Monday, 17 June 2013

Right Back at Ya - Finding the Happy Medium

Medium Well Done

     I remember being shocked once at a Tony Robbins seminar when we did an empowering exercise. We were asked to recall a time when we were truly happy. We had to hold that picture in our minds and focus on the feelings it created.

     At first I thought there was something wrong with me. I simply couldn't summon up anything appropriate. During the coffee break it turned out that most people felt the same way. There were times of laughter. There were times of perceived joy. The feeling of "happiness" itself was harder to define.

     In this post I'll be taking a look at what we identify as happiness and the things we reflect upon to capture that feeling. Some of the most powerful tools for reducing suffering, if happiness can be in any way defined in that way, are around us all the time.


     As it turned out, this confusion was all part of the exercise. Most people when they are asked to picture a situation that makes them happy will think of physical objects. Taking it a step further our modern society encourages us to think of belongings and money as the route to happiness. Once we have those belongings or a stash of money in the bank we can't understand why we still feel empty.

     All those things that we can attain and all that cash we can accumulate create a temporary state that evaporates or changes in some way sooner or later. The things that make us happy are more often the simple things that we experience.

     I first started to realize this when I had a 90 minute flight in a small aircraft. I took to the skies with an experienced pilot who even let me take control for five minutes. That experience stays with me to this day. I'll probably die with a memory of it clear in my mind. It doesn't really matter whether my memory becomes altered with age. What's important is that I attach my own meaning of happiness to that experience. It would be impossible for someone to tell me that I wasn't happy in that moment.


     Flying demonstrates how we use focus to calm our minds. Being engrossed in something creates that feeling. I don't even know that I'd call it happiness but it's certainly not an unhappy feeing. For me it's a stillness of mind. In today's world it's very hard to achieve that. I, personally, need something that draws my attention and focuses my thoughts.

     At first I found this very hard to achieve. I sought out complicated and extravagant experiences so that my attention was drawn into one all consuming moment. This, however, is the stuff of delusion. It's like drinking alcohol to change your state. I want to be able to do that consciously now and in a way that doesn't deprive me of other experiences.

     These active experiences are great to create vivid and sustainable memories. When searching for something that makes me feel more than happy - content, fulfilled, relaxed, maybe - I look to the state of my mind rather than the effect an event or an object has on it.

     I want my external situation to be reflected in my internal state and vice versa. To experience that I was once told to close my eyes, count slowly to ten and then to ask myself "What will my next thought be?" It's an interesting exercise. If you've never done it, try it. What you experience is something in meditation that's called "the gap". This is what creates that feeling of calmness in life. To have that moment of nothingness is a brief release from all suffering.

     We create the feeling from within. As we meditate we focus on the breath entering and leaving the body through the nostrils. A meditation teacher can guide you through images, sounds, colours, and maybe even mantras to achieve greater focus and calm. If you've never explored it then you can feel a bit exposed and self-conscious. Although "self" consciousness is what we're aiming at it.

     A good way to make the transition between actual experience and starting to reflect is to move towards images or reflections as a means of focus. Using real elements available in the real world helps this process. It's very calming to stare upon the surface of calm water, for instance. If there's a vivid reflection then the mind finds it less abstract and deals with it more naturally.


     Fire can be a bit problematic. It's one of the more violent elements. It can be associated with some very destructive forces. Controlled fire, on the other hand, is a very therapeutic and calming influence.

     I once read that the TV has taken the place of the hearth in the modern household. The theory was that it would be unacceptable to expect someone to douse their fire. So why would you expect someone to turn off their TV if you visited? I can see a trace of sense in this argument. I do think that it falls down in terms of the type of energy produced.

     A real fire has fewer distractions. It focuses the mind really effectively. Its properties to calm the spirit far exceed the busy programmes we might like to watch. When you gaze on a real fire it's possible to see stories in the flames and we've moved one step further towards reflection without the scaffold support of a real reflection. In addition you have the sounds and smells that it emits. I love the heady aroma of peat or turf as it smoulders in a timeless way.


     To be close to nature is to feel the majesty and power of the Universe. This is the law of creativity in its purest essence. When I contemplate the mountains that surround me in West Cork and Kerry I have the most amazing feeling of space. This is the kind of feeling I'm trying to create within me when I meditate.

     To experience this raw energy is to be grounded and certain. There are times when I will sit and stare at the mountains in awe. There are other times when I will just sit in the mountains with my eyes closed and experience their millenia old and ancient power.

All Things Considered

     Not everybody lives in beautiful countryside or has the opportunity to walk on a beach at the end of the day. A really powerful way to experience all the elements is to watch the sun rising or setting. The slow pace of its progress at these times has the most amazing and calming effect.

     Walking on the beach and watching a sunset is powerful because of the combination of all the elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Wind and Water. If I consciously take note of these elements and the way they interact then I start to feel the connection with everything in its most fundamental way.

     Most people have the opportunity to experience this at some stage in their lives either in the course of a holiday or travelling. Even if it's not a permanent or enduring state this is where the cultivated mind can ingest these experiences and use them to restore balance and calm in the busiest of situations.

     But it takes practice. Starting with some of these methods will help establish the visual world within and then from there most people establish their own preferences. Right now I'm off to lie on a sandy beach and feel the silken threads radiating from my body that connect me to everything else that exists in the Universe and beyond.