The Doorway to Ultimate Bliss

Sadly, in our busy, hurried, demanding world, too many of us set aside religious or spiritual practices as unimportant, even irrelevant to our lives. We’re searching for the Holy Grail in all but the places where it can be found. And we suffer for it, not only individually, but collectively as well.

golden pathBeneath all that is positive runs a single stream, generating it, empowering it, sustaining it.

Because it’s universal and eternal, it’s known by many names: Source, the Universe, Spirit, the Unified Field, the Tao, and all the names by which we know our God–even when we have no concept of, or belief in, a God at all.

It doesn’t matter what we call it; our words can’t contain it anyway.  We know it with our hearts, not with our minds.

It does matter, though, whether we know it.  At least if we’re going to live truly rich, satisfying, meaningful lives.  That’s what the science shows, and what the wisdom of the ages declares as well.

The Value of Seeking the Sacred

On the science side, the results of the studies are clear.  People who seek the sacred, whether through participation and practice of an organized religion, or through a privately cultivated relationship with the Divine, are healthier, happier, more resilient human beings.

They live longer, have happier marriages, cope better with stressors, and use less alcohol and drugs.

They have a source of comfort in hard times; a source of self-esteem and self-worth, a sense of knowing they are unconditionally loved.  They tap into a deeper sense of meaning, a broader picture of life, a sense of purposefulness.  They’re more accepting of life’s vicissitudes and tragedies and quicker to adjust.  They’re quicker to forgive.

We gravitate to it, this universal stream, because its essence infuses us.  We were created from it.  The more we immerse ourselves in it, the more we experience and express all that gives life zest—joy, serenity, engagement, delight, hope, compassion, gratitude and love in all its myriad forms.

Practicing Religion and Spirituality

In her book highly acclaimed book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomisrksy offers several practices you may enjoy using if the idea of participation in a religious community attracts you, or if you want to explore how various religions approach the search for the sacred.   She suggests that you pick only one to try:

Religious Participation and Study

  • Join or recommit to a temple, church, mosque, spiritual program or religious study group.  Set a goal to attend once a week, or even daily;
  • Spend 15 minutes a day reading a spiritually themed or religious book, or listening to or watching a religious or spiritual program;
  • Volunteering for a faith-based charity;
  • Researching various religions at the library or on the web.

Prayer

Man PrayingShe also suggests that you develop a practice of prayer, using whatever form of communion with the divine is most comfortable or attractive for you.  Then dedicate a specific period of each day to prayer—petitioning the Divine for the meeting of your own needs or those of others, giving thanks, simply “being in the presence,” reading a book of prayers or meditations—whatever feels good and right for you.

Alternately, she suggests, you may want to practice praying spontaneously throughout the day, whenever you are inspired to do so, feel a need for guidance or relief, or a desire to express gratitude and praise.

Meditation

Regular meditation is another way to find contact with the Divine, by learning to quiet your mind sufficiently to perceive its presence within you.  Having sampled a wide range of techniques—and finding value in them all—I personally am now enjoying LifeFlow Meditation 2.0, a cutting edge brain entrainment offered by Project Meditation. I’ve been using it for a year with very satisfying results. Click this link to get their Free Meditation Course

Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary

You can see beauty and holiness in everything around you if you look for it, if you open your mind to perceiving it.  The most ordinary object or familiar scene is part of the vast stream of creative beauty and joy.  “Sanctifying day-to-day objects, experiences, and struggles” says Sonja, “takes a great deal of practice, but it’s at the heart of spirituality and its rewards.”

You can get a little hint of how this practice unfolds in my own life by reading through a few of my little posts at High on Happiness.

The Doorway to Ultimate Bliss

Regardless of the path you choose, making spirituality a central part of your life is the key to finding life’s ultimate bliss and blessing.  Sadly, in our busy, hurried, demanding world, too many of us set aside religious or spiritual practices as unimportant, even irrelevant to our lives.  We’re searching for the Holy Grail in all but the places where it can be found.  And we suffer for it, not only individually, but collectively as well.

If you truly want to find the very best in you, to explore the best that life has to offer, decide now to make spirituality a priority part of your life.  It will enrich, empower and free you as nothing else can.  And that’s a promise.

