Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Thoughts on Happiness by Matthieu Ricard

This transcript is from a conversation between Matthieu Ricard and Krista Tippett from OnBeing. I find these thought very useful in finding a state of deep contentment beyond the discomfort and trivialities of everyday life.  

"People sometimes imagine that constant happiness will be a kind of euphoria or endless succession of pleasant experiences. But that’s more like a recipe for exhaustion than happiness.

Pleasure depends very much on circumstances, what triggers it. Then it’s a sensation, in a way. So sensations change from pleasurable to neutral and to unpleasurable. I mean even the most pleasurable thing — you eat something very delicious. Once, it’s delicious. Two, three times, OK. And then ten times, you get nauseous. You are very cold and shivering. You come near a bonfire, such a delight. But then, after a few minutes, then you move back. It’s too hot. The most beautiful music, you hear it five times, 24 hours, it’s a nightmare. And also, it’s something that basically doesn’t radiate to others. You can experience pleasure at the cost of others’ suffering. So it’s very vulnerable to the change of outer circumstances. It doesn’t help you to face the outer circumstances better.

Now if we think of happiness as a way of being, a way of being that gives you the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life, that pervades all the emotional states, including sadness. If we think of sadness as incompatible with pleasure, but it’s compatible with what? With altruism, with inner strength, with inner freedom, with sense of direction and meaning in life — those aren’t sad things. But if you don’t fall in despair, still you maintain that wholeness and that sense of purpose and meaning.

Happiness can encompass every mental state except those who are just opposite, which is like despair, hatred, precisely the mental factors that will destroy inner peace, inner strength, inner freedom. If you are under the grip of hatred, you are not free. You are the slave of your own thoughts. So that’s not freedom. Therefore, this is opposite to genuine flourishing and happiness. So we have to distinguish mental factors which contribute to that way of being, the cluster of qualities like altruistic love, inner freedom, and so forth from those who undermine that, which is like jealousy, obsessive desire, hatred, arrogance. We call that “mental toxins,” because they poison our happiness and also make us relate to others in a poisonous way. So that’s something that you can cultivate, unlike pleasure. You don’t cultivate pleasure, but happiness in that sense is a skill. Because why? Because altruistic love can be developed. We have the potential for it, but it’s really untapped. All these other qualities can be enhanced to a more optimal way, and therefore, those are skills.

The quality of our experience can easily eclipse the other conditions. Not that the other conditions don’t matter — don’t mistake for that. I mean it’s infinitely desirable that we provide to others, and to ourselves, conditions for survival. There are so many people in this world that cannot feed their kids. It’s unacceptable. So anything that can be done should be done, and it’s a joke if we don’t do it. I mean we are failing all principles of basic morality.

But yet, we should acknowledge at the same time that you can be miserable in a little paradise, have everything, so-called, to be happy, and be totally depressed and a wreck within. And you can maintain this kind of joy of being alive and sense of compassion even in the worst possible scenario, because the way you translate that into happiness or misery, that’s the mind who does that. And the mind is that which experiences everything, from morning till evening. That’s your mind that translates the outer circumstances either into a sense of happiness, strength of mind, inner freedom or enslavement. So your mind can be your best friend, also your worst enemy, and it’s the spoiled brat of the mind needs to be taken care of, which we don’t do. We vastly underestimate the power of transformation of mind and its importance in determining the quality of every instant of our life.
Outward circumstances are important, I should do whatever I can. But I should certainly see that at the root of all that, there are inner circumstances, inner conditions. What are they? Well, just look at you. Now if I say, “OK, come, we’ll spend a weekend cultivating jealousy,” now who is going to go for that? We all know that, even say, “Well, that’s part of human nature,” but we are not interested in cultivating more jealousy, neither for hatred, neither for arrogance. So those will be much better off if they were not — didn’t have such a grip on our mind. So there are ways to counteract those, to dissolve those. I mean you cannot, in the same moment of thought, wish to do something good to someone or to harm that person. So those are mutually incompatible, like hot and cold water. So the more you will bring benevolence in your mind at every of those moments, there’s no space for hatred.
That’s just very simple, but we don’t do that. We do exercise every morning, 20 minutes, to be fit. We don’t sit for 20 minutes to cultivate compassion. If we were to do so, our mind will change, our brain will change. What we are will change. So those are skills. They need to be, first, identified, then, cultivated. What is good to learn chess? Well, you have to practice and all that. In the same way, we all have thoughts of altruistic love. Who doesn’t have that? But they come and go. We don’t cultivate them. Do you learn to piano by playing 20 seconds every two weeks? This doesn’t work. So why, by what kind of mystery, some of the most important qualities of human beings will be optimal just because you wish so? Doesn’t make any sense.

Matthieu Ricard - monk extraordinaire
I have a friend who is 63 years old. He used to be a runner when he was young. He gave up running. Now a few years ago, he started again. He said, “When I started again, I could not run more than five minutes without panting for breath.” Now last week, he ran the Montreal Marathon at 63. He had the potential, but it was useless until he actualized it. So the same potential we have for mind training, but if we don’t do anything, it’s not going to happen because we wish so.

We need to put that in action, in a way. “Action” doesn’t mean frantically running around all day long — which I have unfortunately been doing a bit too much — but exemplifying that in our life. So that’s what led me — my only regret, some years ago, was not to have hands on, trying to serve others. So when I had the possibility of doing that, I jumped into that, and I’m absolutely grateful and delighted that I can. Now we have — we treat 100,000 patients in the Himalayas, India, Tibet, and Nepal. We have 15 kids in the school that we built. It’s not huge, compared to some other big organizations, but at least we did our best. So my motto, in a way, will be to transform yourself to better serve others.

If you see the humanity in the world, grains of sand that bring everything to a halt, it’s corruption, clashes of egos — human factors more than resources. So how to avoid that? There is a lack of human maturity. So it’s not a vain or futile exercise to perfect yourself to some extent before you serve others. Otherwise, it’s like cutting the wheat when it’s still green, and nobody is fed by that. So we need a minimum of readiness to efficiently and wisely be at the service of others. So compassion needs also to be enlightened by wisdom. Otherwise, it’s blind.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Magical organism of the sea

Ocean magic. These huge colonies of organisms filter water to consume plankton. They can be as long as a whale and as wide as 6 feet, but according to some scientists you wouldn't want to get inside one, they look like a Chinese finger trap. One group of scientists found a dead penguin inside who couldn't maneuver front or back and so was stuck. Added bonus, they glow in the dark (bioluminescent). Makes me want to dive.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Tis the season

“True action, good and radiant action, my friends, does not spring from activity, from busy bustling, it does not spring from industrious hammering. It grows in the solitude of the mountains, it grows on the summits where silence and danger dwell.” – Hermann Hesse