I am thrilled to bring to you someone who has been an inspiration to me. Sylvia Boorstein is a wife, mother, grandmother, psychotherapist, author and founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the Bay Area. Her books include It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness; Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein; That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist;Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake: The Buddhist Path of Kindness; and her most recent book, Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life.
Today, Sylvia is going to tell us a bit about the intersection of Mindfulness and Happiness. What is mindfulness?
Sylvia: One way of defining mindfulness is as the steady and full balanced recognition of the present moment (a recognition arrived at through curiosity and benevolence) that both maintains clarity and ease in the mind as it reveals and mandates the wisest response. Paying attention leads to wise choices which are the choices that mitigate suffering and create joy.
Question: Sylvia, what makes us happy?
Sylvia: I feel happy when I feel in warm and cordial connection with my self, my kin, my associates, with what I am doing, with the world. I think happiness is the mind not in contention with anything. I think happiness is not contingent on external events (which are anyway always changing and anyway often sad) but on the minds ability to meet all situations with affection or compassion, knowing that even though things cannot be different now, they will change, and my care could be part of the change.
Question: If you were to give practical advice on what we can do in our daily lives to cultivate happiness, what would that be?
Sylvia: The Buddha told his disciple Ananda, “Noble friends are the whole of the holy life.” I try to keep my mind in a buoyant enough mood to stay balanced and awake and interested in my life and my world. Toward this end, I maintain contacts with lots of friends. I teach.
I meditate. I ride my bike. I grand-parent. I visit my friends who are sick. I try not to watch news on TV other than on special occasions: for some people the news is not a problem. For me, it is an intoxicant that begins to cloud my mind with fear and irritation.
Question: You have a section in your newest book Happiness Is An Inside Job titled Composure as Support for Sadness. So many of our readers struggle with sadness, can you tell us a bit about what composure is and how it can be a support for sadness?
Sylvia: I do not think about sadness as a mind-hindrance, as an afflictive habit that blurs the mind and makes clear decision making difficult. Sadness isn’t a habit. It is the natural response to genuine loss. It passes if it is fully encountered by consciousness, and held compassionately. We all are saddened by loss, even though we know it is inevitable. There is a period of accommodating to loss, different for everyone. Friends, I find, are the greatest support in times of lose.
Question: In your experience as a psychotherapist, in what way have you incorporated mindfulness into the work you have done with clients?
Sylvia: I think the most important way that mindfulness affects my work as a therapist is my heightened ability to really stay present to what my client is saying or feeling, to not feel put off or frightened by it or in any other way become disengaged from the connection the client and I share. I fundamentally think that all therapies that succeed, succeed as a result of a loving and trustworthy connection having been establish and nurtured. We feel better when we feel that someone else “gets” who we really are. I know I do.
Question: Sylvia, if you were sitting across the table from someone who has been struggling off and on with depression and anxiety and who feels they rarely feel happiness, what words would you give him or her?
Sylvia: If we were in company with others, I would only be able to be warm and friendly and hope that might be soothing. If we were alone, or in a therapeutic situation, I would empathize with how difficult it is to struggle with anxiety and depression (it is! And I know that!) and I would hope that the person across from me, having been seen by someone else, and appreciated for just who she (or he) was, would feel less isolated, and comforted.
Thank you Sylvia. And as always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.