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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Exercise nine: creating your own Paradise

Posted on Happy Minds!

Exercise 9: creating your own Paradise

This exercise is based on the technique of visualisation. Just try it once or twice, and if you like it, do it whenever you like. It is useful for creating a peaceful, happy mood. You need to be able to envision a picture of a beautiful place in your mind, with your eyes closed.

If you find it hard to envision such a place, use any book or go on the net and use a search-engine and find some images of beautiful places. Personally, I love to look at the pictures by Matthieu Ricard, but any picture that you find irresistibly beautiful will do. Look at these pictures until you feel you will be able to create a similar picture in your head with your eyes closed.
Maybe you’ll find it hard to concentrate, if so: first do the simple breathing exercise described in exercise 3.
After that, again look at some pictures until you’re ready.
Some suggestions: The Medicine Buddha Mantra, The most beautiful places in the world, Beautiful nature.

OK, when you’re ready, Sit down in a comfortable position. Straight spine, head straight up, as if a thread comes from your crown-chakra and pulls you up. Close your eyes. Picture in your mind a beautiful, natural place. It doesn’t matter whether that place exists, or not.

Now see yourself sitting there. See yourself sitting in deep meditation. Probably you see yourself sitting in Lotus position, but sitting straight up with your back supported by a tree is also great. Look at yourself. Your face is so bright. It is full of joy, peace, beauty. Look around you. All kinds of animals like to be around you. Butterflies. Deer. Bears. And there’s no aggression in any of them, they are also full of joy just because they can be around you. There’s nothing negative or black here! Look further. Look at the forest or mountains in the distance. Look at the ocean, whatever is in your picture. Breath in deeply. Let go. Enjoy!

A beautiful rainbow is now forming right above your head. Try to see it as clearly as possible! There’s only light, love, relaxation, loving kindness, compassion. Now in the distance some children may be playing. Watch them. Enjoy.

If you start to feel completely relaxed, and a wonderful, warm, loving feeling is rising in your chest, imagine this: A sphere of white light is in your chest. It expands rapidly. In just seconds it envelopes the whole globe. And more spheres like that rise in your chest. What you are doing, is expanding your feeling of relaxation and love. Wooosh, let that energy expand from your chest. And again! And again! More! More! It is not possible to exaggerate this! Do it! Go for it!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The trap in trying to better your life

Posted on Happy Minds!

One of the traps that you might encounter when you start doing meditation, mindfulness exercises, changing your thinking patterns etcetera, is the following: You may start to realise that you judge other people ànd yourself, quite harshly. You may start to realise that deep down, you’re not such a good friend to others ànd yourself as you always imagined you would be. You may find that there’s a lot of anger, egocentricity, jealousy, pride, hunger for bliss and (sexual) fulfilment inside of you, which really makes you want to push all others aside without any consideration for their feelings. As long as you get your satisfaction. This way of putting it may sound a little exacerbated for most of you, but there is a dark side in all of us!

It takes a lot of courage to stay with these things. Not to walk away from them. Not trying to change them into something else. Seeing things for what they are, and just staying with them, so your learning process can really start. If you do not allow your anger and the reasons for it arising to be examined, how do you expect to get the full benefit of learning how to deal with these forces in your mind? You just do not want them to be there, that is the whole problem to begin with!

Fact is, you will not always be able to allow these dark sides of your persona to manifest fully in the open. It is not called your subconscious for no reason at all. You will run away from your negative traits at times. You will suppress them at times, you will try to drink/smoke/snort/meditate/yoga or think them away from time to time.

There’s a big trap in here. You can either accept that your process is not perfect, or you can make your process another reason for feeling resentment and disapproval for yourself. Also, you can either try to fight the facts that all human beings are going through a lengthy, faulty, troublesome journey which provokes them to big mistakes from time to time, or you can try to accept them for what they are. You can fool yourself, but really, are you without fault? Is there no ignorance, greed, jealousy, dishonesty or anger inside you? So you have attained Buddhahood already? Then answer these questions honestly: how come you feel so depressed or apathetic sometimes? How come other people have a problem with you from time to time?

The trap is, that trying to change your life for the better, can turn into a fight and another reason for discontentment itself.
It seems that the first thing you should focus on, is not loving yourself, others, the world or anything in it. The first thing you should try to see with some acceptance, warmth, gentleness and love, is the process of life itself. Try to accept that this process is not perfect, and similarly, you are not perfect. Life is not the way you want it to be, and it will never be the way you want it to be. Life has its own beauty. It helps a little if you try to accept that your life sometimes seems like a harsh, lengthy process, even though in reality it is very short. You are just not able to let go of your ego today!

