“Real Happiness” by Sharon Salzberg: Part One

“Just get out and do it.” That’s usually what I have to tell myself to take even 20 minutes of time to practice meditating. Like this book says, it can and will change your life. If you want another look at how it can change you, look at “10% Happier”. For me, the most powerful concept with meditation is that life marches on to its own drumbeat and there are many things we cannot control. Just having awareness of things, or people, or feelings that we experience help us come to the realization that lots of times all we can do is acknowledge those things and they will continue to be out of our control.

  1. Meditation has taught me how to cope with the profound truth that everything changes all the time.
  2. Attention: what we allow ourselves to notice—literally determines how we experience and navigate the world.
  3. “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.”
    The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight.
    The grandfather answers, “The one I feed.”
    Whatever gets our attention flourishes, so if we lavish attention on the negative and inconsequential, they can overwhelm the positive and the meaningful. But if we do the opposite, refusing to deal with or acknowledge what’s difficult and painful, pretending it doesn’t exist, then our world is out of whack. Whatever doesn’t get our attention withers—or retreats below conscious awareness, where it may still affect our lives. In a perverse way, ignoring the painful and difficult is just another way of feeding the wolf. Meditation teaches us to open our attention to all of human experience and all parts of ourselves.
  4. Skills to practice: Concentration, Mindfulness, and Compassion or Lovingkindness
    1. Concentration steadies and focues our attention so we can let go of distractions.
    2. Mindfulness refines our attention so that we can connect fully and directly with whatever life brings.
  5. This pause for nonjudgmental acknowledgement creates a bit of peaceful space within which we can make new, different choices about how to respond to something like anger.
  6. Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience.
  7. Meditation is a way to recognize our thoughts, to observe and understand them, and to relate to them more skillfully. (I like the Buddhist tradition of replacing the modifiers “good” and “bad” to describe human behavior with “skillful” and “unskillful.” Unskillful actions are those that lead to pain and suffering; skillful actions are those that lead to insight and balance.)
  8. Lovingkindness is a compassionate awareness that opens our attention and makes it more inclusive. It transforms the way we treat ourselves, our family, and our friends. Spending time paying careful attention to our thoughts, feelings, and actions (positive and negative) and understanding them opens our hearts to loving ourselves genuinely for who we are, with all our imperfections.
  9. Our assumptions keep us from appreciating what’s right in front of us—a stranger who’s a potential friend, a perceived adversary who might actually be a source of help. Assumptions block direct experience and prevent us from gathering information that could bring us comfort and relief, or information that, though saddening and painful, will allow us to make better decisions.
  10. Assumptions bind us to the past, obscure the present, limit our sense of what’s possible, and elbow out joy. Until we detect and examine our assumptions, they short-circuit our ability to observe objectively; we think we already know what’s what.
  11. Though we can affect our physical and emotional experiences, we can’t ultimately determine them; we can’t decree what emotions will arise within us. But we can learn through meditation to change our responses to them.
  12. Trying to avoid change is exhausting and stressful. Everything is impermanent: happiness, sorrow, a great meal, a powerful empire, what we’re feeling, the people around us, ourselves. Meditation helps us comprehend this fact—perhaps the basic truth of human existence, and the one we humans are most likely to balk at or be oblivious to, especially when it comes to the biggest change of all: Mortality happens, whether we like it or not.
  13. Daily meditation will remind us that if we look closely at a painful emotion or difficult situation, it’s bound to change; it’s not as solid and unmanageable as it might have seemed. The fear we feel in the morning may be gone by the afternoon. Hopelessness may be replaced by a glimmer of optimism. Even while a challenging situation is unfolding, it is shifting from moment to moment, varied, alive.
  14. There are moments when we sense that tomorrow doesn’t have to look like today—that the feeling of defeat that’s been flattening us for what seems like forever can lift, that our anxiety needn’t define us, that the delight we’ve been postponing and the love we long for could be nearer at hand than we’d thought.
  15. Sometimes a flash of inspiration kicks open that door: we hear a piece of music, see a work of art, read just the right poem.
    Sometimes pain kicks open that door: We lose our job, or lose a friend; feel betrayed or deeply misunderstood. In our distress, we suddenly feel an urgent need to look more deeply for understanding and an abiding sense of well-being.
  16. Concentration is a steadying and focusing of attention that allows us to let go of distractions. When our attention is stabilized in this way energy is restored to us—and we feel restored to our lives.
  17. Sometimes distractions are internal – the continuous replaying of old mistakes and regrets. (Why didn’t I listen to my dad? Or If only I’d married so and so?) or the nursing of past injustices we focus on things we can’t undo. Or we throw energy into obsessively fantasizing about a future that may never happen and then get terribly agitated about it, as if the woes we’re imagining had already come to pass.
    “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” ~Mark Twain
    Or we live in a state of perpetual postponement that blinds us to the potentially fulfilling moment in front of us.
  18. We often try to buy our way out of pain, regarding material possessions as talismans against change, against loss and death.
  19. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.
  20. Simple multitasking—it seems almost quaint—was motivated by the desire to be more productive and to create free time for friends, family, and fun. But Continuous Partial Attention is motivated b a desire not to miss anything. We’re talking on the phone and driving; carrying on a conversation at dinner and texting under the table… Continuous Partial Attention involves an artificial sense of constant crisis, of living in a 24/7, always-on world. It contributes to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, over stimulated, and unfulfilled; it compromises our ability to reflect, to make decisions, and to think creatively.
  21. “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.” ~Henry David Thoreau
  22. Breathe naturally and focus on the sensations of each breath. If you have a thought or a feeling, notice it and then gently return to following your breath.
  23. You don’t have to evaluate your feelings content: just acknowledge it. You’re not elaborating on the thought or feeling; you’re not judging it. You’re neither struggling against it nor falling into its embrace and getting swept away by it. When you notice that your mind is not on your breath, notice what is on your mind. And then, no matter what it is, let it go.
  24. Straining to attain calm makes no sense, yet that’s often what we do.
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