Each week we feature Andy's answer to one of the questions he has been sent by a member of the Headspace community about their meditation practice.
In answer to a question about where feelings of 'happiness' and 'kindness' are supposed to come from, he explains how things are not always as black and white as they may seem. By letting go of the endless commentary in our mind, we start experiencing that which we have always been looking for.
I just wondered where all this 'happiness' and kindness is supposed to come from? What if we don't feel particularly happy or kind? Although it's what everybody is looking for, things like work, pressure and other people don't always make it easy for one to be happy, or easy to understand, that like the blue sky, it is always there. Is it? Easy to say, but not always to believe. Sometimes one wonders where you are going with a certain theme.
Yeah, when we are not experiencing strong feelings of happiness or kindness it is very difficult to believe that they are always there, especially if we do not have so much experience in meditation. But there are two separate parts to your question, so let’s take a look at them both.
Whilst it’s quite understandable to say we are all very busy and that this prevents us from experiencing happiness or kindness, if we look deeply, we see it isn’t quite as black and white as that. There are some days when we are very busy and yet we feel energized and enthused. On the flip side, we might take some time off work and have all the time in the world, but actually feel a bit depressed and unproductive. That’s not to negate the difficulties of life - life is quite simply very difficult sometimes - and meditation embraces that fact.
It’s simply to recognise that our perception plays a role in that experience. I’m reminded of a Tibetan prisoner who spent 27 years in a Chinese POW camp. He eventually escaped and travelled over the Himalayas to India. There he met the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama asked him how he managed to survive so many years of torture, of being stuck in a place of such misery. He said “did you not fear for your life?”. The man replied, “the only thing I feared was losing my compassion, my sense of kindness towards others.”
It’s an extreme case admittedly, but it shows the potential of our perception and how, even when confronted by death, we can still find that sweet spot within. In short, we need to focus less on the external circumstances and more on the internal. Internally, the habitual patterns, or our conditioning, can sometimes be very strong. So we may naturally have a restless mind or frequently feel frustrated, irritated, sad, critical and so on. We might mistakenly believe this to be who we are or the sum total of the mind, forgetting that thoughts and feelings are simply on the surface of the mind.
Even when we sit and think ‘this is doing nothing, I can’t feel any happiness or kindness’, this is still being caught up with the surface, and likewise for the feeling which results from that thinking. The only way we can experience the blue sky you mention is to let go of that endless commentary which questions and doubts and obstructs our view of that blue sky. For some that process is quick and for others it is longer, but it is the same for all. And the anecdotal reports from the last few thousand years appear to match the more recent scientific findings - when we let go of thought, we experience something more spacious, less judgmental, more empathetic.
Of course, if we push too hard, then we just get caught up in the same old pattern of wanting something for ourself and thinking a lot about that and even feeling resentful that we are not experiencing it. But if we can approach it gently and with patience, we start to experience that which we’ve always been looking for. I suspect you’ll enjoy the Creativity Series by the way - where this idea is central.
Do you have a question you'd like to ask Andy about your meditation practice? Visit the Andy's Answers section of our community forum where you'll find instructions on sending your question in, as well as all the questions he has answered to date.
Don't forget also to check out our FAQ section, which is full of insights to help ease you along your Headspace journey.
Finally, a reminder that we also hold a monthly Q&A session with Andy on our Facebook page. The next session is taking place on 10th June at 8pm GMT. Full details here