Confucius said: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” If you can truly accept this, maybe you will not be completely dishearted when you meet setbacks. When you find it is very hard to change your behaviour. When you find you do everything right but still feel bad.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Being Denied Sex - a different approach to rejection

Posted on Happy Minds!

You feel like making out, and you start making hints towards your partner. You try to kiss him. You try to stroke her hair. You even compliment him on doing the dishes, although you feel he doesn’t do enough around the house. You say that you love her dress although you are really not to much interested in the thing, you just want her to take it of and make sweet love to you.

What happens? You significant other half doesn’t feel like it today. She is tired. He is feeling grumpy, he just wants to drink whisky and forget about the failure at work today. She thinks that you are secretly having an affair, and doesn’t feel like giving you anything. He is feeling you are always saying you want to talk more, but it’s always about your feelings, and never about his.

So, what do you see yourself doing in this occasion? What do you see happening? It might just happen, that you do not feel much love and friendship for your partner and friend at that moment. It might just happen, that deep inside, you get angry with this person that is denying you sex after a long day full of challenges. You may notice that the very feeling that it all started out with, wanting to get close to your partner, has now transformed itself into some kind of resentment.

This situation, is the bases for a lot of stress within relationships. It is often the prelude to arguments, bad moods and even fights. So, what is basically happening here, and what can be done about it?

What is basically happening, is that you feel a need. You feel a need for something that is important to you: intimacy. You cherish your important self, and feel that is would be unfair if your hunger is not satisfied. What is happening, is you forgetting about the other person that is there. You are loosing yourself in self cherishing thought. You are spending energy on pleasing the self you think is there inside you.

Let’s see what could happen if you would try to forget about your own important self.

Let’s go back. You sincerely tried to seduce your partner. You’ve tried to make it absolutely clear that you feel like enjoying some intimate pleasures. What happened? Your love didn’t respond the way you like. Now, instead of spending lots of energy on your feeling of disappointment, you decide another approach. First, you just look at these nasty feeling that you have. You see them for what they are: just electrical storms in neurons. Just the result of self cherishing thought, delusional thoughts that are based on the false assumption that you are more important than anybody or just somebody else. Look at these feelings, and do not elaborate on them. Do not deny them there place, do not fight them, but also refuse to throw more wood on this fire. Do not allow thoughts that kindle these flames, nor allow thoughts that try to extinguish this fire. What will happen, is that after a while, mostly just a matter of minutes, this feeling starts to subside. Why? Because that feeling is not something real. It is not an entity. It has no real existence of its own. It is only a fluctuation in energy. If it’s not suppressed nor fed, it ceases to exist altogether.

Now suppose you succeed in letting go of these nasty thoughts. Still, that doesn’t solve the issue: you felt like some steaming love, and you’re unable to get it. Well, the way to get it is certainly not trying to grab it, hold on to it and drag it in. That’s cavemen’s style!

The way to get it, is patience. It will happen to you, but maybe not just now. Is that really that bad? Tomorrow it may happen twice, but chances for that are small if you start an argument! And because it is not happening now, there is a much better opportunity for you here!
Obviously, your partner is not feeling like sharing intimacy with you. So, it might just be that something in your friends life, is blocking this form of interaction. It may be, that he or she is not feeling so well. It may be that he’s tired. It may be that she’s feeling disappointed or insecure about something. It may be that he’s sad. It may be that she’s angry about something. And since you’re not getting any at the moment, both your hands are free to give this person the love they need to get through the rough times in life. If you succeed in letting go of being so fond of yourself and what you whish for your own self, your lovely ego, you can spend the same energy that you wanted to spend on some love-making, on being a really good friend. On just being available for her. On just listening to him. On doing something you know that she loves you to get done, some chore, anything. On giving him a backrub without demanding something for yourself. On massaging her feet and serving her a good glass of wine and some beautiful French cheese.

You see, you can spend an enormous amount of energy on trying to force out of life and other sentient beings what you want for yourself. But by demanding things, you want to have bread without first planting corn. You want to relax before the things that need to be done are done. It seems, that in life things do not work like that! It seems that by giving you open the door to receiving. By diminishing your own ego, your own important self, that is, by not allowing yourself to go into self-cherishing thoughts, you open the door to being important to other people.

If you expect that you will become loved by other people after you succeed in impressing them, manipulating them, demanding things from them, how come it doesn’t work the other way around? Do you love people because they obtain success for themselves? Do you love people because they tell you what to do? Do you love people because they constantly want you to satisfy their needs? Think about this!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Exercise eight: Illusions!

