Monday, February 25, 2008

"This being human..."

Keep your eyes open at all times for signs. Even in the midst of my recent funk, I kept to my routine, attending yoga each week. (I find that keeping to routine is a sure way to defend against a spiral of disorienting chaos, which usually makes everything seem worse than it is. Routine is a battlement against the barbarians at the gate.)

My yoga instructor handed out this poem by the ancient poet Rumi, titled The Guest House. I will post it here:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep you house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I took this poem, serendipitously received, as a sign. Of what? That I should be patient. That I should be open. Receptive. Aware. Mindful that this too shall pass, and who knows? A seemingly dark and dormant period may yield a great bounty, just as it does in nature.

This poem is full of grace. To all the wonderful people who have supported me and this blog and been so understanding as I shake off these blues, I hope you also benefit from the poem's magnanimity.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm Sorry

I don't know really how many regular readers there are of this blog, but if you're one of them, I thank you, and I want to apologize for not posting much lately.

See, I'm in one of those crisis-of-faith slumps I so often write about. Somehow I've been avoiding the blog entirely rather than being honest about it. Maybe that wasn't the right choice, and maybe I should have just come out and talked about what's been on my mind. In any case, I just thought I'd break the silence to tell you that I've been having trouble thinking positive thoughts, and so I figured it might be hard to write positive posts.

Nothing's really wrong, either. It's just kind of a funk. I've been frustrated by my fellow human beings lately, and been frustrated with our society's general rejection of art. While I know I'll get out of it, I'm just a little down in the dumps for now.

Anyway, I appreciate your patience, and I'll start posting again soon.

Thank you,
The Management


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happiness Dependent on Self-Discipline?

In this post, blogger Penelope Trunk talks about the relationship between positive psychology and self-discipline. She writes (referencing a book called The How of Happiness):

The problem is that you need to find self-discipline in order to execute the strategies [to make you happy] in the first place. If all anyone needed in order to change was a scientific reason [on which happiness advice is based] then we’d all be muscular and thin.

To be sure, tucked deep inside Lyubomirsky’s book on page 274, is the admission that we need “motivation, drive and inspiration” to do the stuff that she has scientifically shown will get us to happy. But that’s the hardest part. That’s the part I need to read three hundred pages about. If we each had the self-discipline to accomplish whatever we set out to accomplish, the world would be a very different place. But what we have instead is a world divided into the people who have self-discipline (those with good careers, good bodies, and good mates) and people who don’t.

I’m not talking about the self-discipline just to get dinner on the table every night. I’m talking hard-core self-discipline, where you conduct routine investigations of how you feel and what you’re doing, and then make changes. What Lyubomirsky recommends requires a whole mind overhaul through amazing self-discipline, but I can’t even stop eating two bagels for breakfast. (Cut back just one a day! That’s like losing 1.5 pounds a week!)

I'm sure we can all identify with the struggle to maintain self-discipline, and I know that it's harder for some things than for others. (Like I can easily maintain the self-discipline to exercise, but sitting down to write fiction--for me, a writer!--is so much harder!)

I am very interested in what Trunk has to say in the bold sentence above. About self-discipline being related to "routine investigations of how you feel and what you're doing." I read that, and I thought, Yes! That's exactly right!

I sometimes think, though, that self-discipline is a psychological muscle that can be (and needs to be) exercised. So, small acts of self-discipline--like walking for 5 minutes as opposed to starting out with 30 minutes--create a mental strength that allow you to tackle increasingly daunting tasks. I wasn't always an exerciser: I used to be the ultimate bookworm and I loathed sweating. But an impromptu jog around the block one day convinced me I needed to get fit or bad things would happen.

So I started out with 5 minutes here, and over the next few years, eventually developed the self-discipline to run a marathon. Now, I will say, that since then, exercising is still part of my daily life, but I no longer have the self-discipline to run a marathon. I would have to build that back up to get there again. But the thing about having achieved something once is that I know I have it in me, which gives me the confidence to try again. (As for fiction writing... that's another post for another time.)

What about you? What role does self-discipline play in your happiness? What do you do to cultivate self-discipline?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Difference Between Happiness and Bliss

In the last post, I wrote about happiness, and how it is not the same thing as bliss. I thought I'd take a moment to expand on the distinction, and also to discuss how they're intertwined.

To my mind, happiness is a conscious feeling of ease. It is an emotional state, and one often rooted in situation. Think of the moments after you turn in a big report or finish a tough exam, when you realize that you have achieved something and now have an opportunity to savor a moment of carefree existence, when nothing is worrying you and you have accomplished something big. It is a feeling of pleasure, to a large extent, and while extremely enjoyable, it is usually fleeting. Another report looms, there is always a new worry.

Bliss, on the other hand, is not as conscious, nor is it as much emotional as it is a state of being. It is a place of great balance, peace and equanimity, and it is much less susceptible to situation and circumstance. To experience bliss is to be deeply at peace with the nature of the world and the ways of life. Yes, that guy cut you off in traffic, but your equanimity allows it to roll off your back without provoking much of a reaction. This, by the way, is not the same as obliviousness. You are perfectly aware of what's going on around you--aware, even, of the malice of other people--and yet you are in a state that allows for you to continue on an even keel.

To me, bliss is a calm ocean beneath the boat, and happiness is what happens in the boat. The two are intertwined in the same way: without a calm foundation, the chances for happiness decrease, and the chances of seasickness--dis-ease--increase. The more you can cultivate a blissful state, the more you can experience the emotion of happiness.

So what if your boat is atop a roiling, troubled ocean? What can you do to attain equanimity and peace in your life? I'll blog about how to do that in my next post.

Let me know your thoughts on bliss and happiness in the comments, and I'll see you back here soon!

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