The secret of happiness lies
in the mind’s release from worldly ties.
As we embrace the return of the sunlight after the Winter Solstice and the dawn of the New Year on the Gregorian calendar, many of us will find an opportunity to reflect on what we have and on our goals and intentions going forward. For some, there will be recognition of things like good health, family and friendships. And for many, there will be an emphasis mostly on the external or material aspects of our lives: My income, my car, my bank account, my job promotion, my precious possessions. The mindset that is promoted in our collective culture in The West dictates that what we have of value can primarily be accounted for in material gains. So in taking inventory, we often end up looking outside of our hearts and minds for what is meaningful or worthy.
Lama Yeshe, one of the great contemporary teachers of Tibetan Buddhism identifies this search for fulfillment in external aspects of our experience as a misguided quest for a kind of materialistic refuge. “Taking refuge is the first step on the path to inner freedom, but it is not something new. We have been taking refuge all our lives, though mainly in external things, hoping to find security and happiness… Our successive involvements may sometimes offer temporary relief but, in sober truth, seeking refuge in physical possessions and transient pleasures merely deepens our confusion rather than ending it.” He goes on to point out that the key to experiencing real peace of mind ultimately lies within: “Authentic refuge is a process of turning inward that begins with our discovery of our own unlimited potential as human beings.”
This recognition of the vast domain of potential and wonder at the core of our internal human experience is one of the great offerings provided by meditation. Meditation practice can be one of the most accessible, portable and sustainable ways to cultivate serenity. But it can also help us to see more clearly the beauty of what we have independent from the superficial elements that are so revered in our materialistic culture. A great deal of what meditation practice involves is about being present with our hearts and minds and finding that we don’t need to constantly search elsewhere for contentment. It is about exploring what we really already have: The amazing gardens within that can be truly appreciated when we just awaken to the present moment.
The essence of the human condition is a longing for some kind of happiness or contentment. It is built in to our nature. We seek, through an infinite number of avenues, to find meaning, connection and fulfillment. Joseph Goldstein, one of the founders of the Insight Meditation Society, observes that we can learn through meditation practice to start to find that sense of wholeness within: “One of the great gifts, or offerings, of the Buddha’s teachings is that it points out to us that the place to look for this happiness is in our own minds.” In this respect, we can understand meditation as an important key that unlocks the doors to experiencing satisfaction because it helps us find meaning not in something we need to search for or obtain, but from the beautiful nature of our being.
So as we begin to set our intentions for the coming year that include all kinds of ways we can hopefully improve the quality of our lives, one of the things to consider is developing or reaffirming a commitment to meditation practice. Fundamentally, this involves something very attainable like a self-determined goal to practice for 10 or 15 minutes—or much longer—on a consistent, regular basis.
But one of the other possibilities is to explore a mindfulness-based retreat of some kind that can help make a regular practice even more fruitful. Here in NYC, we have close access to numerous different retreat centers in the surrounding area and most are accessible by public transportation. The following is a just a small list of some of the more renowned centers in the New York-New England region that offer some wonderful meditation retreats and could be excellent destinations as part of a new resolution to cultivate more happiness:
Insight Meditation Society: 1230 Pleasant Street Barre, MA 01005. Retreat Center: 978-355-4378 • Forest Refuge: 978-355-2063 www.dharma.org
Garrison Institute: Rt. 9D at Glenclyffe, Garrison, NY 10524 845.424.4800 www.garrisoninstitute.org
Zen Mountain Monastery: PO Box 197. Mount Tremper, NY 12457 (845) 688-2228 www.zmm.mro.org
Karmê Chöling: 369 Patneaude Lane Barnet, VT 05821 (802) 633-2384 www.karmecholing.org
Blue Cliff Monastery: 3 Mindfulness Road Pine Bush, NY 12566 845-213-1785 www.bluecliffmonastery.org
Ananda Ashram: 13 Sapphire Road Monroe NY 10950 845.782.5575 www.anandaashram.org
Kripalu Center: 57 Interlaken Road Stockbridge, MA 01262 https://kripalu.org/
Omega Institute: 150 Lake Drive Rhinebeck, NY 12572 877.944.2002 http://www.eomega.org/
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning and on Friday evenings. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: threejewels.org