Posted on Happy Minds!

"If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?" - Shantideva

Try to realise that the Now is sharp as a needle. It is infinitely small. There’s no beginning and no end to the Now. You could say: the past is the beginning of the Now, and the future is the End of the Now. But both the past and the future do not exist in the Now. If either or both of them would exist in the Now, there would be innumerable copies of everything; your body as it was a split second ago, and your body as it is Now. One can easily verify that this is not the case. Therefore, it is quite safe to conclude that the past and the future do not exist; only the Now exists. So, how can anything that does not exist be the beginning of anything? And how can something that does not exist be the end of anything? Let alone be the beginning or the end of Reality itself?

So, in conclusion, the Now does not have a beginning, nor does it have an end. It just IS. However, it is senseless to say that it is, because you can only say that something IS, if it has permanent qualities. And the Now does not have any permanent qualities. It continuously ceases to be. That also holds up for everything that is in the Now. The you of a split second ago just died!
The now is continually renewed. We perceive that as time. But in fact, time is a concept of the mind. Time does not exist in the Now. Because if time was to exist in the Now, the past and the future would also have to be real entities, which they are not. Past and future are entities made up by the mind.
The mind only exists, based on the concept of time. All assumptions of the mind are based on the basic concept of a past and future that exist in Reality. However, that basic concept is false, it is only an illusion. Therefore, the mind is an illusion itself.
If the mind is an illusion, all concepts held by the mind are illusions! So suffering and happiness are completely illusionary! So, why worry?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is the core of Buddhist teachings on emptiness. Nothings exists by itself, all exists because of a proces of cause and result. Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.
Posted on Happy Minds!

This is the teaching of one of the students of Buddha Gautama - Avalokitshvara - on emptiness.
This text is usually chanted rhythmically. When chanted in buddhist ceremonies, even drums are used. But it can also be put to nice music, as in this example.
Also, you can watch me read it for you on youtube.
The meaning is not easily explained. It is said that if you chant/read this sutra regularly, the meaning comes to you automatically.

The core concept that is taught in this sutra, is emptiness. We humans tend to see ourselves and everything around us, as permanent entities. When we feel bad about something, it is usually due to the fact that we assign qualities to things, people, situations and emotions, that in reality these things do not have. You say: that is a bad person. However, this "person" is just a collection of flesh and bones. It has a collection of cells we label as a brain. This brain runs a process that we call the mind, which assigns qualities to things which we categorise as either "good" or "bad" qualities. In reality, the concepts good and bad are labels that only exist in the mind! They are illusions, things that have no intrinsic reality of their own. They only exist in the mind, not on this planet.

To you, a wooden board with four legs is a table. To a termite it is dinner. To a caveman it is firewood, and to an alien, it is the weirdest object they've ever seen.
So, what you think is really a table, has no tableness of its own. It is only a table to you, because you assign that quality to this object. What is REALLY there, is "something" that is the result of sunshine, CO2, plants, human labour and a concept created in someone’s mind (also called: an invention). In the end, all these things only exist as a result of what was there before, so nothing has any reality of its own. Everything only "exists" as a result of what has happened before. So, reality is an ever changing now, with energy that reforms itself continually! It is not the permanent thing we keep it for! The truth about all things, is that what is in the now, was something else in the moment before now. And it will be something else in the moment after now. The atoms will not be in the same place they used to occupy in the previous moment. So, you say: this is a table. But while you said that, the "object" you are referring to, has undergone innumerable changes. It is not the same it was just a moment ago. This is the reason things first look new, then wear off, and in the end break. This is also the reason we get born, grow older and in the end die. The pattern change follows may have some predictability, but even this pattern is not a permanent thing.

Because you are afraid to die and loose things, you create an ego that tries to overcome the perishing nature of reality by clinging to things and trying to keep them into existance. There's a lot of happiness that you can obtain if you start realising that this clinging is just a thought proces. So, the clinging has no clingingness of its own. It is only a concept, an idea in your mind. Even the fear that creates the clinging, is nothing more than an illusion!

When you're angry, in reality, your anger has no substance. It is not something you can hold in your hand, neither does it really exist anywhere in the Universe. I cannot give you my anger, and I cannot receive your anger, only its consequences. You are making up your anger, because your also illusory ego feels threatened by reality (because it cannot influence reality as it wishes). So, your anger is just the result of your believe in the intrinsic reality of your own being. The "you" that "you" think of as real, is a concept in "your" mind. In reality, there is just a collection of bones, some organs, muscles, skin and hair. And there's a continually ongoing process of thoughts that are created by a specific collection of nerve cells in the organ we call the brain. So, where is that "you"? Is it in your body? Is it that ongoing thought proces? Think about it!

