Dr. Stephen Royal Jackson, Ph.D. - America's Premier Stress Doctor
Excerpt from chapter on Cutivating Happiness in Slay the Dragon
Not Each Other Seeding Unconditional-No-Matter-What-Happens Happiness
At the end of A Simple Path by Mother Teresa, I found a poem entitled Anyway. I felt it was a recipe for slaying the dragon’s conditional happiness and achieving unconditional happiness: “my happiness is not dependent on anything external.” The author of the poem is Kent Keith. His poem consists of ten of what he calls paradoxical commandments. They are discussed in detail in his book Anyway. For our purposes here, I have selected four of them. In essence, you do good for its own sake because doing good makes you feel good. Don’t do good for approval, prestige, power, money, and/or admiration. Notice how practicing these commandments puts your focus on feeling good now, not later.
State the affirmations I added. They can help you seed your day with the joy of unconditional-no-matter-what-happens happiness.
• People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. [Today, I AM going to love others no matter what they do!] • If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway. [Today, I AM going to do good no matter what others think!] • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. [Today, I AM going to do good because it makes me feel good now!] • People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway. [Today, I AM going to help others not for recognition or reward, but because I feel happy when I help ease the pain of others!]
Focus on getting comfortable with being happy and feeling good. Practice the meditations. Identify when you are lapsing into the old habit of feeling bad. Stop the blame game. Remember that when you blame others for making you feel bad, you make your happiness dependent on what they say and do. Your happiness is dependent on you and what you focus on. Unconditional-no-matter-what-happens happiness is the goal. And it is a supreme spiritual and psychological achievement. Remember, being negative is a way to protect ourselves from the pain of loss and disappointment. Eventually, we lose everyone and everything we love. So what do we do? We deny this fact. The truth is we suffer because we love, and this is unavoidable. At the same time, we suffer more because we focus on feeling bad instead of feeling good. This is something we can avoid by learning how to replace a fear focus and a loss focus with a focus on feeling good and being happy. I once heard Dr. Wayne Dyer make the profound statement that feeling good is feeling God. He referenced the fact that the ancient Celtic word for good is God. **************************
Morning Meditation: Cultivating Happiness with a Love Focus
This meditation is a variation of the one found in Love Conquers Stress. This one helps you practice returning to the happiness and joy of a love focus when stress strikes. You slay the dragon of dependency and desire by monitoring your motivation. You observe your desires and emotions, link them to love and let them go.
• Start doing the following meditation for a few minutes each morning before breakfast. You sit still in a comfortable place and practice identifying and unhooking the stress hooks of your emotions and desires as they arise. You practice feeling good by keeping yourself free of stress. Learning to be free of the stress hooks helps to foster your health, happiness, and well-being. You do not need to tape it and play it back. Just read it over and get the essence of it: you are going to relax and simply watch and listen, see and hear, whatever comes into your awareness. The purpose is to practice keeping yourself cool, calm, and at peace. • Set aside at least twenty minutes to meditate. Sit or lie down and make yourself comfortable. If you already meditate and have a mudra (hand position) that you use, then use it. Otherwise simply place your palms in your lap with your left hand cupping your right hand and your thumbs just barely touching. • Soften your belly and do what I like to call belly breathing. Breathing in, feel you belly rise. Breathing out, feel your belly fall. Now bring your attention to your breathing. Notice the sensation of the air as you inhale through your nose. Notice the coolness of the air passing over your sensitive nasal membranes. Think the word c-o-o-l as you breathe in. As you exhale, think of how the air has warmed up in your body, and silently say c-a-l-m. • Send a wave of warmth and heaviness down through your body from your neck, down through your shoulders, chest, abdomen, pelvic region and on down through your legs and out the soles of your feet. • Identify your stress, anger, fear, sadness, and depression. Using a quieter and calmer version of the shift your focus and energy technique, you identify your negative emotions. You then link it to love and let it go. For example, you might say: “Ah, there’s my anger over being misunderstood. It tells me that I hate being misunderstood. And that’s because I’d love to be understood.” • Recenter your awareness on your breath. Thinking c-o-o-l as you breathe in and c-a-l-m as you breath out. If you prefer, after silently saying c-o-o-l and c-a-l-m a few times to start the meditation, you may choose to simply focus on the sensation of the air coming in and going out of your nostrils. • When another emotion arises, you identify it, and do the same as before. You link it back to love and let it go. You feel good in