Meditation and Cheerfulness
A short talk and practice session led by the Warden of Shanti Sadan
One of the qualities that can help us on our path is cheerfulness. This does not mean the temporary uplift brought about by good news, but a well-established normal state of well-being and magnanimity that extends its warmth to the whole of humankind.
For someone who knows the inner meaning of life, and has knowledge of the deeper self, cheerfulness is independent of anything external. Their cheerfulness is based on the certain knowledge that the nature of the Self is bliss.
Such cheerfulness is not exuberance, which can easily turn to despondency. In fact, the ideal state of mind is one that is no longer conditioned by the pairs of opposites and our response to them: success and failure, admiration and censure, pleasure and pain. The mental and emotional energy is conserved, and rests, as it were, at the centre of our being, and not at its vulnerable edges.
Many of us give lip service to cheerfulness. Which of us does not have occasion to turn to a subdued companion, and say: ‘Cheer up!’, or even more: ‘For goodness’ sake, cheer up!’ But how few have any understanding of precisely how we might bring about this mental uplift, or the deeper implications of such self-help. For to cheer up implies that we are the master of our mind and have the power to choose our thoughts.
It is a step forward in wisdom when we know how to give the command ‘Cheer up’ to our own mind. To do this effectively is no easy course. For we will need a clear knowledge of the trends and tendencies of our mind. And here we may discover, or come to suspect, that certain patterns of thought and feeling run counter to the cheerful spirit of magnanimity and well-being that we are encouraged to cultivate.
On the other hand, if we want to do good in this world, let us be cheerful, in the sense of fostering a calm and cheerful mind. It is not necessary to be hyperactive in order to be a helpful presence to those around us. Thoughts and feelings are never sealed up within us; they leak, and their general atmosphere passes into other minds. There is a mute eloquence that is often more effective than any outward teaching.
But how in practice are we to coax our mind to cheer up? The resourceful approach, common to several wisdom traditions, includes talking to your mind, as if it were a pupil put under your charge. Be convinced that the mind is teachable in this special way. Invent exercises in mind-management. Make decisions and stick to them. Do this in trivial matters to start with. Tell the mind: ‘After twenty steps, you will cross the road.’ Then do so, counting and crossing with concentration, and avoid corner cutting. Again, you enter a store with your list of items you need. Just for one day keep to the list, and smile at the fertility of excuses the mind makes, desperate to get you to buy more. Tell the mind: ‘That can wait until tomorrow.’ Refuse to listen to the mind’s moans about ‘missed opportunities’, or your killjoy meanness. The point to appreciate in all these instances is that you are the master of your mind, and these practices, done now and again, will reinstate your self-sovereignty and also free up the mental energy in order to bring out its higher purpose. You may, as yet, lack the alertness and will to banish instantaneously negative thoughts, but you have made a promising start.
Cheerfulness is not just a manufactured response or a piece of play-acting that lacks sincerity. Real cheerfulness is based on a deeper understanding of the unity and bliss of the true Self. As the coverings of wrong identification and erroneous ideas are removed, the reflected light of Self begins to pervade our inner life. This lightening of the mind is effected gradually, step by step. But the final realisation is not one more step, because Truth transcends all temporal, spatial and mental dimensions. The coverings are known never to have had real existence, and only the light has reality.
So there are good grounds for accepting that cheerfulness is a natural virtue of the mind, which will express itself as long as we are not smothered by the cares and complexities of life. In early childhood this joy easily surfaces, as long as the child feels secure and protected. It is based on no outer factor; and even when there are tears, these are usually soon replaced by smiles and laughter.
Life itself is characterised by a constant quest for joy, and every human being has their own idea of what, for them, will generate the happiness they long for. But difficulties and disappointments occur when we base our happiness on the acquisition of outer things, because these are never wholly under our control. A more reliable course is to learn to track down the source of happiness in our own being and to work to recover that original cheerfulness.
But we cannot leave cheerfulness to chance, nor turn the clock back to an infancy which, though lit by joy and laughter, is yet unstable. In fact no great virtue grows by itself, and if neglected, will wither. On the contrary, if we want true cheerfulness, we have to tutor our mind consciously, for in the last analysis, every mood we entertain is nothing more than the appearance and disappearance of thoughts of a particular kind.
It is through practices in mind-management, such as those mentioned before, that the inner sun of our true authority will be revealed in our own experience; then, indeed, we shall have reason to live in good cheer, as well as the inner power that allows our happiness to spread beyond our individualised nature, and be enjoyed by others.
Practices on the Theme of Cheerfulness and Bliss
For a moment, reflect consciously on the blessings you enjoy, and resolve to bear cheerfully any difficulties you are experiencing just now, and which you cannot rectify through your own efforts.
Breathing with I am Bliss
Become aware of the motion and sound of your breathing process. Slow the breathing slightly, maintaining your awareness of the breath. Then, at the end of out-breath, say to yourself: ‘I am bliss’, remembering that the home of bliss is not the fleeting thoughts, but the essential consciousness which is the underlying support of the ever-changing mind and world, and is the same reality-principle that is in us all.
Text for Meditation
JOY ETERNAL, UNBROKEN PEACE IS YOURS,
NAY, YOU ARE THAT. REALISE YOUR CENTRE,
AND BE THERE FOR EVER AND EVER.
This text applies to everybody. It is expressed in terms of ‘you’ and ‘yours’, as if the statement came from an external authority. But it can also be heard as the voice of Truth within, awakening us to the infinite and eternal reality at the core of our being. In this way the self as teacher guides the self as pupil to the highest good.