If you can realise the "truth" in this, bad emotions do not have so much power anymore, they will not rule your behaviour as badly as they do when you assign them qualities of inherent existence.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What this blog is NOT about

Posted on Happy Minds!

Many people associate happiness with having a party, so they like to find information on party supplies. You are not going to find any on Happy Minds!

Others want to increase their happiness by buying a new notebook, a fancy car like a Mercedes Benz, a BMW, an AUDI. Well, again, you are not going to find much of that on Happy minds.

Happy Minds will not offer you free Anti-virus Software, free e-books, free games or free online poker.

So, what is Happy Minds about? Well... Stick around, read some of the postings, and find out what could be much more valuable than all those things together. Happy reading!

Teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Posted on Happy Minds!

The Dalai Lama explains in this teaching the four noble truths. I think just watching this man already adds to your happiness, so: take your time and listen to this revered spiritual master.

here you find part two of this teaching, here part 3, and here part 4.


Posted on Happy Minds!

A book recommendation from a friend (Julia Mescheriakova): Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, 1990, New York: Harper & Row by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I've not read it (yet), but knowing Julia this is probably worth reading!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Exercise seven: Do something nice

Posted on Happy Minds!

This exercise is based on the Tibetan practice of Tonglen. I like to keep Tonglen practically, so it really changes your life and is not just some collection of lovely thoughts.

So here's the exercise:
Do something nice for somebody today. And do it for somebody you do not like at all. And do it without expecting anything in return. Do not even expect the interaction you have with this person to improve. At least try it, and carefully notice how you feel. If you cannot do it at the moment supreme, do something nice for yourself. That is: see that you have found one of the reasons that keep you from feeling true compassion. Give yourself the present of not judging yourself for not being able to do it, of welcoming your resistance to the act.
Why? Isn't that a stupid thing to do?

I'll give you some reasons why.

First of all, because we're all just human beings. Look at this smiling baby. We have all been like that. We have changed, but in our core, we are all still like that. We've learned, we've grown, but our DNA has remained the same!

And the person you dislike today could be your friend tomorrow, next year or in your next life. Resentment has never made anybody happy. The past is the past, it can never be changed. The future however, can be very different from the past, but only if you want it to be different. If you do something nice for a person you dislike, it may well be that in the future, you will not have such feelings of loathing and hatred against him or her.

Ask yourself this question: do you really like having these negative feelings? Don't you prefer love, kindness and friendship? If the latter has your preference, why don't you act accordingly? You can never change anybody else but yourself. You do not have to accept bad behaviour by others, but it is also not your "task" to correct, punish or hate them.

To me, this is what Jesus was referring to when he said: You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

—Matthew 5:38-42, NIV

I think it means that you refuse to allow negativity to flood your consiousness, even when facing people who are not treating you right.
When you start fighting back, and allow yourself to have feelings of hatred: no matter the cause, it is you who is responsible. There is nobody else in your mind but you, so it is always you deciding to allow these feelings to arise.

Also read this about tonglen by the hand of Pema Chödrön.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Exercise six: Awakening compassion.

A very nice exercise!
Being able to feel compassionate for other living beings can bring great happiness! If you are very competitive, if you strive to be the best, if you feel that others are stupid and blocking your progress, you are trying to achieve happiness by forcing the world to be what you think it should be. If you win, you feel great, but someone else looses and feels bad. And next time that someone may be you! If you feel that others are stupid, you are blocking kindness, good relations and you are cultivating feelings of pride and hatred. These feeling may not feel that bad sometimes, but they've never made anybody genuinely happy.
Loving kindness, compassion, friendship, those things DO have potential to make people happy. So if you do this exercise, you are opening your heart and allowing compassion to grow in it.

First, let me explain something about the mantra you are going to use here. Om mani padme hung is a very old mantra, used in Buddhism. It is the mantra of the Boddhisatva of Compassion: Avalokiteshvara, or in Tibetan: Chenrezig.

Avalokiteshvara is one of the students close to Buddha Gautama. He vows during his life, not to reach enlightenment himself, before he frees all living beings in all realms of samsara of their suffering. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amitabha Buddha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara attempts to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitabha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.

So actually, one could say that Avalokiteshvara is the archetype of a compassionate being.

Om mani padme hung is often pronounced as Om mani peme hung, which is the Tibetan way of pronunciation of this mantra. It should not be translated literally. It is said to contain all the teachings of the Buddha. When you recite this mantra, it is said to be very beneficial. I've experienced that this is true, the mantra helps to awaken compassion.

