason seems to find most of them deficient in some way.

It is a strange phenomenon, this eternal dissatisfaction most of us seem to feel with our lives, even when things are going quite well for us. The Buddha called it ‘dukkha’, which is often translated as suffering, but could be more accurately described as ‘the unsatisfactory nature of existence’. It’s not necessarily dependent on external circumstances, but seems to spring from our own frame of mind. In Milton’s poem ‘Paradise Lost’, the fallen angel Satan says,

 

The mind is its own place,

                And in itself

                Can make a heaven of hell,

                A hell of heaven.

 

Most of the time, if we look at the actual moment, our lives are okay. It may not be some idealised version of paradise we’ve conjured up, but we’re not usually in immediate life-threatening danger. Of course there are times when life is anything but okay, and some people live long term with ongoing suffering, trauma or pain. Few people would get through life without experiencing times of great misery and distress. For much of our lives, however, even when our circumstances are not too bad, our minds, at a subtle level, judge our lives to be deficient in some way. What would it be like to sometimes say to ourselves,

‘What I have, right now, in this moment, is enough.’

 

Weekly practice idea:

From time to time, say to yourself, ‘it’s good to be here’. What comes up for you when you say this phrase?

 

Anja Tanhane