Silicon Valley life was incredibly thrilling and incredibly stressful, often for the exact same reason. For example, in one of the companies I was part of, we made software for designing computer chips. It was on the bleeding edge of everything: enabling network switches for fast internet, chips to control your car, your phone, your computer. You name it: odds are that a major part of it was designed using software I was working on. During my day so many different concerns would compete for attention in my head.
I would worry about meeting the next amazing technical challenge, about how to work with or around difficult colleagues, career goals, quarterly results, and dream of finding some downtime with Eva and all of that was in the tiny space between getting out of bed and onto the cushion for a few minutes of meditation!
Nowadays, it seems like things are getting even more intense. How can we cope with all the stuff going on in our world? My Facebook feed seems to be a political food fight with endless arguing and very little listening. The world is going faster, and many people seem to be feeling left behind.
At first glance, even recent meditation science seems confusing.
For example, there is Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance, summarized in this article. There are more than a few methodological mistakes in this paper that warns that mindfulness may decrease our motivation to get things done in the workplace. One flaw in the study in is that the authors do a poor job of replicating the motivational cues of the workplace. But the biggest flaw is perhaps an issue for the entire mindfulness movement: mindfulness without interconnectedness is like a bird trying to fly with only one wing.
Most of us live our lives as if we are discrete entities, clearly distinguishable from the world we find ourselves in. But upon closer examination, we find we are the result of our interconnections with others and our environment. Many of our values, decisions, and habitual ways of thinking—the essence of what we think defines us—are in fact the product of interdependencies. Our culture, the way we are raised, who we hang with, even the microorganisms in our gut, have an impact on how we experience things. Living as if we are completely separable from the world we find ourselves in distorts every aspect of our experience. If we truly contemplate how we’re all interconnected, it leads to a counter intuitive switcheroo: we usually think that to properly take care of ourselves and our loved ones, we have to put our needs and theirs before all others. But interconnected happiness arises through cultivating loving-kindness and compassion and by learning to value others in much the same way we value ourselves. In fact, responding to others’ needs is also a way for us to nurture our own basic need for happiness and social connection.
It’s clear that to learn to cope, grow and thrive, we need a few different strategies, which means we need to combine a variety of practices that help us get used to being fully present in the face of whatever arises in our mind with practices that help us be kind and caring.
What is the result? Just read this short blog post from Phakchok Rinpoche, he talks about finding joy in the midst of incredible stress and tragedy through interconnectedness. In the Nepal earthquake, Rinpoche was both struggling to survive and care for those even less fortunate. Having practiced gaining stability in present moment awareness and generating a profound love for other people, Rinpoche was able to not only able to care for himself and his family, but also to lead the charge to care for perhaps a 100,000 others! And he experienced the magic of interconnected happiness as well.
So where do we start? Well, you need read our soon to be published book of course! In the meantime, the two practices I have found most helpful for coping with the non-stop intensity of modern life are Creating Space and Sharing Happiness. You can read about creating space here. And next time I’ll discuss more about sharing happiness.
Phakchok Rinpoche and Erric Solomon have collaborated on Radically Happy: A User’s Guide to the Mind. The book will be released on October 16, 2018! Many people have questions–what does the book discuss? What does the title mean? In this regular blog feature, co-creator, Erric Solomon shares more about how to be Radically Happy