June 15, 2011
From Chapter 5 of our current Tricycle Retreat leader Ezra Bayda’s new book, Beyond Happiness, The Zen Way to True Contentment,
Up to this point the primary emphasis in this book has been on what blocks genuine happiness—namely, our sense of entitlement, our expectations, our believed thoughts and judgments, our fear-based emotions, and our attachments and addictions. These are the exact things that prevent us from experiencing the deeper and more lasting state of equanimity. This may sound pretty grim for a book on happiness; it may also be hard to accept that few of the things that we do to make ourselves happy actually work. But if we honestly observe ourselves, we will see that this is true. All the things we chase after in the mistaken belief that they will make us happy only give us brief periods of pleasure, at best. Externals can’t make us truly happy; but genuine happiness is our natural state when all of the things that impede happiness—such as our expectations, judgments, attachments, and fears—no longer get in the way.
Additionally, there are specific roots of genuine happiness that can be directly cultivated. These roots include the innate human capacity for being present, generosity of spirit, gratitude, loving-kindness, and forgiveness. As these capacities are nourished, we become increasingly connected to our true nature, and happiness is a natural by-product. Our approach has to be twofold: we work with what gets in the way of happiness and we cultivate its natural roots.
Being present is one of the essential roots of true contentment. The present moment is emphasized in almost every spiritual tradition; it is talked and written about extensively; phrases like “live in the moment” and “be here now” have become common parlance. But why do we want to experience our life in the present moment? How does being present to life-as-it-is relate to the experience of genuine happiness, especially if what is happening isn’t to our liking? One clear answer to that question is this: being present allows us to shift from the narrow, self-centered world of I-as-a-Me to an open and increasingly awake sense of who we truly are. As we bring attention to whatever arises in the present moment—our pretenses, our protections, our deeply held beliefs, our fears—we slowly begin to see through the seeming solidity of these self-imposed boundaries, boundaries that prevent us from seeing, and living from, what is real in each moment.
When we bring awareness to our many layers of conditioning, and to the struggles that arise out of our conditioning, the power of that conditioning is slowly diminished. This is how we can begin to experience and live not so much from the Me, but more from our natural Being. As we increasingly connect with a vaster sense of what life is, we may even have moments where we’re acutely aware that we are the vastness, as well as a unique manifestation of it. This is where the words connectedness and love become more than just words, and it is where genuine happiness comes forth naturally. Being truly present allows us to appreciate the sweetness of the moment even when the moment isn’t conventionally sweet, because, at least momentarily, we’re not under the sway of the heaviness of our beliefs. The results are a lightness of being, and a sense of inner freedom.
Even when we intellectually understand the value of being present, there’s still the question: What exactly does it mean to experience the present moment? It’s difficult to answer this question—words can’t capture the texture of being present, because the experience is not verbal or mental. Another difficulty is that being present is not just one thing—it changes from moment to moment. So instead of trying to describe it as a fixed entity, it needs to be seen and understood as more of a continuum.
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Order Beyond Happiness, The Zen Way to True Contentment here.