For my trip to Oklahoma City this past week, I purchased the audio book “The Art of Happiness” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler. It is based on a series of public talks and private interviews of the Dalai Lama and is meant to be a practical approach to reaching happiness in ones life.
I am all over how to find contentment and happiness these days. I do not want to be misconstrued as unhappy with my life, because that is not true. There are just certain parts of my life that are not exactly what I want them to be and I am learning to live in a framework where things will either stay bad or get worse before they get better. That can be hard to accept sometimes. For the record, I am madly, ecstatically, blissfully in love with my hubs and I could not be happier with our relationship. Not that it is perfect, but he and our marriage are the absolute best things in my life.
On to compassion. One underlying theme of the book is the inherent qualities in all human beings of love, kindness, peace and compassion. Compassion being the most important. The Dalai Lama says that every single human has these qualities built into their psyche from birth and that negative qualities such as anger, hatred, jealousy and so on are learned. He also says that by training ourselves to recognize this in others is one way to foster better relationships and generally be happier in our interactions.
The Dalai Lama talks about compassion as “a state of mind which is non violent, non harming and non aggressive:, “a mental attitude based on the wish of others to be free from their suffering”, and the “feeling of unbearableness at the sight of other peoples suffering”. This attitude and feeling of compassion can begin with ourselves and radiate outward to those around us. True compassion also is not based on attachment to others. We feel genuine compassion for everyone, no matter if they are friend, family, acquaintance or total stranger. Understanding this innate compassion within ourselves and understanding that this compassion is within everyone can affect our happiness.
One section of the book talks about setting positive intentions for your day, or a certain block of time, in order to not waste that time. I took the lessons on intentions and compassion and decided to set an intention for the day of trying to be more compassionate towards others, if not outwardly, in my thoughts. When I interacted with people I thought to myself about their inherent compassion and tried to consider that they deal with all the same human experiences I do. Surprisingly, it did make a difference in my interactions with some people. I say surprisingly, because I was not sure that just thinking about people in a compassionate way, when I had no ‘real’ reason to feel compassion for them (Meaning, I do not know what is going on in their lives. It is easy to feel compassion for someone when you know of something difficult they are dealing with specifically.) would make any difference in my attitude. But it did!
The main instance where I noticed a difference was in my interaction with the massage therapist in the health clinic at work. Our clinic offers chair massage a couple of days a week for a dollar a minute and every once in a while I treat myself to a quick neck rub. It is really a great way to relax and de-stress in the middle of the day. The therapist does a great job, but it used to bother me that she could never remembers who I was. Recently I have only been going about once a month, but last summer when I was engaged and planning the wedding, I was going to her almost every week. Today when I went, I tried to be positive and think compassionately about her and all the clients she must have and how hard it could be to keep up with them. We had a rather enjoyable conversation for the first five minutes or so of the massage, which is very out of character for me. I tend to not be friendly and strike up conversations in those situations. It also occurred to me during this time that maybe she did not remember me because I was never very friendly. What a revelation!
I say that jokingly, but I had never really thought about the fact that my rather quiet, un-conversational, okay – unfriendly, personality could be the reason she (and others – it actually happens often) might not remember having met me.
All because of the power of compassionate – and positive – thinking. There is much more wonderful and useful wisdom in the book and I cannot wait to share more!