Once again, it was a fantastic group of women, and once again we’ve come away with fresh inner resources to create and enjoy the lives we want.
I’m a big believer that changing the way you think is the best and possibly only way to change your level of happiness. We all have our habitual ways of thinking—our go-to worries, rationalizations, and pep talks—that filter our experience of reality. Our moods, perceptions and actions are all shaped by our beliefs and thought habits.
Thankfully, wise people through the ages have dedicated themselves to finding the thought habits that best support a fulfilling life. And thankfully, Sylvia Boorstein has taken the trouble to make these subtleties of thought accessible to the rest of us.
In one chapter of HAPPINESS IS AN INSIDE JOB, Boorstein describes a Buddhist concept that has serious transformative power. I liked it so much that a made a little picture to help me remember.
She tells us about the Brama-Viharas, or “divine abodes.” These are four emotional states in which the human spirit can comfortably rest. Isn’t that a great image? I love the idea of emotional states that serve as cozy dwellings. Here they are:
- Friendliness – This comes from a sincere desire for you and all beings to thrive and be well. It is supported by simple Metta meditation such as “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be fully at ease. May all beings be happy and free.”
- Compassion – This is the willingness to be present with suffering in yourself and others, and to hope that suffering comes to an end.
- Empathic Joy – This is being happy for others and appreciating what’s wonderful about them. It is also being happy for and appreciating yourself, moment to moment.
- Equanimity – This is the foundation for the other three. Equanimity is the presence of mind to notice what your thoughts and emotions are up to and make adjustments as needed.
I’m oversimplifying in my definitions. Entire books can and have been written about the Buddhist concepts of friendliness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity. I recommend a deep and thorough study of them all, but CliffsNotes can be useful…
Here’s the cheat sheet for one of my favorite takeaways from HAPPINESS IS AN INSIDE JOB:
To be in peaceful, engaged relationship with yourself and others (in other words, to be happy) try to:
This is “an inside job” because it has to do with the little voice in your head, as well as the words you say right out loud. Even your internal, quiet self, the part that just watches and breathes, should live in a divine abode.
Encouraging words come from an attitude of friendliness and a wish for everyone to thrive and be well. They also lead directly to being happy for others and yourself when things are going smoothly.
Consoling words come from the same basic friendliness, with an added acknowledgement that life can be difficult and painful for all of us and we’re in it together.
Appreciating words highlight what you love and direct your attention to beauty, wonder and amazement. They delight in the fine qualities of everyone and everything. When you’ve got nothing else to do, try appreciating something.
When you are startled or lost in some kind of upset, that’s when you take a few deep breaths and relax your body so you can find your way back to equanimity and its lovely neighborhood houses.
This might all sound annoyingly positive and chirpy. Of course you’ll still get angry and jealous or judgmental and maybe even slip into some gossip every now and then. When that happens, console yourself. Kindly acknowledge your fear and pain and hope it soon comes to and end.
Here’s a mild, everyday example. If a thought like “Oh good lord what is she wearing and why did she post it on Facebook?!”* pops up in my head, I might console my snarky self like this:
“Yikes! Poor me. Sometimes I get confused and forget that we’re all connected and most everyone is doing their best.”
(I know, my internal voice can be pretty dorky, but it helps.)
Just a momentary switch of thoughts like that is likely to get me thinking about how it really is difficult to know how to present yourself to the world, on Facebook or anywhere. We all wish we could do it without risking shame, embarrassment, dishonesty or hiding. We all want to be seen and appreciated.
Then I feel more peacefully engaged, connected and at home in myself. Which is to say, I feel happier.
These same tools work on larger, more devastating situations of injustice, illness and loss. Those are more difficult and take practice. Starting small helps. So does meditation. Clearly, the Buddha wasn’t talking about selfies when he started teaching the Brama-Viharas. He was dealing with every variety of pain and disaster, as well as the same compassion and love that persists through the centuries.
I have a second favorite takeaway from HAPPINESS IS AN INSIDE JOB which I hope to share with you soon. It’s another life-changer; an all-purpose power tool for clarity and peace on the fly. Pretty exciting…
I hate to leave you with such a big, Buddhist cliff-hanger, so I’ll try to get to it quickly. In the meantime, may you thrive and be well. I really appreciate how sweet you are to read all of this!
* Facebook friends, of course I don’t mean you. You look perfect and your posts make me smile.