January is almost over, and with it comes a slowdown of the New Year’s challenges that show up in our inboxes and social media feeds. I’ve got mixed emotions about challenges. The novelty of them can be interesting, and maybe sometimes the intensity and repetition has lasting effects on habits we might want to alter or develop. However, I find that the novelty can soon wear off, and along with it my commitment to the challenge, especially if I’m just doing it just because it’s the season.
However, in this case the other person doing the challenge is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who’s sharing how to achieve and maintain happiness in the course of ten days. Well, not really. It’s another of the Ten Percent Happier meditation app challenges. They went to a lot of trouble to fly out to Dharamshala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile, and actually interview him about happiness, compassion, dealing with jerks in our lives, etc. And yes, there were ten days of meditations too, with Zen priest Roshi Joan Halifax.
tldr: I did all the meditations, but the best part was what I learned about and from the Dalai Lama about happiness. Here are some of those lessons.
Lesson one: the Dalai Lama sticks his tongue out after he says something funny. He did this throughout the interviews, so I think it’s his thing. Each time he did it I enjoyed it even more. I think we should all start doing this; the world would definitely be a happier and more humorous place for it.
Lesson two: Even the Dalai Lama experiences anger. When Dan Harris, the Ten Percent Happier founder, asked him if he ever felt anger, he admitted that being woken up by a mosquito in his room was irksome.
Whew, that’s a relief! The goal of any happiness challenge just can’t be the elimination of either angry or sad or negative thoughts and feelings. Neither can it be the fashioning of a wholly positive and happy environment. If the Dalai Lama can’t achieve this, certainly I can’t either. So I don’t have to berate myself when I feel negative; it’s a part of the human experience.
Lesson three: as in all challenges that I’ve tried, some parts are much harder than others. Compassion is a very big thing with the Dalai Lama (obvs). He explains that compassion to others (and I mean ALL others, including even those most difficult people in our lives) gives us a benefit– the benefit of greater happiness. He calls this strategy “wise selfishness”.
I tried the meditation on compassion for jerks (that’s what they called it), and it was pretty hard. You’re supposed to think of a difficult person in your life, and wish them health, happiness, safety and ease. I’ve done this sort of meditation before– it’s a variation on Metta or Loving Kindness meditation. It just so happened that, at the time I was sitting for this meditation, I couldn’t do it. It was too hard focusing on a very difficult person. I was resisting and losing focus and struggling.
During that meditation, though, Roshi Joan Halifax said that we could focus on ourselves instead if the going got too tough. Maybe that day we needed more help, more compassion. So I did, and that helped.
I am remembering this and trying to apply it to other challenges in my life– physical, emotional, logistical, etc. Not every day is all-go-no-stop. In fact most days aren’t. And some days our flow, our grit, our focus, our strength– they are at a low ebb. Wise selfishness includes compassion for ourselves as well as others. Okay, got it.
Lesson four: when someone is sad, offering them cake is always a help. Okay, there’s more to this one (but honestly, not a whole lot more). The Dalai Lama gave a talk with folks about how we are social animals, and that happiness comes from seeing that we are not alone. A woman in the group shared that she was grieving a loved one, and asked him how he maintained hope amidst grief.
His Holiness called her to him, and then fed her some cake.
An act of kindness, as simple as offering food, reminds us of our connections to others. This is another example of the wise selfishness that His Holiness was talking about. Do for others and you spread happiness. Wondering how you can pull this off? Easy– bake a cake. Or brownies. Your choice. And then share it.
At the end of the Ten Day Challenge, I feel like I’ve acquired a few new moves to take me in the direction of increased happiness. Thank you, Dalai Lama! Now, off to try my hand at a lemon pound cake to bring to friends.
Fellow readers, did you take away any new skills from January challenges? I’d love to hear from you.