I just finished reading Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, in which he discusses his experience with meditation and mindfulness. It’s a fun read, which I can easily recommend to anyone who’s ever wondered about meditation, or felt a little skeptical of some of the “new age” players.

He asks the question, “Even if we were handed everything we wanted, would it really make us sustainably happy?” It’s an issue I’ve discussed here before…it’s easy to say yes, at first, that if we got everything we wanted, we would undoubtedly be deliriously happy. But one need only look at some high profile stories of celebrities to see that this is not the case.

Another point discussed in detail is the fantasy that “I’ll be happy when…” which I’ve also written about here. It’s a trick we play on ourselves – happiness is always just around the next bend in the road, after the next major life event. He observes, “The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.” This is because happiness is an inside job.

Two questions I’ve taken with me from the book that bear some reflection…

First: “Is this useful?” Which we can ask ourselves anytime we find that we are planning, ruminating, projecting, worrying, and the like. In other words, preparations are sometimes required, but to what extent? If we have passed the point of usefulness, it’s time to stop.

Second: “What matters most?” This is particularly helpful anytime we find ourselves worrying about the future. It’s useful for us to be aware of what we really want. We may not find that our life situations tick all the boxes, but when we can identify what’s most important, we can make decisions more easily, and can create a life that satisfies our most deeply held values.

Meditation is a different experience for everyone, and the results can be both subtle and profound at the same time. The beauty is that nothing much is required…only the willingness to inquire within.

Yoga as Medicine

A recent issue of Oprah Magazine features an article by Laura Hilger entitled “The Yoga Prescription.” The message is something that I’ve been telling people for a while: that yoga is not just about stretching. The idea of yoga as medicine, or therapy, is a new one for a lot of people.

I came to my yoga practice as therapy, unlike most people, who begin yoga as a fitness-related practice. I wanted to find some calm amidst the chaos inside my head. I never really considered myself athletic, and I certainly didn’t think I was flexible.

People now tell me how fit and flexible I am on a regular basis. I’m not entirely sure it’s true, but these things are all relative. Almost anyone who commits to a regular yoga practice will gain muscle tone and increase flexibility. For me, those are secondary to yoga’s primary emotional benefit: feeling good.

You just can’t put a price on feeling good.

And when it comes down to it, how many safe and legal ways are there to feel good anyway? It’s a short list, for sure. If you add to that the physical benefits, yoga is a winning combination.

One of my spiritual teachers is fond of saying that meditation (which is part of the practice of yoga) gives you the same high as sex and drugs, only it’s sustainable. It’s a high you never come down from.

Find out for yourself.

Inquire within.

Inquire Within

“Nothing in the world can ever make you happy, because happiness comes from within.” – David Hawkins

I’ve been listening to Healing by Dr. David Hawkins on CD in my car. He presents a scenario: you are sitting in a chair, and someone comes in and hands you a bag of money. You immediately feel happier. But nothing in your life has really changed. You feel happier because you have a thought that reflects the belief that money can make you happy.

Likewise, your thoughts can make you unhappy. And they can be a reflection of limiting beliefs you hold about yourself and the world around you. So, thoughts generate feelings which create and color experiences in life.

Happiness is an inside job.


It may seem like it’s not true at first, but it is. Oh sure, life is easier (and arguably better) when you have good friends, a nice place to live, and a great job.

But true happiness isn’t a feeling state, it’s a being state.

Feelings are reactive, and transitory. If you spend your life chasing a happy feeling, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Think of some of the happiest people you know. I mean the ones who are always up. The ones you feel good just being around. Are they happy because of circumstances? Or because of an attitude and approach to life that reflects an unshakeable inner quality?

Want to start an inner journey towards greater happiness and well-being? Meditation is a good first step. Why? Because a meditation practice makes you more aware of your thoughts, and your thoughts shape your experience of the world. How do you change your thoughts? Start by watching them – the act of observation itself is powerful because it makes you less reactive.

The big picture? Change your thoughts, and you will change your life.

The Heat of the Moment

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” – Anne Lamott

One of the important things I’d like to think I’ve (mostly) learned over the years is not to make decisions in the emotional heat of the moment.

Sometimes, in the midst of an emotional storm, it’s tempting to take some action, to relieve the pressure of the intensity of our feelings. We can start to mistakenly believe that if we take drastic action, we will arrive at the solution to the problem, whatever it may be.

Unfortunately, this is rarely (if ever) the case. In my own life, I haven’t yet made a decision in a state of emotional turmoil that seemed wise when I considered it later. As an adjunct to this, conflict resolution became much easier when I learned that every thought does not need to be shared aloud. Indeed, there are a great many better left unsaid.

One of the things I noticed when I started meditating was the sheer amount of garbage manufactured by my mind, on an almost constant basis. I daresay this power would be impressive if it could be put to good use – though I think that’s the idea behind affirmations and positive thinking. But sometimes the mind has to be left to just wear itself out spinning crazy, awful stories.

