Swami Kriyananda


by Swami Kriyananda

First published in Clarity Magazine on December 1, 2005
Used with Permission

 

 

In observing people I’ve noticed that the capacity to be grateful is a mark of spiritual refinement. I don’t mean the capacity to express gratitude but to feel it.

Many people express gratitude outwardly, but the real expression of appreciation is not in words but from within. This kind of inner appreciation, which is a feeling of love, is tantamount to attuning yourself to the Divine.

Gratitude closes the circuit

Think of your own experience when someone does something for you that you really appreciate. You don’t necessarily have to say, “Thank you,” but you feel love going out to that person that creates a link between the two of you.

When I first met Ananda Moyi Ma, I had brought some messages for her from people in America. One was from a brother monk who had asked her for a bit of cloth — something she had used. When I asked her for this on his behalf, she gave it so gladly that I thought I’d better get in on the act, too.

Quickly I added, “Could I please have two?” Understanding my intent, she lovingly brought me a towel and a shawl that she had used for many years. I was deeply moved by her graciousness and generosity and afterwards, humbly thanked her. Ma’s answer always intrigued me: “Would you thank your own mother?”

In America, of course we would, but in India, generally speaking, they don’t express thanks to their nearest and dearest because it seems too formal. The more typical Indian expression of gratitude is simply to offer their love in silence. I’ve noticed that sensitive people everywhere express gratitude this way. Whether or not they actually say, “Thank you,” is incidental.

Try to expand your consciousness so that when you say, “Thank you,” what you mean is, “God, I love you and through your gifts I see how you love me.” The proper kind of gratitude isn’t for God’s gifts but for His love.

Fear: the enemy of gratitude

The ability to feel and express appreciation deeply is not all that common. Often when you do people a favor, they act as if you owed it to them. It’s as though they don’t want to express appreciation for fear of being taken advantage of, or hurt.

I’ve noticed in big cities, especially, that people are constantly hedging in their consciousness, for fear of being struck by an unkind remark. When you smile at them in a crowd, they look at you suspiciously, as if you were trying to put something over on them.

Try to have the consciousness that says, “It doesn’t matter how I’m treated by other people; I just enjoy feeling and expressing love and appreciation.” What we give is ours to give and it shouldn’t matter how it’s taken.

A mark of spiritual refinement is the willingness to give more than you receive, to remain open to others under all circumstances, and never to be afraid of what might come as a result. When you’re able do this, it’s a sign that you’ve developed enough inner strength that you no longer need to protect yourself.

Try to feel gratitude at all times

Only after we’re able to give real appreciation to God do we begin to understand that all gifts, good or bad, come from Him and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. In actuality, nothing is bad because the things that are painful always come for some important lesson or purification. Even the most unfortunate things prove in the end to be great gifts.

Perhaps the loveliest story I’ve ever heard on this particular subject was from the book, The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were thrown into a concentration camp and put into a barracks-like room ridden with fleas.

Betsy, who was a saintly soul, kept saying, even amidst the cruelty and deprivation of the camp, “We have to be grateful to God for everything.” Corrie was able to accept all the other hardships, but she simply couldn’t accept that the fleas were from God.

A beautiful thing happened, however, when one day, they were holding a prayer meeting in their room with other women prisoners. Suddenly they heard the guards about to enter for an inspection. Betsy and Corrie became very frightened because they knew that if they were caught, they would all be subjected to severe punishment or even death. Just as the guards were about to go in, one of them paused at the door and said, “Let’s not go in there. It’s full of fleas.” And they moved on.

The fleas were a minor inconvenience compared to the torture they would have been subjected to had it not been for those pests. Betsy quietly smiled at Corrie, who now understood that everything — even the fleas — were truly from God.

“Master gave me a beautiful apartment”

When we can thank God for everything, then and only then do we really grow. If we thank Him for a beautiful dinner, then we should also thank Him for the times when we have no food at all.

I’ve heard so many people say things like, “Oh, Master gave me a wonderful new car or apartment.” And I think, “You don’t really understand what Master can give you if you can get so excited about getting an apartment.” It may be that he gave you the apartment or it may be that it was just your karma. The point is that when people speak that way, they’re thinking in terms of the material blessings or comforts God gives, rather than of the lessons involved or the sweetness of God’s love.

So let’s thank God for our blessings, yes, but let’s not define those blessings only in terms of good things. Let’s define them in terms of the opportunities that He gives us to grow and to deepen our love for Him.

When you’re willing to give everything

Very often, those who love God the most are subjected to the hardest tests. It doesn’t mean that he’s happy to subject us to tests, but he knows that our spiritual growth may require them. It’s like a doctor who subjects you to a painful operation to save your life.

A child, not understanding the purpose of the operation, may scream bloody murder, but that doesn’t mean that the doctor would be more loving by not doing it. So it is with the guru: he would rather give us a little bit of pain now to spare us a great deal of suffering later on.

Be grateful when more is asked of you

You should be glad if God is asking more of you than of others, because that means you’ve shown a greater willingness to give. I learned long ago that the spiritual life is not defined in terms of what God is giving us but in terms of what we are willing to give — and to keep on giving — to Him.

When you’re giving every ounce of your energy, you’ll be the one that He will call on to do more. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be a coward or a hero?”—because if you want to grow spiritually, you can’t be a coward. It’s not as if God were trying to strip us naked and ruin us. Rather, He’s trying to strip us of ego and attachment, so that we can relate to Him in a selfless, divine way.

One of the great paradoxes of the spiritual path is that when you’re willing to give everything to God, when you can love Him unconditionally as He loves you, He gives back a thousand fold. As St. John of the Cross said, “If you want to own everything, then desire to own nothing; if you want to be everything, then desire to be nothing.”

When you reach the point where you can say, “It’s all yours, Lord, my body, my possessions— you could take everything this moment and I’d never look back”— that’s when God gives you everything you could possibly want in return.

But then the thought doesn’t arise, “Yogananda gave me this apartment,” but only the feeling that because Yogananda is in your heart, everything seems to go right. The same words could be used, but in a completely different spirit. We don’t think, “Yogananda is taking care of me,” but rather, “How wonderful it is that He is so loving. How grateful I am to love Him.”

You’re simply enjoying God’s presence

This is the true essence of gratitude. We should strive always to show this spirit toward everyone and especially toward God. We should try to hold the consciousness that says, “I give you everything and want nothing in return, and I take everything you give me only as a symbol of your love.”

We then find that our hearts are always filled with deep appreciation, and when we lie down in bed at night, we’re not just saying, “Thank you,” we’re simply enjoying God’s presence.

From a 1980s talk

Source: Clarity Magazine

A popular misconception is that being materially successful and prosperous is exclusive of being a yogi. Many yogic principles go against the mainstay of Western consumption and comfort. The Niyamas and Yamas, for example, are specific guidelines on what we must do, how we must live, to attain the ultimate state of yoga (union with the Infinite). These “do’s and don’ts”, respectively, encourages and discourages certain thoughts and actions. Acting in accordance to these principles allows one to live in deep harmony with others, with one’s Self, and the universe.

Two that can specifically apply – and confuse – material success and prosperity, in the sense that we’ve come to know them as, is the niyama, Contentment (Santosha) and the yama, Non-Greed (aparigraha). The former refers to the ability to accept things just as they are. This can contradict the common societal norms of the American rat race. From childhood, we’re taught the values of competition in academia and sports and, as adults, we train to climb the professional corporate ladder. Better is good; best is even better. Observing Contentment, one has the opportunity to be satisfied with the basic necessities in life.

The latter refers to the practice of Non-Greed. This may seem self-explanatory and simple, though its challenges are not negated. Far too often, we work on the basis on what we “need” as the driving force of our financial goals. What if we looked at the basics of what we have and worked our way around it? Here’s an example: according to a research study by Experian, the average American family owns 2.28 vehicles, while 35 percent of American households own three cars or more. It’s no secret that climate change is a reality and, while transportation contributed to more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and almost a quarter of hydrocarbons in 2013, Americans continue to practice their “freedom.” A question to ask each 2-car householder is: is it possible at all to carpool, to use public transportation, to exercise to work, or switch to electric cars and be open to alternative fuels? The answer to our dragging feet is partly due to the fact that, as consumers, we can. And when there is no regulation on consumed goods, there is a fine line between necessity and greed. How do we know our limits when there are no set standards? Thus, there is the default of bigger, better, faster, more.