Share

Happiness and the Dream Machine

Out of all the possibilities before you, chose the one that tastes like fun, that jolts your heart with a little more fierce.

The Dream MachineFollow your purpose.  Follow your bliss.  Follow your dream, they say.  But here you sit, up to your elbows in ordinary, with no ideas at all.

“My dream?” you say.  “My dream? What is my dream?”  If you don’t know it, let me whisper:  It is to be happy.  Choose that.    Make it the focus of your life.  Put it center stage and let it steal the show.

“But how?” you ask.  “How?”  That’s for you to say.  Make your space more beautiful: Pick up your socks; clean something; make a repair.  Make yourself the unofficial world greeter:  Go be kind to someone; engage someone in conversation; walk down the street whistling; pass out smiles.  Take fifteen or an hour with a good book or a hobby.  Visit a gallery or museum.  Get out your crayons.  Go for a run.  Put on some music and dance.  It’s up to you.

The thing is to listen for that little buzz, that little ding, the thing that makes you go “Hmmmm” or “Oh! Yeah!” and then do it.  Every minute.  All the time.  Sink into the present.  See what’s there.

Out of all the possibilities before you, all the turns you could make right now, chose the one that tastes like fun, that gets your molecules dancing, that makes your blood race a tad warmer through your veins and jolts your heart with a little more fierce.

Keep doing that and the dream machine will learn it can trust you. Before you know it, it pops a big one your way.

The Freedom Skater

Take Austin Szelkowski, for instance.  He’s just out of college in a state with no jobs, working as a waiter, up to his ears in student loans.  But he keeps doing what he loves, encouraging people to follow their dreams and live bold and free.

Then one day the dream machine lands this one on him:  Austin, it says, what if you roller bladed across America, carrying a big flag, and stopped all along the way to speak your message?

Right now, Austin’s 233 miles into his dream.  Go check out his website.  See what he says about choices, and daring, and living free.  This guy’s got positivity locked, I tell you.

Juice Right Now

Man Atop MountainNow maybe you don’t have a big dream.  Maybe yours are quieter, cozier dreams.  Maybe just finding the courage to get out of bed is all that you can handle.  That’s cool.  Pat yourself on the back for getting out of bed then.  See if it doesn’t give you the strength to take a step or two.  And when you make it all the way to a mirror, smile at you.  Give yourself a wink.  Say to yourself, “I’m going to have a beautiful day.”

That’s the point, see?  Let today be beautiful for you.  Find the juice right now holds.  Every day, you make happiness your focus, you put it center stage and let it dance.  You listen for the hum.  You listen for the buzz and follow it.  Do that, and before long you’ll find yourself humming, too.

“Life is good,” you’ll say.  “Life is good.”  And the dream machine will mark that down and keep feeding you bigger dreams.  Just watch.  You’ll see.

Share

Why Happiness is Job #1

Regardless of its unique expression in our individual lives, our central purpose is to make of our lives a celebration of being.

Face of ContentmentIf you haven’t yet found your life’s passion, let me suggest to you that it is to be happy, to know joy.  That is what you are here to do; that’s the bottom line for us all.

Regardless of its unique expression in our individual lives,  our central purpose is to make of our lives a celebration of being.

Sometimes our paths are bathed in mirth and sometimes shadowed by pain.  But always, the driving force that pulls us forward is our desire to live in happiness, to be mindful of our aliveness, and to lift up the gift of our being in thanksgiving and joy.

Happiness for Its Own Sake

When you grasp that the desire to live in happiness is what motivates all our seeking, what shapes all our choices, you hold the magic compass that will unerringly guide your way.

And here’s a seldom-voiced secret:  When you understand that happiness is our essential desire, you’re free to seek it directly, for its own sake.  Get to the heart of your happiness and happiness itself will lead you to everything else that you need.  It will reveal your best strengths—because exercising them brings you the greatest pleasure, meaning and satisfaction.  It will tease out your true talents by filling your expression of them with delight.  It will whisper to you which relationships enrich you by painting them with laughter, openness, honesty, intimacy, caring, appreciation and joy.

The more you live in happiness, the more real you are, the more authentic and alive.

