Summer Flower

Discovering How to Thrive

There is nothing more satisfying than cultivating an enjoyable and satisfying life. This involves discovering how to thrive.

In my own case, learning to thrive involves discovering how to do with less.  For me, doing with less includes doing with much less busyness. For me, at least, this leads to increasing levels of happiness in life.  It’s a life where my joy and satisfaction come more and more from within rather than at the expense of others or our shared planet.

For me, more and more, the good life involves going against the stream of contemporary culture.  I aim my life toward ease, relaxation, health, quiet and stillness rather than at getting or having more or fancier stuff.  It involves avoiding debt and easing up on my carbon footprint.

“Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise person, gathering it little by little, fills herself with good.” ~The Buddha

In my last post I wrote that rather than posting four or five times a month, as I had in the past, I planned to post only twice a month in the future. What’s more, I said I’d decided to make this change because I was beginning to feel more and more run-down and lethargic, emotionally flat and numb. In a word, I was beginning to feel dangerously burnt out. I’m glad I listened to my intuition and took action. That was the right thing to do.

Since making the decision to cut back on posts I’ve been able to sleep in later a few times a week.  Ah, what bliss!  Additionally, I’ve added more time with friends and widened the scope of my reading.

“Do not belittle your virtues, saying, “They are nothing.” A jug fills drop by drop. So the wise one becomes brim full of virtue.” ~the Buddha

But, even more importantly, since reducing the number of posts I’m committed to each month, I’ve also refocused and recommitted to deeply connecting with what’s good in my life. I’ve taken more time to pay attention to the beauty that’s right outside my door.

For example, as I’m on  my morning walk to meditation, I drink in the brightening sky and the ever-changing clouds overhead. I spend a moment in gratitude for the flowers and the trees that festoon the yards and border the sidewalks along my way. I make it a point to smile and say good morning to the people I pass in the street.  I bring my companions in the Dharma life at Sweeping Heart Zen and beyond to mind and count the blessings they bring to life.

Additionally, I’ve redoubled my intention to be mindful of what I give my attention to. Am I letting my mind dwell on negative memories of hurts or disappointments from the past? Do I imagine conflicts or calamities that might come in the future? Am I quick to judge and criticize?

In other words, I remind myself to be present to what’s happening right now.  And, when I see that my attention’s wondered off, I bring myself back. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I try to remember to let my mind dwell on “the roots of the wholesome” whenever that’s possible. What are the roots of the wholesome?

“Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of one’s mind.” ~the Buddha

Interestingly, the ancient teachings are absolutely clear about what is unwholesome. And they explicitly label certain states of mind as the roots of the unwholesome. These are states of mind tainted with greed, hatred, and delusion.

Why are mind states afflicted with greed, hatred, or delusion (delusion meaning misperception,  misunderstanding, confusion, mental inflexibility and dogmatic clinging) called the roots of the unwholesome? From my point of view at least that’s because all manner of psychological, emotional, and social harm spring from actions rooted in minds dominated by greed, hatred, or delusion.

“It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held on to the old view.” ~Sharon Salzberg

On the other hand, the ancient teachings define the “roots of the wholesome” as states of mind that are informed by states of non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion.

What are some of the mind states that escape the influence of greed, hatred, or delusion? According to the teachings, mind states like gratefulness, gladness, friendliness, benevolence, sympathetic joy, and equanimity are unsullied by thoughts underpinned by stinginess, anger, resentment, confusion or biased misperceptions. Mind states absent these qualities promote beneficial actions, healing, and goodness.

“It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

And, the ancient teachings encourage us to notice, embrace ,and dwell in these highly healing and wholesome states of mind as often as possible.

How do we lead the mind to dwell in these states? Here is a wonderful description of one way to practice dwelling in the roots of wholesomeness.  This teaching focuses on  dwelling in open-heartedness and comes from Ajahn Viradhammo, a Canadian monk who has over forty-years of practice in the Thai Forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism. He writes:

“Do ask yourself, ‘How do I open my heart to the way things are? What is the pathway to open-heartedness for me?’ In my own meditation practice, I reflect on the good friendships I have to stimulate an openness of the heart. Notice that the open heart is all about gladness, gratitude, and compassion, which help quite naturally to dispel any negative emotions I might be experiencing. The heart opens in different ways according to the time and place. Start to notice” What does the open heart feel like? How does the heart feel when I’m anxious, mistrusting, critical, or fearful? What’s that like?” ~ The Contemplative’s Craft: Internalizing the Teachings of the Buddha

Ajahn notes that the pathway to dwelling in wholesome thoughts is different for each of us. We can ask, “How does this practice work best for me?”  Notably, the only way to find out what works best is to experiment for one’s self.

“All people seek, not the way of their ancestors, but good.” ~Aristotle

Let’s say I would like to cultivate a sense of gladness and gratitude. Because in the past I’ve experimented and explored this theme,  I know if I turn my mind to my paternal grandmother I can easily tap in to gladness and gratitude. Grammy had a wonderful influence on my life. My memories of her are of her unbiased generosity and love.  I always felt happy, safe and well loved when she was near.

Furthermore, When I reflect on Grammy, I notice how comforting, healing, and relaxing it feels to hold memories of her in my heart. Next, I strengthen these wholesome feelings by imagining them permeating my whole body. I visualize them as a restoring light that first moves fills my body, and then moves into the surrounding world.

As I do this, I might notice that tension has left my body and that I’m more relaxed than before I began this practice. I notice that I’ve given myself a small gift. I notice that, free of charge,  I’ve added to my own happiness.  I’ve touched in to a happiness derived at no one’s expense.

“Nurturing your own development isn’t selfish. It’s actually a great gift to other people.” ~Rick Hanson

Another way to come at this is to remember, every now and then, to check in on one’s present emotional or mental states.

One can ask, “What is my current inner  state like?” And, one might be surprised to recognize we can actually feel what a mind free of anger, or fear, or sadness is like.  And one can remember to contrast the positive feelings of these wholesome states with the unpleasant feelings of states informed by greed, hatred, and delusion.

Seeing and feeling this contrast, making it sharp and clear in our experience, can help.  It can help one move away from negative ways of thinking into new, more beneficial ways of thinking and living.

If your feeling stuck or stagnant in your practice, you might give this approach a try.

Cultivating the roots of the wholesome in everyday life. This is a big part of what it takes to progress in Dharma practice.   Here are some additional resources.

The classic modern presentation of cultivating Loving-kindness is Sharon Salzberg’s Loving-Kindness, the Revolutionary Art of Happiness.  This book is full of warmth, humor, and compassion as well as many practical exercises in cultivation the roots of the wholesome.

Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness takes the neuropsychological underpinnings of  cultivating joy into account.  It also is full of recommendations for practice.  I strongly recommend it.

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I hope you have a wonderful week!