Read more information on these subjects here.

Let's start with the exercise!
Just sit in meditation posture, or on a good chair that allows you to keep your back straight.

Focus your eyes at a point just 1 meter before you, preferably on the floor. An image of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) is also good. Just notice how you feel. Notice your breathing, notice any pain or discomfort in your body. Do not elaborate on these things, just be aware. For ten minutes, just sit like this. Keep your head up straight, in line with your spine, and just sit. If a thought comes into your head, do not elaborate on that thought. For example, you start thinking:
"Oh, I have to remember to do the dishes, and what was it that I had to buy in the..." Stop, your thinking. Just stop the thought dead in its tracks. Your not sitting here in order to listen to your own chit chatter. Just focus on your breathing and body again.
After ten minutes or so, you will notice that your mind starts to quiet down. The train of thoughts will go slower and slower. At a certain point, you may start to notice "voids", moments not filled with any thought. Only awareness. If you start to feel more relaxed, you're ready for the exercise.

Keep sitting in the same posture. Put two fingers on your stomach, slide upward until you feel your breastbone. Go two fingers up until you touch your breastbone just below your heart. Keep your fingers there. Just apply enough pressure to feel your fingertips and breastbone well. Focus on this area. After a couple of minutes, remove your fingers, but keep your attention on this spot. If your mind starts to dwell, if you start having thoughts, don't do anything else but bringing your focus back to that point where your fingers have just been.
Say in your head "Om mani padme hung". Say the syllables slowly. Allow empty spaces to fall between the words. Think of the mantra again. And again. If it gets softer or louder, that is all OK. If you want to change the pace of saying the mantra, make it faster or even slower: that is fine.
Now after a couple of mantras, think of someone you really love. Think of something bad that has happened to this friend, or that might happen to him/her. See it as clearly in your mind as possible. Notice how you feel. Notice how a natural feeling of wanting to protect that person from such harm comes up. Probably it is located in your chest, at the same point you held your fingers. Focus on that feeling. Repeat the mantra: Om mani padme hum. Focus again on that feeling. If you cannot feel it anymore, again picture in your mind something bad happening to people you love. Feel how you want to prevent them from being hurt, from feeling bad. How much love you feel for them, how badly you want them just to feel happy. Make this feeling stronger, stronger, stronger. If it gets hard, repeat the mantra until you feel comfortable again. Now if you succeed in making this feeling very strong, think of all the living beings on this planet. Think of how all of them suffer. Send this same feeling of compassion to them. Embrace them with your love, give them your protection. Shelter them in your heart.
Do this exercise for at least ten minutes every day, and increase the time you spend on it if it feels good for you. It is very important that during the day, you try to feel that compassion again, when dealing with other living beings (people, animals, plants). Be kind to them. Protect them from harm. You may not succeed in doing that all the time. You may even harm other beings. Do not punish yourself or give up! Remember Avalokiteshvara, there is so much suffering in this world that his head split in eleven pieces! You don't have to be perfect like him, just try to be like that sometimes. With practice, you'll find that more and more compassion comes into your heart naturally.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pema Chödrön: expert on happiness

Posted on Happy Minds!

Some things are better explained by an expert. Please take some time to watch this video where Pema Chödrön explains some things about developing unconditional friendship with yourself. More by Pema Chödrön. By developing unconditional friendship with ourselves, we learn to abide with our own energy and overcome fear of that which is unfamiliar. In doing so, we also see our "sameness" with others, that we are all in the same boat. Practicing this further, we develop the unconditional ability to stand in others' shoes, not causing harm, and opening our hearts for others. Excerpted from talk 2 of Pema Chödrön's weekend retreat, A131: All in the Same Boat, May 2008. From Great Path Tapes and Books. gptapes@aol.com. These talks are also available on audio CD and MP3 CD.

The Maitreya Buddha Project

Posted on Happy Minds!

Love, kindness, friendship. Good healthcare and education. Beauty, preservation of values and culture. Those are all things that can be found in the Maitreya Project. This is a fantastic opportunity to create a lot of happiness for yourself and all other people in the world, by just giving some of your attention and a little money to this project!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Happy Minds Forum!

Posted on Happy Minds!

In order to facilitate any need for discussion you might feel, a Happy Minds forum has opened it’s doors for you today! Feel free to visit and leave your remarks!

Exercize five: just enjoy

Posted on Happy Minds!

This exercise is easy and if you enjoy it as much as I do, it will give you great happiness!

