Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, let it go.
Go to places that scare you.
~ Advice from Machik Labdron’s teacher
In a couple weeks, I’ll be turning 34. Last year, as I approached my 33rd birthday, I wrote a list of 33 reminders of how to be a more mindful person. I wrote it, submitted it to be published on elephant, and then let it go.
It wasn’t until months later that I even realized it had garnered over 4,000 views and even made it into elephant’s weekly newsletter as one of the top 10 most popular posts of that week.
When I realized last summer that Waylon had kindly decided to start paying consistent, popular blog writers, I started writing a lot more (which was good) but also obsessing a lot more over my page views (which was no good). It was somewhat inherent in the writers’ incentive system, which involved earning a certain amount of views per month in order to earn a certain amount of cash-money.
Anyway, there’s a new system in place now, one that encourages cooperation and teamwork rather than competitiveness. But due to the recent changes in the Facebook algorithm, elephant is getting less visible on that social network, which had been its primary source of promotion. Hence, many of my fellow writers and I have noticed a significant drop in our readership. We are feeling a tad ignored and neglected. As if page views are tied to our innate creative powers.
I had planned to write a post called “Stop Seeking Prestige,” full of great advice on how to let go of our need for ambition, success and a “better” position in society or life. As is often the case, I was the one who needed to take my own advice the most. Then, I decided to make it first in a list of 34 reminders of how to be happier. One hard-earned lesson for each year of my life; these are my humble gifts to you.
I owe most of the quotes on this list to a remarkable book on happiness by Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard. It’s one of those profound books you savor slowly and have to let sink in. (I’m still only about halfway through!)
I owe most of my happiness at this juncture to my daily life practice of yoga and mindfulness—and to, more or less, following the following 34 reminders. May they be of benefit!
1. Stop seeking prestige.
What kind of person are you? The concept of a “person”, the idea of our identity—cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, hair color, political stance and on and on—is our mask.
Our personality is our ego. And ego wants to win. Ego wants to classify and categorize and announce: I am much better than him. I will never be as good as her. My personal labels include mother, wife, expat, teacher, writer, yogini and secular Buddhist, to name a few. But it is so liberating when I can let go of these identities I so often cling to and just being me, a human moving through her life’s moments.
2. “Flouting all labels is the best guarantee of freedom and the most flexible, lighthearted and joyful way of moving through the world.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
3. Stop seeking, period.
Seeking happiness? Love? Success? These elusive yet ever-present virtues cannot be acquired through effort. They are the means and the end. When we can truly stop striving for improvement and working for the weekend, this is the beginning of contentment. We are redesigning our lives to be more aligned around what is happening in front of us, here, now, in this moment.
4. “Pleasure is only the shadow of happiness.” ~ Hindu Proverb
5. Prepare to die.
Sound morbid? Facing impermanence is the most difficult thing for a human to do. It is human nature to seek comfort and shy away from change. Accepting the reality of anicca, of everything being impermanent and in flux, paradoxically enables us to remember death will come sooner or later and live more fully in the meantime.
6. “Yoga is rehearsal for death.” ~ Richard Freeman
7. Give up hope.
Or rather, have hope, if you must, but give up your attachment to the hope. Hope for the outcome you desire, but release the need for that certain outcome to occur and make you magically live happily ever after.
8. “The wise man has nothing left to expect or to hope for. Because he is entirely happy, he needs nothing. Because he needs nothing, he is entirely happy.” ~ Andre Comte-Sponville
9. Take in the suffering of others.
Breathe it all in; love it all out. This counterintuitive meditation instruction (Tonglen) is one of the most powerful Tibetan Buddhist techniques known to Westerners.
10. “One with compassion is kind even when angry; one without compassion will kill even as he smiles.” ~ Shabkar, Tibetan poet
11. Send good wishes to your enemies.
12. Again, counterintuitive but super effective. Practice metta. Start with yourself and loved ones, wishing that you and they have happiness, health, safety and freedom. But don’t stop there. In time, you can develop your loving kindness superpowers and send these heartfelt good wishes to strangers and even your nemesis.
13. Shut up.
Spend more time in silence.
14. “The simple person lives the way he breathes, with no more effort or glory, with no more affectation and without shame… Simplicity is freedom, buoyancy, transparency. As simple as the air, as free as the air… The simple person does not take himself too seriously or too tragically. He goes on his merry way, his heart light, his soul at peace, without a goal, without nostalgia, without impatience. The world is his kingdom, and it suffices him. The present is his eternity, and delights him. He has nothing to prove, since he has no appearances to keep up, and nothing to seek, since everything is before him. What is more simple than simplicity? What lighter? It is the virtue of wise men and the wisdom of saints.” ~ Andre Comte-Sponville
15. Don’t choose misery.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a weekend yoga retreat. It was gray and rainy the entire first day. We had to alter our plans. It was easy to complain about the rain. But later in the afternoon, it was so cozy and created a lovely ambience for our evening yin yoga session. The next day was sunny and bright.
We cannot control the weather, but we can choose how we react to it, our attitude toward it. We can choose gratitude for all things. Be grateful to everyone and every situation. This mindset is a great way to prevent sinking into misery and hatred.
16. “Happiness is not given to us, nor is misery imposed. At every moment we are at a crossroads and must choose the direction we will take.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
Inner peace and happiness usually don’t just happen spontaneously, at least not without the help of alcohol or drugs or sex or whatever. This is where meditation practice comes in. Practice watching your mind, sitting still, being quiet. The mind is quite entertaining, once we can detach from identifying with every mundane thought and feeling that passes through it.
18. “Peace is a treasure of the mind that is not acquired without effort.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
19. Realize you are a fiction.
20. “When we explore the body, the speech, and the mind, we come to see that this self is nothing but a word, a label, a convention, a designation. The problem is, this label thinks it’s the real deal.”
21. Don’t believe everything you think.
22. “Thoughts emerge from pure consciousness and are then reabsorbed in it, just as waves emerge from the ocean and dissolve into it again. Once we understand this, we have taken a great step toward inner peace.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
23. Grieve what needs grieving.
24. “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.” ~ Andrew Solomon
25. Work with difficult emotions.
26. “Recognizing the emotion at the very moment it forms, understanding that it is but a thought, devoid of intrinsic existence, and allowing it to dissipate spontaneously so as to avoid the chair reaction it would normally unleash are all at the heart of Buddhist contemplative practice.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
27. Forgive everyone, even criminals.
As Ricard so succinctly writes, “Forgiveness means breaking the cycle of hatred.” Don’t be a hater. Let go of vengeance. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Doing so creates space for love and goodness to enter your heart.
28. “We are rarely able to see the criminal as victim of his own hatred. It is even harder to understand that vengeance stems from basically the same emotion that led the aggressor to assault us.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
29. Serve somebody.
30. Karma Yoga 101. Think about the causes and effects of your actions. Doing good for others in need is a win-win. They feel good, we feel good, and the world becomes a slightly better place because of it.
32. Like a shooting star, a mirage, a flame,
A magic trick, a dewdrop, a water bubble,
Like a dream, lightening, or a cloud—
Consider all things thus.
33. Embrace where you are on the enlightenment continuum.
Enlightenment is a big word, a lofty goal, an achievement that takes thousands of lifetimes to attain. Yet, it is also theoretically and practically available to each of us, right now—and it’s absolutely free.
34. “If happiness is indeed a way of being, a state of consciousness and inner freedom, there is essentially nothing to prevent us from achieving it.” ~ Mathieu Ricard
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum