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A Dene BUDDHIST Striving to be Happy 2021/22

In this post I look at how to be happy in a context of living in these uncertain times, using meditation, recognising trauma, and improving my,brain. After all, it is my obligation to do what it takes to be happy, for me and and others.

The last two years have been challenging for me, and I am sure for you too.  It’s helpful to consider that we are not alone.

I believe our collective response to the pandemic to some degree is imbedded in our fear of the unknown, that activated our amygdala, which is the part of our brain responsible for reacting to fear and puts our brain into overdrive.

These two years were scary, no question.   When we show up in life in a state of constant fear and stress we behave differently.  None of us knew how to process what we were living through.  We see government lifting restrictions and activities getting back to normal, but we’re reluctant to trust it.  That is trauma. For me, after news of family deaths, Every time the phone rings I hold my breath expecting the worst news.

We don’t have to look far for clues, that we are traumatized., just to our perception of time and space.

Days blended into weeks because our routine was disrupted after many of us were forced to work from home and, before we realized, two years had gone by. What helped me is I practice Insight Meditation, which is based in the Theravada tradition. It is an  exercise into exploring  one’s feelings, with non-attachment.

Mindfulness meditation practice is to simply pay attention to our inner thoughts and observe our behaviour.  Often described as beginner’s mind.  The foundation of which is to accept the concept of impermanence. And it is called a practice because we should be doing it daily, like brushing our teeth and other daily hygiene practices. But this is  brain  hygiene.

The Purpose of Buddhism is to strive to be happy. 

Our challenge is that we’re experiencing collective trauma and that is affecting our brain, which, makes it harder to achieve happiness. The concept of impermanence throughout the last two years was ever so apparent. What made it traumatic is our false sense of certainty.

There’s a way to embrace both truths: that life is unpredictable, maybe even dangerous, and that it can be filled with joy, and love.  I chose to strive to reach a state of mindful equanimity through daily meditation.  Equanimity does not mean giving into hopelessness. That is apathy.

Most of us have both some fear and some anger after what we experienced. You do what works for you personally.  I will share what worked for me, and it may or not work for you.

I trust in our intellectual humanity, that we can be a mindful compassionate community, and certainty, at times in the pandemic, I questioned my trust in humanity. I have observed both a reckless self-centered behavior, and kind considerate tolerances.  Humans have a capacity to love, to be unkind, wise, and absurd. That is a conundrum.  Humans are a beautiful enigma. 

A mediation practice taught me to step back take a deep breath and listen. I made friends with silence.

Through Buddhism, I discovered an extraordinary powerful way do manage stress.  And to create space that is conducive to a mutual understanding.  This is not always easy to achieve.  We struggle to get it right fighting against our habitual responses.

Struggling is the great indicator, a blinking light so to speak, but sometimes we don’t  realize we’re struggling  unless we get curious and   are willing to discover for ourselves what is missing from our life.

This is where a meditation practice is helpful because it does give us a baseline awareness of what’s happening from moment to moment, and you discover areas of  dissatisfaction  in your life.

Often throughout the pandemic I made inquiries of myself, which was especially helpful particularly when I had the perception that things are okay. 

Examples of when your life is out of alignment include, how we relate to work colleagues, and family. why we feel dissatisfaction in our marriage, and with our partner?    When we feel unmotivated, and we can’t see a path forward.  Why we feel there’s so many obstacles?    Why we procrastinate and avoid, and we have no energy to attend to anything.     We are literally feeling disconnected from life?

All those are questions and perceptions require an inquiry into what you want in your life can open those things up just by an inquiry into them.  I found in a pandemic while I was stressed this type of practice became a lifeline. 

The process begins with acknowledging that the last two years humans globally have been living through a collective trauma, and whether or not we agree this trauma had an impact on our brain, and on our behavior.

I envision a future in which we learn a bit more self-awareness and have more tolerance as a society.  

In Buddhism there is a  process called the middle path.

That original “middle way” practised by nuns and monks may itself seem too ascetic for most of us today, but the principle still holds true.  Wisdom lies in neither extreme, giving up on life nor in pretending that suffering doesn’t exist.

Family, friends, a job and material things can be taken from us at any moment, as profoundly illustrated with the sudden death of my niece.   And yet, life can still be suffused with excitement, with community and with relationship, in other words,  life can  be meaningful and purposeful.

