Saturday 16 June 2007

Diving Into Nirvana - The Happiness Quotient

Dedicated to my three beautiful children, because thinking of you in your absence fills me with as much joy as time spent in your presence.

Happy Monks

Anyone who has tried to hold down a job, raise a family, be a decent person, and actually snatch away some time to enjoy it all, all in the same week, might not be surprised to learn that monks are happier than the majority of us. If the happiness quotient of monks really higher than that achieved by the rest of us, is it because they simply have more time than we do to contemplate what makes life worth living, or do they actually know something we don't? Is it possible for those of us rushing through the bloodstream of the body of modern capitalism to have at least a little taste of some of that happiness elixir if we can just get a little more time, or should we be looking for the source of that elixir in some ancient pool of arcane knowledge?

Food for Thought

Perhaps it's all that meditation that does it, the opportunity to listen to and interpret oneself all at once. Perhaps where the monks have us is that, in those many moments every day when all of us are alone with ourselves and our thoughts, everyone listens to herself or himself, but the monks actually use the opportunity to intpret themselves. Perhaps we fail to realize that those moments are critical moments, and, in our busy lives, we often let them pass as if they were nothing, or do nothing to try to make more of them.

Meditation for the Nation

My position is that that is what meditation is. To meditate is to focus intently on a process, any process. It is not some far-out tripped-out thing that only freaky Buddhists, lost souls, and hippies do. It is merely taking a few moments to stop, listen to one's internal processes, and interpret them. In that definition, I am in fact meditating right now, and you are part of my meditation. For that matter, I would go so far as to say that many of the people you see who capture our interest so much that we accord them great acclaim and material reward meditate too, that everything that they have created was done as a result of meditation. I'm sure many successful people whose job was in no way related to athletics would admit that their morning run is where they get their best ideas, or that CEOs have their most blinding flashes of insight outside of the boardroom. Why? Because a nice but overlooked benefit of meditation is the process on which you focus, whether it's silencing your mind or fixing the shed, will be improved.

Living the Dream

Perhaps that is even the reason that so many great ideas come out of sleep - dreams may be just another way of interpreting processes within and without us when we are finally alone with ourselves. A lot of us probably think that being a movie star is the pinnacle of success, but my suspicion is that the actors and any others who are paid, handsomely, to meditate deeply and exclusively on others, the characters they portray, including their own public personnas, must make those souls quite susceptible to losing the ability to define themselves. Would it surprise us to learn that the truly successful ones are the ones who know how to stop an take the time to interpret themselves in equal or greater measure than they meditate on others? I doubt it's a coincidence that Oprah loves to curl up with a good book.

Lama Grin
Whether it's isolation, meditation, or something else, I take the monks’ apparent contentment as something of a challenge. Most of us don't really need to be told that those moments that we have with ourselves should be seized, dissected, studied, and understood, but who has time? I know that the results of my own meditations are, or at least should be, more important to me than those of tv producers, economists, and scientific experts, but half the time I'm just too busy or too tired to fight it, and I'm quite content to just sit back and let it entertain me. I admit that all my livelong days are not packed to the rim with bliss, especially on those days, and weeks, when the kids are cranky, I have a headache, my wife is mad at me, a big dental bill comes in, and I can’t do anything right professionally. I’d love to see the Dalai Lama pull his trademark grin out of that one. But even with all that, I still feel that there must be a way that we can wear the lama grin, not one pasted on but one that spreads naturally across the face and comes from a sense of profound well-being.

Into The Burning Flame

A common form of meditation is called visualization, where the pensive soul fixes itself upon contemplation of a single object, trying, as it were, to form an exact picture of that thing in the mind's eye. Rumour has it that if you are able to perfectly re-create in vivid detail an image of that thing, say a burning candle, then all things outside of that contemplation will fall away and you will be left with a heightened awareness of and relation to the universe. I don't disagree that such an attainment is both desirable and spiritually healthy. In fact, my approach is to take visualization one step further, although its proponents might call it a step backward, away from the light and retreating toward darkness. If you can focus on one thing and by exception of all else reach some kind of spiritual realization both personal and universal, then imagine how many things there are in the world that you could use to reach a similar kinds of realization via many different paths.

