The Awareness of Joy: It’s as Simple as Taking Another Breath
One undeniable characteristic we all share as human beings is a desire to be happy.
We spend most of our lives it seems, in search of happiness like it is some illusive, externally driven quality; constantly tantalizing us and dancing in and out of reach. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is a well known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The pursuit of happiness as such, is more often tied to external things like one’s appearance, physical prowess, a successful career, material wealth, and the companionship of others. The fact of the matter is that none of these things are guaranteed and even when we have them, we are never quite satisfied.
So what exactly then is happiness, and is it possible to experience lasting happiness, regardless of what’s happening around us?
To answer these questions, we first need to tune in to the most basic aspect of our existence - the fact that we are alive.
Most of us go through life in a kind of trance; utterly ignorant of our own mortality. Sure, we intellectually understand that one day we will die, but the inevitability of this fact gets stored away in the depths of the subconscious mind; only to be unlocked by some near death experience or diagnosis of a terminal illness. The real tragedy of our failure to come to terms with our limited existence, however, is that the experience of ultimate joy is also locked away.
If you do the math and strip all of the experiences of happiness in your life down to the simplest common denominator, you will invariably arrive at a single thought… I am alive and breathing. Think about it! The breath is your umbilical to life itself. The very first thing you do when you are born is inhale. The very last thing you do when you die is exhale. Thoughts of fancy cars, luxury homes, exotic vacations, fame, fortune, etc., without a doubt, you would give up all these things in a nanosecond if the only choice was between them and taking another breath.
Why tune in to the breath?
When you pay attention to the breath, you begin to spend less time thinking about the past and worrying about the future. The breath only occurs in the present moment. Constant thoughts about the future and the past are the respective sources of anxiety and depression. Through regular practice of consciously tuning in to the breath, it is possible to free yourself from chronic stress and experience a deeper sense of joy; unaffected by what happens around you.
The following is a simple in-the-moment mindfulness practice - one of many such techniques that can bring a greater sense of awareness and ultimate joy into your life:
Breath Awareness Practice
Whenever you do something that does not require a lot of intellectual involvement (eg. doing chores, going for a walk, waiting in a line, taking a shower, etc..) simply begin to notice the sensation of the breath. The coolness the air as it enters the nostrils. The comforting expansion of your lungs as they drink in fresh air. Linger for a moment and savor the experience just before the inhale becomes an exhale. Like a wave washing the shore, notice how the body relaxes upon exhaling. Notice the warmth of the air as it leaves the body; inviting a sense of calm. Linger once again in the valley of the exhale, just before the swell of the next inhale. Repeat and see if you can continue with awareness on the breath for the duration of your activity. If other thoughts begin to enter your mind as you practice, without judgement, simply bring your attention back to the breath.
In my own personal experience, I have found that it pays to stick with it and simply focus on the process itself, without any expectation as to outcome. Always remember it is a practice - there is no right or wrong! Practice as often as you can. In time you should begin to notice a shift in your general state of happiness. And who knows - one day without warning, you may even find yourself overflowing with tears of joy!