There’s a way to embrace both truths: that life is unpredictable, and may be dangerous, but that it can be filled with pleasure and love.   I interpret that to mean to live mindfully.  Making and drinking tea can be a beautiful, rewarding experience. A monk teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, often writes about this.  The beauty in a walking meditation where he describes each step as softly kissing the ground, it is tender and mindful and summons a peaceful mindset.  He asserts you can adopt this practice in any action you do, washing dishes, cooking, and talking to a friend.

 Many of us adopted strategies to survive pandemic the best way we could. I decided to strive to reach a state of mindful equanimity through meditation. I wanted to thrive and not just survive.  I believe a life of being intentional about a meditation practice and  being curious about  where  I am in  life.

How can we engage intellectual humanity that exist in each of us, for the compassion for others?

The practice of insight meditation allows room for me to consider I could be wrong. In fact not knowing is a powerful space to be in,because it opens up possibilities, we didn’t think abou.   

A life of being intentional about  a practice and  being curious about  where  we are in  in our life,  where  there is something missing or where  there is a sense that we could be living more deeply that becomes a cue to begin to explore practices within that domain is important.

The more we acknowledge our trauma responses, the more we  teach our brain to respond appropriately, and this can significantly reduce or eliminate the impact of  traumas.

After a right brain injury prior to the pandemic and I was diagnosed with left side neglect, I became curious why my brain was acting that way. I worked to train my brain’s neuroplasticity, essentially creating new brain pathways through behavioural modification and repetition, I reread Change your Brain Change Your Life by Dr. Daniel Amens. I first read this book over 20 years ago. “The central point is the brain is the organ of happiness, and if your brain is not healthy you are not likely to be happy.”   I became obsessed with understanding my brain and my behavior under certain stimulus.

 Joseph Goldstein, another meditation teacher, says   struggle is feedback similar to a warning light. If there is  struggling, there’s something we’re not mindful of. Investigate, and be curious about your life.

 A question I have asked myself  is what’s coming between me and feeling joy?  Because  there’s a  baseline way of being in the world where you’re  in a good space open to the next thing, like being in the zone, chill  everything is effortless, and you don’t need things to be any other way.  An athlete experiences being in the zone when he can see his goal right in front of him and knows he will make it effortlessly.  That’s an experience you have with a practice of meditation. I think that is cool.

The question becomes, why  aren’t we in that zone more often?  There’s some layer that’s stopping us.  The process of inquiring into that layer and being curious about it, can  create improved changes to our life.

As an Indigenous person, and a former residential school student, I am aware of collective intergenerational  trauma and how this experience affects my everyday life.  How I communicate, my relationship, how I show up daily, because trauma affects do not take a break.

Through the process of  Insight Meditation, I discover more about myself, and more importantly I make adjustments and changes  as I discover new information.

I will leave you with a short story. While interviewing a couple of Indigenous counselors living in the North for my podcast Empathetic Witness, they reminded me of the importance of using humour and light heartedness in their counseling sessions and in their workshops.    trauma that sits in our body as tension.   And humour releases that tension.  They made an observation that looking at the positives of intergenerational skills is also a valuable lesson especially when it comes from our cultural traditions passed down through generations, the survival skills that come from living off the land in harsh environments. It creates a mindset of resilience no matter what obstacles Indigenous people are faced with they picked themselves up and strive to improve their life and the life of those around them. It is a wonderful sentiment, something I have witnessed in my family.

In conclusion, I engaged my skills as a meditator to navigate uncertainty.

Recently speaking with a friend, she mused that perhaps we are in a cosmic test to see whether or not we make it out of this pandemic with compassion and understanding.  An interesting concept worth pondering. And it certainly, aligns with the perception of the Dalai Lama.

In an interview in  December 2019 the Dalai Lama said today’s younger generation has the ability and opportunity to create a more compassionate world. We must find ways to express freedom with responsibility. He goes on to say we need a revolution of compassion based on warm heartedness that will contribute to a more compassionate world with a sense of oneness of humanity. The entire human family must unite and cooperate to protect humanity.

I I acknowledged the gifts pass intergenerationally through my DNA from my ancestors, of strength and resilience.

brother -in-law John Mercredi

It is my opinion the resilience and strength by which we navigated  and adapted in this pandemic will show up in the behaviour of our children and grandchildren for many years and will serve them well as they navigate challenges throughout their life. What I learned in the last two years about trauma, we first must be open to acknowledge the impact it has on us and do something about it. Happiness  according  to Dr. Amens it is a moral obligation to strive to be happier. Ask anyone who was raised by an unhappy parent.  If our brain is not healthy, happiness is elusive. 

My grandma, Christina Adam
My Great Grandma, Mom, Sister , niece, and her baby.