Awakening Joy 3

Tonight is the third talk in a series based on James Baraz’s course called “Awakening Joy.”
We’ve discussed the benefits of inclining the mind towards contentment and of setting a clear intention to open up to happiness in our lives.
Now we’ll explore various ways that mindful attention can awaken joy.

By noting carefully what is actually happening in this very moment, we can find clarity amidst confusion.
When we are lost in thoughts, returning to the present moment interrupts the process of recycling repetitive themes.
Simply reconnecting with our breath helps us exit from the movies that we create in the mind.

We tend to identify with fearful emotions and forget that they are impermanent. At such times, it’s useful to be mindful of the sensation of the feet touching the earth.

But sometimes even the earth is not steady. In recent weeks earthquake tremors have been rippling through parts of Mexico. I remember in 1998, when I was driving towards our home in Puebla, Mexico, the car suddenly started to swerve from side to side, as if it had a flat tire. Then I realized that cars around me were also sliding around on the road. Along with other motorists, I stopped on the roadside and watched palm trees and telephone poles alongside the street trembling and swaying back and forth. The earthquake couldn’t have lasted more than a couple of minutes, but the sense of disorientation was dramatic. When I reached home, it seemed as if our house had been shaken by giant hands. Photos and pottery had fallen off shelves and walls, and all telephone, electrical and water connections had been severed. Aware that the damage could have been far worse, I wondered how others were affected. Mark was in another town at a professional retreat, so I didn’t know if he was safe.

I was grateful for meditation practice, because I could calm myself with conscious breaths and focus on sending Metta to all who had been affected by the earthquake. Hours later, Mark and I were very relieved to find each other unharmed. As we walked around the barrio, we saw cracked facades on buildings and churches with fallen steeples and collapsed domes. It felt good to participate in community fundraising efforts to repair the dome of a local 16th century church. Even when the earth doesn’t hold us, we can find moments of contentment in connecting and collaborating with others.
With sufficient mindfulness, meditation becomes a refuge from trying to resolve problems in our daily life. We can stop obsessive thoughts (about what has been left undone and about what still needs to be done) by asking ourselves, “What is the truth right now?”
In moments of tension, we may notice that we’re holding the breath and experiencing unpleasant body sensations such as clenched fists or a tight belly.
When we exhale and pay close attention to these sensations, we observe how they change naturally. Letting go of worries is reflected in the body as it releases tightness and tension.
After observing our sensations and emotions repeatedly arising and passing away, we gain the insight that outer problems will also be resolved at their own rhythm.

Last week one of my music therapy colleagues circulated a group mailing to announce that she intended to offer discounted GIM sessions in Spain, during the economic crisis in that country. Spanish therapists whom I’ve trained to give sessions barraged me with e-mails, protesting that her lower fees would undercut the standard rates they’ve been charging for years. When I defended their position, my colleague accused me of being overly dramatic. The situation was tense, and I felt caught in the middle. During meditation, I noted pressure on my chest, shallow breathing, and emotions of anger and frustration.
Afterwards I decided to take a break from exchanging e-mails on the topic. The next day, I was pleasantly surprised to read a message from my colleague, acknowledging that since the lower rates could create unnecessary divisions among music therapists in Spain, she would abide by the standard fees. Sometimes simple mindfulness without acting creates spaciousness for a difficult situation to resolve.

When we pay attention fully, we often feel complete in that moment.
We let go of preferences or desire to change the reality of the situation that we are facing.
When we’re in this moment exactly as it is, we avoid the habitual tendency to lean forward, hoping that the next moment will be better.
Not only do we accept what is happening now, but we also develop a slower rhythm and an interest in what is occurring.
Little by little, we learn that each moment deserves our attention, and that we can learn valuable lessons in difficult or unpleasant moments.
If each moment seems ENOUGH, we can cultivate a feeling of contentment.
Sometimes I think that I need something more to make me feel happier, but I’ve learned that it’s better to stay with what I already have and to connect with whatever is contributing to my wellbeing in that moment.
The task is to be truly present with whatever arises.

Careful attention activates our natural curiosity and sense of wonder.
There is magic around us if we pay attention.
Once when I was doing yoga on a meditation retreat, I saw a small spider dancing in mid-air, apparently without any support whatsoever.
As the spider created an aerial ballet, I was fascinated by the graceful motions of its eight tiny legs.
Only when I moved closer could I detect, attached to the ceiling, a delicate gossamer thread that was supporting the miniscule dancer.

With mindfulness, we can practice pausing and prioritizing so that we don’t rush through the day.
How would it be to notice the details around you and to enjoy transitions in between activities, instead of running from one to another?
If we do nothing more than learn how to move more slowly, we can increase our sense of wellbeing.

Here are some suggestions for developing more mindful attention in daily life:
When the telephone rings, take two deep breaths before answering.
While your computer is booting up, sense your feet on the ground, and your breath moving in and out.
Before eating, take a moment to give thanks for the food. Notice the colors and textures of what you are about to eat.
If you’re waiting in a line, notice the faces of other people in front and back of you. Send secret doses of Metta to those who look tired or impatient.
You can probably think of many more ideas….

I like going to the Richmond Shoe Repair shop, where time seems to slow down. The owner José looks me in the eye and converses with me in Spanish. While he shows me how he’s given new life to my tired walking shoes, I express appreciation for his careful craftsmanship. Aside from engaging in a business transaction, we’re developing an ongoing friendly relationship.

With mindful attention, we can develop healthy patterns in our thinking and let go of negative thoughts.

The Buddhist scholar Thera writes about aboriginal people who believe that once they give a name to something, it loses its secret power and no longer has a force to be feared.
In many myths and fairy tales, the protagonist breaks an evil spell just by facing witches or sorcerers and speaking their name out loud.

Similarly, we can disempower impediments in our mind by naming them as desire, aversion, restlessness, sleepiness, or doubt.
Calmly identifying these inner obstacles diminishes their hold over us.
There’s no need to criticize ourselves for having so many distractions and opinions.
They are simply conditioned mental habits that lose their power in the light of consciousness.

With mindfulness we can notice healthy thoughts and associated body sensations.
The more we connect with the pleasurable, expansive energy of kind and generous impulses, the more we are motivated to repeat such actions.

Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba) taught that it’s worthwhile to be mindful of what’s good in any situation, even when we’re aware of imperfections.
We find what we seek.
If we think that everyone around us is stupid, we’ll encounter many incompetent people.
If we believe that everyone has a basic core of goodness, we’ll notice how many people act with kindness.

We know how defensive we can feel when someone is pointing out our imperfections.
But if someone who knows our imperfections focuses on our inner beauty, we can relax and remember our positive resources.
We have enormous power to draw out other people’s kindness if we’re mindful of their good qualities.

Take a moment to look at the faces of the people in this circle.
Consider the goodness that motivates each person here to meditate and contribute energetically to our sangha.