This is not to say that a yogi can’t enjoy material luxuries and a capitalist can’t be a spiritual yogi. James J. Lynn, later ordained as Rajarsi Janakananda by his guru Paramhansa Yogananda, was a self-made millionaire who rose from a poverty-stricken childhood to become one of the most successful business in America of his time. Yet, he later recounted, “I was a totally frustrated man. I had thought money could give me happiness, but nothing seemed to satisfy me. I lived in a state of nervousness, a state of strain, an inward state of uncertainty.” He began practicing yoga under Yogananda’s direction, and his rise to spiritual fervor was just as meteoric as his professional and material advancement had been.

Janakananda attributed much of his material and spiritual success on devotion to God and Guru. Even after his deeply spiritual transformation, Janakananda continued a full schedule of business activities for another twenty years. He devoted more time to his spiritual life and less to his corporation, yet his businesses continued to grow and prosper. He did, however, admit to the difficulties of keeping centered in God while living in a demanding worldly environment. But, his devout love for God and openness in his Guru’s guidance allowed him to persevere in spiritual efforts despite outer distractions.

Another popular figure and embodiment of East-Meets-West is Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American author, public speaker, general practitioner turned alternative health advocate who is known in today’s New Age movement. He has brought spirituality to the forefront, making the yogic teachings more palatable to the average American. In 1994, Chopra released a self-help booklet entitled The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams. It is freely inspired by Hindu and spiritualistic concepts, which attests that personal success is not the outcome of hard work, precise plans or a driving ambition. Rather, success is attained by understanding our basic nature as human beings and how to follow the laws of nature. According to the Chopra, when we comprehend and apply these laws in our lives, everything we want can be created. These laws – summed up in 7 – are summarized as follows:

1. The Law of Pure Potentiality: Take time to be silent, to just BE. Meditate for 30 minutes twice a day. Silently witness the intelligence within every living thing. Practice non-judgment (a yama).

2. The Law of Giving: Today, bring whoever you encounter a gift: a compliment or flower. Gratefully receive gifts. Keep wealth circulating by giving and receiving care, affection, appreciation and love.

3. The Law of Karma: Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. Choosing actions that bring happiness and success to others ensures the flow of happiness and success to you.

4. The Law of Least Effort: Accept people, situations, and events as they occur. Take responsibility for your situation and for all events seen as problems. Relinquish the need to defend your point of view.

5. The Law of Intention and Desire: Inherent in every intention and desire is the mechanics for its fulfillment. Make a list of desires. Trust that when things don’t seem to go your way, there is a reason.

6. The Law of Detachment: Allow yourself and others the freedom to be who they are. Do not force solutions—allow solutions to spontaneously emerge. Uncertainty is essential, and your path to freedom.

7. The Law of Dharma: Seek your higher Self. Discover your unique talents. Ask yourself how you are best suited to serve humanity. Using your unique talents and serving others brings unlimited bliss and abundance.

 

It is possible to balance material and spiritual success. One must tune into the divine and equanimity. We can place value for success in good health, energy, enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being and contentment, and a peace of mind. As Chopra puts it, “Success is a journey, and it includes much more than material wealth which is only one component that makes this journey enjoyable.” Recognizing other aspects of our existence is equally important and allows us to realize the divinity within us to live in harmony with the natural laws of life.

 

 

 

In an article in the Christian Science Monitor, it was revealed that prayer is both widespread and meaningful; something practiced by majority of people in making big life decisions.

In a Pew survey cited in the article, 9 in 10 religious Americans say they rely “a lot” on prayer while 1 in 10 with no religious affiliation turn to prayer in making decisions.

So why do majority of us pray?

First, we should understand the various types of prayer, for some may pray and not even know it.

Prayer can range from asking God for help and guidance to expressing gratitude and love for someone or something.

Indeed most of us give thanks on our national holiday Thanksgiving and random acts of kindness is an outer expression of prayer.

We see our leaders often incorporate prayer in centering and moments of meditation, whether brief or in commemoration.

CSM cites several studies whose findings show that those who pray feel “a secure attachment to God”. It is an act that is “more than human activity.” In fact, great saints referred to praying as being “fulfilled with all the fullness of God.”

9 of 10 Americans have relied upon prayer for healing at some point in their lives, either for themselves or for others. Such prayer, according to Dr. Jeff Levin of Baylor University, may be the most common religious expression outside of belief in God.

He further emphasizes that those who pray for healing are not only “the poor, uneducated, rural folks, or old people, or people who are suffering from a health crisis.” Rather, being religious determines a person’s level of prayer.

His statistical analysis was taken from a 2010 survey. He looked at which kind of religious activity, such as reading religious texts or attending mass or service, might be the biggest indication that a person prays.

Dr. Levin discovered that those with “a close connection to God, who love God and feel love by God” are the ones more likely to pray for healing.

Furthermore, “Stronger affirmation of God as a loving being and past experience of feeling this love make one more likely to tap into God’s love to make it manifest in one’s life.”

Most skeptics miss this subtext of spirituality in American life.

He states, “For active believers and people of faith, prayer, including for healing, is more a situationally motivated response to one’s own suffering; it is an ongoing expression of piety and of taking up the yoke to be of service to others by acting as a liaison or advocate between suffering individuals and God.”

For over six decades, many Americans participate in National Prayer Day, which falls on the first Thursday every May. It’s an event designated by law for Americans who pray either a lot or not at all, for something such as healing, with an affirmation, or as a mere act of participation.

Nevertheless, Americans pray as an act of contemplation, community, comradery, and – most of all – for the love of God.

My Inner Path

April 2016, I took my discipleship vow at the Ananda Meditation Retreat, where I’ve been living and serving since January. A year ago, while living in Ananda’s contrast, Las Vegas, a friend told me about this vow and I remember thinking to myself, “I would never do such a thing.”

Having been raised Catholic, it was repulsive to think of having to commit – let alone prove through an official vow – to show my devotion to only one line of Gurus. After all, the byproduct of a rigid Catholic upbringing led me to embrace all faiths, yoga, and spiritual practices.

There was, however, value in being raised in a Catholic household. It taught me how to be patient during the distressingly long (at least for a child) Stations of the Cross.

Sunday school was enjoyable; who wouldn’t like coloring pictures of Noah’s Ark and baby Jesus?

Catholicism also walks an adolescent through a process of developing faith and discipline by way of Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. Each ceremony required one to wear dainty white clothing to indicate purity – a practice parallel to many yogic traditional ceremonies and, in each of these ceremonies, were classes leading up to the occasion.

These classes were created to foster opportunities to meet other youth of similar austere value. I recall going on a teen retreat in the mountains. At the time, I didn’t realized how deeply impactful the experience was – as the typical teen response was to resist – but there was something very moving about communing with others to build spiritual comradery.

I learned the power of prayer and the power of obedience. After all, if there’s anything that the Catholic church teaches, it’s to obey your parents, obey God and, more importantly, to obey the Church.

It wasn’t until I my late 20s that I recognized the imprint Catholicism left on me. Years of traveling, studying, and working abroad took energy away from the discipline; that, and Mom wasn’t there to steer the wheel.

However, I was in a serious relationship that was moving towards marriage had me question how we’d raise our kids, if we had kids, because he was atheist.

I wondered how important it was for children to go through the same religious classes, rituals, and traditions I went through. What did these conventions teach me? Am I a better person because of them? Did they serve a purpose and, if so, what purpose did they serve?

In the end, and in short, they were important to me, and my partner got baptized so that we could potentially marry in the Catholic Church.

At the time, I was practicing yoga – my idea of yoga at least – which was predominately yoga postures and breathing techniques, with maybe a tinge of meditation here and there.

I was already a vegetarian at the age of 17, so superficially one could say I was a yogi, or so I thought.

I wasn’t very conscious of the shifts that were happening internally at the time. I exercised compassion for animals and I could breathe calmly in downward-facing dog, but there was still a bigger reality within myself that remained unfulfilled.

The meaning of life and the idea of destiny and freewill drove my thoughts, and I began seeking answers to my questions which, in and of themselves, were not so clear.

Whether traveling or rooted, I dabbled in Buddhism and its various types, the Baptist Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Born Again Christians, Hinduism, and various forms of yoga, in both their physical and philosophical practices – Iyengar, Bikram, Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Kundalini, Yin, Restorative, Vinyasa, Tantra, and even prenatal.

Then, of course there were more of the fitness and creative arts sorts, like yoga with weights, yoga dance, yogalates, and acro yoga. Through these practices of yoga, I soon found a connection between my body and mind and, later, more eminently, my body, mind, and spirit.

Yoga became my church. I was the priest and bishop. I was the Sunday school teacher, and I was also the student.

I learned initially about the profound nature of personal experience, the nature of ego, and what it meant to be on a spiritual path.

