Notes from: Searching for Happiness
November 18, 2012
Many thanks to those of you who were able to join my workshop on November 18th! As promised, here are some notes from our time together. I hope you enjoyed our yoga practices, and that some of them will support you in your journey towards the inner self – our source of inner joy, peace and wellbeing.
Hope to see you again on January 20th, for our FREE “Go With The Flow” workshop!
PART ONE: THE ROAD TO HAPPINESS IS FILLED WITH MANY WRONG TURNS
As we discovered in our “mind games”, the brain means well, but in trying to make life easier for us (eg. fill in information when it is missing; interpret information when it is confusing; alter our memory based on the last few minutes of the experience), it often feeds us information that is quite deceptive.
External reality is a construct, therefore happiness derived from the environment can potentially be a construct too.
In terms of our day to day living, much of the deception that goes on is to help us conduct our lives with minimal regard for ordinary things. We can then concentrate on the things that require more cognitive processing. So, for example, as we look at the world, we don’t have any blind spots – or do we?
We take for granted that what the brain is telling us about the external world, is accurate and correct, but as you just found out in our games, it is NOT.
Therefore if we are seeking happiness outside of our selves, in the external world that our brain has constructed, beware of the messages your unconscious mind is giving you. By trying to make life easier for you, it may also preventing you from experiencing what is really there.
We are wired this way – no point in denying it or trying to fight it. But knowing that this can and does occur, is the key to awareness and more clarity.
When we meet someone new, or have a different experience, or see a sight we have never encountered before – can we experience it with fresh eyes, or will we automatically allow our brains to categorize it into something or someone we have met before. Will we allow our brains to do a “Been there, done that” or will we open our senses to a fresh experience?
Can we inhibit the unconscious chatter of the mind and connect with our deep, inner awareness so that the conscious mind directs our thoughts, instead of our thoughts directing us?
PART TWO: ARE YOU THE PASSENGER OR THE DRIVER EN ROUTE TO HAPPINESS?
Practice being the driver – sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and do the guided visualization we shared. You can choose whatever setting you prefer: the stream in a sacred grove; a mountain top; perhaps the ocean.
Select a place that is meaningful to you, and connects you with your inner self. Breathe deeply and use all of your senses to help you reach inward and be still. Let your thoughts come and go without engaging in them. Experience a connection with your inner self, your conscious mind, where you can always find peace, joy and well-being.
The Happiness Formula
The fields of neuropsychology and neuroscience have been trying to sort out the question of what makes a happy person happy. Is it nature (genetics) or is it nurture (environment)? To see what effect genetics and environment have on happiness, they have studied thousands of identical twins as well as thousands of fraternal twins.
They discovered that our predisposition for Happiness is 50% genetic. Fifty per cent of our “biological set point” as they call it, is inherited.
But that leaves another 50% that can be changed. Of that, 10% of our “happiness” can be attributed to the circumstances of our life and may or may not be something we can alter (eg. poverty, disability, sickness, war, etc etc). The final 40% cent is under voluntary control.
If we don’t learn to assume control of that 40%, we are merely the passengers in the car on this trip of life, destined to arrive at whatever destination our genetics determine for us.
PART THREE: LET’S GET IN THE CAR AND DRIVE
Researchers have actually discovered that when people focus their awareness on certain thoughts, such as in meditation, they can see the corresponding area of the brain light up with synaptic activity. But what is even more interesting than that, after just eight weeks of meditating, the actual density of the synapses and the grey matter in that area of the brain, INCREASE, making it easier for those thoughts to occur the next time. Hence the expression, ” What fires together, wires together.”
For some, it is difficult to just sit and visualize or meditate. If you are like me, your body gets twitchy, and the mind soon follows. Combining the thought, the breath and the body however, are an effective way of grounding your mind and focusing on a particular intention while connecting with your inner self. You can do this with eyes open or closed, whatever is comfortable for you.
We practiced 4 different moving meditations:
1. Lying on your back doing Dirga breathing with So Hum mantra
2. Sitting up with legs crossed: Inhale (raising arms on inhale; lowering on exhale) for Joy and Sorrow
3. Sitting on heels: Inhale love; Exhale fear
4. Standing: Inhale gratitude; Exhale control
To open up the heart centre, limber the thoracic spine and embrace a sense of abundance
• Mountain Pose (engage bhandas)
• Warm up Half Sun Salutations (4)
• Modified full Sun Salutations
• Triangle; Warrior 2
• Modified Moon Salutation
• Hanging Forward Fold
• Child Pose: breathe air into the back of your heart centre to receive love
Nadi Shodana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
For balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and balancing Nadis (Pathways of energy):
• Ida: left side, Chandra, feminine energy; parasympathetic nervous system
• Pingala: right side, Surya, masculine energy, sympathetic nervous system
With Mudra and pinching off nostrils:
• gently close Right nostril; start by inhaling Left nostril
• gently close L nostril; exhale R
• inhale R
• gently close off R nostril, exhale L
• inhale L
That represents one set; repeat this ten times to balance your energy and find calm.
Law of Relativity (and it’s not Einstein’s – but it is brilliant!)
Neuroscientist believe that we assess our happiness by comparing ourselves to others.
That is why the Penn State General Happiness Scale contains a question that asks you to compare yourself to your peers, with respect to, “How Happy Are You?” Because we determine in part, our happiness compared to others.
Bruce Hood, in his book, “The Self Illusion” talks about our social identity and how we come to perceive ourselves through the Looking Glass of “us” and “them” or “us” living in this particular set of circumstances.
It seems to be part of the human condition for us to assess our levels of happiness by comparison; unless otherwise defined, happiness for many people is a relative state rather than an absolute condition. But by comparing ourselves to others, and relying on our external environment for positive emotion, our happiness is vulnerable to changes in other people, things, and circumstances around us. And since nothing remains constant except change, we are bound to experience unhappiness as long as we hitch our happiness to things outside of ourselves.
How do we steer the car? By going inside ourselves, centering our thoughts, and therefore our emotions, on our inner nature – that part of us which is always calm and joyful.
Pushpum Meditation (Flowers of the Heart)
Our final meditation helps us to focus on our inner selves, and nurture attitudes that create peace and love in our lives. In short, what makes us happy.
Imagine each of these as a flower. Inhale the thought; pause; on the exhale, plant the flower in your heart, using the mudra we learned.
Ahimsa – no harm
Pratyahara – control of the senses
Metta – Loving Kindness
Kshama – Forgiveness
Santi – Peace
Tapas – Fire, Discipline
Jhaman – Wisdom
Satyam – Truth
Inhale: bring all your fingers in to touch your thumb – Pushpum
Exhale: plant all the flowers in your heart
May you find love, laughter and joy in your inner journey!