Scouting Out Your Happiness

So how do you go about discovering your happiness?  Try this:

Take five minutes and begin writing down the things that please and satisfy you. What most delights your senses?  What sights?  What sounds? What fragrances? What textures?  What movements?  What tastes?  Write these down on your happiness list.

Relaxing in a Field of FlowersWhat moves your heart?  When do you feel most alive?  Most satisfied?  Strongest?  Purest?  When are you the most playful?  What excites you?  When are you the most relaxed and serene?  Write your answers down.

Think back to your childhood.  What delighted you then?  Scan your whole life.  What kinds of work brings you the most satisfaction?  What kinds of environments have pleased you the most?  Where have you most enjoyed spending leisure time?  What kinds of people turn you on?  Are you most alive in nature?  At a party?  Working at a hobby?  Participating in a sport?  Engaging in one of the arts?

Do It Now

Man Happily Writing

Don’t just read these instructions.  There’s no magic in simply passing these words through your brain.  The magic lies in following them, because they will lead you to the unique, personalized wealth of happiness within you.

Either open a page right now and begin making your happiness list or commit yourself right now to a time in which you will do it.  Tonight, before bed?  Tomorrow morning, first thing, even if it means getting up five minutes earlier?  On your lunch hour?  C’mon.  Now or when.  Commit to it.  Your happiness depends on it.

Do you need convincing?  A sales pitch for positivity?  Okay then, what’s in it for you, besides the phenomenal way it feels, are some life-altering side effects:

Happy people—people who engage in positive living now—

  • Are healthier,
  • Live longer,
  • Heal faster;
  • Enjoy more success in everything they do;
  • Have more and better friendships;
  • Are more attractive;
  • Are more creative;
  • See more possibilities;
  • Recognize more opportunities;
  • Are better risk-takers;
  • Are more at peace;
  • Appreciate life more;
  • See more beauty;
  • Enrich the lives of others;
  • Contribute more to their communities;
  • Are more self-directing;
  • Feel more competent;
  • Are more content;
  • Take greater control of their lives.

Happiness is a Survivor Skill

These are real capabilities, the kind that come through for you not only in your everyday life, but when you’re thrown against the wall.  Happiness is a survival skill.  It’s where grit and resilience come from when the tough times roll.

When you’re rooted in positivity, you have the tools you need to deal with life’s tragedies, setbacks and pain.  You meet life face-on, free from self-imposed victimhood, because you can see the broader picture.  Your focus isn’t narrowed to seeing only what’s wrong, but sweeps across the entire landscape in search of what can be made right.  Your realism extends to seeing possibilities as well as roadblocks, and being rooted in positivity, you have the daring to try new paths, to forge ahead, to see and utilize your assets.

And it all begins by deciding to commit yourself to being happy, and then identifying what activities, relationships, and pursuits bring you the most joy.

So take five, and start your list.  Make happiness job one and get to work on it.

Share

Riding the Upward Spiral of Joy

You do have to realize you're bucking your brain's natural tendencies when you set out to put the happiness magic in action. It does take some work. On the other hand, the payoff is great. Happiness beats gloom and boredom hands down.

Vibrant, leafy spiral
Want to know some genuine happiness magic?

Here it is:  Practice enjoying positive experiences until they outweigh your negatives ones by a ratio of 3 to 1.  Do that, and you’ll be swept into an upward spiral of steadily increasing joy.

Actually, it’s not magic at all.  It’s just the way things work.  “What you focus on expands,” is as true of happiness as it is of anything else.  It really is that simple.

But what’s simple isn’t always easy.  And it’s not just you.  It’s all of us.

Wired for Negativity

The problem is that we’re wired for negativity.  Our pay-attention mechanisms are, the positivity scientists point out, “Velcro for problems; Teflon for joy.”   It’s one of those survival things.  We look for dangers in order to protect ourselves.

Dream Tiger
What our brains can't find, they make up.

Now safe is good.  You can’t argue with that.  But the number of man-eating tigers loose in the environment is far fewer than our Velcro brains want to believe.  Finding few tigers, they scour around for other scary stuff that might be lurking, and what they don’t find, they make up.  Before you know it, the whole world is a downright threatening place.

Add to that the fact that our brains love to problem-solve.  It’s one of their favorite things in the whole world.  How are you going to problem-solve if you don’t have any problems?  Better find some, our brains say, and quick.