the face of stress as you just keep linking any negative emotion to love and let it go. If it comes up again, you do it again. You use the word my before the emotions and issues to own them psychologically as a truth about your personal emotional history. But you use my in a relaxed, non-grasping way in order to achieve a neutral position with regard to your emotions, desires, and issues. • If you are able to stay with the mantra of c-o-o-l and c-a-l-m with no intruding negative emotions, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine, too. Each time a sensation, emotion, thought, memory, concern or issue arises in awareness, you silently say to yourself something like: “Ah, there’s my_____. It’s telling me I hate or don’t like it when_____. And that’s because I’d love it if_____.” Then return to c-o-o-l and c-a-l-m. • You may go straight from the negative to the positive and skip using the word hate. For example, you may remember an incident or anticipate something coming up. “Ah, there’s my desire for approval telling me I’d love it if everyone always liked me.” Or, “Ah, there’s my fear that I might forget to go to the store telling me I’d love to remember to go to the store today.” As another emotion or issue comes up, you once again link it to love and let it go. • As you go through your day, focus on feeling good by detaching from the dragon by linking your desires and emotions to love and letting them go. Practice being free on a moment-to-moment basis. **************************
Evening Meditation: Restoring Happiness by Repenting
Something Christopher Reeve said in an interview after he was confined to a wheelchair really grabbed my attention. He quoted Abe Lincoln as saying,. “When I do good, I feel good. And when I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.” We do feel good in our heart and soul when we do good. Review your day before going to sleep. “Did I treat others with love, kindness, patience, acceptance, compassion, and empathy? What did I do today that I feel good about? Really relish the good you did. Thank your higher power for helping you. Ask yourself, What do I feel bad about?”
• After you review your day, you’ll feel good by repenting for the words and actions you regret. Visualize the people you wish you had been more loving and patient with in an empty chair. Express how sorry you are for your words or actions. Then tell the person you wronged what you would have loved to have said and/or done differently. “I’m sorry that I hurt you by saying or doing_____. And I would have loved to have said and/or done_____.”
• After you review and repent, you release judgments against others and yourself by using what I call the mantra of compassion. When someone attacks you with angry words, it helps to remember that he or she is suffering and resorting to anger to express pain. Visualize the person and silently say: “I know in my heart that you would have done differently if you could have done differently but you couldn’t so you didn’t.” Now extend the mantra to yourself for the words and actions you regret from the day. “I know in my heart that I would have done differently if I could have done differently but I couldn’t so I didn’t.” Resolve to speak or act in similar situations in the future with the soul qualities you want to actualize in your life. Notice how good it feels to repent and to resolve to act differently. **************************
Stress Tip: Unhooking Your Stress Hooks What stress hooks you into anger, fear, sadness, and depression? How can you unhook yourself? (the following is excerpted from A Matter of Love) **************************
How can we find ultimate freedom, peace, and happiness when stress irritates and bedevils us? We can see ourselves as ascending the ladder of love leading to freedom, peace, and happiness only to keep getting hung up in our ascent. When stress strikes us in daily life, we get irritated. In our irritation, it is as if the Narcissus in us feels attacked. We suddenly fixate our focus on preserving our idealized self-image. The paradox is that we must let go of our image by diving down into the depths of our heart so that we can resume our ascent to love. We find our liberation in our heart as we lovingly accept the irritating flaws in ourselves and others with compassion and empathy. Irritation can then lead us to liberation. Buddhists use the term attachment to convey the how we get hung up. In the March, 2003 edition of Shambhala Sun magazine, I found an article that clarifies the concept of attachment. The article was entitled: How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked by Pema Chödrön. The article introduced the Tibetan word shenpa which is usually translated as attachment but is better described as "hooked." Feeling hooked is experienced as a "sticky feeling." You could say, getting unhooked involves detaching from the outer world and attaching to the empty non-grasping Holy Grail of our heart that we become free. The spiritual traditions suggest that we need to rid ourselves of our ego-based motivations or, as I prefer to call them, the narcissistic demands of our idealized self-image. The goal is to die as Narcissus and be reborn as a person living from the empty non-grasping heart. We can then love freely without sticky fingers. Unlike these traditions, I believe we can harness our narcissistic motivation. In short term psychotherapy, we call this paradoxical intervention or prescribing the symptom. Rather than trying