[Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness Teacher]
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Mindfulness Plus. I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for listening today. I wanna start off by thanking everybody for listening. It's been a few weeks since I've been back in the swing of season five and I feel more buoyant, I feel more joy, I pay attention to my life and the world in different ways. When I'm recording this podcast, actually, I've come to think of it, I hope this doesn't debase the podcast, but I've started to think about it as a bit of a mindfulness journal so that when I'm in season, I'm just attending to the world in a different way. And reflecting on the way the practice shows up and how a mindfulness practice can change our quality of life by the way we pay attention to our lives. So it benefits me tremendously to get to share the content with you. And if you weren't listening, there would be no podcast to speak of. So thank you to the listeners. Thank you to Skylight for generously funding season five and letting me do something I love very much. What I want to talk about today is extraordinary happiness. And I say extraordinary to make a distinction between extraordinary and ordinary happiness. And I also, to add one more layer of texture, I want to talk about extraordinary happiness in the context of advent. Because we are recording today, it is an unnervingly warm December day in Salt Lake City, Utah. I wonder what Decembers will be like in a hundred years from now in Utah. They seem awfully warm right now. At any rate, it's December and it's advent. For you Christians out there, you know that advent is on the Christian liturgical calendar and the word itself comes from the Latin adventus, meaning a coming or arrival, referring to the arrival of the Christ child in the Christian tradition, but it also points to the second coming of Christ. If we want to universalize this theme a bit more, which I try to do on Mindfulness Plus, I assume people listening are people who are people of faith, agnostic, atheist, the whole gamut of human traditions, and that there's absolutely a way in which we can and I think need to learn how to speak across the traditions to each other in a modern world. So maybe advent itself evokes something beautiful in you and you love that. And this eager waiting, watching for the Christ child that come into the world inspires you. And if that's the case, that's great, 'cause we're talking about advent. And if that's not your flavor, I would say that to me, this watchfulness that we cultivate during advent is this sense of possibility for greater light to pour into the world, to pour into our hearts, pour into our lives, and that if we pay attention in a particular way, we can become fertile ground for that activity. So lots of different ways to take it. But back to extraordinary happiness. This is a term, you hear this in Buddhism, actually. And I was familiarized with this language by my teacher Shinzen Young, he talked about a kind of happiness beyond conditions. What does this mean? Well, if you go back to, I believe it was episode one of season five, I talked about this quality of a push and pull in human life where we tend to anxiously neurotically manage conditions moment to moment trying to eke out just a little bit, just a modicum of ordinary happiness in our lives. Ordinary happiness means I'm doing everything I can to manipulate, control conditions. And for five seconds of the day, I finally feel relaxed, there's food in the pantry, money in the bank, and I feel good, but oh, then I get a phone call and it's a relative that I was avoiding and it ruins my day and bam, this ordinary happiness. What I want to convey is that, from a Buddhist perspective, it's extremely fragile. Ordinary happiness is dependent upon conditions. So how we feel is directly pegged and pegged to and correlated with what's happening around us in life. In the Buddhist tradition, and in fact, the Christian tradition, I think all the great traditions, there's an intuition that there is something in the human being, the human spirit, we could say human consciousness. There's something that is free. There's something, if I may wax poetic like I do on Mindfulness Plus, you know by now if you've listened, there's something in us that is noble. There is something in us that is imperturbable profoundly, not only at peace, but peace itself. And learning how to access this place of unshakeable peace within ourselves is the name of the game, it's why I do this practice, and why I love to share it. So I've said a little bit about ordinary, extraordinary happiness. Ordinary happiness is the neurotic micromanaging moment to moment trying to get everything just like I like it. And if it's not like I like it, I'm miserable. And if it's just how I want it, I'm happy, kind of, sort of for a second, but I'm also so anxious about things changing that I can't even enjoy the little ordinary happiness I've achieved. It's that fragile, I think. So let's drop down, let's slow down, and let's look at this kind of quality of extraordinary happiness, first from the perspective of the Christian tradition, because we're in the Christmas season and then we'll branch out from here. I've quoted from father Thomas Keating this season and I'm gonna do it again. I love father Thomas Keating's teachings and he's just present in my heart these days, so I hope you'll indulge me here. Father Thomas Keating, who spent his life as a Benedictine monk in the Catholic tradition, he writes something simple and beautiful about advent. He writes, "The spirit of advent is the realization that we cannot be happy without a relationship with the immense mystery that vastly transcends all categories, and yet deals with us in an incredibly personal way. In advent, we perceive our misguided and distorted values. We know that we cannot save ourselves, hence out of our inmost being comes the cry for help. The realization comes that there's nothing we can do to change this inner situation except to wait and offer this longing, too deep for words, to God's infinite compassion." Whenever I read powerful words, especially when I read them aloud and hear them, my body just it's like I've just eaten a meal and I need a moment to digest. Why don't we eat that again? I want to give you this passage again and then reflect on it and then practice with it in meditation today. Father Thomas Keating writes, "The spirit of advent is the realization that we cannot be happy without a relationship with this immense mystery that vastly transcends all categories, and yet deals with us in an incredibly personal way. In advent, we perceive our misguided and distorted values. We know that we cannot save ourselves, hence out of our inmost being comes the cry for help. The realization comes that there is nothing we can do to change this inner situation except to wait and offer this longing, too deep for words, to God's infinite compassion." So there are a number of phrases that I just wanna stop on here before we move into some practice. I love this line, "In advent we perceive our misguided and distorted values." What are our misguided and distorted values? Well, a moment ago, in a more Buddhist perspective, I was talking about ordinary happiness and our kind of obsession to try to seek for the perfect conditions. And if they would just stay still long enough, we could finally be a little happier. Here, misguided and distorted values, it's