Stirring the Heartstrings of Joy

heartstringsjoy-1When you are mentally and emotionally unhappy, you will not feel fulfilled or happy even if you are enjoying a comfortable lifestyle and all the material comforts you ever want. You may be extremely wealthy, but when your heart is overwhelmed with anger and hatred, you may even think of abandoning or destroying all that you have. Under such circumstances, wealth is meaningless to you.

Happiness comes from one’s heart. It is not something that can be given from one’s external environment or from any material goods. Through observation and careful contemplation, we realise that although wealth, status, reputation and success may bring us excitement and elation in the short-run, they are unable to bring true joy and happiness to the heart. Often, we are still shrouded in the negative emotions brought about by greed and anger.

heartstringsjoy-GN-2Being compassionate to oneself is not the same as being self-indulgent. Self-indulgent implies that we deceive ourselves and are being perfunctory. This will not lead us to true happiness. Having self-compassion is to treat ourselves with respect and gentleness, while at the same time to keenly observe our afflictive emotions of greed, anger, delusion with wisdom and humour. In this way, with an open-minded attitude, we actively work to overcome and transform them.

Gentleness, loving-kindness, being compassionate and having empathy are positive qualities of the heart and mind. As long as loving-kindness and compassion blossom in your heart, your closed and lonely heart will quietly open up, and you will naturally feel relaxed, stable and calm, experiencing peace and contentment of the mind. You no longer feel fearful, resentful, lost, despondent, confused or doubtful. Others enjoy being with you. They care about you and trust you. All these positive qualities arise because of the compassion we have in our hearts.

With experience, you will be able to differentiate which emotions are good and which are bad. Through careful observation and introspection, you will slowly transform yourself, eliminating emotions and behaviour that are negative and increasing those that are positive. By and by, you will develop a conviction, that to be happy or not rests solely on you, and that happiness is actually in your hands and it is up to you to create happiness for yourself and others

heartstringsjoy-3We have to take pity on ourselves, to be kinder and more compassionate on ourselves. If we look back, we discover that we have in our entire lives been subjected to much suffering from the day we are born. How did we manage to live through all those pains and suffering? How did we get by? If we don’t give ourselves a chance, how can we achieve true happiness?

Being compassionate and kind to ourselves not only means that we have to face our inner selves courageously, but also that we treat ourselves gently and kindly. To develop tenderness in our hearts, first we need to learn to be self-compassionate. If we cannot even be compassionate on our own selves, how can we talk about having true compassion for.

To have compassion on ourselves means to have respect for our inner world. We observe our inner world with an open-hearted and honest attitude, neither allowing our numerous shortcomings and faults to completely negate our entire being; nor allowing our bigoted, confused and depressed thoughts to see ourselves as good-for-nothing without a single redeeming feature. By having sincere respect for our inner world, we avoid becoming a self-conceited person who has too high an opinion of himself, or becoming a person who is self-contemptuous, with an inferiority complex and abandons himself to hopelessness.

heartstringsjoy-4We do not easily display our arrogant and egotistic side when we are with others. But when we have to face ourselves, face our own inner thoughts, we frequently do not know what to make of them, often indulging in our parochial, confused and depressed thoughts. Because we lack a positive outlook, it is hard for us to directly see our shortcomings. Sometimes, our overly-harsh critique of our own selves also causes us to be despondent, hardening us to become indifferent individuals who couldn’t care less, or perhaps even detest ourselves and our surroundings.

Our mind is just like a computer. If our mental operating system is infected with the virus of negative, disturbing emotions, and we run the infected system, it brings us unbearable pain and suffering. The inner computer in us originally comes with an operating system software of happiness. But because of the virus invasion of negative, disturbing emotions, we couldn’t run that software. Thus, to protect our mind, it needs to undergo a training process. It is just like how a computer needs to be installed with an anti-virus software to protect its system.

A person who is under the control of his negative, disturbing emotions is the most pitiful and miserable person in the world. It isn’t an external enemy who is disturbing and harming us, it is greed, anger, jealousy, arrogance etc. It is these negative, disturbing emotions that imprison us in the jail of suffering, not allowing us to be free and happy in body and mind.

heartstringsjoy-GN-5Based on our personal experiences, it is not difficult to understand how damaging negative emotions such as hatred and anger can be. They completely destroy our peace of mind and sense of well-being. When a person harbours strong resentment in his heart, others avoid him because they feel ill at ease in his presence. That person, on the other hand, would sink into a state of loneliness, panic, repression and insecurity. He may even feel that the whole world is his enemy. All these negative emotions arise from the strong resentment in one’s heart.

When a person is under the influence of strong desire or craving, he is easily perplexed and restless. He is also more prone to experience disappointment and depression. Sinking into a bottomless pit of desires, he would not feel joyful even if his desires were fulfilled. Due to his insatiable nature, he is never happy, at ease or satisfied no matter how much wealth he has obtained. All these disturbing emotions stem from the greed in one’s heart.

To a large extent, all the suffering we experience arises from these afflictive emotions. Even if we dwell in a pleasant environment surrounded by our loved ones, family and friends, there is no running away from mental pain and suffering if we are hit by our own afflictive emotions. From this, we can see that pain and suffering are not dependent on our external environment, but rather our own heart and mind.

heartstringsjoy-GN-6Regardless of our religious beliefs, educational qualifications and ethnicity (whether our skin tone is white, yellow or black), each and every one of us desires having a life well-led, a life filled with happiness, joy, peace and well-being.

Happiness in life is not an expectation that is out of reach. It is actually a goal that can be personally realised. What we need to master is the know-how or method to achieve this – that is wisdom and compassion. In this way, not only do we personally experience the happiness, we will also plant the seeds of happiness for our family, friends, and even for the whole world!

Self-cultivation is the first step we have to take that leads us on the road to happiness. First, we need to recognise the natural law of karma (cause-and-effect). With a good understanding of it, we will be able to clearly comprehend the fact that if we would like to enjoy the fruits of happiness, we need to first sow the seeds of happiness. Likewise, if we do not want to experience the result of pain and suffering, we need to ensure that we do not create its cause.

Every one of us has the ability to think, reflect and judge. Each one of us is able to analyse, differentiate and understand the harm and damage negative emotions and mental worries can cause to ourselves and others, and vice versa. Once we gradually eliminate our doubts and misgivings through continuous observation, we can then courageously face and overcome our negative emotions. We will then better appreciate positive qualities and actively cultivate them.

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