Practicing compassion wasn’t limited to things and people; more importantly, it was to be exercised with one’s self.

Through the various styles of yoga I practiced simultaneously, by way of poses that test the physical and mental condition of balance, strength, focus, and flexibility, it became clear that the natural and sustainable state of being is one of peace, love, and interconnectedness with all.

I discovered, too, that this realization is one that can’t be taught but experienced.

A number of “failed” relationships tired my efforts for companionship. In addition, a slew of unsatisfying jobs and their impersonal environments compromised my drive to make money as the goal and target a corporate ladder as that seemed to be what everyone else was doing.

Globe trotting, partying, dining, and the dwindling bank account was exhausting and it became apparent that there would always be a desire for more to simply be happy, satisfied, and content.

For me, the only lasting place of happiness was experienced in yoga and meditation. I still, however, struggled believing in God and feeling a connection with a specific spiritual practice.

One summer, a friend and I traveled the spiritual haven of India for a little soul searching. Two weeks were spent at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala doing karma yoga, or selfless service. (The teachings of Sivananda can be summarized in these six words: Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize.)

Friendships, nourishing food, sacred kirtan, conquering the headstand, and healing my heart were but a few of the gifts received at the Sivananda Ashram.

Upon leaving, a pivotal moment in my spiritual path, I asked the “colonel”, a 5 foot, near 100-year-old wise, comical Sivananda devotee: “How can I believe in God again?” to which he replied, “Just believe. Stop thinking about it. Just believe.”

It was as if I was hit upside the head, a light switched, and suddenly I understood the notion of devotion. I never formally took on Sivananda or Vishnudevananda as my guru, but the seemingly perfect timing and touch it had on my heart made it clear that they were.

I soon adopted a regular practice in kirtan, japa, yoga & meditation, pranayama, and I made a conscious effort to cultivate better habits of positive thinking. Teaching at UNLV was approached more as an act of service (karma yoga) rather than work.

I remained devoted to Sivananda for the most part, visiting their Ashram Yoga Farm in Grass Valley and Vendanta Centers whenever possible, but I dug deeper in other classical teachers of yoga as well; yoga became more natural, a lifestyle and devoted practice (bhakti yoga) and way of being as opposed to a mere hobby.

I found myself reading the classical texts as well (jnana yoga). And then there’s the physical and mental control, the science of yoga (raja), which is an ongoing practice to this day. Additionally, I gradually fostered a community that was a more supportive environment for my spiritual growth, and I taught yoga inspired by all styles and gurus.

In the summer of 2015, (later learning, according to Vedic astrology, that I “left Jupiter and entered Saturn with an ascending Scorpio, embodying intense, passionate, and full commitment to spiritual transformation”), I decided to complete another yoga teacher training at the Expanding Light, a yoga & meditation retreat in Northern California inspired by the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his direct disciple Swami Kriyananda.

It wasn’t until the last 2 days of the program that I realized what an impact the experience and community truly had on me.

The stigma of “God” faded, and colonel’s advice rang again.

The love for God by way of yoga was presented in a scientific fashion, and the Ananda community emphasized His joy, which is our joy. Furthermore, two specific ideas of Yogananda struck a chord:

“Environment is stronger than will power.”
“The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy.”

With these simple truths, I returned to Vegas having a stronger grasp on the directional change needed to make, at a time when I reached a spiritual and professional plateau and emotional and mental static.

The next few months were spent shifting focus, prioritizing my meditation practice, and paying specific attention to my personal and physical exposure.

That December I was awarded a fellowship at the Shambhala Mountain Center which is based on the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, specifically Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

Of all the touching practices generally taken from Buddhism, namely love and kindness, bravery, peaceful warriorship, and contemplative arts, I also discovered a value in having a guru.

In January of 2016, I moved to the Ananda Meditation Retreat. After playing tug-of-war for a good month or two, it became clear and natural to take on discipleship, in which I took the vow on April 6, 2016.

Discipleship 4-6-2016It was a very special day, coming a long way from Catholic resistance and, what Trungpa Rinpoche would call, spiritual materialism.