And they are just that: stories. Fortunately, a regular meditation practice helps make that clear, because when we start to believe our own stories we’re treading on dangerous ground.

Eventually the mind grows tired, and we can step out of the “thought-emotion-action” loop, thereby gaining access to our greater wisdom. If we can weather the emotional storm, watching it until it dies down, and acting in the calm after the storm, we stand a better chance of achieving the outcome we truly want.

It’s a process, and a non-linear one at that. In the words of Anne Lamott, “You can get the monkey off your back but the circus never leaves town.”

That’s why they call it a practice.

The Pursuit of Happiness

I recently read Jane Gruber’s article “Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You” in which she discusses the downside of being up. Now, while it’s great to maintain a positive attitude, I think that Gruber makes a valid point when she states that “Happiness is not suited to every situation.” Many of the proponents of positive thinking and affirmations would have us believe that it’s never ok to feel bad: that by doing so we are energetically drawing toward ourselves all that we actually seek to avoid.

Try telling that to someone who has recently experienced a significant loss or major life challenge.

If we define happiness as an emotion that we experience, then it seems unlikely that we’d be able to experience just one end of the emotional spectrum at all times. We might realistically have to concede a little time to unhappiness, too. But the thing about that is, by contrast, the good times will seem that much better.

Perhaps it’s also true that happiness can make us just a little bit too comfortable. If we feel happy, we’re less likely to strive for something more in our lives. A little contentment goes a long way. Too much of it can be a dangerous thing, at least in terms of ambition and personal drive.

Of course, in all of this discussion we are focused on happiness as a feeling that is generated by external circumstances and experiences.

The Buddhists would say that it is a mistake to rely on external circumstances to generate our happiness. That such an attitude will leave us grasping for something we’ll never be able to hold onto or sustain. And this will only serve to make us more unhappy. It will also take away from our experience of the present moment.

There is a joy inherent in being present in each moment as it arises, knowing that nothing lasts; indeed the only constant is change. Each experience is precious for precisely that reason.

One of the greatest gifts of yoga, meditation, and other spiritual practices is that they awaken our ability to Be Here Now. There is beauty in every moment, if we are awake enough to experience it.

The Lone Wolf?

“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy.

‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.’ He continued, ‘The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’” (Source: http://www.firstpeople.us)

It’s sometimes difficult for people to admit darker tendencies (either to others or to themselves). It’s not often acknowledged that we all have the potential for great kindness or great cruelty. Thus the true measure of a person is not any intrinsic goodness, but how s/he utilizes the power of choice in daily decision making and interactions with other people.

It might seem safer to be the mean wolf. Kindness, benevolence, and generosity might be easily taken advantage of. But anger, superiority, and other displays of power can inspire fear in others, and therefore serve to make us feel less vulnerable. While I don’t deny that suppressing our darker tendencies is less than helpful, at the same time, surely feeding them is equally unwise.

I don’t remember who it was that first told me that there is strength in gentle-ness. Or in essence that true strength involves being gentle, precisely because you have nothing to prove. It’s weakness and vulnerability that seeks to inspire fear in others for a kind of safety motivated by a need for self-preservation. On the other hand, there’s a quiet confidence that goes with being strong and centered and at home in oneself. It’s not showy, but it is enduring and easily recognized.

When it comes to exercising the power of choice and conscious decision making, meditation and other spiritual practices are an important tool in creating a gap between experience and reaction. They allow us to build an awareness and respond to situations in our lives according to our values, rather than reacting out of habit and conditioning.


On Worry

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” – Winston Churchill

Most of the things I worry about never happen, which leads me to believe that worry is merely a habit, or maybe an addiction. It can be extremely harmful because it takes focus and attention away from the present moment.

The thing is, worries always seem to be legitimate at the time. But we’re really not warding off anything by worrying. In fact, the opposite is true. By worrying we’re feeling into possibilities we don’t want to have happen, which actually have not yet happened, and may not ever happen at all.

One way out of worry is by creating new habits: essentially re-training the mind. The way to begin training the mind is by watching your thoughts, noticing the stories your mind creates. The key though is that the exercise is just watching, not judging. There are no good thoughts or bad thoughts. Just stories, projections on a movie screen. They aren’t real. They can’t hurt you. They are not who you are. And, you don’t have to try to stop them (thankfully), or do anything with them at all.

Thought-watching is a foundational aspect of meditation. It’s become clear to me over the years that many people think of meditation as something that only a few really special people can do. It’s simply not the case. But meditation requires discipline. It isn’t easy or fun. Nobody pats you on the back for doing it. Nobody, in fact, will even know that you’re doing it, unless you tell them.

Will meditation change your life? Probably not in the way that you expect. (And no, it won’t happen overnight.) Meditation is self-discovery and self-recovery. You don’t know what you’ll find along the way, but that’s part of the adventure.

Inquire within.