~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Happiness Right Here, Right Now

October 24, 2016
Are you happy, right here and right now? Are you at ease in this breath, in this moment? Are you staying close to your deepest joys, not in some future promise but right this very minute?

And if not, wouldn't you like to be? What are you waiting for?

We are primed in our culture to believe that happiness lies somewhere "out there" in the future and that fulfillment will surely be ours when we finally get all of our ducks lined up in a perfect row. We are primed to believe that happiness may be ours some day if we earn it with the perfect job, the perfect mate, or the perfect family. Only then, we are trained to believe, will a golden cloak of happiness descend upon us. And we will finally breathe a sigh of relief, and contentment will be ours forevermore.

Wisdom - thankfully, beautifully - teaches us just the opposite. It teaches us that happiness lies within us, inside the soft folds of the present moment. Clear seeing shows us that happiness is not a commodity, a thing to be gained or lost, but is rather an attitude and a choice. Loving awareness reveals to us, through devoted practice, that ease and contentment can be ours in any single moment of our lives.

The key to such undying happiness lies in the quality of our attention, in our willingness to immerse ourselves squarely in the present moment, to be truly present in our lives.

Think about it. Right here and now, in this moment, in the very place you are, it is possible for you to be happy and content. Right here and right now, the world waits to reveal its incredible beauties and mysteries to you.

All you need to do is settle into the moment and quiet your busy mind enough to see clearly the bounty that surrounds you. All you need to do is adapt an attitude of acceptance and openness, to lean into the light. All you need to do is open your eyes to the truth of the moment.

Look around you. Consider your beautiful eyes that are reading this and that are capable of letting the outer light of the world in. Consider the miracle of your breath, which carries you through life without complaint and with such steadiness.

Consider the faithfulness of birds that return every spring without fail. Fresh air that smacks your cheeks. Sunrise. Chocolate. Tenderness. Jasmine. Sweet chirping voices of children. The buoyancy of summer. The blaze of autumn. Soft wrinkles of old age. And, of course, the love that courses through your veins and shines out through your skin and your voice to those around you.

All of this is yours to unwrap - or not - if you like. And if all of this is not enough to bring a sigh of ease to your heart, what will? As zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck once said, "You cannot avoid paradise. You can only avoid seeing it."

Here's the amazing and terrifying proposition: Whether you are happy in this one moment is completely up to you. It is not dependent on circumstance; it cannot be given to you by anyone or anything else. It is yours to welcome or to spurn. It is your choice.

True happiness is unshakable and loyal. It does not come and go based on outer weather. It is a constant companion that buoys you from within. It looks more like contentment than pleasure. It feels like quiet joy that has deep roots in the here-and-now. It looks like equanimity and ease. It comes from a deep understanding that this moment is somehow perfect and beautiful just as it is (even if it is not at all what you were looking for).

Challenging, yes? A radical reversal of all that you think you know about what makes you happy, perhaps? But a hopeful proposition, too. You need nothing more than this moment to be happy!

What about sadness, what about death and dissolution and illness and the dark underside of life? Where does all of this fit in? The masters have that covered, too, although I admit it takes a leap of faith, because it requires us to welcome pain and sorrow into our lives. The world's sages teach us that true happiness requires that we broaden our hearts enough to understand that we can still be happy even when we are not pleased with life.

This vision requires us to be understand how happiness and sadness are not opposites, but that each lies deep within the folds of the other. We are required to accept that every life comes with servings of both pain and delight. As the Buddhists say, "All lives come with ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows." Or, as my seven-year-old once said, "In each and every day, sad moments and happy moments weave themselves together."

Trying to erase the sorrows, then, is a denial of life itself, and a sure path toward discontent and unhappiness. And a life well-lived embraces as part of the journey both exhilarating happiness and heart-wrenching sorrow.

