Monday, November 23, 2009

Consciousness and Happiness

In popular Western culture we are taught that the way to achieve happiness is to change our external environment to fit our wishes. But this strategy doesn't work. In every life, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame keep showing up, no matter how hard we struggle to have only pleasure, gain, and praise. Buddhist psychology offers a different approach to happiness, teaching that states of consciousness are far more crucial than outer circumstances.

More than anything else, the way we experience life is created by the particular states of mind with which we meet it. If you are watching a high school soccer playoff and your daughter is the nervous goalie, your consciousness will be filled with worry, sympathy, and excitement at each turn of the game. If you are a hired driver waiting to pick up someone's kid, you will see the same sights, the players and the ball, in a bored, disinterested way. If you are the referee, you will perceive the sights and sounds in yet another mode. It is the same way with hearing Beethoven, pulling weeds, watching a Woody Allen movie, or visiting Mexico City. Pure awareness becomes colored by our thoughts, emotions, and expectations.

- Jack Kornfield in The Wise Heart, page 49.

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