According to the ancient philosophy of the Vedanta, there are two types of happiness. The first comes from things turning out the way we’d like them to, i.e. getting what we want. We say, “I’m happy because . . . because I have family and friends, because I got a promotion, because I have money and security.” This kind of happiness is inherently fleeting because it depends on external reasons that can be taken away from us at any time.
The second type of happiness, in contrast, is a state of being, not something we do or achieve. It isn’t dependent upon our mood or outer circumstances. Real happiness comes from having an unassailable connection to the deep state of unbounded awareness at our core. This state of being is our own inner joy that expresses the exuberance and wonder of being alive at this moment; it is our own self-luminous essence made conscious of itself.
How do we awaken to this true Self? By going within and putting our attention on the silent presence in our heart . . . the silent witness that is detached from sensory experience and at the same time enjoys that experience in complete freedom. You can do this right now by asking yourself, “Who is the one that is reading this article?” Become aware of the silent witness that is observing the unfolding of all the external events of your life. This eternal presence is your true Self.
The Path of Meditation
Meditation is one of the most direct and powerful ways to awaken to who we really are and to experience happiness as a state of consciousness that already exists within us. When we meditate, we go beyond the swirl of thoughts, memories and emotions that tend to keep us stuck in our ego’s story of who we are. We enter an expanded state of awareness and discover our own inner fountain of joy, a source of happiness that isn’t dependent on anyone or anything.
We may experience a realization of our true Self the first time we meditate, but most often the process of awakening is gradual. As we meditate regularly, we let go of the conditioned beliefs and accumulated physical and mental toxicity that cloud our perception of our essential spiritual nature.
Accessing Inner Quiet and Bliss
There are many different techniques to quiet the mind, including yoga, focusing on the breath, walking in silence in nature, biofeedback, prayer, contemplation, and countless other approaches. If you have tried to meditate in the past and stopped because you were frustrated, weren’t experiencing the benefits, or weren’t sure you were doing it “right,” I encourage you to start anew because the gifts of meditation for physical health, emotional well-being, and increased happiness are many and profound.
There are different types of meditation to accomplish different aims, so the best meditation for you will be one that fits your goals. Almost every meditation practice will bring you greater peace and relaxation, so if that is your primary aim, then a simple breath awareness meditation is fine.
If you want a meditation practice that will allow you to experience your core Self – without thought – then you need a practice that can take you beyond the mind and give you the experience of pure awareness. For that, traditionally what is needed is a silent mantra meditation, such as the Primordial Sound Meditation practice taught at the Chopra Center.
The word mantra comes from the Sanskrit term mantrayate, meaning “that which takes away the mind.” As you silently repeat a mantra, you dive below the bubbling surface of the mind, which is always preoccupied with thoughts, memories, and desires, into a place of pure consciousness. This is your true Self. While mantras are certainly not the only way to go beyond the mind, they are invaluable gifts the ancient sages have handed down to us to make access to the Self easy.
Getting Started with Meditation
In our experience at the Chopra Center, people are most likely to stick with their meditation practice and therefore get the most benefits from it when they learn from a qualified instructor. Here are a few ways that you can begin—or continue—your own meditation path:
- Nearly 100,000 people from more than 190 countries have begun their meditation journey with the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge, which is free to all who register at https://www.chopracentermeditation.com. Each day for 21 days, you will receive guided meditations led by me and other Chopra Center master meditation teachers, as well as practical tips and wisdom to help you create lasting change through meditation. You’ll also be part of a worldwide community of like-minded individuals exploring the gifts of meditation
- There are Chopra Center certified meditation instructors throughout the world. You can look for one in your area by visiting the “find a teacher” page at www.chopra.com. Because meditation is a primary tool for physical health, emotional wellbeing, and spiritual awakening, we also offer Primordial Sound Meditation instruction at every Chopra Center event.
- Here is a simple yet effective meditation technique you can try right now. It is a mantra-based practice using the ancient Sanskrit mantra So Hum.
- Choose a place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a chair or on the floor, using blankets and pillows to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
Close your eyes and for a few minutes and take a few moments to observe the inflow and outflow of your breath.
- Now take a slow, deep breath through your nose, while thinking or silently repeating the word So.