Rising to the Challenge

So here's what I do to manage the lama grin, as often as possible, and hopefully more often than the worried frown. What follows is an example of some of the processes on which I meditate, the icons that help me reach my own place of spiritual discovery. I figure that when I'm able to do a pretty decent job balancing off those moments of challenge with even longer periods when I do find the flow, my positive bliss indicator has to come pretty close. I’ll put the pleasure of a job well done, the laugh of abandonment of a happy child, or a wild ride with the missus up against humming along with the spheres of the universe any day of the week.

Picture This...

For example, I challenge anyone with an orange robe and sandals to have a day better than today, filled as it was with the simple pleasure of doing simple things in a safe space filled with love. Setting is, of course, important to energize the space in which simple pleasures can occur, and so it doesn't hurt that it was in my backyard, and it was hot, sunny, and spent by the pool with my three kids. If that sounds too entitled, I've done some hard time, I've earned it. If it sounds mundane, read below and answer me this question; are these the most trivial things less worthy than the spheres of spiritual contemplation, or can be they take the place of the burning candle as even clearer reflections of the spheres themselves?

These are the things I did today:

Becoming Aquaman

1. Got my 6-year-old son, who is as scared of water as I was when I was a kid, into the deep end, without his "security blanket" floating ring. Watching his glowing response to the fanatical applause of all onlookers, even from those who had teased him about the ring minutes before, was the parental equivalent of a kid at Christmas about to open a big, wrapped present.

Natural Curiosity

2. Figured out together with my 9-year-old younger daughter what she was really, really good at doing, and then came to the mutual realization which career might possibly let her do what she loves and what she's best at. We were talking while pool frolicking how to important it was to do something with your life that makes you happy, and shortly after, I brought out the laptop on which I write this for some wireless fun at poolside. Before reading through this page, I asked her to explain the meaning of the word 'coincidence' to my six-year-old son, as he didn't know what it meant. She gave him an example; here is what she said. "Suppose that you move into a new house in a new neigbourhood, and you find out that the people living next door have the same last name, and they've named their son the exact same first name and middle name, and therefore have the exact same name as you." Anyone familiar with the successful imparting of any type of knowledge knows that there is no better way to teach than by example, so, of course, he got it, and we proceeded to go through every coincidence on the page in detail. I was even proud of their conclusion; that most of these things didn't really happen, but if they did, in the unlikely event that they aren't made up, then there is a higher mind messing with us, perhaps the reptilians (see item #7). Imagine how proud I was when my daughter even found some holes in the stories, including the one about the reptilians, or at least she came up with some unanswered questions that I would have certainly liked to know. Journalistic note: it's amazing what having a smart nine-year-old read your stories can do for your writing.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

3. As part of this Internet surfing safari, I answered questions from my two younger kids about, among other things 1. what happens in the precise moment of and in the moments after a human embryo is created 2. whether this guy (item #5) really had a chance at succeeding where Jesus, Mohammed, etc. had failed (ie. an earthly kingdom) 3. what gross things my oldest daughter might have to do in movies if she ever became the actress she wants to be, and, last but not least 4. whether or not I'd eat someone if I were stuck in a lifeboat with a few other people and, if so, who I'd eat.


4. Helped my 12-year-old older daughter invent a new pool game, the simultaneous triple cannonball, wherein the three of us, upon a count of three, leapt into the air and tried to hit the water at the same time with cannonball dives, also making sure that we sunk right to the bottom still balled up, like true cannonballs would.

Pause for Refreshment

5. Had the equivalent of a snowball fight in June with my son, using ice cubes that hadn't yet melted from the cooler used to house last night's party drinks.

What, No Cartoons?

So, whoever said reading with your kids had to include cartoon characters, cute furry animals, and intellectual pablum, or that spending time with them had to always involve acting like an adult?

Swimming in Still Waters
And whoever said there were more important things to do in the world than putting the racing mind to rest, finding a spot not to hide from the world but to dive into it, and spending simple time? I'm sure the monks would agree that when you can take pleasure in working on your free throws into the swimming pool basketball hoop, when you can sort out all the knots and roll up the extension cord and actually have fun with it, or you can take enough time to appreciate how well your tomatoes are growing, you have something close to peace of mind, the pool that holds those still mental waters of nirvana?

So, the question becomes, how to take that one step further. Children are not always happy, to be sure, but few would argue that those kids who are fortunate enough to be nurtured in a safe and loving environment, are at least experts in being at peace in the moment. To learn to take that succession of moments that make up the days by life's swimming pool and multiply them such that they outnumber significantly those in which we are preoccupied by the future and the past, is to learn how to take the monastic life out into the world.