Plus, because we’re made of joy, and joy is light, we’d go floating off into space if we didn’t have a little gravity in our lives.  (At least that’s my personal theory.)  Gravity keeps our feet on the ground.

So we have three essential reasons, right there, for nursing our negativity.  We work really hard at it.  We’ve built huge industries around it to make sure we have enough gravity and problems and fear.  You don’t have to worry about ever running out.

But you do have to realize you’re bucking your brain’s natural tendencies (not to mention the culture’s) when you set out to put the happiness magic in action.   It does takes some work.

On the other hand, the payoff is great.  Happiness beats gloom and boredom hands down.

Pumping Up Your Ratio

So how do you start pumping up your positivity ratio?

First: By deciding it’s what you want to do.  You make it your intention to gather all the positive goodies you can:  you decide to feel the gratitude, the serenity, the engagement, the delight and awe and love.  You wake up in the morning and remember that positivity is your primary focus for the day.  You remember that it’s your mission for the rest of your entire life.

Next: You remind yourself all day long, before every task, before every new activity.  You commit yourself to looking for the pleasure, the satisfaction,  or the challenge in everything that you’re doing.  You let yourself be interested in your tasks and mindful.  You bring to them your willingness to be present and appreciative.

Third: You train yourself to notice when you’re entertaining worry or anxiousness, when you’re complaining or blaming, or putting yourself or someone else down.  And when you catch yourself at it, when you notice that your attention is on someone or something that ruffled your feathers, or on some dreaded future task that you’ve already contemplated a dozen times or more, you stop yourself in your tracks.

You take a deep, wonderful breath, and find something that’s great about right this very minute.  You ask yourself, out of all the possibilities this moment holds, what’s the happiest thing you can do right now.

Maybe it’s just that you remembered to ask yourself how you can be happier now.  If the thought gave you a bit of relief, sparked a little smile, kindled a little hope or enthusiasm, you’ve got the magic.  Keep it rolling.  Go for that 3 to 1 ration, and ride the spiral from there.

Share

The Healing Power of Forgiveness – A Gentle Guide

When was the last time you leaped out of bed and said, "Man! What a great day to forgive Hank!"? Probably like, oh, never. But did you know that forgiveness is one of the post powerful means available for freeing all kinds of juicy, creative energy that you have trapped inside you?

Smiling Woman Waking UpWhen was the last time you leaped out of bed and said, “Man! What a great day to forgive Hank!”?  Probably like, oh, never.   But did you know that forgiveness is one of the post powerful means available for freeing all kinds of juicy, creative energy that you have trapped inside you?

Try this experiment:  Think about someone you need to forgive.  Go ahead.  Just think of them.

Got someone?  Maybe a few someones?  Well, the fact that anyone at all came to mind means you have some forgiving to do.  And until you do, you’re keeping a lot of perfectly great energy locked away where it’s not having any fun at all.  I say we do a jailbreak; let it loose.  You with me?

Here’s the deal.  Most of us avoid even thinking about forgiveness as if it were some horrendously painful process like, say, getting a root canal without anesthetic.  In fact, avoidance is one of the two parts of forgiving that we have to overcome before we can unlock its fabulous healing powers.

The other part is–get this—“a resistance to benevolence.”  Believe it or not, we actually dig in our heels and fight against opening our hearts to anyone who caused us pain–even when that anyone is us.

For the most part, we avoid forgiving because we don’t really understand what it means. We carry around a lot of false notions about it.  And like all the untruths we tell ourselves, they really get in our way.  They keep us small and locked in.

Myths of Forgiveness: Why We Resist

He Doesn’t Deserve It

One of the biggest mistakes we make when we think about forgiving someone is that believing that it’s something we’re doing for them, the ones who hurt us or made us mad.  Why should we do anything nice for that rotten piece of . . . Well, you get the idea.   But the truth is that forgiving is a gift we give ourselves–a gift of wondrous beauty, and freedom, and release.

I Won’t Feel Safe

Unforgiving Young WomanAnother false notion we have about forgiving is that we’re protecting ourselves from future wrongs and pains by holding on to what happened in the past.  It’s almost like a superstition; we hold on to the pain from the past as if it would prevent the same things from happening again. But the irony is that by holding onto our bitterness and anger, our fear and blame, we generate the very quality of energy that will bring us the same kind of problems until we “get” how to rise above them.  It’s like using the Law of Attraction to magnetize more difficulties toward ourselves.

