Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Letting Happiness Catch Up to Us

I recently listened to a wonderful two hour discussion on the subject of happiness that His Holiness the Dalai Lama held with three other religious leaders.*  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke of a story about an 18th century rabbi who was watching all these people in the town racing about their day.  He finally stopped someone and asked what he was running around for and the man replied that he was trying to make a living.  The rabbi asked how did he know his living was in front of him and that he wasn't actually running away from it?  Rabbi Sacks equated this story to our pursuit of happiness and how we are often times so busy pursuing what we think and society tells us will make us happy that we forget to pause and simply allow happiness to catch up to us.  He went on to say that this is the purpose of the Sabbath in the Jewish faith.  Rabbi Sacks’ anecdote struck me, as this indeed is the purpose of any meditative or spiritual practice, to center ourselves so that the blessings of life are given a chance to come into focus for the heart, mind and soul to enjoy.

Earlier in the conversation, Rabbi Sacks spoke of there being two types of happiness.  There is the happiness we feel as an individual and then there is the happiness we cultivate through sharing it with others.  It is the gratitude for our blessings that we share in our relationships and within our communities that renew and strengthen our joy.  He calls this a spiritual happiness which is the greatest renewable energy there is as it reinforces and deepens our sense of joy, love, friendship and trust.

When asked about finding happiness in the situations that bring us suffering, the Dalai Lama spoke of being able to look for the blessings that result from the changes the suffering initiated in the first place.  Rabbi Sacks cited Genesis 32:26 when Jacob, who has wrestled with God throughout the night, says to him, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  It is when we move through our suffering and discover even more meaningful blessings in life that we can embody a deeper sense of joy.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, discussed the meaning of the word beauty in Islamic culture and that beauty also means virtue.  As the conversation unfolded, his point was that as we appreciate our own inner beauty as well as the beauty held within the world around us, we experience the presence of the Divine.  He describes happiness as the permanent state of the soul and when we practice gratitude, we tap in to this eternal state of joy allowing it to be expressed through virtue.

As we “harvest” our blessings through the many different cultural and spiritual traditions that take place between now and the end of the year, let us take some time to quiet the mind and center the heart in order to allow our happiness to “catch up to us”, and in turn share it fully with our loved ones and community in the spirit of appreciation for all that is.

*A recording of this discussion can be heard at the website for On Being (www.onbeing.org).

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