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What's Really Holding You Back from Happiness?

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Learn how a 14th century Buddhist text lays the groundwork for a very powerful perspective on how we can become more present and more authentically joyful in our daily lives.

Sometimes you're out with friends, or on a dinner date, and want to be fully, authentically there. But you can't. Mentally you're checked out, thinking about that person that angered you earlier, or that new game you want to go home and buy, and you're blindly ignoring right is what in front of you. When that happens, you're trapped by (at least) one of the three poisonous emotions according to Buddhism: passion, anger, or ignorance.

There is a beautiful Buddhist text dating back to the fourteenth century known as the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. Bodhi can be translated from Sanskrit as "open" or "awake" while sattva can be translated as "being," so it is an open-hearted being. A meditation master known as Ngulchu Thogme composed these verses so that we could live a full life with open hearts, in order to be helpful to those around us and show up more fully for our day-to-day life. He has a verse that specifically discourages from giving in to endless daydreams so that we can live a life that's based in being present with whatever is happening right now:

Passion towards friends churns like water.

Hatred towards enemies burns like fire.

Through dark ignorance, one forgets what to adopt and what to reject.

To abandon one's homeland is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

I should start my thoughts on this verse by being very clear: There's nothing wrong with having emotions. Emotions are awesome. Perhaps you are seeing someone new and you feel joy. Or maybe your family member is in the hospital and you feel sad. But that's you actually feeling the emotion, which is genuine and based on being present.

For most of us, our emotions get very stuck because we don't feel the emotion. Instead, we perpetuate the storyline around the emotion. For example, you go on a vacation and a few days in you decide to check your work email. In that moment you see that something has gone a bit off the rails at work, but you're not around to fix it. Instead of trusting your co-workers or making a quick call to offer some advice to a colleague, you sit on the beach and keep running potential "what if" scenarios in your head. There's a lot of anxiety. Now, you could just acknowledge that you feel anxious, and let that emotion flow through you, but you don't feel the proclivity to do that and just keep running storylines in your head about what could happen or should have happened. Thus, instead of having a nice holiday, you're mentally still at work.

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