Cultivating Joy

Image credit: http://everybodyhasabrain.com/the-five-remembrances/

Because of the simple fact that we are of the nature to grow old, have ill heath, and die – and because everyone and everything we cherish is of the nature to change – cultivating joy is imperative, if we have the desire to live a well-contented life. The consequences of cultivating joy is a life lived with intention, connection, and heart.

When the quality of joy is nourished and strengthened in the open field of our internal landscape, the ground on which we stand becomes a fertile place for other beneficial seeds to grow alongside of it. Seeds such as: patience, ease, understanding, compassion, empathy, kindness, gratitude, humility, and equanimity. When we water the seed of joy, these nearby companion seeds also get watered.

When our seed of joy is not well tended to, we are liable to go man overboard into the ocean of suffering when we find our self in the turbulent waters of: stress, upset, anger, jealousy, sorrow, a bad day, unpleasant encounters, or unfavorable conditions of any kind.

Indications – like a low-fuel light on the dash – that your seed of joy is under-nourished:

  • On a regular basis, after engaging with the news, you feel overwhelmed, cynical, hopeless, deflated, and/or pissed off.
  • You give more street cred to suffering than to joy, discounting those who you deem to be happy and doing well as being in denial of the “real” state of affairs.
  • You feel affronted/mistreated by others in a variety of settings on a daily or regular basis.
  • You continually sit in judgement of others, for a myriad of reasons; are constantly annoyed and disappointed by others; are caught in the comparison game, always measuring yourself up against others.
  • Small things set you off on an inner or outer tirade of cynicism/frustration/impatience/anger/fight mode.
  • You see the doom & gloom of situations most readily and have a negative spin on most people & places you encounter.
  • You smile infrequently, if at all.
  • You routinely feel exhausted and burnt out; depleted; spent.

We’re all familiar with the ways in which to care well for our physical health but what about our mental health? Mental health is just as important as our physical health. And cultivating joy is the best way I have found to nourish, bolster, and fertilize my mental health. Well balanced and well nurtured physical health + well balanced and well nurtured mental health = optimal well-being.

Fruits that develop from ongoingly and continually cultivating a strong seed of joy:

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Five Remembrances

This morning, during my sitting meditation session, I devoted my practice to connecting with the Five Remembrances. The original Five Remembrances come from a Buddhist sutra, for which the English translation is entitled: Subjects for Contemplation. The above translation, of which I’m most familiar with, is from my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.

According to Wikipedia, which I think is well said: According to this discourse, contemplation of these facts leads to the abandonment of destructive attachments and actions and to the cultivation of factors necessary for awakening.

If feelings of sorrow, overwhelm, upset, or aversion arise upon reading the Five Remembrances, it indicates that only a surface level view is being encountered. If we think these are a downer, we have not yet penetrated them deeply enough to benefit from the levels of insight from which they manifest.

As a collective assembly of people, we are societally groomed to avoid these inherent realities as being part of our human experience. In doing so, we are limiting our ability to be – and stay – in conscious contact and communication with the preciousness of life. We take things, people, places, experiences, and life itself, for granted.

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Remembrances

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From Wikipedia:

The Upajjhatthana Sutta (“Subjects for Contemplation“) is a Buddhist discourse (Pali: sutta; Skt.: sutra) famous for its inclusion of five remembrances, five facts regarding life’s fragility and our true inheritance. The discourse advises that these facts are to be reflected upon often by all.

According to this discourse, contemplation of these facts leads to the abandonment of destructive attachments and actions and to the cultivation of factors necessary for Enlightenment. According to the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (Discourse on the Noble Quest) MN 26,[1] the first three remembrances are the very insights that led Gautama Buddha to renounce his royal household status and become an ascetic after experiencing strong feelings of spiritual urgency (saṃvega).

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I’m currently preparing a teaching talk that I am slated to give at our local sangha, Be Here Now, next week on the topic of impermanence, where I plan on breaking down each of the Five Remembrances and offering tools to work with so that they can become a practice, rather than a mere list of words floating in the ether.

It’s easy to encounter these remembrances (listed in the above image) and feel overwhelmed by them or experience a varying degree of fear, sorrow and/or anxiety about them. It’s very common to have feelings of aversion arise, as in: “Yeah, yeah, I know all that, but I don’t want to think about it right now.” We may want to plug our ears or just bury our heads in the sand and forget all about them. But the Buddha advised: “These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.”

When the Five Remembrances are turned into a reflective practice they have the capacity to awaken us to the beauty and wonder of life available in the present moment. In remembering and understanding these five inherit parts of life we become free to enjoy the very here and now, just as it is, because we know everything and everyone are subject to change, and that to take life for granted is a waste of the precious time we are afforded.

Here are some of the ways I practice with the remembrances in order to bring them more fully into my daily life:

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Unity World Day of Prayer

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The prayer of a spiritual practitioner is very deep. The spiritual practitioner understands that our health, our success, and even our relationships with our loved ones, are not the most important things. The most important matter for a practitioner is to be able to break through the veil of the material plane in order to enter the ultimate dimension and see the interconnection between us and all other phenomena in the world around us.

“When we pray we have to have wisdom. When most of us pray, we usually want God to do something for us or bestow this or that upon our loved ones. We think that if God were able to do this one thing, then we would be happy. But every one thing is made up of a million pieces. As long as there is birth, there has to be death. Do we have enough wisdom to be able to set up that equilibrium or not? If we do not have that capacity, our prayer could be just a manifestation of our foolishness or our greed. Depending on our understanding of life, on our compassion, we want to make a list of work that needs to be done and ask God or Buddha or Allah to follow it. So we have to look deeply so that our prayers consider the whole, and not just the parts.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Energy of Prayer

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The Art of Pain Management

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A couple of months ago I was talking to a sangha friend of mine about the nature of physical pain.  Knowing that I’ve been focusing diligently on the cultivation of joy over the last few years and that I’ve experienced a great deal of physical pain in relation to my chronic illnesses he asked me specifically what I did to deal with pain and how to cultivate joy in the midst of it.  As I see this as a common struggle (knowing how to deal with ongoing physical pain, limitation, and illness) I thought I’d take to writing about it, as that often helps me to better understand things for myself as well.

It’s important to note that I spent years doing the “wrong” things when it came to dealing with physical pain.  Doing the wrong things was what helped me to know and understand what the right things to do were.  By wrong I mean I caused more harm to myself and those around me.  By wrong I mean I wasn’t taking good care of myself and was embittered with anger, sadness, loss, guilt, and hopelessness to the point of becoming debilitated and unpleasant to be around.

So what do I do now to embrace the difficult nature of physical pain and practice joy?  Let’s see..

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Five Remembrances

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The Five Remembrances

1. I am of the nature to grow old, there is no way to escape growing old.

2. I am of the nature to have ill health, there is no way to escape having ill health.

3. I am of the nature to die, there is no way to escape death.

4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

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