Instead of shielding us from hurt, by maintaining that inner barrier against the one who did us wrong we’re really allowing the hurt to take up precious space in our consciousness. The energy we could be using to revel in life, to create joyous, satisfying experiences for ourselves is locked up maintaining our illusory defenses.    Think about it for a minute.  Who is all your anger hurting?  Hmmmmm?

It’s My Revenge

Okay, we don’t want to let the bad guys off the hook.  If we forgive them, we think, they’ll go scot-free. But in reality, what we think and how we feel about them is stuff that only lives inside us.  We’re the ones who suffer the pain, the hurt, the resentment, the anger–over and over, until we release it, until we let it go.   While we think, on some level, that we’re getting revenge (“I’ll fix him!  I won’t ever let go of how he hurt me!”).  But in fact all we’re doing is keeping our own hurt alive.

Whether it’s someone else who did us wrong, or some part of ourselves who betrayed us, nursing our resentment only ties us to the pain. As long as we make that person or that part of ourselves into a monster, it’s always there to poke at our fear and our pain. The monster is always there, forever feeding on our energy, keeping us from the peace and clarity and wholeness we desire and deserve.

Forget About Making Up

Another reason we resist forgiving is that we think we will have to befriend whomever hurt us, to smooth things over and pretend everything is okay between us.   But–and pay attention; this is important–forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same things.

You can forgive someone and never have to tell her or ever have to see her again. That’s because forgiveness–just like its absence–is something that you do within your own heart and mind.  And it can stay there, remaining as private as you want it to be.

Sure, forgiveness opens the door for the possibility of reconciliation.  You could decide to renew the relationship that was damaged by the hurt.  In many cases–when the person who hurt you is someone you really love, or when the injurious act was something you did to yourself–restoring the free flow of communication and enjoyment is a spontaneous and welcome result.  But sometimes you can simply let go of the pain, of clinging to it, and never plan to be in relationship with the person who evoked it again.  And that’s perfectly okay.  Forgiveness doesn’t always have to mean reconciliation.

We can forgive without any expectation of a response from the person who hurt us, or of our responding to her. Sometimes, interestingly, when we forgive people they surprise us with a pleasant response even when we keep our forgiveness completely inside ourselves.   Because we’re all connected on the quantum level, sometimes our forgiveness flows into the lives of people we forgive and touches them with a new warmth. They might approach us with an offer to start over again.  But their response is wholly irrelevant to the act of forgiveness itself.  Forgiveness is something we do to heal our own hearts and minds.

What Forgiveness Isn’t

No KneelingCondoning and Forgetting

Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying bad behavior is okay or that you will permit it. In fact, it’s just the opposite.  Forgiving empowers you to embrace the kind of self-respect that doesn’t tolerate abuse.

Contrary to the familiar phrase, forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, either. It doesn’t delete your memory of what happened.   It just gives you a different, softer way to look at it. You bring healing to your wounds by smoothing them with love and compassion – for yourself.

You still see the scar when you look at that part of your life.  But now it a symbol of your release from its pain, of your ability to have grown past it. Now you look toward your future with freshness and clarity instead of with apprehension and fear.

Forgiveness doesn’t change what happened.  It changes your view of what happened.  It changes you.  It frees you.

No Kneeling SignAccepting Blame

They say that when you point your finger at someone, your three remaining fingers are pointing back at you.  Sometimes we resist forgiving someone because we’re afraid we’ll have to admit that we have been capable of hatred.

The only was to overcome this fear is to be willing you recognize that all of us have the capacity for every human emotion–even the worst ones. Accepting that, you begin to see that the person who hurt you has that same capacity, too.  When he hurt you, some of the worst simply got the best of him.

No Kneeling SignFacing the Pain and Understanding Motives

“But won’t I have to face the pain if I try to forgive it?” some part of you may say.  “I don’t want to feel it all over again!” That’s why it takes courage to forgive.  Instead of automatically putting up defenses of anger and resentment, we need to acknowledge that we were genuinely injured.  But the part of us that keeps the pain alive, the part of us that is truly cowardly, is the part that wraps the memory in resistance and refuses to let it go.

