1. Don’t believe everything you think.
Putting aside all past conditioning – if that’s even possible – ask yourself, “Who am I?” At the core of your human experience, who or what are you? As you engage the question, attempt to answer it without defining yourself based on your relationship with anyone else. What are you? What are you not? When you sit still and watch thoughts move in and out of the mind, who is the thinker and who is the observer? Beyond physical form, or even thought form, is there something deeper?
When we really grasp that spirit and mind are not the same thing we find the secret that was hidden right in front of us. Who we are (spirit, consciousness, awareness, etc) is something completely different than our mind-structure. From this awareness, we are able to work with our thoughts, instead of being a slave to them. Living as the observer of our thoughts helps us put just enough space between our selves and our thoughts to find real liberation. We begin to really understand the what the word “authentic” really means.
2. Embrace the present moment.
There’s a reason that all of the great masters in history have taught this principle of living in the moment. Learning how to live right now in the present brings a deep connection to the world around us. We are less likely to push away experiences or crave what we don’t have. We become more comfortable living in a world of reality, versus the fantasy of living in the future – which is uncertain, or the past – which is gone.
You can’t experience happiness tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes. You can’t experience the happiness you felt yesterday, because it is already gone. Each new moment brings a new reality, and a new opportunity to experience happiness – right now.
3. Surrender does not mean giving up
The yogis have a term, “Ishvara-pranidana”, which means surrender to God. I think of this as efficient energy management. One moment of surrender to a less-than-desirable situation is often all it takes to bring us the peace and calmness we need to deal with it. Surrendering to what is allows us to get out of our own way and opens us up to new possibilities. We stop wasting time and energy resisting the situations that appear in our lives, and we are able to feel a sense of grace take over. It’s this grace – moving with the flow of life rather than against it, which allows us the ability to see the very action we need to take in our lives.
4. You are already perfect
The Buddhists call it Buddha Nature, Christians call it grace. In truth, who you are is not in your accomplishments or your shortcomings. Inside of us is a sense of wholeness that often lies dormant, – a sense of divinity waiting to be discovered. To me, “I am a child of God” means that we have a type of spiritual DNA that can’t be altered. When Mormons say “Be ye therefore perfect”, notice that be is in the present tense. It doesn’t say become ye therefore perfect. Wherever you are in this life of yours is exactly where you should be. In this moment, you are perfect, even if this version of perfection is a big, fat, stinky mess. You are not missing anything. When we start viewing ourselves as whole we start to see with God’s eyes. We begin to feel an awareness underneath all of our apparent shortcomings, and neurosis.
We are not a bunch of sinners, roaming this earth in hopes of God taking pity on us. The more we can see ourselves in our true nature, as whole complete beings, we begin to see that our shortcomings are simply delusion, they are not who we are at all. In fact, when we realize our true nature we are able to really understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. Yes, we are all imperfect, bumbling humans – that is the relative truth. We are also simultaneously, walking perfection. “The Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you”, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we look deeper, we find that we are perfect and suddenly we are able to see the same in others.
5. Skepticism is healthy.
Skepticism is the ideal way to approach all spiritual teachings. It is not a show of weakness to observe your world closely and question everything you are taught, everything you notice. Seeing things with an open mind allows us to really learn, to really know. Any belief worth keeping will survive honest inquiry! Being willing to put aside attachments to belief and fear, and exercise skepticism is what real humility is all about.
6. Suffering is optional.
In the west, we think of suffering as something extreme; children starving in third world countries, the Holocaust, or terrible abuse situations. Yet we fail to notice that we spend much of our time in relative comfort and safety, suffering. We suffer when we resist life, when we believe the voice in our heads, when we get involved in the drama of every day life.
We can experience discomfort, pain, desire, and frustration exactly as they appear to us without adding the layer of mental chatter that brings us into this state of suffering. We can be involved in a difficult situation without getting wrapped into a story in our minds which feeds the drama and spins the reality of the situation into a much bigger deal than it really is. We can create the space we need in these situations to begin to look at our lives from many perspectives, rather than just one.
Often in religion, suffering through trials and tribulations is viewed as noble, or required as part of the journey. Sometimes it’s seen as the journey. Somehow the word endure became synonymous with suffer. Who wants to suffer to the end? It seems pointless to endure to the end by clawing our way through life suffering and “hanging on” when we have the very real option to learn how to release the suffering. To understand that the point is not to go suffer through trials, but to find a way to liberate ourselves, to free ourselves from the repetitive cycle of self-inflicted suffering. To recognize that our trials and hard times are not to be endured but embraced as the spiritual PHD’s that they are. Heaven is not “out there” somewhere in the future. Heaven is right here, right now.
7. Prayer does not always require words.
Prayer can be a traditional, knee-bent experience. This act of love and devotion can come in many other forms as well. Prayer can be one person listening to another, serving one another, being fully present for another. Prayer can be the act of pulling weeds in devotion, or spending time in nature. How we live can be a prayer to God. Prayer is simply a way to commune with the divine, and there is no right or wrong way to do that. In fact, putting aside a traditional prayer template can radically transform our spiritual growth.
8. Mature faith is fearless.
When we go immediately to faith as a way of dealing with fear, we are really practicing a technique to repress fear and self-soothe. I’m willing to bet that we have all done this at one time or another in our human development. As we mature, we realize that exercising this developed version of faith means being unafraid that what we believe may actually be untrue! If we learn that our current belief is not true, we will be more than happy to release our faith in it so that we can continue learning, allowing our understanding of the universal to mature and grow. Real faith does not mean hanging on to our beliefs and defending them despite good reason not to. When we insist on keeping a belief that we have not put through inquiry or investigated, we are no longer exercising faith – we are rooting ourselves in dogma. The difference between faith and dogma is night and day.
9. The world (Do you hear that scary music?) is not something to be feared.
Whenever religion warns us to beware of “The World” I have to suppress a chuckle. It’s impossible to not be a part of the world – we are just as much a part of it as anyone else on the planet. There’s nothing scary about yourself.
This teaching of The World versus Us, has been misunderstood and contorted. (More on that another day.) In short, religions are using this concept to divide and segregate. It’s a way to push away those we don’t understand, to insist that they are different.
This type of world-view creates a division that leaves us feeling separate and disconnected from those who have a different viewpoint, lifestyle, or belief system than we do. When we wedge ourselves between righteousness and everybody else, we live in delusion. If we live in a mind-set of judgment, we lose the ability to see ourselves clearly.
The world is a friendly place. Pitting ourselves against the world is pitting us against ourselves. Any belief that separates us from unifying with others is a mind-trick. Looking for ways to see the connection we share with others instead of separating and dividing will bring us closer to the universal, closer to truth.
10. Your natural state of existence is Joy.
Jesus called it, “the peace that surpasseth understanding”. It’s not that wild, ecstatic pleasure, or overwhelming joyful rapture. It’s that very quiet, peaceful, humble sort of joy. It’s a joy independent of emotion, yet not always separate from emotion. This state of joy, this nonsensical peace Jesus spoke of, exists within us as our natural state of existence. It cannot be understood with the mind, it must be discovered and experienced – it must surpass understanding.
What would you add or change to the list? Do you have your own Top 10 Principles of Happiness That You Weren’t Taught in Church? What are they?