When things are not going well for us, we tend to go inside (both physically and literally) and huddle. There, in our state of misery we stay until we think that things will get better and we can emerge from under the covers and re-engage with life. Yet the longer we stay in that cover, the longer we take to heal. Reaching out and opening up to others helps to make our own sorrow go quickly. It is not simply about positive thinking. It is about taking action. When our own heart is full of sorrow, it is then we need to reach out and help others overcome their own. In doing so- whether by listening or helping with chores- this active engagement with others and with life, helps us to overcome our disappointment and sadness. In such ways, our problems become our ‘mission’- they are no longer obstacles but they are opportunities for growth and renewal. After going through the pain of several miscarriages, I went on to help others who had suffered similarly. When finally my son was born, alive and kicking, I realised that even if I had another miscarriage, I was already healed. Kindness towards others helps us heal mentally and physically-
There are many new movements around the world, calling for ‘Random acts of kindness’- latest trends on twitter is about someone leaving money in secret locations or buying coffee for others. However, we don’t always have to spend money. The kindest act someone has done for me which I will never forget consisted of being there and being silent. She just held out tissues while I cried after losing my fifth baby after five months of pregnancy. This woman did not say irritating or hurtful things like, “Don’t cry”- “You can always get pregnant again”- “it was only a miscarriage”- “At least you are alive” etc etc which others did in misguided acts of kindness. She did not have children of her own but yet understood how difficult it was for me. I bumped into her two days ago after ten years. I only had to say, “Do you remember?” She nodded and I squeezed her hand silently. One never forgets true kindness.
“Though worldly troubles may arise, never let them disturb you. No one can avoid problems, not even sages or worthies.”
The Buddhist monk, Nichiren, wrote this to a samurai warrior in 1276 in a letter called ‘Happiness in this world’. I was listening a youtube TEDx by Dan Gilbert who has also written a best seller on his ideas. He classifies happiness as ‘synthetic’ i.e made by you and ‘natural’, i.e happiness that comes from external events such as getting a prize, finding a partner, etc. He says that synthetic happiness is better than natural happiness. I agree and am pleased to note that scientific results have proved what Buddhists and other philosophers have known for thousands of years.
However, apart from the strangeness of calling happiness synthetic, the other point is that we need other things to realise this kind of happiness. And what are those?- this Gilbert does not say. First, one needs a degree of control over oneself and be free from external influences. In today’s world, this is not easy task. In Buddhism, we talk about two kinds of happiness- relative and absolute. Relative happiness depends upon external events and objects while absolute happiness is within us, all the time. To compare those to Dan Gilbert’s definitions, relative would be similar to natural and absolute happiness to what he calls synthetic. I prefer to call them in the Buddhist way rather than in Dan Gilbert’s terms. Spiritual practice offers a way of resisting those external temptations in order to find absolute happiness. This way is through mediation or chanting. Many other religions also do this through use or stilling of our voices- through praying, singing or through silence. To try to achieve Dan Gilbert’s synthetic happiness without having the support of a spiritual practice is not possible. Spiritual practice leads us away from material practice or happiness. Secondly, a belief in the essential of our beings as happy is the key to being happy. If you believe you will be unhappy, you will be and vice versa. Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) said in 40 BC, ‘No man is happy who does not think himself so.’
Even two minutes of meditation have proved to be beneficial to people. I have been doing this for many weeks now and have noticed a clear difference in my way of thinking and feel quite relaxed. By believing that happiness lies within me, I have also learnt to overcome the sorrow of losing a loved one. Try feeling happy today without referring to any thing external- it is wonderful freedom!
Daisaku Ikeda says “Everything passes. Both soaring joys and crushing sorrows fade away like a dream. However, the knowledge of having lived one’s life to the fullest never disappears.”
My life has been quite full so far and yes, I have done foolish things too and wasted time. However, the time that I have spent following my heart have been the most joyful (including writing these blogs, which have helped me to understand myself). Yes, I can to look back at the foolish stuff I have done, yet they were learning experiences, even though they may have been sometimes unhappy. The present is the only moment to live, fully. We don’t know what the future may bring but as Alan Kay says, “The best way to predict the future is invent it.”
Happy invention today to all of you!