Sometimes people think that forgiving means you need to get inside the offender’s mind and understand his or her motives.  The fact is you don’t need to know the whys beneath the act or acts that hurt you. All you really need to do is accept that what happened, happened.  What was, was.

A Better Past

In the final analysis, forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past. Some part of us believes that if we think about our old hurts long enough, maybe the past will somehow magically change.

Forgiveness is letting go of that belief. What happened did happen, and no about of remembering it or fearing it will change it.   But we can learn to look at it differently.  We can accept it.

We can begin to realize that our lives didn’t stop at the point of pain. We kept on having new experiences.  Our lives went on.  We continued to grow in other dimensions of our lives. And now, as we choose to let the pain go, we free ourselves to continue growing even further, expanding with more clarity and more openness than ever before.

How Forgiving Works

Forgiving is pressing the stop button on the old memory tape from the past.  The endless loop of outrage, offense, bitterness and sorrow that’s played over and over in your mind finally ceases to run.

Instead, you make the choice to put the tape on a back shelf to gather dust. Your interest in it simply fades away. It’s like waking up from a trance and rediscovering the present moment, the moment where your genuine power resides.

Ways to Heal

  • Start with the small stuff.  Make an intention to notice when you react to someone’s behavior with resentment or blame, and practice forgiving right then and there.  First, forgive yourself for your automatic response of taking offense.  Just because someone is being offensive doesn’t mean you have to feel offended.  That’s giving your power away.

Instead, remember that you can choose how to respond.  You can offer an apology, or say that you’re sorry they feel that way, or see if a misunderstanding has happened and straighten things out.  You can graciously recognize that they must be in pain themselves to be acting in such a rude manner and see if you can comfort or assist them in some way.  Offenses aren’t about you; they’re about the offender.

  • Practice forgiving yourself when you catch yourself acting in ways that fall short of your standards.  Apologize to yourself and allow yourself to feel compassion for the part of you that misbehaved or harbored an unworthy thought.  Try to discover what it is you need that generated your inappropriate thought or action.  Are you tired?  Hungry?  In need of a change of scenery or some exercise?
  • Thoughtful WomanWhen you’re dealing with a big or long-standing hurt, one of the most healing methods for overcoming your resistance to forgiveness is to write down all the positive things that happened as a result of the hurtful experience. Ask yourself what you learned from it. Make a list of the strengths you developed because it happened.  Are you more self-caring in other aspects of your life? In what ways are you more compassionate toward others who endured a similar hurt?   What new choices have you made because of what you learned?

People who write about the hidden benefits of the events that hurt them, studies show, develop new resilience and begin to look toward the future with renewed optimism and hope.

  • Pray for forgiveness, and for a forgiving heart.
  • Learn meridian tapping and use it in untangling your feelings about your hurt.  You can download a free manual on how to do it here.
  • Adopt the practice of ho’oponopono.  Learn to chant the phrases “I’m sorry; please forgive me; thank you; I love you” throughout your day.
  • Write out a personal declaration of forgiveness and memorize it, or carry it with you on a little card that you can read whenever you need to reinforce your decision to forgive and to wish that the person who hurt you might live a better life. State your willingness to recall the good that came from the situation and to freely let go of it, to see it as a finished, past event.
  • Create some positive affirmations that you can repeat to yourself when your ‘hurt-tape’ starts running.  “Even though I was really frightened at the time, even though I was hurt and felt totally powerless, I am choosing to recognize the strength I have now.”

Woman Feeling ReleaseResistance to forgiving can be really strong.  But every gentle step we make to overcome us serves us well.  The more we move in its direction, the more we experience forgiveness as one of the kindest, most life-enhancing choices we can make.

As we let go, more and more, of our clinging to past wounds, we feel the upsurge of new harmony within ourselves and in relation to the whole world.  We taste the freedom to begin focusing on the abundant richness and possibilities the present holds.

Choose forgiveness.  Choose to claim the experience of its power and healing in your life, starting today.

Your Turn

What experiences have you had with forgiveness?  How did you learn to apply it in your life?  How did it do for you?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with it—or about the stumbling blocks that are keeping you from forgiving.  Let me know.

Share