Tag Archives: contentment

An 8-Step Guide to Meditation—and Deep Inner Peace.

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Kosal Ley via unsplash.com

Are you familiar with the writer Sam Harris? In 2005, he wrote a bestselling book The End of Faith that, in a nutshell, portrayed religion as little more than a collection of myths and superstitions that could be blamed for much of the world’s ills.

It was with some trepidation that I picked up his more recent book Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion—but I knew that Harris was an excellent writer and the title grabbed me. And in this fascinating study of meditation and consciousness, my only difference with Harris is this—where he finds self-transcendence, I sense the presence of God. (Which, to paraphrase Paul Tillich, I see not as a being, but being itself.)

It turns out that Harris spent much of his young adult life traveling the world and studying with some of the best meditation teachers of our time. (His main focus was Buddhist meditation due to its relative lack of religious content.) Harris shares with us his own 8-step guide to meditation, similar to one I shared on these pages, with a few nuances. It’s as good as any I’ve ever read, and it appears in a lightly edited form below:

An 8-Step Guide to Meditation.

  1. Sit comfortably with your spine erect, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.
  2. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or cushion. Notice the sensations of sitting—pressure, warmth.
  3. Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to where you feel the breath most, either in your nostrils or rising and falling in the abdomen.
  4. Allow your attention to rest on your breath, as you let it come and go naturally.
  5. Every time your mind wanders, gently return it to the breath.
  6. As you focus on your breath, you may perceive sounds, bodily sensations, emotions. Simply observe these phenomena as they appear and return to the breath.
  7. The moment you find yourself lost in thought, observe it as an object of consciousness, release it, and return to the breath.
  8. Continue in this way until you merely witness objects of consciousness—sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts—and allow them to rise and pass away.

If you try this and are still struggling, see my story here.

Harris sees meditation as creating a deeper sense of well-being and inner peace. He strongly believes that we need to overcome the conventional sense of ourselves, which is an illusion. We can do this by taking a pause from our jittery, overthinking selves and paying closer attention to the present moment.

He relates our lives to watching a film in a movie theater. When we’re totally immersed in the film, we forget our surroundings and the fact we’re merely looking at light on a wall. In Harris’s words: “Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the movies of our lives.” Meditation allows us to step out of the movie, return to our seat, and observe our lives from a distance. It helps us overcome the illusion of the self, by placing us squarely in the present moment.

The reality of your life is always now.

But Harris points out that we often forget or overlook this truth. We become preoccupied with thought, dwelling on the past, pondering the future, questioning, analyzing everything, until we are “spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves.” He self-effacingly points out that:

It seems to me that I spend much of my waking life in a neurotic trance. My experiences in meditation, suggests that an alternative exists. It is possible to stand free of the juggernaut of self, if only for moments at a time.

What’s important to note here is that a regular meditation practice can also extend benefits into our everyday lives, not just at the moment of meditation itself. This ability to calm and unclutter our mind becomes an attribute we can always fall back on, merely by remembering to breathe. Harris refers to this as “mindfulness” and a “state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention”.

When we reach this state, Harris tells us that what remains is consciousness itself, with “its attendant sights, sounds, sensations, and thoughts appearing and changing in every moment.” In the book, Harris takes a deep dive into the meaning and mystery of consciousness, a heady subject we’ll look at in the future.

This story originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, April, 26, 2017.

The Bible Passage more potent than the Law of Attraction.

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Adam Jackson via freeimages.com

What is the key to getting more success and happiness out of life? If you believe in the Law of Attraction, you might trust the maxim that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on the positive you can attract the positive. Believe you’re going to land that job, win that contest, find the ideal mate, and good things will come your way.

To a certain degree it makes sense, because nothing good ever comes out of negative thinking. But if you’re like me, you may have discovered the Law of Attraction doesn’t always work the way we envision it. In spite of our best efforts, the outcome is not always what we expected. Sure, the Law seems to work sometimes—just not all the time.

