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Shambhala Sun | March 2012
You'll find this article on page 32 of the magazine.

Lasting Happiness

It’s surprisingly easy to achieve lasting happiness — we just have to understand our own basic nature. The hard part, says MINGYUR RINPOCHE, is getting over our bad habit of seeking happiness in transient experiences.

I have traveled all over the world teaching people how to meditate. Whether I am talking to a large group or chatting with a few people in private, it seems that everyone wants to know the same thing: Where is lasting happiness to be found? True, not everyone phrases this question the same way—some people may not even know this is what they are asking—but when we reduce our many desires, hopes, and fears down to their essence, this is usually the answer we are seeking.

For those of us who follow a spiritual path, we may think we know the answer. Anyone who studies the Buddha’s teachings, for example, will be able to tell you that true happiness is found within. But if we really understand that our basic nature is already whole, pure, and complete, why do we continue to act as though our level of contentment depends on the size of our paycheck, the quality of our relationships, or on the number of pleasurable experiences we can surround ourselves with. In other words, why do we expect things that are ephemeral and changing by their very nature to provide us with something stable and secure?

The answer is quite simple: It’s a bad habit. We have believed this myth for so long, that it takes a while for any new understanding to filter down to the core of our being. What’s more, we often bring this same mindset—the expectation that temporary experiences can produce lasting happiness—into our meditation practice as well. We mistake fleeting experiences of peace and relaxation for the true relaxation of feeling at ease with whatever manifests in the present moment. We think that calming the mind means to get rid of thoughts and turbulent emotions, rather than to connect with the natural spaciousness of awareness itself, which doesn’t get any better when there are no thoughts or any worse when there are. And we chase after ephemeral experiences of bliss and clarity, all the while missing the profound simplicity of awareness that is with us all the time.

What I’m getting at here is that we need to be patient with ourselves, and with the process of loosening this deep-rooted conditioning. The good news is that everything we hear about meditation is actually true. Our essential nature really is completely pure, whole, and infinitely spacious. No matter how trapped we may feel by anxiety, depression, or guilt, there is always another option available to us, and one that doesn’t ask us to stop feeling what we already feel, or to stop being who and what we are. Quite the contrary, when we know where to look, and how to look, we can find peace of mind in the midst of raging emotions, profound insight in the midst of complete confusion, and the seeds of compassion in our darkest moments, even when we feel completely lost and alone.

This may sound too good to be true. In fact, I must admit that the first time I heard this, it did seem a little too easy, and too convenient. It took me a number of years, actually, before I stopped using meditation like a hammer, trying to beat all of my painful feelings and cruel thoughts out of existence. I can’t tell you how hard it was to be confronted continually with the tempest of my own anxiety while still holding onto the idea that difficult thoughts and emotions were keeping me from tasting true peace of mind.

It wasn’t until I gave up in desperation that I finally saw the truth of what my teachers had been telling me all along. What they taught me over and over again, waiting patiently for me to see in my own experience what they had learned themselves, was that love, compassion, and wisdom are manifesting all the time. It’s not that we are pure way down in the depths of our being, but somehow up on the surface everything is messed up. Rather, we are pure inside and out. Even our most dysfunctional habits are manifestations of this basic goodness.

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