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Radical Happiness Blog

One Thought at a Time

There's only room for one thought to arise at a time. People often feel overwhelmed by their negative thoughts and feel victimized and controlled by them. They have difficulty detaching from them. They feel that their thoughts, at least some of them, are too compelling to ignore, and some are very compelling.

Nevertheless, many of our thoughts are quite easy to ignore, and ignoring the easier ones strengthens our ability to ignore the harder ones. Learning to detach from the mind is a skill. Like every skill, starting with something easier and moving to something harder is the way to build confidence and competence. The most important thing is to not get discouraged and give up trying to detach from the egoic mind, because the ego will try to discourage you when you attempt to become free from it.

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The Simplest Meditation

Here's the simplest meditation, which you can do anywhere and anytime. It's meant to become a way of life, not just a meditation: Notice, without getting involved in any thoughts about what you are noticing. Ignore all of the mind's commentary. Notice not only what's obvious, such as what you are seeing, but also what's more subtle, such as your inner experience and state, your energy and sense of yourself (is it expanded or contracted?), any knowing or intuitions, any drives or motivations, and any thoughts or feelings. Notice not only what's coming in through your senses, but also the impact that has on you subtly and not so subtly. Notice everything that's arising in the moment and being experienced. And if you are involved in doing something, really notice that. There's a lot to notice in any moment!

The reason for meditating is to develop your ability to stay present to thoughts and feelings, which are products of the ego, instead of identify with them. We habitually identify with the egoic mind—we believe our thoughts and feelings—and this causes a lot of suffering. The ego isn't wise, and it keeps us from accessing true guidance and from recognizing what is really living our life. Through noticing, awareness of the Noticer is strengthened. Another name for the Noticer is Essence. The Noticer is who we really are. We are what is noticing, or aware of, life.

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The Present Heals

What heals the past? The old adage claims that time heals. If that's so, why does it heal, and is it really time that heals? Over time, our memories weaken and our ability and desire to bring the past into the present through thought weaken. Life starts getting in the way, as whatever was lost gets replaced by new life. That new life begins to get our attention more than what happened in the past. Time heals because life moves on to something new. Life brings us new experiences, opportunities, challenges, and relationships. Since we can only give our attention to one thought at a time, after some time has passed, our memories are naturally given less attention, they fade, and other thoughts take their place.

If that's how time heals, then that's very good news, because it means we can speed the process of healing our sorrows over the past just by moving our attention away from thoughts about the past onto the present moment. Being in the Now is actually what heals old emotional wounds, not time. Shifting our attention to the present moment is not denying or repressing the past, but simply not creating unnecessary pain for ourselves. It's a wise choice. We can continue to recreate, or reanimate, the pain of the past, or we can choose to leave the past in the past once we see that bringing memories into the present moment doesn't serve us, but only extends the pain and distances us from life.

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What Keeps You From Being Happy?

A thought is the only thing that can keep us from being happy. What a revolutionary truth that is! The thought that interferes with happiness the most is a thought of lack, which is at the base of all desire. If we didn't think that something was missing or lacking about ourselves, someone else, our situation, or life, we wouldn't be unhappy. Unhappiness is caused by believing that something we think we need to be happy is missing. It's this belief that makes us unhappy, not the fact that something is or isn't here right now.

The ego produces thoughts of lack. The sense of lack created by the belief that something is missing produces a desire, which is simply the thought “I want.” That desire is fed by more thoughts about what getting what we want or not getting what we want would mean. Then feelings, such as fear, come up related to not getting what we want, and action is taken to try to fulfill the desire and waylay any fears.

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The End of Striving

One of the gifts of terminal illness can be the cessation of striving. When we know that our life will soon be over—when the play we've been starring in is about to come to an end—we stop striving to be someone, get something, and get somewhere. The ego's story is all about being someone special by attaining or achieving something. The ego has a storyline in mind. It knows how it wants the story to go and how it wants the story to end, and it wonders how it will go and end. When all of that striving, dreaming, and desiring no longer make sense because we are about to die, we may be freed from the ego. The cessation of striving that often accompanies terminal illness opens the door to discovering and experiencing more fully who is really here and who has always been here beneath the costume. When our functioning is stripped away, our looks are gone, and possessions no longer mean anything, who or what remains? What a blessing it is to find out the truth about who we are. This discovery is one of the spiritual purposes of terminal illness.

Most of our thoughts are in service to the ego, the I that we think of ourselves as. They promote a story about ourselves that's driven by desires and other conditioning: “I have to do that, I should do that, I can't do that, I want that, I need that.” This story seems true and real. We believe we need our story to go a certain way, even when life has other plans. So we strive and push against life, trying to make that story happen—and happen on our own timetable. It's natural to do this. However, all this striving and suffering over how our story is going isn't necessary because life is happening anyway, and it's happening as it's meant to be happening, and on its own schedule.

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