Cultivating Joy for the Holidays and Throughout the New Year
We all experience joy and know what it feels like. The good news is that we can cultivate the feeling and create the conditions for it to be realized more deeply and frequently. Mindfulness is one way to enhance the development of this innate ability we all share. First, a brief introduction to what Mindfulness is and its benefits. Next, we summarize the practice of Awareness of Breath. This practice develops a clear, calm, and collectedness to the mind and body, preparing for the cultivation of and leading to joy. The cultivation of Joy is similar to the Loving Kindness meditation, if you are familiar with that practice. It is also one of the four heart practices or “heavenly abode” practices that often accompany Mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally (that is, noticing and suspending judgment). Another way to define mindfulness is to look at its components – Attention, Concentration, Awareness, and Compassion and its benefits; its key aspects:
Attention where you focus your mind; Concentration – the ability to stay focused on one object, one-pointedness. Awareness – is the mind’s ability to know, in the present moment, rather than being caught-up in thoughts of the future or thoughts of the past. Noticing your experience, right here and now.
Mindfulness brings a gentle, curious attention to whatever arises in mind and body as you rest in awareness. You just observe the sensations themselves, as they arise and pass moment by moment with nothing added. As a result, you come to know and understand yourself in a deeper, experiential way. Compassion deepens as you come to understand the causes and conditions leading to the present moment and as your understanding and compassion deepens, it becomes easier to extend compassion to others. Keep in mind, as with developing any art or skill, mindfulness requires practice and patience.
Benefits of developing a mindfulness practice:
- Changes your relationship to stress, anxiety, anger, fear, sadness, grief, etc.
- See more clearly – with fewer perceptual filers
- Be less reactive and more responsive – allowing space/time for conscious and creative choices
- Gain insights- identifying skillful and unskillful patterns of behavior, speech, etc.,
- Know yourself more deeply, fully
- Deepen your inner wisdom
- Develop a calm peacefulness/ a reservoir of peace and energy
- Be more compassionate with self and others
To summarize: to realize greater health and happiness personally and professionally
Research on Mindfulness – the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop is considered the “gold standard” for mindfulness studies. For peer reviewed journal articles on mindfulness research visit the American Mindfulness Research Association at http://www.goamra.org
Awareness of Breath Practice Summary
Check your posture: Sit in a comfortable position. Try to sit in the same place each day as you develop a regular daily practice. Avoid positions that might encourage sleep. Let the back be long and soft, supporting itself. Shoulders are relaxed back and downward, the neck is long, and the chin is neither lifted nor tilted down. Face and jaw are relaxed. Relax the abdominal muscles. Make a commitment to yourself not to move unless you must – and if you need to move, notice the wanting to move, make the intention to move, and move with mindfulness. Return to the focus of attention on the breath.
1. Bring your attention to the physical sensations of breathing. Feel the experience of the inhalation in the abdominal area. Bring your attention to the sensations of the expanding and contracting of the rib cage, the tightening and softening of the diaphragm; perhaps feeling the skin touching clothing, a sense of warmth or coolness, moisture or dryness. Noticing how each inhalation is followed by and exhalation, a sense of cohesiveness. Being with the breath, breathing itself. Simply being with the sensations of breathing. Resting in awareness of each inhalation and each exhalation.
2. Notice if/when the mind wanders – a thought, sound or a sensation pulls your attention away from the breath; then gently but firmly guide your attention back to the breath in the abdominal area. If you’d like, bring a gentle, small smile.
3. Repeat. Let the breath breathe itself, that is, without controlling the breathing. Let it be natural.
4. Start this practice for 5 – 10 – 15 minutes or as long as it is comfortable; increase the time until you can practice 20, 30, then 40 minutes.
Benefits: This practice primarily strengthens concentration, the ability to stay focused on one object. It calms and collects the mind, resulting in tranquility of mind and body. The Awareness of Breath meditation is a beneficial practice in its own right and serves as the first “step” in developing a mindfulness meditation sitting practice. Developing some level of concentration is necessary for the inquiry and investigative aspects of mindfulness practice. Awareness of Breath practice serves as an anchor; you can always come back to the breath as a place of refuge/safety if the mind becomes unsettled or if body sensations, thoughts, or emotions become too uncomfortable. The practice is not about the breath; it is about awareness of the breath. Awareness – the knowing function of the mind, consciousness. Simply noticing your experience as it happens, moment by moment.
