When you anticipate connection, pleasure, and satisfaction and it doesn’t happen, you can feel disappointed, even heartbroken. It’s easy to link happiness to specific circumstances, but consider that there may be a quality of happiness that isn’t dependent on anything, that has no cause or requirement. This happiness comes from a place of freedom within you.
When we are not actively engaged in a task, the default tendency of the mind is toward thoughts of the future or thoughts of the past, orienting us in time and orienting us in our story of self. Your question reflects these tendencies, but you can learn to incline your mind in a different way. A first step is to open to the possibility that happiness may be available to you in this very moment. There is so much to notice in “the now” that may be nourishing, life-giving and hopeful, and you can instantly find refuge in it.
You are not trying to get rid of planning thoughts or sad feelings. You are simply welcoming and including all experiences as they arise and pass away. We so often think we’re happy because of our circumstances. For example, we may be in nature hearing the sound of a bird, seeing the color of the sky, or with someone dear to us, hearing their laugh. But what allows us to be happy is our quality of presence. We cannot be happy when we’re caught up in thinking of the past or future. But in the now, we can reconnect with the vast, loving awareness that’s holding us and feel at peace — come what may.
A Meditation For Presence
Here is a practice for arriving more fully into presence. If, during this practice, feelings of loss arise, welcome them and let them be held in a kind awareness.
Rest in a posture that allows you to feel relaxed and alert, with your eyes open. Allow yourself first to look around where you are, opening your awareness to your body and the senses. Sense your body as it is, seated, standing or reclining. See the colors around you, the patterns of light and darkness. Looking around, let yourself relax and take in the environment. And when you are ready, bring your attention back to your body. Allow your eyes to close and relax more fully.
Let your eyes and face be soft, loosen your jaw, let your shoulders relax, your arms and hands resting easily. Sit with a sense of alertness and with a deep invitation for presence and relaxation. Begin to experience everything with your senses as you sit quietly. Notice the sounds that come and go. Notice if there are any odors in the room, any sense of smell or taste. And notice the sensations in your body. Scanning through your body, sense any areas of ease or tightness, warmth or cool, vibration or stillness, pleasure or pain. Receive all sensations with a kind attention.
Now bring attention to the state of your heart. Is there sadness, or interest, or gratitude, or excitement, or tenderness? Does your heart feel open or closed? Without any judgment, just notice what is here with kindness. And now notice the states of mind that are present, paying attention to the thoughts and images that come and go. There may be imagining, planning, remembering, doubting, judging, or a quiet curiosity. And finally, return to the sense of the body resting here.
Notice your “play of experience” with a spacious and kind attention. Sense how you can use it to arrive more fully into the present moment. You can develop the capacity to receive your life in an openhanded way, from a place of receptivity and care. Trusting in this capacity allows hope to rise.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Kindfulness (Buy on Amazon, $20).