Living a life that is inherently worthwhile comes from being present to it. True contentment is not based on favorable circumstances. It’s about awareness. The less we fight what is, the more grateful we can be in the present moment. We unknowingly block happiness with our expectations, entitlement and need for control. Recognizing and working with these obstacles clears the way to cultivate the roots of contentment.
As it is in gardening, so it is with life. We plant seeds for what we want to grow.
There are specific roots that can be directly cultivated. These roots include the capacity for being present, generosity of spirit, gratitude, loving-kindness and forgiveness. As these capacities are nourished, we become increasingly connected to our true nature – in which happiness is a natural by-product.
To experience genuine equanimity, we need to:
- Name what blocks it and work with it.
- Cultivate the seeds of contentment
Ezra Bayda, a Zen meditation teacher, suggest that we ask ourselves three questions. The first is “Am I truly happy right now?” Let’s assume the answer is no. Say, you’re running late and traffic is bad.
The next question is “What is blocking happiness?” This takes us into our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It may be difficult to answer, at first, because the ego is invested in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Stay with it and eventually you may hear something like, “Traffic shouldn’t be this bad!” (thought), “I’m going to get fired!” (fear), or maybe you notice tension in your body (behavior/sensation).
The final question to ask is “Can I surrender to what is?” And herein lies the reward. When we see that it is our thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are the source of discontentment we are in position to drop the narrative.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Perseverance is key to developing a fruitful spiritual life. We also want to be careful not to turn the pursuit of happiness into another craving. If we do, the ego will think it’s something we are entitled to which will defeat the purpose. A simple exercise to do each night is to reflect on your day. While lying in bed, recall the main events starting with the first memory of the morning. Try to do this at the same time each night before you are exhausted.
The mind will lure you to think, analyze or have some opinion on the events of the day. Don’t get pulled in. Return to reflecting, objectively, on the events of the day. Once the review is complete ask, “What am I most grateful for?”
Over time, this practice will impact your daily life in powerful ways. Without effort or force, gratitude will grow in your waking life. Small wonders like access to clean water or paved streets will bubble up to consciousness. These are not trivial things, yet I take them for granted all the time. Remembering how fortunate I am to have them is a gift.