Personally, I like to stick to a few cardinal rules for maintaining some measure of happiness amidst a sea of human discontent and restlessness. As a prime directive, following the Mahayana (or any legitimate) Buddhist path will always bring some measure of tranquility, in spite of how inadequately I practice. Being on the path is better than not being on it. But too often we forget that there are very simple exercises one can try each day. These lighten our burdens quite effectively and instantly, allowing more space for emotional growth:
1. Enjoy falling asleep quickly.
I find being able to fall asleep in less than 10 minutes to be one of my greatest blessings. My friends have found it insufferable over the years, especially when travelling with me, as I’m a terrible snorer and there are few who can get some shuteye once I’m bringing down the ceiling with my thunder. Yet how many of us today take sleeping pills just to be able to fulfil a basic function that is crucial to replenishing us mentally and physically? When we are sick and agitated inside, we find ourselves being unable to do this most important of things: sleep. Our home is where our heart is not simply because of who lives there, but also because it’s where we spend a third of our life, in complete vulnerability.
To sleep well is a blessing of life. To be able to get there quickly is even better.
2. Embrace the good side of having a bad memory.
Am I justifying poor memory? I am, kind of. Why do we need to force ourselves to remember everything, let alone keep tally of the perceived wrongs and indignities done to us? How lighter our shoulders feel if we, even when slighted, have let go of it, even if unintentionally, after a few hours or days. Good meditators can actually do this all the time through mental cultivation, and more power to you if forgetting comes naturally to you. Time doesn’t heal all wounds if one’s memory remains as sharp as a blade. If something triggers something in me that dredges up past feelings of hurt or bitterness at a particular person or event, I have no choice but to watch my feelings and mindfully attend to them without committing any harmful speech or actions.
But if we can’t mindfully forgive (and sometimes we might not be disciplined enough to make peace with every single nasty thing that’s happened throughout the week), then the next best thing is just to forget about it.
3. Remember that for every passing and irretrievable moment spent in anger at the world, bitterness, and contempt of others, it could have been spent in laughter, warmth, kind thoughtfulness, or absorbing enjoyment.
I regret every moment spent being angry at the universe or feeling that the world is out to get me. There are moments in life wherein we might not be able to help it, despite all our efforts. Nevertheless, these are our moments. We should treasure them. We don’t want our children to spend their young years miserably, all work and no fun or adventures. Well, our moments are our “existential children,” quantum imprints of our lives on this planet. Even if we believe in rebirth (and I do), we only live this exact life of ours once, with no possibility of replication in future existences. For all its angst, darkness, anxiety, and bewilderment, it’s precious, slipping away from us nanosecond by nanosecond. Wouldn’t it feel so much better if we could spend as many moments as possible immersed in a good book, helping the disadvantaged, delighting in a musical instrument, planting trees and flowers, or writing a loving letter to our friend, parent, or spouse?
I take to heart what Albert Camus wrote in The Stranger (1942): “… gazing up at the dark sky spangled with signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still.”