Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Warming the Heart

Here, offered for your consideration, is another of my daily contemplations. As with the contemplation on Kindness offered earlier, I have committed this contemplation to memory. I say it very slowly and silently to myself, allowing the feelings evoked by the words wash through my body.

I call this one "Warming the Heart." It's mostly a compilation of Thich Nhat Hahn's gathas.

It goes like this:


Warming the Heart

In each precious moment I am filled with deep gratitude.

May I recognize the seeds of joy and happiness in my heart and in the hearts of all sentient existence.

May I cultivate the seeds of joy and happiness in my heart and in the hearts of all sentient existence.

May I touch the seeds of joy and happiness in my heart and in the hearts of all sentient existence.

Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment.



I've found that the formula of recognition, cultivation, and stabilization of positive states of mind to be very helpful. At first, we may not even recognize a positive state of mind when it occurs. So, the first step is to notice positive mind states when they arise. Secondly, once we recognize positive mind states, we can begin to cultivate them. Finally, as we learn to cultivate them with some regularity, we find that our minds begin to dwell in positive states more frequently. This contemplation uses that formula (substituting the word touch for stabilization).

Garden Imagery
I guess it's because I'm a kindergarten teacher. Kindergarden. I've always liked that! I thank Froebel for that. I like imagery arising from gardens in spiritual contexts. Maybe it's my Christian roots showing (Garden of Eden). But whatever the source of my affinity for this imagery, the idea of seeds of mind states and of their cultivation really works for me. We can plant and water seeds of happiness in our lives. Or not.

Sentient Existence
This phrase is Buddhist in formulation and feel. Sentient existence the most expansive and inclusive phrase I know to extend our wish to spread and share joy and happiness widely. It also steers pretty clear of concepts of God for the benefit of agnostics. But sentient existence is heady. If you wish to substitute another phrase (perhaps "all God's creatures") please do so. The idea here, again, is to adapt and use this contemplation to incline our minds more towards happiness and joy.

Joy vs Happiness
I suppose there are many ways to distinguish one from the other. They're related and not really separate, I guess, but feel different. Here's how they distinguish themselves in my way of thinking. For me, joy is mostly other-directed: Joy concerns the gladdened feelings I get when good things happen to other people.

Happiness is mostly an internal feeling when good things happen inside.

How this Contemplation Works
I find that this contemplation comes to mind quite often. It reminds me to water seeds of happiness in whatever situation I'm in. I might snap off the radio if it plays a news report about suffering or conflict over which I have no control. I might pay more attention to the collard greens growing in the garden. I might listen more intently as a kindergartner tells me news of their morning. I might refrain from complaining about some unpleasant aspect of my job over which I have no control and instead think about a pleasant or rewarding aspect of my job. I might fill the bird feeder outside my classroom thinking about the happiness of birds getting enough to eat. This contemplation helps my heart area feel like a garden resplendent with flowers instead of a bare patch of dusty dirt.

May it bring you joy and happiness, too!


Katherine said...

Lovely, thoughtful post. Thank you Dan.
Naturally (ha) I love the garden metaphor.

Delwyn said...

I have been thinking overnight about your differentiation between joy and happiness. For me joy is more transitory - I feel a moment of joy seeing the sun set through the clouds or feel joy bubbling up when I hug my daughter; whereas happiness is a more pervasive feeling - an attitude -a framework - from which I view the world.

Delwyn said...

It seems that all of the world's religions use metaphors from the 'garden'...there must be a universal resonance there... Christ talked of mustard seeds, of casting seeds, of barren ground...The Buddha of course found enlightenment under the bodhi tree and Thich Nhat Hanh has a retreat in France called Plum village.

Mr. Kinder said...

Katherine, I'm pleased you find gardening metaphors a good fit. You obviously see deeply into the alchemy, mystery, magic, and generosity of plants. They are a window into higher realms, literally and figuratively.

Mr. Kinder said...

Delwyn, your contemplation on how joy feels distinct from happiness is interesting. For me, all emotional states are transitory and remarkable mostly for their effervescent impermanence. I hadn't thought that joy is more transitory than happiness; I'll try that thought on for a while.

I don't really know what the difference is exactly. The dictionary I have online here isn't immediately helpful: it defines each word in terms of the other.

I'd love to have more people chime in on this one. Perhaps there's really no important difference to be discerned. If that's so, I may abbreviate the contemplation to include one term or the other.

Mr. Kinder said...

Delwyn, I'm not an expert on the matter of the universality of the garden image, but it makes sense. Gardening would be an early form of agriculture, and agriculture would be a forerunner of religion (though not spirituality).

Some Christians I've talked to are surprised to learn that Judiaism, Christianity, and Islam share the Old Testament in common along with its stories which include, of course, the Story of Adam and Eve in Garden of Eden.

For those three major religions and Buddhism, at least, garden images are present.

I'm not familiar enough with Hinduism to know whether gardens appear prominently in their metaphorical world, but I would be very surprised to learn if they were absent.

Mr. Kinder said...

Regarding joy versus happiness:

My wife discussed this over dinner and came up with this idea: that joy has a connatation of wholesomeness that isn't necessarily present in happiness to the same degree. Thus, you could be happy having a beer and bag of chips in front of a football game on the telly.

But you'd probably not describe the above feeling as joy.

Delwyn said...

Dan: in regard to your first comment where you say that agriculture would be a forerunner of religion tho' not spirituality ~ I am wondering about the ancient religions/spiritual inclinations of pantheism and Shintoism and their focus on the natural world.

I will think more about joy and happiness. The word Happiness seems to have become devalued through overuse and everybody talks about wanting to be happy without really knowing what that actually means to them. Is it contentment, peace, less suffering, less stress, a partner, a job, serenity, feeling joyous.....
I agree that joy is a little more refined, maybe a little more sublime.