His renown student Pema Chodron, in fact, has written about it, and it was when this reading fell into my lap that I knew it was time to find a guru. She referred to it as “sticking to one boat”:

In travelling around and meeting so many people of so many different traditions as well as nontraditions, what I have found is that, in order to go deeper, there has to be some kind of whole-hearted commitment to truth or wanting to find out, wanting to find out what the ngedon, or true meaning, is. Therefore, if you want to the hear the dharma, you can hear it from many different places, but you are uncommitted until you actually encounter a particular way that rings true in your heart and you decide to follow it. Then you  make a connection with that particular lineage of teachings and that particular body of wisdom. Each religion or philosophical belief or New Age group has a kind of wisdom that it carries and explores. The point is that it’s best to stick to one boat, so to speak, whatever that boat may be, because otherwise the minute you really begin to hurt, you’ll just leave or you’ll look for something else.

Commitment to a guru teaches its devotee to draw on the guru’s power, the importance of attunement and magnetism, and the wisdom and devotion to expand into higher consciousness.

Whether Yogananda is my lifelong guru in this lifetime, I’m not sure and it’s not so important for me to come to absolute conclusions anymore. What I do know is that he is my guru now, one that has brought more space and light into my inner path.

He will lead me to another guru, if there is one, just as Catholicism, Buddhism, and Sivananda have.

Spiritual traditions are one in the same and I honor all with reverence. For this is yoga – the method of uniting the individual self with the Divine, Universal Spirit, or Cosmic Consciousness.

“Unity can never be realized without love, because love is oneness with all” (Sivananda). The yoga physical and mental exercises are designed to help achieve this goal of self-transcendence and enlightenment. And yet this destination, or “goal”, is not so much what matters than the self-realization in getting there.

This is my Inner Path.

“We deal with our mind from morning till evening, and it can be our best friend or our worst enemy.” -Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard, heralded “the happiest man in the world,” is the French translator and right-hand man for the Dalai Lama. Ricard, originally trained with a PhD in molecular genetics, left the science world to become a Buddhist monk. On a mission to pursue happiness both at a basic human level and as a subject of examination, Ricard has concluded that happiness requires effort. He places importance on training the mind with the same focus that any serious pursuit involves. He further draws attention to mindfulness and the importance of being still.

In an interview at TED Global 2014, Ricard said, “There is often this feeling that we put all our hopes and fears outside ourselves. ‘If I have this or that then everything will be fine. If I don’t have it, I cannot really be happy.’ …If we don’t deal with the inner condition for well-being, then we are really in trouble. And so that’s what inner still is – not that cliche about meditation, that you blank your mind and relax. Stillness is to avoid the chaotic aspect of the mind, and then you deal with thoughts and emotions, or sometimes you just sit or rest in that pure awareness. That’s a place of immense peace.”

Stillness is a kind of active presence, according to Ricard. It’s not simply the absence of noise; it is a presence that is intentionally designed for oneself. Practicing meditation is one of the most effective ways of bringing awareness to stillness, because you become aware of all the sounds, movement, and thought patterns that disconcert the mind. “You’re hearing your own heartbeat,” Ricard says, and in this stillness one is able to pronounce the joy in simple existence that isn’t dependent upon anything outside oneself.

He adds that enlightenment can be attained by “eliminating confusion, eliminating hatred, jealousy, mental toxins, cravings. [It’s] very simple and straightforward. Whether you can do it or not is another matter.” The pursuit of happiness and exercising mindfulness, then, is like training a muscle – the more it is worked out, the more it will be in shape.

Ricard himself goes on retreats four times a year. In these environments where the pace of time slows down, everything avoided in day-to-day life, such as the past, anxiety of the future, restlessness, worries, failures, regrets, bad memories and associations surface. But unlike the “real world,” a retreat forces an individual to face them rather than run away or play them on repeat, perpetuating further mental habits futile to finding happiness.

Ultimately Ricard says that finding happiness isn’t simplified by merely being still. He admits that it’s easy and hard. He says it’s easy but it takes time. He quotes the Dalai Lama, who has said, ‘The problem in the West is people want enlightenment to be fast, to be easy, and if possible, cheap,’ the latter not so much in the sense of paying less money, cheap in terms of doing things casually. “Skills don’t just pop up because you wish to be more compassionate and happier. It needs sustained application. But it’s joy in the form of effort. Everyone who trains to do something, musicians, sportsmen, and so on, says there’s a sort of joy in their training, even if it seems to be harsh. So in that sense, it does take time. But why not spend time? We don’t mind spending 15 years on education, why not the same to become a better human being?”