Has yoga helped me find my “happy place”? Will it help you find yours? Confessedly, my definition of happiness has shifted from being associated with joy, laughter, passion to being associated with ease being in my own skin and ease being with others in this often unkind and unpredictable world. Today I ended our morning yoga practice with the words of my grandmothers. I’m sure some of my readers have heard the phrases: Shuke Thako, Bhalo Thako. Stay in ease (or happiness, here is the confusion again), Stay in goodness. I feel bad now for taking those words so flippantly or sometimes even mockingly. The simple advice to “stay” is basic yoga. Afterall, we are all trying to stay in our bodies, in our minds, in our hearts, in our world, through moving, breathing, focusing and meditating.
Most of all, I’ve learned that yoga is not about escaping to a “happy place” but about being able to just stay in unhappy, uneasy places without becoming unhappy or uneasy. There is unhappiness and there is happiness but I am not happy or unhappy. I am more than my feelings at a given moment, more than a sum of my feelings, more than my existential condition that gives rise to those emotional responses. Meditation does not help me escape my feelings but rather helps me sit with them without being constrained, defined or imprisoned by them. I watch my feelings and say, there is sadness, there is worry, there is joy, there is love, there is anger and so on and so on. Congratulations, I’m human. I’m alive and aware. By tagging and releasing the feelings I emerge lighter. The nagging emotions that refuse to fly away and keep returning to take up space in my mind and heart need more attention, more meditation and sometimes more action. The amount of emotional energy I release always amazes me. So few things are worth lingering over. If I can’t change it, devoting my mind to it won’t help. If I can change or affect it then my concern shifts to practical struggles of how: from awareness to thinking.
I’m working through Jon Kabat Zinn’s book, Where you go, there you are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. I found the chapter titled, “Meditation: Not to be confused with positive thinking” particularly helpful in relation to the notion of a personal “happy place.” First, a food reference:
“Not only is it [our fundamental nature] not limited by the potpourri of our thinking mind, awareness is the pot which cradles all the fragments, just as the soup pot holds all the chopped up carrots, peas, onions, and the like and allows them to cook into one whole, the soup itself. But it is a magical pot, much like a sorcerer’s pot, because it cooks things without having to do anything, even put a fire underneath it. Awareness itself does the cooking, as long as it is sustained.You just let the fragments stir while you hold them in awareness. Whatever comes up in mind and body goes into the pot, becomes part of the soup.”
Kabat-Zinn concludes the section with these words about the limits of positive thinking,
“If we decide to think positively, that may be useful, but it is not meditation. It is just more thinking. We can easily become a prisoner of so-called positive thinking as of negative thinking. It too can be confining, fragmented, inaccurate, illusory, self-serving, and wrong. Another element altogether is required to induce transformation in our lives and take us beyond the limits of thought.”
Don’t get me wrong. I often retreat to my happy place (usually when threatened by loud places filled with restless children and rushed adults like, amusement parks). But, that is not meditation. That is escape. I want to be able to escape from my life less and less. So I try to meditate more and more. Become more aware of my pot of soup instead of the peas and carrots.
I want to tweak the Socratic dictate to, the unaware life is not worth living. The difference between the examined life and aware life is worth exploring in another post.
For now, I wish you easy awareness of your own unique pot of experiences,
For a look at the Image and a good article about escapism and meditation visit: http://melbournemeditationcentre.com.au/articles/is-your-happy-place-really-a-happy-place/