The Discipline of Happiness
This morning I had a meeting with a young entrepreneur, who told me about his daily routine, right when he wakes up. He begins the day by going through a set of positive affirmations, followed by a 10 minute meditation to "center" the mind, and then he's off to meet his fitness trainer for a rigorous workout by 7am. Once all of this is complete, he's ready to start work.
He told me that this daily routine, though challenging to uphold at times, is the reason why he is positive, open and energized throughout the day. When a few days are missed, he immediately notices the negative thoughts resurfacing in his mind.
"It takes discipline to be a free spirit" - I once heard, and within this paradox lies my personal bliss.
It seems contradictory to work hard to be at ease - to surrender to gravity in order to experience levity - to maintain discipline in the pursuit of happiness.
HH the 14th Dalai Lama often says, "happiness is a skill that must be trained." It is not an innate condition, but rather is caused by a rigorous practice of self-observation, mental training and positive action in the world. Happiness doesn't just fall into our laps because of an external thing, such as a new job or an exciting lover, though sometimes it seems to be that way. If it were that way, then why does that same job or lover make us miserable and dissatisfied at some point in time?
There is no logic in that.
Happiness is a state of mind, caused by the mind itself. According to Eastern contemplative traditions, happiness is the essential nature of the mind, when it is not obscured by "negative afflictions." It is our innate state of being.
Because the mind is particularly receptive and plastic (subject to change) in the mornings, it is a good time to challenge our habits of perception - of how we see ourselves and the world.
Notice how as soon as you wake up, a wave of compulsive thoughts and feelings pour into your mental space. The familiar narratives of "this is me" and "this is my life" blend-out the possibility of silence and creativity. This noise completely obscures our capacity for awe and novel experience. We repeat the past by drawing-on our memory bank and assembling incoming data to predict the next moment. This mechanism tragically stops us from transcending our everyday stories.
The default mode network of the brain is largely active in this case, and if the mind is untrained, it will revert back to compulsive mental activity which over time, wears us out emotionally.
My simple antidote for this exhausting cycle is to take a moment and pause. Breathe deeply into the abdomen for two minutes. Withdraw from sensory perception (close the eyes, tune-out of sounds, smells, tastes and tactile perception).
"Who am I beneath this mental activity?"
Feel for the answer - meaning, allow for the answer to arise in your body/mind process rather than thinking the answer into existence. Over time, we learn to speak the language of a deeper intelligence, residing beneath the turmoil of mental and emotional activity. Call it clarity, true nature of mind or even wisdom.
Whatever it may be - it has to be felt, because feeling leads to embodying.
Little by little, we graduate from talking about concepts to living by them - going from idea to reality.
Establishing a wholesome routine is good - repetition of wholesome action is very beneficial because the brain is constantly changing in response to inner and outer stimuli. Whatever we think, say or do shapes our mind/body system.
It becomes our reality.
So, before rushing into the next activity, take a moment to understand what's going on within the habitual mechanisms of the undisciplined mind/brain. Through calming the mind, begin to sense-into your present moment experience, and once established in this centered space of mind, you're ready to take intelligent action.