to counter hate, we harness its energy and shift it back to love. We use the acronym face. We need to feel instead of repressing and denying our negative emotions and the underlying issues associated with them. And we do this with acceptance, compassion, and empathy for these emotions and issues. As we empathize with our lower nature, the reptile and the hurt child in us, we transform ourselves and realize our higher loving nature. Pema Chödrön presents a formula for freedom that she calls "the four R's": recognize, refrain, relax, and resolve. First, we need to recognize that we are feeling hooked. I would say, we must first notice that we feel irritated and stressed. Next, we must refrain from acting on the impulse, the urge. She uses the analogy of scratching. We must "refrain from scratching." Then we do what we have been discussing throughout this book. We must relax and face the urge. She calls this step "relaxing into the underlying urge to scratch." To me, it's important that we breathe deeply so that we can relax and feel with acceptance, compassion, and empathy what the urge is telling us. We give the urge space. If we can relax and feel the urge as it is without trying to change it, fight it or flee from it, then we can redeem the reptile in us. By refraining from fight-or-flight and relaxing, we have a chance to gain freedom and insight. By relaxing and feeling our irritation, we encourage the underlying issue to emerge so that we can heal it. Finally, we then resolve to keep interrupting "our habitual patterns." These patterns interfere with our freedom, peace, and happiness. On the one hand, they are ways that we seek to maintain an idealized image and gain love and approval. On the other hand, the patterns are developed in childhood to avoid our parents' anger, disapproval, rejection and abandonment. The early origin of our patterns makes them difficult but not impossible to eliminate and replace.
Common Irritations You Can Use for Your Liberation
There are innumerable variations of the things that hook us. Some are indirect attacks and others are direct attacks on our shining self-image. Below are some common hooks that lead you to get stuck staring at the image in the pool. To be free, we must give up the need to impress others with a shining self-image.
• Someone says or does something that you disagree with and think is wrong hooking your need to be right. • Someone makes a mistake hooking your need to correct others and impress them with how much you know. • Someone says or does something you think is stupid or wrong hooking your need to criticize others. • Someone is late hooking your tendency to get impatient. • People are talking in a group hooking your need to brag. • Feeling unimportant, a nobody, starts hooking a desire to be famous as if having your name known makes you important. • Feeling poor and not feeling respected by others hooking a desire to be wealthy so that you will be respected. • Your loved one is not behaving as you think he or she should hooking a need to control them so they'll do it your way. • Your loved one is talking to an attractive person hooking feelings of jealousy, anger, insecurity, and possessiveness. • Being criticized hooking an urge toward fight-or-flight. • Being outdone by someone else hooking an urge to compete. • Being laughed at or made fun of when you do something hooking a desire for revenge. • Being rejected for a job or date hooking a self-critical urge. • Being told directly or indirectly you are wrong hooking an urge to yell and tell the person off! How can we use these common irritations—hooks—to achieve our liberation?
The clue is in the word question; it has the word quest in it. When we question, we initiate the inner quest for our freedom. If we don't question, we live like a fish at the mercy of all those fishermen. We stop getting hooked when we stop taking the bait, and start seeing the hooks hidden in the flashy lures of life. Try questioning your automatic reactions with acceptance, compassion, and empathy. At the same time, you must be sure to refrain from any outer actions. You are engaging in an inner quest to find your freedom and not an outer quest for approval. Below are some common hooks that we get free of by questioning them.
• Someone is wrong. Do I really need to point this out? Or am I trying to impress others? Do I really need to impress them? • Someone is making us wait. Do I really need to say anything? • Someone mispronounces a word. Do I really need to correct him? Is it really necessary? Or am I just showing off? • You feel inferior since you can't afford expensive things that others can: car, clothes, and so on. You think, "If I had more money then people would respect me then!" Would they respect me or the money? Wouldn't I do better to confront the issue of how I deserve to be treated with respect just because of who I am as a person and not because of what I have?
There is a difference in having wealth and fame without being attached or hooked by them. The difference is in being able to remain loving and spiritual while having fame and wealth. It is realizing they do not grant happiness and peace. Surely, it is easier to be spiritual in a sanctuary far from the narcissistic temptations that confront us daily. Of course, we must beware of spiritual narcissism. Imagine two people sipping green tea and discussing spirituality. Both are smiling and smugly thinking, "I'm more spiritually advanced than you! I'm at a higher level!"