This is the first of a series of posts I will be making to share my monthly contribution to morning chapel at Koinonia Farm this past year. I recorded a few of the “lessons” or “mini-sermons” but never found the time to post them here. This post contains my thoughts from the last chapel I spoke at on January 8, 2016.
This morning I’m going to share some thoughts that are excerpted from my forthcoming book, “Faith to Practice.” The chapter is titled
Happiness is 95% interpretation and 5% circumstance.
We want to “be happy” but our culture teaches us we must “do happy” or “experience happiness” through our circumstances. This morning I’d like to discuss the art of “being happy” in it’s purest meaning.
A happy interpretation of your circumstances takes two things: wholesome beliefs such as faith in a loving God, and the mental discipline to release unwholesome thoughts and feelings that are inconsistent with your faith.
For example, there was the time that I needed to get myself to the car rental office. My car had been rear-ended so it was in the shop. I walked down to the bus stop and climbed onto a red line bus, which was waiting for its scheduled departure time along with a few others. When the driver came back and I told him where I was going, he informed me that I was on the wrong bus. The one I needed had just left. The next bus that was scheduled to stop at my destination would not depart for two hours.
I got off and started walking back home. It was a beautiful summer day, so I decided to enjoy the extra walk back to my condo. I had not been getting as much exercise as usual anyway, so I did not mind. As I happily arrived at my home, I noticed my friend Al sitting alone in the community gazebo, so I went to visit with him for a while.
I believe that we create our own realities. I could have been really mad at myself for not paying enough attention when I boarded the wrong bus. I could have spent the entire walk back home thinking about all the other things I would have done with the extra time I had “wasted.” But that would not have been the responsible interpretation of my situation, given my faith. I believe that every situation is given to us for a reason, to provide an opportunity for us to grow in love, so it was easy for me to remain grateful and happy. I fully enjoyed my extra walk and the chat with my neighbor.
Meditation, prayer, acts of loving kindness for a stranger, and finding ways to give of yourself in every situation are all examples of spiritual practices which nurture your ability to respond in positive ways to any situation. You are literally practicing happiness, from within.
Happiness can never be sustained through (increasing) the quantity of anything (eg:consumer culture) it stems rather from the quality of your experience of everything. It is the interpretation of your situation that matters. That is all. Most of us spend our lives “making ourselves miserable” through negative judgments of others and our circumstances. The most satisfying combination, to our ego selves, is to blame others or even the universe (eg:Murphy’s Law) for our difficult situations! Your ego wants to deny responsibly for your misery, so you must be a victim.
To be truly happy, you need to be the master of your mind. Unfortunately, our minds are often the master of the moment and if we are victims, the real “perpetrator” is our own fearful, unhelpful thoughts! Worry, anxiety, anguish, disappointment, jealousy, frustration, regret, you know the thoughts I mean. Yet most people have received no training in the process of thought awareness, discernment and release. Contemplative practices such as meditation and mindfulness help us to be self aware enough to experience thoughts, or at least trains of thoughts, as discrete events. Events that we can decide, at the level of conscious awareness, to reinforce and nurture or to gently release to the universe.
Thoughts deserve our attention, but many can be gently dismissed as unhelpful. If you found a sight disturbing, such as a dead animal on the side of the road, would you force yourself to continue to look in that direction? Thoughts are like that. There is no need to beat yourself up over a negative thought, but you can allow yourself to let go of that thought once you realize it is causing distress. But it takes practice!
Buddhists masters teach that the mind is the 6th sensing organ. Thus thoughts occur in our minds just as light and sound are sensed by our eyes and ears. Because so many thoughts are unhelpful, we need “eye lids” for our minds. These can be nurtured through practicing meditation, mindfulness or silent prayer.
The many benefits of meditation are well researched and documented, so I won’t list them all here. Perhaps the most significant benefit is an opportunity to practice thought awareness. For example if you meditate through conscious breathing, you are taught to notice when your thoughts are taking you away from your breath and gently return to feeling it coming in and out of your body. Invariably thoughts occur many times over the course of a meditation session. That is actually good, because each time you “catch yourself thinking” you are practicing this very important life skill. It hones the ability to become aware of and let go of a thought, until we get to the point where the act of following a train of thought becomes automatic. It is like having a remote control for the “programs” in your mind!
The conscious awareness from which we can discern thoughts is a mystical connection to the mind of Christ. True self awareness requires access to this conscious awareness that is the ocean on which the waves of thoughts flow. We are each already aspects of the mind of Christ, most of the time we just don’t realize that fact.
Through mindfulness, you can practice accessing this awareness while doing the dishes, picking up sticks in the orchard, sorting pecans or just walking between buildings. First turn off the radio, music player and TV. Then just do your repetitive task mindfully, noticing your breathing, your simple motions and task experience. When your mind drifts to other thoughts, gently notice that and go back to your task and your breathing. The fruit of this practice is no less than the ability to chose your thoughts, so you can live a happier life!
Happiness is 95% interpretation and 5% circumstance.
We can take responsibility for our happiness through clarity in our faith in a loving God and mastery over our troublesome minds. You don’t have to sit in silent meditation every day to start to practice, although it will accelerate your progress to a rock solid inner source of happiness. You can practice every day while doing what you are already assigned to, right here on the farm.
Our God is perfectly loving
but how am I to prove?
I see the gift of all my pain
inspires me to move
Our love is God our God is Love
The Circle is so neat
My faith in all providing Love
has made my life complete
We are all one with our God
Our Unity is true
The miracle of karma is
reflecting all we do.
This faith enables my vision
to see my life anew
God always gives me what I need
to help me see things through
But when I stray with faltering heart
and my judgments rule the day,
my vision dims my world grows dark
and then I loose my way.
But every leg on our journey
both back and forward parts
are perfectly designed to help
hold lessons for our hearts.
repeat last line as:
My faith in all providing God
has made my life complete
Some additional thoughts
Since this talk was written to fit into the 10 minute time slot we try to stick to for morning chapel, I had to focus it as much as I could while still hopefully conveying the main message. Thus, some important points had to be “givens,” such as the kinds of beliefs you may or may not hold and what to do when unhelpful thoughts keep recurring despite your best mindful attempts at release.
One of the main themes of my forthcoming book is on faith based beliefs being foundational to our lives. Since they are so foundational, it is very important recognise what you belief already so you are better prepared to choose new beliefs that will be even more helpful to supporting happy interpretations and fruitful spiritual practices. In the Koinonia context, I hoped that most of the listeners believed in a God that is loving and that provides everything we need to be happy. I actually talked about that a bit in the previous month’s “lesson” which I’ll be posting on this blog at some point. For the wider audience on the web, it will be up to you to develop “wholesome beliefs” that are supportive of your happiness. When I do publish the book “Faith to Practice” you can read more about what I think about that process.
It is important to understand that when I say “gently release” a thought, I really mean gently! If you find yourself back at a thought or train of thought that just won’t go away, please don’t struggle and attempt to force it out of your mind through concentrated effort. Just stay aware of the thought(s) and the feeling(s) that they evoke and accept them as part of how you are experiencing yourself in that moment. Know that with practice, any unhelpful thought or feeling can eventually be released and be very patient with yourself in this process.
This post, “Responsible Happiness” by David Gaia Kano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.