Just visit this site: http://www.photoby.fr/THE-PHOTOGRAPHERS-Matthieu-Ricard/c91_177/index.html

And watch the photos made by Matthieu Ricard. Just enjoy.
If possible, select one photo and buy it. It may give you great joy to own such a beautiful picture, and look at it every day. And the money is well spend; Matthieu donates most of his earnings to the charity organisation karuna shechen (http://karuna-shechen.org/), an organisation involved in charity projects all over Nepal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Exercise four: doing chores

Posted on Happy Minds!

This particular exercise may seem very simple at first glance, but if you do it right, you will find that it is not that easy to do!

The object of this exercise, is to practice humility. You may wonder: why should I practice humility, I thought this was a blog on happiness?
Well, let me tell you a little - true - story to illustrate why I think that practicing humility can bring about a lot of happiness.
It is about a young woman who had a good job in a respectable company. In the department she worked for, most people worked hard and were pleasant coworkers. The head of department decided to buy a fridge, that all employees could share to keep their drinks and food nice and cool. Everybody was happy with this initiative, and as soon as the fridge arrived, it was used from top to bottom. Of course, with such extensive use, the machine soon got very dirty inside. The cleaning lady employed in this company cleaned the outside, but she made it clear that she wasn't going to clean out that fridge on the inside. So what happened: the fridge went from being an appreciated luxury that all enjoyed, to an annoyance to all who worked in that department. The result was endless discussions, and even fights about this tedious task that nobody felt like doing.
One night, the young woman had worked all day and even a little longer then usual. All her coworkers had left for home already. She decided that she was not going to listen to anymore complaining about the stupid fridge any longer. So she got a sponge, a bucket of luke-warm water and some soap, and spent an hour on emptying, cleaning and refilling the fridge. After she was done, she felt very good about herself. She thought it best not to tell anybody that she had performed this task, for she didn't like to be the centre of attention. In stead, she put up a message on the fridge: "Complaints and irritation about the dirt inside have cost us days. Cleaning it took me exactly 1 hour." She went home wisteling, thinking happily of all the suprised faces of her coworkers.
On seeing the fruit of "anonymous" labour, everybody was happy the next day. But also, some people felt a little ashamed because they had not taken the initiative themselves, and instead just spend their time complaining. After that occurence, the fridge was cleaned regularly. No discussion was needed, every time it became necessary, someone else felt responsible enough to start cleaning. And as a little bonus, every time somebody cleaned it, they didn't tell anybody it was them, but instead left a humorous note on the door of the fridge.

So, if you practice a little humility, you can increase your happiness, and the happiness of the people around you, sometimes a lot with fairly little effort!

Now here's the exercise: this week, act at least once like the woman in this story. Do some chore that all your coworkers/family members/fellow citizens are anxiously avoiding. Clean something, water all plants, finish a nasty project. Go to a parc near your house and (carefully!) get rid of the junk there, put used needles left by junkies in a glass jar, so no children or animals can hurt themselves on them. Try to do this without taking any credit for it. If anybody sees you doing this exercise and compliments you, tell them that it's just your job. If you start doing this in order to receive compliments, the exercise is on getting a bigger ego, not on practicing humility.
While doing this exercise, watch your feelings carefully. If you start having thoughts like: I am crazy for doing this, nobody does this, why should I do it? Then start to realise that the reason this chore has not been done yet, is not because it is not worth doing it, but because many people have to big an ego to do it. You are showing yourself that you can do without that big ego. And that's one big step on the road to happiness!

If you like doing this exercise, take it one step further! A little addition for the "more advanced users"! ;-)
Lets say you have cleaned the department-fridge, like the woman in the story. Now next time you are spending some time chatting with a college you like, you can say very casualy: "By the way, I noticed somebody cleaned out the fridge. I am happy someone has done that. I think it must have been Leo who has done it, he's always very helpful" (where of course the name Leo has to be substituted by the name of one of your co-workers). Giving someone else credit for something you've actually done, that is humility training for the advanced!

Exercise three: appreciating small things

Posted on Happy Minds!

The purpose of this exercise, is to train your ability to enjoy the beauty of small things. It may sound a bit strange to you, training something that you do a lot already.
Paying attention to small, but nonetheless beautiful things comes and goes naturally, because everybody has a natural appetite for enjoying life. However, if your mind is kept very busy with everyday’s problems and obligations, your brain may sometimes be too busy, and that sometimes leaves little room for some joy. Therefore, this exercise is in a way instructing your brain to pay more attention to details, to small things that do not require anything more than your attention in order to bring you some happiness.

