Authentic Happiness Through Meditation
Like many, I got into this meditation thing at a time in my life marked with turmoil, self-doubt, guilt, and pain; that which I caused myself, and that which I knew I had caused others. I went to therapy and began to untangle my brain and harmful patterns, and this was an important act of self-care. I also wanted to find a path where I could find clarity, deepened self-awareness, and a more sustained sense of what I call “authentic” happiness.
What experience has taught me is that happiness is a practice, not an achievement. My attachment to how happiness was supposed to look was blocking me from finding it at every turn. Once I let go of my craving for some other reality to show up and the attachment to how that reality was supposed to be, I opened the door to my own liberation. From the ashes of what crashed and burned in my life has arisen beauty, peace, and abundance that I never knew possible. These have been here all along, I was just blinded by my own ignorance and inability to see them clearly.
So, what is “authentic” happiness? Authentic happiness is that happiness that arises out of no other condition being present other than the happiness itself. If I’m happy because something happened, an achievement for instance, then that is going to go away when the “buzz” wears off. If I’m happy because of having attained or acquired something, then that thing is going to become mundane at some point, and the attached happiness will wane. Then I will have to go attain or acquire something else to feel the jolt again. It is a hamster wheel that never stops spinning.
That is because all things that are conditional are also impermanent. Happiness for no reason and without attachment to any other ideas about how it is “supposed to look” just is, and that’s that. I can’t say that I live there at this point, but I have drank from the waters, and my how they taste! When rough times show up (and they do and will continue to), I know that this too is impermanent and that the happiness is still there, I just can’t see it right now. It’s like seeing to the bottom of a beautiful, crystal clear pond, and then a breeze comes along and stirs the surface. I know that those waters will eventually settle, allowing me to see again, and there is a lot of comfort in that.
Recently, I was on retreat, and the instruction came to pay attention to the places where my suffering isn’t. Immediately, it made sense. I get so caught up in my difficulties, guilt, shame, stress, trauma, drama, judgments, etc, that I have failed to notice that the vast majority of the time, those things are not present. The suffering that I have been so identified with over time only consumes me because I continue to fan the flames, even when they are not actually present.
Bringing this holistic awareness to my life has shifted everything. Now when these unskilled parts of me show up, I see them and meet them with compassion. Sometimes, I even meet them with levity and chuckle at my ridiculousness. What a gift.
Happiness is a spiritual warrior’s path. For me, it is knowing that I have developed sufficient skills that whatever shows up in my life, I can meet it with wisdom, clarity, compassion, and emotional balance. It’s knowing that I have studied sufficiently so that whatever test life throws at me, I can pass. It’s also knowing that I do not fear illness, pain, and death, because this life, like all conditioned things, is impermanent. Life is a gift, and I see it as such. I have gratitude for where I am today, and am deeply appreciative of all of the times when my suffering isn’t actually happening. Then when it comes, I have the energy and resources to meet it skillfully. It is a loss of attachment to some reality that should be happening, and fully embracing and effectively navigating the one that is happening. It’s riding the waves that come, and not futilely and exhaustingly trying to stop, control, or manipulate them before, when, or after they arise.
See how this practice works for you. This week, be aware of the times when your suffering, pain, anxiety, stress, or doubt is NOT present. Notice how your mind may want to stir them up even when the waters are otherwise calm. See if you can meet this with compassion, and maybe even a little humor. Realize that happiness is who you are, not something you need to somehow mysteriously become. See your inherent beauty for what it is. Allow yourself to be imperfect. Be vulnerable. Look your pain in the face to see what it really looks like, and thus disempower it. Develop your mental, emotional, and spiritual toolkit so that you can meet life confidently and skillfully and with a spiritual warrior’s courage. Live from your heart. Grow. Make your one go at this life count. Live a life of meaning. Be authentically happy. Our world needs you to be exactly you, no more no less. Thank you.
Peter Buecker, MD