referring to this part of us that has this insatiable appetite. St. Paul in the New Testament refers to it as the natural man. It's the natural man, the natural woman, the natural human being has an insatiable appetite for security, for pleasure, for esteem, for power. I've talked about these qualities in other episodes that I can refer you to in the show notes. But there's this quality of an insatiable need to control conditions. And when we perceive directly our misguided, our distorted values, we realize we're helpless. If we give in to these distorted values, we'll spend our entire lifetime seeking after what we can ultimately attain. And if we attain it for even a half second, we can't maintain it, we can't control it. And this is the definition of human misery. It's the human state of fallenness in Christianity. It's the perpetual state of suffering in Buddhism. So Keating points this out. He says in advent we realize we have these distorted values that are making us miserable. We realize we can't save ourselves. We cannot save ourselves something deeper, something truer than the false self, than egoic conditioning has to come through to redeem us, to ennoble us, to free us. So he says, the realization comes that there's nothing we can do to change this situation of our insatiable appetites that will never be satisfied. What can we do but offer our longing? And in Keating's words, in this tradition that we're longing for something that only God's infinite compassion can satisfy. God can mean many things to many people, but we can say that God of your understanding or whatever you take to be ultimate. As a humanist, you could take that to mean your deepest truth in reality, what you hold to be precious. So it's a lot of talk. I hope it's helpful to kind of evoke a mood. I'm not trying to convey concepts here so much as invoke a spirit of, to me, advent and the mindfulness practice, it brings up this question for us, what do I really need? What do I need? What is actually going to make me happy? My sense is that human beings have an intuition. When we really look at this question, "What do I need?" We realize pretty quickly that what we need, it has to be deeper than conditions. If we build our house upon the sand, it is a rickety structure. If we build our house upon a rock, a rock is even too literal that, if we build our house upon a stable foundation, which we could say, well, let me leave it unnamed. But if we learn to turn inward and relax into that part of us, that is ultimately imperturbable, unshakable, that is peace itself that in the Christian tradition is God's infinite compassion. We rest in this quality and we know that we're known and we feel that we're felt. And somehow, there's a subjective sense of this abiding presence and peace and love that's completely pervasive and abounding. To me, this is why the distinction of extraordinary and ordinary happiness is so important. If we don't make this distinction, we can easily spend the whole human life pursuing ordinary happiness. And we know from experience, the more frenetically and energetically we pursue ordinary happiness, the more elusive extraordinary happiness becomes. So let's sit still, let's let go of the concepts and let's settle in and just see what it feels like to bring our misguided, our distorted values to awareness, to recognize that our heart longs for something, an immense mystery Keating calls it, something unnameable and yet something that's right here, it's ever present. Let's drop in and see what this feels like. Whatever you're doing right now, wherever you are, whether you're in stillness or motion, I want you to find a sense of inner stillness. Turn toward the part of you that's already still, always already still. In the stillness, allow yourself to be at rest, to be calm, to be complete. It's not an "as if you were complete" scenario I'm pointing to, it's actually at the heart of your experience right now. Complete. Nothing lacking. You come to stillness and you allow yourself to be fulfilled. It's counter-instinctual, we're used to seeking fulfillment, seeking it desperately even. And here, we're just calling off the search, allowing the fulfillment, the fullness that's already here to be full, to be as full as it is. Let the mind that chronically seeks come to rest. Just for a moment, try it on. Put on the mind of no seeking. No seeking. As you do this, it's natural to feel sensation come up in the body, emotions, thought forms, activity, in other words. Then there'll be a temptation to launch back into motion to go seeking again. And this points to our distorted values, this deep-seated belief that there's something wrong, that this moment is inherently problematic. As an advent meditation, you can open your heart, your mind, your awareness to a coming and arriving. A coming and arriving of what the fullness that's already right here. A fullness of life. If you're alive and you're breathing and you're hearing these words, you're alive. And what end to life is there? Can we find a beginning or an end to life? It's so big. It seems infinite. What about love? Feel the love in your heart. Feel the love all around you. What you care about, what you give your heart to, even if it's just a thimbleful in this moment. Even if you don't feel like you have very good access to your heart. If you can just taste the least bit of it, let it be enough. And the fullness of light. Light, energy, the very substance of the universe, we're made of light. The ground beneath you, made of light. Your own awareness, light. Light within, light without, a light in and through all things, no beginning or end. As a frightened animal in the world, we can never be satisfied. There's always lack. There's always fear. But when we turn our attention a single degree, when we open up, everything changes, everything shifts. We realize we are sons and daughters of infinity. We realize in this moment, life, love and light abound. And without this abundance, there is no satisfaction, there is no true happiness. Stay with us just a bit longer. It's a total marvel that when our inmost being cries out for help, for fulfillment, this fulfillment is already here, already freely given. All right, happy advent. I am feeling more the spirit of the season already. So that's our show for today. A couple announcements. The organization I work for, Lower Lights School of Wisdom, we're launching some new content that we're really excited about called Gospel Meets Dharma. You'll notice if you listen to some of the episodes on Mindfulness Plus, I have a way of kind of bilingually shifting from Christianity to Buddhism. These are the two traditions that have most informed me in my meditation practice, in my devotional life. And in this course, I kind of hold them up side by side in conversation and dialogue and dance, and offer what I find are some of the most beautiful views and gifts that these traditions have to offer. So if you're interested in that, check us out, we'll put up a link in the show notes. If you're wanting to deepen your own dance in gospel and Dharma. Also for the show, Mindfulness Plus, it continues to live and breathe and thrive with listeners like you. And if you wanna share our show with somebody, we'd appreciate it, as well as leaving us a review, particularly if you enjoy the show. So that's it for this episode, we'll be back with more. I have another little something cooked up for advent next week. I hope you'll join us. All right, till next time.