Even though I must admit I'm not quite there in the embracing-all-pain-and-sorrow department, I still find the possibility both beautiful and hopeful. I love the idea that happiness can be so vast that it includes sadness rather than pretends to oppose it. I love the truth that happiness and sadness weave themselves together into the beautiful tapestry of the world. And I especially love the promise that sadness is not a punishment or a sign of imperfection, but rather an integral part of all of life.

Let's rejoice whenever we can, which is likely more often than we may think possible. Let's stay on the lookout for simple moments of happiness and delight. Maybe the relief of just sitting quietly without a to-do list hovering overhead will feel particularly beautiful. Maybe the light will fall through the window in a particularly splendid way. Maybe you will notice that the sounds of the house waking up feel full and poignant and lovely.

Meditation teachers sometimes call this leaning into the light a practice of "taking in the good." Because the mind tends to hold on to negative states more fiercely than positive, we are urged to consciously and continuously make room in our lives for positive and uplifting mind states. Staying positive takes just a little more effort than being defeated by life's difficulties, but the rewards are worth the effort.

There is something magical about a little quiet and calm. The fogginess that clouds the window of the mind clears, leaving us awestruck by the beauty and amazement of each passing moment we are blessed to embrace. Sometimes when the mind grows especially calm and unrestricted, everything we see seems to almost shimmer with radiance and energy, a radiance that has been there all along of course, but that we have only now grown eyes clear enough to see. In these moments it becomes perfectly clear what Simone Weil meant when she wrote that "absolute attention is prayer."

Slowing down and sitting still opens our eyes to the beauty all around us. Paying close attention will help, too. And inclining our minds toward joy will especially help make the most of happiness that comes our way. We may be surprised, when we look for them, how many glittering jewels of joy are scattered all about us. All we have to do is quiet our minds and clear our visions enough to truly see the happiness that lives within us.

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says that "the difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention." Why not whatever we can to incline our field of awareness toward happiness and joy?

Some people keep gratitude journals. Some count their blessings when they're feeling a little glum. Others take pictures of sparkling moments. Some share their happiness with others in any way they can. Anything that helps you stop, look and listen when the good life comes your way will help deepen and enrich those feelings of well-being and contentment that accompany them.

In our family we have a tradition of shouting out "Happy!" whenever we realize we are having a happy moment. Usually, this chant is echoed by the rest of us, and we smile. Wow, right here and right now, in this one moment, happiness is ours.

Perhaps you, too, can find your own brand of rejoicing practice, where you incline your eyes toward the light, where you practice gladness in the here-and-now. Perhaps you can transform some of your grumbly, complaining energy into the energy of uplift and amazement. Each time you do, you are not only transforming the small moment you hold in your hands, but you are slipping the the mind in the direction of peace and positivity. You are making happiness a habit.

Gradually, over time, you may even find yourself able to find small moments of happiness and love tucked into what appear to be very sad and painful ones. While sitting next to a loved one in a hospital bed, for example, you might take a deep breath, settle into the here and now, and look around. You may find yourself able to marvel over some small delight: the softness of the frail hand you're holding, a passing smile as water soothes parched lips, the kindness of a nurse passing through, the love that holds you both so close. Even within dark moments, I truly believe, there is still the possibility for beauty and love.

And when you are able to move in this direction - perhaps not feeling 100 percent happy all the time, but at least opening your eyes more and more to possibilities for joy and amazement sprinkled throughout your day - your life will feel far richer and fuller than you could ever have imagined.

Life is an amazing adventure, a precious jewel to be cherished and adored. The here-and-now can be your doorway into this deeper amazement and appreciation for all of life. The present moment can become a sanctuary that holds and steadies us when we feel buffeted by the craziness and unpredictability of life. And in this spirit, we are able to embrace with whole heart and whole spirit the journey of our lives, even when (and perhaps especially when) we have no idea where it will lead. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Happiness is available. Please help yourself."

This essay was originally published as part of Presence, Claudia's 2015 meditation immersion.