Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To recognize happiness...

All of us have problems and all of us have/will suffer during our lives. Yet, sometimes we forget those moments when we are happy.

I am not saying that I welcome suffering, but rather I have to force myself to go back to my mental hard drive and recall those moments when I was in pain, and then later I was happy. The trick, the rub or whatever you want to call it is to be aware, mindful and to remember to do that. 

No, is not easy, believe me I know...yet sometimes it is possible. :)

I have included two postings below. The first was taken from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist monk, writer and teacher) where he speaks about suffering and happiness. The second was taken from "Transforming Suffering" by Father Thomas Keating (Trappist monk and priest with the Order of the Cistercians), a founding member of the "Centering Prayer Movement" that developed a contemporary method of contemplative prayer.


"There are times when we are very sick, we are not allowed to get up and to go out, and we are too weak to do so. We are confined to our room, in the hospital or at home, and we know that the morning is very beautiful. The birds are singing, but our condition is not good enough. We have no strength in order to go out and enjoy the sunshine and the birds. We are confined to bed for ten days or twenty days, and our deepest wish is that we get well so that we can open the door and walk out into the garden and enjoy everything there.

Now, as we are not sick, we are not confined to our bed in hospital, we have the freedom and the happiness of going out, walking in our garden, recognizing every tree, every bush of flowers, and making beautiful and peaceful steps, touching the beauties of life around us, but we don’t enjoy, we don’t remember that we enjoy health, we enjoy solid feet, we enjoy our lungs, and if we think of the time when we were very sick, when we wished very much to go out for a walk in the garden, then suddenly we feel happy, and we enjoy right away.

So suffering can serve as the background for us to recognize happiness, and that is why suffering plays a role in happiness, like the mud is crucial for the making of the lotus flowers. And this is an art; even if you have plenty of conditions of happiness, you are not happy because you don’t know how to recognize these conditions of happiness against the background of suffering."

(Thich Nhat Hanh)


"I appreciate the many insights that come on the spiritual journey, whether in Buddhism or Christianity. But these insights are not the goal of the journey. I have been wondering whether in the Buddhist tradition there is something that corresponds to what in the Christian contemplative heritage is called the dark night. This is a passive purification by which, without effort of our own except to quiet the mind or shut off interior dialogue, we become vulnerable to the contents of the unconscious. Then the repressed material that is talked about in depth psychology begins to emerge in the form of painful or primitive emotions that bombard our consciousness. This kind of purification is much more important than reliogious experiences, for the goal of this purification is a permanent state of freedom from the false self.

I once was conferring with Trungpa Rinpoche, and I raised the following question with him: "In the Christian scheme of things, we believe that there is a normally intense spiritual suffering that one needs to pass through to reach union, and especially unity with God. "Is there something similar in your tradition?"  And he said, "Oh yes, we have a word for that. We call it 'old-dog spirituality'."

I was fascinated by the term. What I understood by the image of an old dog is one that has been reduced to a state of utter powerlessness. All it can do is lie around most of the day, get up maybe once or twice. wag its tail, have a sip of water or eat something, and lie down again. It's the radical experience of powerlessness or, if you prefer, nothingness, in the process of spiritual purification. This is the level, it seems to me, to which our practice should bring to us. And it is only a great love of the spiritual journey and of the Ultimate Reality that can lead one to put up with this kind of suffering through which one must pass to reach the true goal of the spiritual life."

(Father Thomas Keating)

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