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Happiness and Contentment

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How can meditation bring us happiness and contentment?

Meditation brings happiness and contentment into our lives by aiding us to free ourselves from the cycles of suffering in which we constantly find ourselves. We are all very familiar with these cycles, yet each time they arise we get more and more tangled in them. We become angry, depressed, jealous, and so on, even though we don’t want to feel that way. We know it hurts but again and again we find ourselves in the same situation.

To break these patterns we need to truly understand, through our own experience, what is actually happening in the moment. We need to be able to step back from the chaos and see what is going on. Why do I get stuck again and again? Why do things never seem to be quite the way I would like them to be?

The answer is found by understanding the mind, for it is through our minds that we relate to the world. To be able to do this we need a viewing platform, one that will allow us to deeply observe and understand how these cycles are created and how they can be ended.

Awareness Meditation creates this platform and the Buddha taught this technique over 2500 years ago and called it Satipatthana Vipassana (insight meditation). Awareness or insight meditation allows us to see clearly and directly through our own experience, the interaction between mind and body, through the intensification of our awareness. Knowledge developed from the observation of the mind-body process helps us to understand how we create suffering for ourselves, therefore making us more sensitive to what we think, say and do. This sensitivity is reflective of the depth of our understanding of the interaction between mind and body, and it becomes a protection which brings more contentment and happiness into our lives.

What do we become sensitive to?

We become sensitive to the motivations driving our actions and waking up from our normal habit of sleep-walking through life, we don’t just react on auto-pilot as we are normally conditioned to do. During meditation we first observe that before any action there is a mental intention to act. As clarity of our observation grows we start to become more sensitive to the whole process involved in everything that we do, allowing us to see clearly that every action produces a result. This makes us more careful about what we think, say or do, as we start to understand how we ourselves construct our own happiness or unhappiness.

The key to this is the level of our sensitivity towards all our intentions and the mental states driving them, for it is at the stage of intention that we have a choice whether to act on our intentions or, letting them pass, take a different path, one that will lead to our future happiness. This gives us more freedom, allowing us to actively direct our lives instead of being pulled blindly along in any direction that our desires take us.

It is important that we are brutally honest with ourselves about the motivating force behind what we do. If it is driven by wanting to gain something for ourselves other then a wholesome state of mind, then the action cannot be said to be pure and it will result in more suffering.

Why do we act in a way that will bring about our own unhappiness instead of happiness?

Because we never take the time to stop and look. It is more comfortable to follow our normal way of doing things, even if this constantly brings about our own suffering. It is easier to believe that our happiness and unhappiness is dependant on external situations.

This thinking gives us no freedom and denies us our responsibility. We act blindly, not seeing what is actually happening in the moment. Not understanding our own conditioning, not see the interaction between mind and body, we seem to have no choice, and act out of the habitual patterns we have created. Yes I did say that we have created them. To understand this is to bring the responsibility of our own happiness and unhappiness back to ourselves. With this understanding we no longer blame any outside object or situation for the state of mind we are in.

Through practicing awareness meditation we come to understand the patterns through which we react to situations when they arise. These patterns can be based on aversion, movements of the mind away from objects, ranging from shifting our bodies or scratching an itch to outright anger for a situation not being the way we would like it to be. Or they can be based on greed, movements of the mind towards objects, ranging from squeezing in that extra spoonful of food through to uncontrollable lust for something or someone.

Each one of these reactions has the potential to develop into a conditioned pattern. Being conditioned, we react automatically, and therefore we are not free. Lacking freedom, we continue to act out the same patterns again and again, regardless of the fact that we are burnt each time. And so we suffer.

Why do these patterns become so ingrained and our automatic way of doing things?

The Buddha likened the process of constructing these patterns to a cart travelling along a road and crossing a muddy ditch. Each time the cart crosses the ditch taking the same path its wheels leave a deeper imprint in the mud. The deeper the imprint the more likely the wheels of the cart will follow the same track. The same thing happens with the way that we react to a situation when it arises. Every time we react in a certain way the reaction becomes more deeply ingrained into our minds, eventually creating who we are.

But there is a positive side to this. The driver of the cart, being aware of the terrain, can also decide to direct the vehicle along a different line, not taking the usual path. At first it can be difficult to get out of the old tracks, but once free of them the driver can change direction easily at any point. This gives us the freedom to choose the correct path at any moment; this is where our freedom lies. At any point along the track we have a choice to change direction and take a more productive one, which will lead to our happiness rather then unhappiness.

With practice we can gain some understanding of our patterns, how we create them and how we get caught up in them. We come to see that when we perform an action, whether wholesome or unwholesome, that response to a situation will tend to arise again in the future as it becomes imprinted in our mind. The more we react in a particular way, the more bound to that reaction we become.

How can we change our patterns?

First we must understand through our own direct experience the various mental processes that lead us to grasping after or pushing away any experience. We need to clearly understand how our intentions drive all our actions, our thoughts, emotions, speech and physical activity. Reacting through our thoughts, emotions, speech and physical activities creates its own result, which conditions our future happiness.

Very early on in our meditation practice we can observe our conditioned patterns and how they are created. We see that each time we react to an intention by following it through, these patterns become more and more deeply ingrained in our minds and eventually they become our natural way of reacting. Through repetition we strengthen the desire behind them, and they become so strong that we feel as if we have no choice but to react how we always do.

Through observing this process we come to understand that at any point we can choose to follow it through or to change our intention and react in a different way. We can only do this if we can see clearly what is really going on. This clarity allows us to understand the various mental processes that are involved in our patterns and how they cause each other to arise, therefore giving us the opportunity to change the direction in which they are taking us. This can’t be done by intellectualising, but only through stopping and watching what is actually happening in the moment.

Once we take responsibility for our own happiness and suffering, we can come to understand how we create them, thus allowing us to start to decondition our old patterns and not create any new ones.

This is a major benefit of awareness meditation as it is the only way we can come to understand, through our own direct experience, how we cause our own suffering and how we can end it.

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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you