But recently I read a twist on the Law of Attraction that makes a little more sense, that rings a little more true. It was called out in a book by John Templeton, the billionaire businessman turned spiritual philosopher, who believed the following Bible passage held the key to a happy and successful life. It’s found in Acts 20:35 and reads:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Now Templeton didn’t just quote this passage, he took it a step further and put a little more context around it. He linked it with the Law of Attraction to form this simple but powerful idea:

Giving can make you a magnet for success, because good attracts good.

What Templeton has done is swapped the idea of positive thinking bringing you a positive outcome—and replaced it with the notion of doing good bringing you a favorable outcome. It’s a formula that’s set in motion by the act of giving. Templeton has even set up some rules around this idea:

  • If you want to be happy, strive to make someone else happy. Give happiness.
  • If you want to have more love in your life, strive to be a more loving person. Give love.
  • If you want to be successful, help others to succeed. Give of yourself.

It’s the Law of Attraction brought to a higher, more meaningful level—because it doesn’t just center around positive outcomes for ourselves. It recognizes that we’re part of something bigger, that what is good and positive for us must also be good and positive for others.

As Templeton points out, “if you only receive, that’s all you end up having. If you give, you have the pleasure of knowing that you have helped others, plus the rewards that giving brings back to you.” And it all starts by taking to heart a simple Biblical passage:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The truth is if we want more happiness, success and love out of life, we have to give more to life. It’s a good reason to forget about receiving and start “giving” today.

Are you happy? Maybe it’s more important to be content.

If you had the choice, would you rather be happy or content? I’ve written about happiness several times on these pages, but it recently dawned on me that there’s a subtle difference between the two words.

While the dictionary definitions of happy and content are fairly similar, for me happiness is best represented by this image:

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jaylopez/freeimages.com

If you’re familiar with the happy face emoji, you may know that the same face is shown conveying a number of different emotions. It can be smiley or sad, sleepy or stressed, surprised or pensive. They are the many feelings we often cycle through on any given day and they serve as a reminder: Happiness is often fleeting, here one moment and gone the next.

On the other hand, when I think of contentment, this picture comes to mind:

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Buddha

Is there a more peaceful countenance than that of the classic Buddha? I have many similar-looking Buddha statues around my own home and they serve as constant reminders to take a breath. Get centered. Be.

The good thing about contentment is that it lasts. Happiness comes. Happiness goes. Contentment stays. The contented state-of-mind, once established in the morning, can be maintained throughout the day.

While outside circumstances may change, when we’re content, we remain calm and centered. We are at peace with the world, no matter what the world sends our way. To quote the poet Rudyard Kipling, we “meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”

In a classic book by John Templeton, I ran across a 10-point list the author attributes to an obscure metaphysical author named Rebecca Clark. The list is important because I believe it calls out the keys to living a contented life. Rebecca’s words are in bold type, my thoughts follow with a little help from Mr. Templeton:

  1. Know who and what you are. Find yourself. Be secure in the knowledge that you are a unique individual and have value to add to the world.
  2. Count your blessings. Never forget the good that already exists in your life. Give thanks for it daily.
  3. Act maturely. Learn from life, continue to grow mentally and spiritually, but always wear your learning lightly.
  4. Eliminate fear. Look fear in the eye and befriend it. Remember the worst possible thing that can happen is usually not as bad as a fearful mind might think.
  5. Give of yourself. Love. Service. Praise. Help. Encouragement. Friendship. Kindness.
  6. Value simplicity. Because the simple pleasures in life are often the best. (But you already know that.)
  7. Welcome changes. They are often for the better. Learn to flow like a gentle river through the changes that enter your life.
  8. Exercise the law of unlimited supply. If you believe it’s possible, it becomes possible. “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” ~Napoleon Hill
  9. Pause to enjoy life. Get off your phone and appreciate the beauty around you. A tree. A painting. The sunset. Your child. Your partner.
  10. God first. All of us are a little better, a little stronger, a little more centered, when we realize God is always at our side.

This post originally appeared at my Wake Up Call column at Patheos January 24, 2016.