- Then slowly exhale through your nose while silently repeating the word Hum. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating So . . . Hum . . . with each inflow and outflow of the breath. Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in the environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So Hum.
- Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So Hum.
Do this process for five minutes when you first try it. You can gradually extend the time. Just breathe easily and effortlessly, without trying to concentrate. When the time is up, sit with your eyes gently closed, taking a moment to rest in the stillness and silence of your meditation.
9 Keys to Lasting Happiness
In addition to meditation and mindfulness, there are other practical ways to connect to our innate happiness and wellbeing. The following nine keys, gleaned from the world’s wisdom traditions, may give you some insight.
1.) Listen to your body’s wisdom, which expresses itself through signals of comfort and discomfort. When choosing a certain behavior, ask your body, “How do you feel about this?” If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress, watch out. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, proceed.
2.) Live in the present, for it is the only moment you have. Keep your attention on what is here and now; look for the fullness in every moment. Accept what comes to you totally and completely so that you can appreciate it, learn from it, and then let it go. The present is as it should be. It reflects infinite laws of Nature that have brought you this exact thought, this exact physical response. This moment is as it is because the universe is as it is. Don’t struggle against the infinite scheme of things; instead, be at one with it.
3.) Relinquish your need for external approval. You alone are the judge of your worth, and your goal is to discover infinite worth in yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks. There is great freedom in this realization.
4.) When you find yourself reacting with anger or opposition to any person or circumstance, realize that you are only struggling with yourself. Putting up resistance is the response of defenses created by old hurts. When you relinquish this anger, you will be healing yourself and cooperating with the flow of the universe.
5.) Know that the world “out there” reflects your reality “in here.” The people you react to most strongly, whether with love or hate, are projections of your inner world. What you most hate is what you most deny in yourself. What you most love is what you most wish for in yourself. Use the mirror of relationships to guide your evolution. The goal is total self-knowledge. When you achieve that, what you most want will automatically be there, and what you most dislike will disappear.
6.) Shed the burden of judgment – you will feel much lighter. Judgment imposes right and wrong on situations that just are. Everything can be understood and forgiven, but when you judge, you cut off understanding and shut down the process of learning to love. In judging others, you reflect your lack of self-acceptance. Remember that every person you forgive adds to your self-love.
7.) Support your bodymind by giving it the most nourishing food, experiences, and environment. Your body is more than a life-support system. It is the vehicle that will carry you on the journey of your evolution. Don’t contaminate your body with toxins, either through food, drink, or toxic emotions The health of every cell directly contributes to your state of well-being, because every cell is a point of awareness within the field of awareness that is you.
8.) Replace fear-motivated behavior with love-motivated behavior. Fear is the product of memory, which dwells in the past. Remembering what hurt us before, we direct our energies toward making certain that an old hurt will not repeat itself. But trying to impose the past on the present will never wipe out the threat of being hurt. That happens only when you find the security of your own being, which is love. Motivated by the truth inside you, you can face any threat because your inner strength is invulnerable to fear.
9.) Understand that the physical world is just a mirror of a deeper intelligence. Intelligence is the invisible organizer of all matter and energy, and since a portion of this intelligence resides in you, you share in the organizing power of the cosmos. Because you are inseparably linked to everything, you cannot afford to foul the planet’s air and water. But at a deeper level, you cannot afford to live with a toxic mind, because every thought makes an impression on the whole field of intelligence. Living in balance and purity is the highest good for you and the Earth.
If you would like to explore the principles and practices for awakening to happiness in greater depth, I invite you to register at chopra.com for the Chopra Center’s 8-Week Happiness Series, a free online interactive course that will help you connect to your own inner source of joy. Remember that just as a radiant sunrise can be hidden behind the clouds, our inner happiness can become obscured by constricted awareness and our daily concerns. But no matter how long we have been lost in fear and limitation, we can learn to rise above the clouds of conditioning and awaken to the source of happiness within us.
Deepak Chopra, M.D. is a best-selling author, teacher, and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California. Dr. Chopra and the Chopra Center’s master educators lead a variety of workshops and retreats in meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, and mind-body wellness, including the upcoming Seduction of Spirit meditation and yoga retreat coming to Chicago this July 9-15 at the Eaglewood Resort. To learn more please visit www.chopra.com/seduction or call 888.736.6895 for more details.