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Tahlia Newland

Meditation is the basis of happiness

Meditation is the basis of happiness. That might seem like a big, maybe even outrageous, claim to some of you, but it is the truth. How so?

Happiness doesn’t depend on what happens to you, but on how you see, think and feel about what happens to you.

Here’s an example: John and Jenny are visiting their Grandma. She serves them a cream filled chocolate cake. John is happy because he likes chocolate cake but Jenny is unhappy because she has sworn off eating chocolate cake and having one in front of her is making it extremely difficult for her to stick to her vow. It’s the same external situation for both people, but one is happy about it and one is unhappy.

Here’s another example: It’s a rainy day. The farmer is thrilled because his crops are getting much needed water. The movie maker is unhappy because they can’t shoot the scene they were planning on, and waiting for it to stop will blow out the budget.

Even if the external situation isn’t good, if you know how to work with your mind, you can still be happy.
In the first example, Jenny is unhappy because she is struggling with conflicting desires. She wants the cake, but she tells herself that she can’t have it. If she doesn’t eat it, she will feel that she has missed out on something good. If she does eat it, she will feel guilty. For so long as she is listening to those thoughts, she cannot win.

Meditation practice teaches you the skills you need to be able to handle such inner conflicts with equanimity. In meditation you learn to see your thoughts from a distance, as if you are watching them roll like credits across a movie screen. You don’t try to stop them, but you don’t latch onto them either, you simply watch them pass by. Jenny can observe her thoughts about the cake without getting emotionally involved in them, and if emotion does arise, she can let that go too. That’s the kind of skill that regular meditation practice teaches you.

The state of non-distraction is a happy state.
Meditation practice brings us to the state of non-distraction where we can remain in our centre of awareness and nothing perturbs us. Nothing distracts us from our peace of mind, hence we are happy and the longer we can remain in that state, the happier we are. This state is not just something we aim to enter into on our meditation cushion, we aim to bring into every moment of our lives. Without this ability to be unperturbed by our thoughts and emotions, it doesn’t matter how many jewels and fancy clothes we have, we will never be truly happy, but with it, we can be happy in any situation.

Integration takes time but you have to have something to integrate.
At first we can only manage to taste the state of non distraction in formal meditation practice, but with more practice we will be able to bring it into our lives, at first in occasional snatches in non threatening situations, and finally, after much practice, we will be able to maintain it even in difficult circumstances. Without formal practice, we will not be familiar enough with this state to be able to bring it into our lives, hence we do need to sit.

These are the steps we go through in integrating the skills we learn in meditation.
1. You have no awareness of what’s happening in your mind.
2. You are aware of your thoughts and emotions but you don’t see the effect they have on your happiness.
3. You are aware of the effect your thoughts and emotions had on your happiness after the event.
4. You are aware of your thoughts and emotions and the effect they have on your happiness while they are happening but you aren’t able to change them or how you relate to them.
5. You are aware of your thoughts and emotions and deal with them as they arise.
6. You don’t particularly have to do anything because thoughts and emotions never bother you.

I think it’s a goal worth working for, do you?