Cultivating Joy for the Holidays and Throughout the New Year
Loving Kindness (friendliness) meditation becomes compassion when it meets suffering and Loving Kindness becomes Appreciative Joy when it meets joy. Joy is the felt sense of being pleased or having gladness. Sympathetic Joy feels good and is beneficial as well. Salzberg writes, “…the quality of sympathetic joy challenges our deep assumptions about aloneness, loss, and happiness and shows us another possibility.” And this meditation practice is about sharing joy, experiencing and appreciating it when we see others experiencing joy, rather than feeling jealousy, envy, or judgment. It allows us to experience others’ joy more fully which deeps our own experience of joy as well.
Cultivating Joy involves setting an intention, repeatedly, to notice and fully experience joy. This practice opens the heart, allowing us to “soak-in” more of the feelings of joy. As we make this a regular practice we start to recognize more of the joy around and within us, deepening its experience.
Cultivating Sympathetic Joy Meditation – Two Approaches
1) Repeating the Phrases:
The traditional way of developing Sympathetic Joy uses the repetition of a phrase, with different people in mind. A traditional phrase is “May your happiness and good fortune continue.” Or “May your happiness not diminish.” Or consider using your own words, creating a phrase that works for you. Begin with someone you know, a friend perhaps, where you find it is easy to recall their happiness or to rejoice in them. Take a few moments and delight in their happiness and good fortune. Take several minutes repeating your chosen phrase with this friend in mind, focusing on their happiness or gain. Then, when you are ready, move on to the following sequence of people: a benefactor, a neutral person, slightly difficult person, and to all beings (all people, everywhere), spending time with each one.
This practice as well as the next, works against the tendency we may have at times of envy, jealousy, comparing, and demeaning. Salzberg reminds us, “How much easier to simply be happy for the happiness of others, knowing that this gives rise to our own.”
Reference: Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Sharon Salzberg (1995)
2) Self-creating and sustaining joy: We start by creating whatever felt sense of joy that we can. You may reflect on a joyful experience (past or recent) or being with someone who is joyous, perhaps remembering a joyful interaction with them. This may be a person or a pet. Chose whatever is easiest for you to develop some feeling of joy. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming sense of joy, subtle is fine to start.
Then when you feel ready, switch your attention to the felt sense of joy itself. Stay with this feeling. If it fades, go back to how you started to generate the initial feeling of joy.
For example, what works for me is to picture or visualize the smiling faces of people I know – family and friends. Focus on their smiles, briefly. Then turn to the feeling itself and abide in that joy. When this sense of joy starts to fad or your mind wanders, simply recall more smiling faces.
Experiment for yourself and find what works best for you. If you find it difficult or impossible to create this feeling at first, remember that we are inclining the mind toward the feeling of joy. Seeing it in others and fully appreciating their joy then notice your heart’s inclination. Is there joy present? What does it feel like in your body and mind? Pause and be present with whatever felt sense you are experiencing. With practice it becomes easier to self-start the Sympathetic joy practice. Your own experience of joy deepens at the same time. Alternatively, you can try the “Repeating the Phrases” approach for cultivating joy. You might try experimenting to see what works best for you.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh – Mindfulness teacher,
Mindfulness Practice sessions are facilitated by Mike Healy, Ed.D., certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is a certified Integral Hatha Yoga instructor, RYT 200. For more information, please visit: www.MindfuLiving.Org or email email@example.com or call 706-248-8918
Free, Online Mindfulness Practice Opportunities
Live and Online: Mindfulness Practice Evening is a Free Offering for the Community and sponsored by the Loran Smith Center – that meets the second Friday of each month from 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. We explore different aspects of mindfulness through discussions and practices. All are welcome – whether you are just curious about mindfulness and its benefits or have a regular practice. For more information please contact Mike Healy at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and the Zoom link.
The Dedicated Mindfulness Practitioners Group is free and offered to the Community sponsored by the Loran Smith Center; it meets every Saturday from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. This is an opportunity to practice and discuss your mindfulness practice. Now offered online with Zoom. For details and the Zoom link please contact Jasey Jones at email@example.com.
Additional Mindfulness Practice Opportunities
Rick Hanson – meditations and about meditating
Georgia Museum of Art – on the UGA campus (all are welcome)
Morning Mindfulness continues every other Friday at 9:30. For the Zoom registration link each week, sign up for the museum’s free newsletter by becoming a friend of the museum (FREE!)
Morning Mindfulness Achieves are available at YouTube channel here.
For information please contact: Sage Kincaid, Associate Curator of Education, Georgia Museum of Art, 90 Carlton Street, Athens, GA 30602 706.542.8863
A wide variety of Mindfulness Meditations with Tara Brach: https://www.tarabrach.com/
Guided Mindfulness practices at the Mindful Living Center – – the Resources page on Healy’s website includes guided Mindfulness Meditation, Body Scan, and Yoga I (on the mat gentle stretching with awareness), and Yoga II (standing stretching with awareness) practices that are free to stream or download at www.MindfuLiving.Org (free downloads)