Happy Christmas and Chanukah, Merry New Year, hope the Holidays are treating you well. “There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy… when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie…”. So goes the song as well as the theory, considering so many of us hold the Holidays as a challenging rather than heart-warming time. Here, we ended the year with a great early December retreat weekend, enjoyed a little Holiday gathering where I did my best to serve a traditional feast (challenging!) and finally appreciated a sunny and warm Winter Solstice. We’re excited about the upcoming 2019 season beginning with another great Winter Count Workshop the last weekend in February. And between now and then, I’ll be off renewing mind and practice at a year-end/beginning retreat with my teacher Shinzen Young. 

On retreat, Shinzen gives nightly dharma talks touching on his own practice and life experiences. He recounts semi-torturous, humorous happenings from what he dubs his Samurai Bootcamp days, living in Zen Temples and meditating in Japanese monasteries. At an old-school traditional Rinzai Zen sesshin (literally “touching the heart-mind”), the monks devote themselves almost exclusively to zazen (sitting) practice that includes much discomfort and little sleep. In the middle of the night, a voice once cried out from an accompanying bunk bed, “Why are we doing this!?” cutting the crew’s measly shut-eye time from three hours to one.

 Why are we doing this? Why do we go on retreat? Why do people take the time to still themselves in practice in a simplified environment for a few hours, a few days, even a few weeks? A clear response should be provided to people who inquire what in the world this endeavor is all about. The quick and dirty in Shin parlance is a simple, deep and bold answer: it’s a component of practice that leads TO BEING OPTIMALLY HAPPY IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. Shinzen of course can riff on happiness along with any other subject vis-à-vis mindfulness and mind-training. His five dimensions of Complete Happiness are 1) Reduced Perceived Suffering 2) Elevated Sensual Fulfillment 3) Understanding yourself at all levels 4) Making positive behavior changes 5) Cultivating/discovering a spirit of love and service toward others. What’s the relationship between developing attentional skills and gaining these abilities? A coherent description that explains what we do -  mainly working to develop core attentional skills of concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity - why we do it, and its relevance to human happiness is quite a valuable teaching. 

Much to be said about that connection, and you can google or check YouTube for more on Shinzen’s talks and unbounded ideas on the subject. Or check The Higher Haven’s 2019 schedule and come out for a retreat or private lesson. Ask Shinny himself and you’ll find his best recommendation for getting support and elevating your practice is to work with a personal mindfulness coach on a regular basis. What might this add to your life? How might this help save our dying world? Come visit or shout me out and you’ll be surprised.

Last night’s storytelling ended on Shinzen’s imaginative take on what one day might become of our species. “Anger, fear sadness, embarrassment, impatience, interest, joy, love, gratitude, humor, smile, something pleasant, something unpleasant, some…thing. These are the forces that mold the human world, from the intra-psychic to the interpersonal to the international. It’s not rage, terror, grief and shame that causes the most destruction and ethnic cleansing. If we don’t make it on this planet and thousands of years from now some other advanced beings wants to honor and lament homo sapiens, my fantasy is that on our collective tombstone or memorial as a species will read: ‘Subtle Emotional Body Sensations Did Them In”. These are the reason things work on this planet and in the lives of its inhabitants or they don’t. These sensations rule.” Come out this year and learn techniques to put you in better command of these forces, allowing them to motivate, direct and elevate your human make-up for an even Happier New Year 2019.