Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Happiness is not pleasure..."

Another wonderful piece in the New York Times today by Pico Iyer. (See this previous post for the last one.)

It's a look at the Dalai Lama, and his practical approach to achieving true happiness. I really appreciated this, especially since I hope to emphasize the practical in this blog. I know that I often deviate, and get going on the big ideas--because they excite me--but I am heartened to know that the advice I give about shifting attitudes and practicing new ways of perceiving the world is the kind of practical advice that the Dalai Lama would likely approve.

An excerpt:
The Dalai Lama I’ve seen is a realist (which is what makes his optimism the more impressive and persuasive). And he’s as practical as the man he calls his “boss.”

The Buddha generally presented himself as more physician than metaphysician: if an arrow is sticking out of your side, he famously said, don’t argue about where it came from or who made it; just pull it out. You make your way to happiness not by fretting about it or trafficking in New Age affirmations, but simply by finding the cause of your suffering, and then attending to it, as any doctor (of mind or body) might do.
I hope that the many posts I've offered here have helped to identify, analyze and isolate those arrows that cause suffering, and have inspired others to do what they can to pull them out. I love that the philosophy articulated above does not shun intellectual effort (such as analysis), nor is it passive, awaiting the intervention of some remote deity. I've always preferred prayer for guidance, rather than intervention, and the saying "God helps those who help themselves" to "Dear God, please help me."

Another excerpt:
I’ve been spending time for 18 years in a Benedictine monastery, and the monks I know there have likewise found out how to be delighted by the smallest birthday cake. Happiness is not pleasure, they know, and unhappiness, as the Buddhists say, is not the same as suffering. Suffering — in the sense of old age, sickness and death — is the law of life; unhappiness is just the position we choose — or can not choose — to bring to it.
Just last week, my yoga teacher demonstrated this approach. We were in Warrior II, and he had us hold the pose for quite a while. Eventually, a fire starts in the muscles. "Likely you're feeling a burn," he said. "But instead of popping out of it, what if you hold it, stay there, exploring that sensation? What if you look at it not as pain, but as a purifying effort?" I desperately wanted to release the pose, but considered if I could withstand the effort and do as he asked.

He went on: "Likely, this is not the worst pain you'll ever feel. Likely, at some point in your life, you will hurt much worse. How will you react?" His words rang true for me, especially now, as I approach childbirth. So, I stuck it out, figuring if I buckled from a tired quadricep, I'd never survive giving birth! What was interesting is that, like the above excerpt, I shifted my position toward the pain, and gained a great deal of mental (and physical) stamina and strength. And you know what? Once I did, the burn became more a curiosity, something to withstand and investigate, and less a source of suffering. I guess my point is, you can choose your pose toward suffering, and suffer less.

I think you'll enjoy Iyer's essay. Read the entire piece here.

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