Mindful of Happiness

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Chalice Lighting

We come into this place
We take a seat
We look around to see who else is here
But we ourselves are not yet fully here
Part of us is back with concern about a partner or a parent
Part of us is planning the party or the meeting or the dinner
Part of us is wondering whether to walk home or take the bus
Part of us is hoping the child will be happy going upstairs
Part of us is worried that they forgot the name of the person to whom they just said hello
See this flame
Just look to see how it flickers
It has nowhere else to be
No purpose but to burn
Let us arrive fully
Let us be here
Together

Reading: A Timbered Choir (excerpt), by Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet around me
like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places where I left them
asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings and I hear its song.
Than what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings and I hear its song.

Reading: Framework for Longevity, by Michael J. Castori

What is the secret of Longevity
Invest in bonds
Bond with love
Parental marital filial people spiritual
Love thy neighbor as thyself
No greater love hath man
Than he give up his life for another
Bond with nature
With its broad range of animal plant and mineral life
With its sun moon stars land sea and air
And all the creatures thereon and therein
With its solitude music challenge reverence
Bond with a positive mindset
Aim high and you won’t hit low
If things go your way don’t get too high
If things go against you don’t get too low
Bond with an upbeat lifestyle
Engage in spiritual intellectual social recreational pursuits
That guarantee health strength and daily bread
Woo the positive spurn the negative
Bond with existence
An existence that you deem worthy of your worship
Daily lift up some thought word and deed
To Him to Her to It
On each future birthday
Check your investments
If you can look at each bond and say
“Been there Done that”
You will end up dancing on the top rung
Of Longevity’s ladder

Message by Rev Andy Pakula

I think London provides some of the best evidence in the world that happiness is in our heads. How else can you explain why when it’s 20 degrees outside, some people complain it’s freezing and others rejoice at the warmth and pull out their shorts? How else can you explain why a 3-minute wait for the 73 bus causes some people to celebrate with a ‘YES’ and a fist pump while others roll their eyes with exasperation at the delay?

There is no question that our happiness is - to a great extent - determined by how we think about, understand, and react to the circumstances in which we live. You’ve probably all heard some of the facts. Above a certain low-income level, more money does not make you more happy. Except at the extremes, better weather doesn’t make you happier.  The exact same scene with the exact same experience can leave one person miserable and another delighted.

And if that’s true, it means that almost all of us have the potential to be happy - happier than we are. And what we want to know is how. There are lots of people ready to offer you lots of answers. One of the best is probably gratitude - to develop a sense of deep appreciation of everything around you. Last Sunday, we talked about helping others as an approach to growing happiness. We’ve talked about gaining perspective on life through recognising how brief it is and how each day matters. We’ve talked about connection and about physical exercise.

Today, I want to touch on something that is a bit more general and that perhaps underlies some of the other practices and approaches. This is mindfulness. Mindfulness - you know - the thing you intend to develop when you intend to spend time meditating every day and don’t?

Mindfulness is about focus - about learning to aim your attention at one thing and have it stay there. As I was writing this, I looked at the top of my browser window and noticed that I had 22 tabs open - every one of them a potential distraction. And our minds are like this too - rather than focusing on a single thing, we surf from one thought to the next - to worries, to hopes, to memories, to fears, and round and round…

But mindfulness is more than just focus alone. It is focus on the mind itself - watching a beginning to have a greater awareness of the process of our emotions and our thoughts. And this awareness is the beginning of the ability to shape the direction our thoughts take - whether toward the present moment or the past or future. Whether toward gratitude or toward irritation.

Mindfulness on its own though could be harsh - I see a thought and say ‘bad thought!’; I notice an emotion and judge myself for feeling that way. For happiness, mindfulness must be accompanied by self-compassion. I see the thoughts cross my mind and even though they may be anxious or angry feelings I want to push away, I offer myself care, I respond with gentle caring. The emotions rise and I respond in that kindly way I would offer to a loved one rather than the harsh reaction we sometimes direct at ourselves.

[Guided Metta meditation - May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be whole.]

There are many theories about why mindfulness can make you happier. There is a little bit of data, too. In one study, people were asked at random times how happy they felt and whether they were focused on what they were doing or, alternatively, if their minds were wandering. You might guess that a wandering mind - daydreams - would be a happy state. Of course, if a mind is wandering to worries, it won't be very happy. It turned out that among wandering thoughts, negative thoughts led to lower happiness than positive thoughts. No big surprise. But a mind not wandering was the happiest state of all - happier than daydreaming about very positive things. And there seems to be a cause and effect relationship. A focused mind - one that isn't wandering - leads to greater reported happiness.

There are plenty of other theories:

Mindfulness helps prevent the circular negative thinking that keeps building on itself. Worry creates more worry.

Mindfulness can make you feel and be more connected to others because we are more present with the people we care about.

Mindfulness - by increasing your awareness of the world both inside and outside of you can help you become more grateful. You have to be present to appreciate.

Mindfulness can help change our perception of ourselves and lead us to understand that there is a smaller gap between where we are and our ideal self.

Mindfulness can help us enjoy any moment by putting our attention there rather than letting it wander to the past or future.

And mindfulness helps us to stay with negative emotions rather than trying to push them away.

To end, I’d like to invite you into another brief time of meditation. This time, I’ll invite you to calm your minds and then pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise in you.

[Meditation]

Closing Words

May you be filled with loving kindness
May you be well
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be happy