You need a quiet, comfortable place to sit with sufficient lighting in order to see what you’re doing. Also, you need something that you really like. It can be a flower, a piece of jewellery, a piece of crystal, a model car or a small musical instrument. It really doesn't matter very much what it is, as long as it fits on the palm of your hand, without being too heavy for you to hold it for a while. The object that you use, is of no importance by itself! Try to enjoy it, without getting attached to it. In fact, after completing the exercise, give the object to somebody. If you find it hard not to expect anything in return, try giving it anonymously.

Before you start this exercise, you need to relax a little, so you will be able to focus. In order to relax: here’s a simple breathing exercise:

Sit on your chair in a comfortable position. Breath quietly through your nose. Try to fix your attention on your breathing. Fix your attention on feeling the air pass through your nostrils and on your chest expanding and falling back. Probably, all kinds of distracting ideas and thoughts will pop into your head. Just observe that. Do not fight it, just let it be. The only thing you’ll do, is bringing your focus back to your breathing every time you notice your mind has wandered again.
If you sit like this for 5-10 minutes, you may start to notice that your muscles relax and your stream of thoughts starts to slow.

When it’s enough for you, you’re ready to start!

While still sitting in a comfortable position, take the object that you have selected for this exercise, and keep it in the palm of your hand. Don’t squeeze it, hold it loosely on top of your palm. Gaze at the object you’re holding with your eyes half open. Again, thoughts will come into your head automatically. Do not get annoyed by that, just observe, and do not elaborate on your thoughts. For example, you may think: Oh, I will have to tell my brother later today that I am still angry about… Stop… you’re thinking. Just stop that thought and focus again on the object you’re holding. Keep looking at it. Just observe the object. Its colour, shape, texture, weight, temperature. If you need to, touch the object with the fingers of your other hand. Do this for at least 5 minutes, preferably 10. After it’s enough for you, start thinking about this object. What have you seen? What is it you like about this object? Why is it beautiful to you? Do you like its texture, colour, shape, weight, temperature? Be very specific, do this carefully. If you feel you’ve contemplated all possible aspects of your object, spend some time just sitting with your eyes closed. Notice how you feel. Notice how you feel about the object you have just studied.
After doing this exercise, it is very important you present the object you have focussed on to somebody as a gift. Give it to them anonymously, without expecting anything in return.

If you do this exercise regularly, you may start to notice that you have more appreciation of small things. The purpose of this exercise, is to create a state of mind that allows you to appreciate beauty more easily.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Exercize two: Realizing what is happiness

Posted on Happy Minds!

Again, an easy exercise. Just contemplate a little about the nature of happiness. If you would like more of it, you’ve got to know what it is that you want!

First of all, write down your ideas about happiness. What do you think it is? What do you think it depends on? On what or whom is your happiness depending?
Do you think happiness is equal to pleasure?
Do you think happiness is equal to joy?
Do you think happiness depends on circumstances, or is it a quality of the mind?

You can ask yourself many questions, just try to answer them sincerely.

After completing your story on happiness, review it and ask yourself :
Is my happiness dependent on things that I can control?
You cannot control material things for 100%. Money gets spend, stolen, lost, objects break, burn, loose their colour, fragrance, form and value. Also, it is impossible to control other people entirely. You cannot completely prevent that sometimes they do something bad to you, like cheating, stealing, lying, gossiping, leaving you, etcetera. And you can also not completely prevent other people from getting sick or dying. We all do bad things sometimes. We all get sick sometimes. We all die at one time. That is life. You can fight these facts of life, but it is a battle you will never win. It is like trying to wrestle a mountain, you will never throw it over. A lot of happiness can be derived from trying to accept these facts!

If your happiness depends on things that you cannot control, it seems your suffering is imminent. The question is not whether you will experience setbacks, the question is when you will experience them!

So, does that mean it is impossible to be happy at all? Is happiness only possible in those (brief) moments that all seems to work in your life? Well, for as long as you think it depends entirely on things that are not in your sphere of influence, that is reality. You will only feel happy for as long as it lasts!

Is there nothing you can do to prevent your happiness from breaking apart? Well, let me tell you a little story about two men who both had it all. They lived in the same age, and both owned a private island in the pacific ocean, not far from one another. Both of them ran their own little empire and both were God-Emperor of all people who lived on their respective islands. All they wished for was possible.

The first one was a Tyrant, an ice-cold psychopath. He killed people who did not obey his every command. He made love to any woman he found attractive, but in such a violent way that all would die after just one night in his presence.
One day, a big volcano on a nearby island erupted and destroyed his island. He had to flee it in an old boat with ten of his most loyal subjects. So what did he have left? A leaky boat, and ten people who feared him tremendously. They tried to toss him overboard at any occasion they saw fit. Soon he was killed and his body fed to the sharks.