The Happiness Quotient

My suspicion, as I try to keep my happiness quotient up there with the monks, is that it is human relationships that act as the multiplier and afford the greatest opportunity for a favourably balanced equation. So, where H is happiness, R is relationship with visible and invisible creatures, Q is quality, O is openness to new relationships, and L is luck, here is my version of the equation.

H = (RQ * O)/L

Do The Math

So, whenever I start to fall behind the monks, whenever the waters become turbulent and the complexity of randomly-generated numbers fills the moment, I try to step back and do the math.

Unless I have a headache. Then I need a calculator.

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2 comments (I love them - please leave one here):

Anonymous said...

Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practising yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge. (Romila Thapar, A History of India, volume one).

I suggest : Mind and brain are two distinct things. Brain is anatomical entity whereas mind is functional entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under conscious control through the practice of meditation. But how? ANS is largely under hypothalamic control which is situated very close to optic chiasma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Protracted practice of concentration to meditate at this region brings functions of ANS say mind under one’s conscious control.

ANS is further divided into parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have discovered a mathematical relationship for spiritual quotient (S.Q.). Spiritual Quotient can be expressed mathematically as the ratio of Parasympathetic dominance to Sympathetic dominance. PSNS dominates during meditative calm and SNS dominates during stress. In this formula we assign numerical values to the physiological parameters activated or suppressed during autonomic mobilization and put in the formula to describe the state of mind of an individual and also infer his/her level of consciousness.

Meditation is the art of looking within and science of doing nothing. We don’t use anything in meditation. We just try to concentrate to meditate at some point in human anatomy known as ‘chakra’ in Indian System of Yoga. The current of mind is flowing outward through the senses and unconsciously. The mind comes at rest gradually through regular practice of meditation. Then comes self realization.

Protracted practice of meditation under qualified guidance will help to manage all sort of psychological problems.

Emotional Quotient can also be expressed mathematically as the product of I.Q. and Wisdom Factor.E.Q. stands for Emotional Quotient. An intelligent person may not be wise. But a wise man will always be intelligent. An intelligent person having certain level of positive emotions can be said as wise. An intelligent person lacking wisdom will turn autocrat. A wise man will always be a democrat who respects others existence.

Some one has raised the doubt that how could be the Wisdom quantified? The answer is simple -if Mental Age of I.Q. can be quantified then Wisdom can also be quantified, of course, comparatively with more efforts.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

Oryx Orange said...

Anirudh: Thank you for your thoughtful and instructive comment. The distinction you have made between the PSNS and the PNS frames the discussion perfectly from a physiological point of view. The relationship between the two has been referred to as being like the relationship between the brakes and the accelerator in a car, and I think that definition applies well here.

To stretch the metaphor a little, the view that I stated in my post is one that concentrates on learning how to drive, rather than focusing just on specific skills that one will use as part of that process. In order to learn to drive a car well, I need to learn about each of its systems, and then figure out the best way to operate them together to get where I'm going safely and effectively, while also respecting the rules of the road.

If the successful outcome of the yogic process is to ensure the dominance of the PSNS (ie. the braking system), that would certainly bring less anger, stress and aggression to all the drivers on the road, but it would also render drivers somewhat vulnerable to situations arising beyond our own control. Like you, I am convinced of the value of periods of parasympathetic dominance, but I am equally convinced of the need in a spiritually healthy organism to not only recognize but embrace those moments when we need to step on the gas pedal, whether it's to avoid an accident or just to have a little fun.

Without the science to back it up, but with a great deal of relevant experience and observation, my sense is that the physiological reaction experienced in the yogic state of PSNS dominance might not be all that different from that an athlete experiences "in the zone", a parent experiences sharing quality time with his or her child, or even a soldier experiences in helping accomplish a particularly important part of a mission, when the stressful consideration of things falls away and reveals a relationship of oneness with the person or purpose.

I'm sure those who have experienced the self realization that you mention have no intention of doing so, but what I worry about when I hear it alleged that the yogic or any other method, to the exclusion of any other, is the main highway to Nirvana's still waters, is of the existence of some kind of spiritual elitism, rather than spiritual equilibrium. As you say, a core component of wisdom lies in respect for the existence of others. I would elaborate on this to say that it also includes an understanding that everyone should take spiritual comfort wherever they can get it, and there really are a lot of people, places, and processes in which to find it.