Suffering and happiness are inseparable. We all have both and they both come and go throughout our lives – at least up to this point in my life. Our practice of Mindfulness is an effort to transform our suffering into happiness. It is an effort to move in the direction of joy. It is an effort to move in the direction of being truly present and to be present for our families, our friends, and our community. In doing so, we can alleviate a great deal of suffering for those around us, and to cause less suffering in the future. We can make the world a beautiful place in the present moment.
In the very first talk given by the Buddha, he outlines this foundational concept. The First Noble Truth says there is suffering, ill-being. The Second is about the cause of our suffering, and the Third Noble Truth talks of the cessation of suffering. This is the presence of happiness. We can learn how to produce happiness. We have many practices for this transformation, but I especially am drawn to the two foundational practices of meditation of “stopping” and “looking deeply.”
We can do this. Just a few short hours of practice and we can begin to train our mind. It’s quite simple to discover happiness in the present moment and to transform our relationships.
We have been offered mindful breathing exercises. The first is following our breath – mere recognition. This can be done anytime, anywhere. We can use sounds and images from the world around to remind us to return to our breathing. For example, I have a computer application that invites me to stop every 70-minutes. But it could be the telephone, a red light, a child’s laughter. We stop and come back to our breathing. This is stopping. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere. I love this practice. I begin my training with sitting meditation, but it doesn’t have to stop on the cushion. Learn to discover methods to following our breath. When we feel anger, frustration, or despair, returning to our breath can immediately bring us relief. Try it – it’s true!
The next steps outlined for mindful breathing is awareness of our body and releasing tension. Learning to calm our body. Where is our body? We can do this when we are standing, walking, sitting, and lying down – and know that we are doing each. My emotions often come through strongly in my body. How does my body feel? How does my body behaves? In touching this we can bring relieve. In recognizing the body, we see the connection between body and mind. This is especially true when we practice sitting meditation – we should see the unity of body and mind. For some, walking meditation works much better than just sitting.
If we can practice these first few exercises, then we can also nourish joy, happiness and learn to explore our feelings. Maybe we try something like this:
Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.
Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.
It is a simple practice, silly even, but it can bring a lot of transformation. There are people who have no peace and joy because they cannot stop their thinking. We can also practice joy by bringing awareness to those parts of our body we may not always remember – our eyes, our heart, our liver. Breathing in, I know know I have two good eyes. Breathing out, I feel joy.
Happiness goes a little further. The story often given is that of a person in the desert who sees an oasis. She is joyful upon discovering the oasis and she is happy when she takes a drink from the water.
Here I have outlined just the first six exercises of mindful breathing. These exercises of mindful breathing can bring about personal transformation, but it can provide the foundation to bring transformation to our relationships – relationships with our parents, our children, our consumption.