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Unconditional Contentment

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Deer Park MonasteryThis past weekend, I stayed at Deer Park Monastery, a monastery founded by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. At the monastery, we did not sit in meditation as much as I am accustomed to while on retreat. Instead, the focus of my stay was living mindfully in a variety of daily activities. My mentor at the monastery, Brother Wisdom, urged me to find a state of unconditional contentment, and to not allow my happiness to be swayed by anything.

Sitting in meditation, it is relatively easy for me to be mindful of what is going on in the present moment. When I notice a sound, sensation, or thought, I am able to turn my attention toward it more easily. When I am attentive, I am generally able to treat things with more equanimity. With equanimity, my contentment is not as easily affected by anything going on. It is more sturdy and stable.

Although I may find this unconditional contentment at times in my meditation practice, I think it is important to look for it in daily life. I don't have to strive for perfection, but I can strive to have a more resolute happiness. I worked this past weekend on finding this contentment in my daily life. We sang, danced, chanted, washed dishes, gardened, rested, and hiked in mindfulness. Although we also meditated, I found that bringing my practice off the cushion was greatly insightful and beneficial. I think I began to dig a little deeper into the roots of my contentment.

Brother Wisdom pointed out to me the irrational logic that we use when we rest our happiness on conditions. Everything is impermanent, including our feelings, thoughts, and everything outside of us. We often have the habit of resting our happiness on these same things. We say or feel things such as, "I'd be happy if she loved me," "I can't be happy until my body isn't sore," or "I am happy because it is sunny out." However, all of these conditions are impermanent and changing. Can we be happy when she doesn't love us anymore? Will we actually be fully happy when our bodies feel better? Will we be sad when the clouds cover the sun? When we rest our happiness on impermanent conditions, our happiness is bound to change as the conditions change.

If we are to have true, stable happiness, we must find it regardless of any conditions within us or externally. With equanimity, we may do so. We may find contentment equally whether we are washing dishes, gardening, or hiking. Although this is a bit idealistic, we always have room to progress. I found while staying at the monastery that I had great room to grow in this area. I find contentment in certain situations, but am easily discontented in others. I find it interesting that the word disease (such as addiction, alcoholism, depression, etc.) actually comes from the words "dis" and "ease," meaning "not at ease." This is how I feel when not contented: dis-eased (or diseased).

With my new-found knowledge about myself and the possibility of finding unconditional contentment, I am beginning to work more diligently on staying present in seemingly mundane activities. After experiencing contentment in all kinds of situations, I hope to bring this out of the monastery and into my daily life. This is the idea of our Daily Mindfulness Emails, and we hope to make them better through this experience!

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