The other man was a great man, a true Gentleman. He went to great lengths in order to help his subjects with their ordeals, he tried to listen to them whenever possible and he spend all his time trying to make them as happy as possible. He too had to flee his island when the volcano exploded, using an old ship with ten of his most loyal subjects. Ten people who were willing to do anything to protect his life, who enjoyed his company, who shared with him whatever they had. They sailed the seas for a long time, and in the end found a new island to start over. This man died at an old age surrounded by his loved ones.

So, look closely at all the things that you have. Do you have a warm house to live in? Do you have good food to eat? Do you have friends and family to share time with? Look at your little kingdom, and then take a good look at yourself. Are you like the Tyrant who had nothing left when the volcano erupted, or are you like the Gentleman who devoted all his time to the happiness of his loved ones?
Probably, you are like neither one of them. So, when something in your kingdom goes wrong, not all happiness will evade you. However, from this story you could see, that how much happiness you will find in your life, does not depend on how lucky you will get. It depends on the choices that you make. If you decide to devote your time on making people happy, it is unlikely that you will not be able to find any love, kindness, friendship and happiness at all. But if you spend all your time on pleasing yourself, it is far from certain that you will obtain any of these things. If you are obsessed with finding the right job, the right partner, more money, more status, more power, the perfect house, getting and staying healthy, etcetera, etcetera, you will be like the Tyrant who only cared about himself. So, if you want happiness to happen to you, make it happen for the ones around you! Not because you want something from them, but because you want happiness to come into your life.

Exercize one: Relativity

Posted on Happy Minds!

This first exercise is very easy, it will just take a little time, no more then 20 minutes.
First, watch these youtube videos with an open mind. Try not to think to much, just sit back and watch.

Now, you have seen the planet we are living on, our beautiful planet earth. And you’ve seen some examples of the incredible Universe that our planet is floating in. Personally, watching these images leaves me in great awe. The colours, the mere size of it! The way the light reflects of the surface of our planet: it makes me think of sapphire and emerald gemstones. Maybe we can never reach the stars that you’ve just seen, but aren’t they amazing? Just thinking of this gives me some happiness.

Now, here’s the exercise: just sit, close your eyes, and spend some time realizing that you are part of this all. You are part of this wonder. You live on this gemstone-coloured planet. You may have sorrows, you may feel unhappy. No matter how bad it is, realize that your problems will pass. It may take longer then you want, but they will pass. However, the Universe, with all it’s grandiose beauty, will always be there. No matter what you will loose in this lifetime, no matter what happens to you, this wondrous place will always exist.
Also try to realize how small you are compared to this all. You are just one person out of more then 6 billion people on this planet. And if you are small, that means that also your problems are small. They may look big to you, but in reality the entire you is not even a dust spec in this endless Universe. That means you can relax a little, doesn’t it?
After quietly contemplating this for a while, whenever you feel trouble overwhelms you, just go back to these wonderful images. Enjoy! Relax!

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Posted on Happy Minds!

What is happiness? There are more than 6 billion people on this planet, and countless more animals. All have a unique way of perceiving happiness. Your feeling of happiness is structurally different from the way I perceive it. This is inherent to the fact that our genetics, brain, body and life experiences differ. Therefore, the things that make you feel happy are probably also different from the things that make me feel happy.

So, what is the point of creating this blog? If the factors that make a living being happy are different, and even the feeling of happiness differs structurally between living beings, then this blog can only be of very limited value. Well, yes and no. It is only of as much value as anyone reading it gives to it. If you are very critical of the content, probably you’ll be able to find many things to criticize. But if you are open minded, visiting this blog may help you (a little bit) to discover what happiness means to you. If you have never tasted grapes, how do you know you like or dislike them? In the same way, “tasting” some of the exercises on this blog may help you to find out whether the kind of thinking that exercise represents, suits you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Posted on Happy Minds!

I was inspired to create this blog by my friend Erik Baaijens, who has a blog "In balans met onrust", on http://in-balans-met-onrust.blogspot.com/. It is in Dutch, so if you can read that language, do visit his blog!

I decided to create a blog on the specific subject of happiness, because of what I read in the book by Mathieu Ricard: "Happiness". On youtube, you can see him talking about happiness: http://nl.youtube.com/watch?v=vbLEf4HR74E

I will try to post all I have found out on obtaining happiness, but any tip you may have: please do send it to me! If it is respectful and not yet on my blog somewhere, I will post it!
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