Spiritual Practice, to be fully effective must address the issue of "true self/false self" or ego. Richard Rohr wisely pointes out that when St. Paul uses the word "flesh", he is speaking of ego. Richard gives a very useful criterion as to whether we are in our true or false self. He says: We are in our false self when we are irritated, bored, or offended.
That is brilliant and profoundly useful. The citations below will help!
Ezra Bayda – Beyond Happiness: the Zen Way to True Contentment Shambhala, 2010
Pp 4-5 – Spiritual Practice and Happiness
How about spiritual practice? Can spiritual practice actually make us happier? There’s a study in which participants were asked to listen to a piece of classical music. Half were told to just listen; the other half were told to try to feel happy while listening to the music. The results were quite interesting—the participants who were tryingto be happy reported being much less so than those who were just listening. Why? Because simply being present with the music allowed the other participants to experience the genuine happiness of “just being there,” not trying to be or to feel different.
I don’t know if there are many scientific studies on this, but my own observation and personal experience indicate that people who devote sufficient [my emphasis] time to meditation and to trying to live in a way that is more awake generally experience increasing happiness in their lives. This has certainly been true for me, especially give the fact that I was born with a fairly low set point for happiness. My viewpoint for years, based in a pervasive and deeply seated feeling of anxiety, could have been summed up in the words, “Life is too hard—I can’t do it.” Yet I no longer believe these words, nor do I experience that ongoing anxious quiver in my being. In fact, even when I experienced a very long period of physical illness, punctuated by weeks on end of nausea and severe discomfort, I learned that it was possible to experience true contentment in the midst of it.
Yet, interestingly, in spiritual practice, happiness is not the goal. When we make happiness the goal, it normally eludes us, as it did with the people trying to feel happy while listening to music. Happiness is not so much a feeling to be attained as it is a by-product of how we live.
This leads back to the question: What do we actually mean by happiness? The dictionary describes happiness as a state characterized by delight or contentment—the emotional feeling that life is good. It is almost always associated with getting the good stuff, life pleasure, or getting the things we want, like financial security or good health or satisfying relationships. This version of happiness—our everyday personal happiness—is based in part on two things over which we have little control; first, on our set point or genetic predisposition toward happiness, and second, on the every-changing ups and downs of our particular life circumstances. When people talk about happiness they are usually referring to this version of everyday personal happiness.
But there is another kind of happiness that goes beyond personal happiness, one not based on either our personal predispositions or ephemeral external conditions. This is the deeper, more genuine experience of true contentment--of being fundamentally okay with life as it is, no longer being attached to our demand that life be a particular way. This deeper happiness of equanimity is the natural state of our being when our self-centered thinking and emotions no longer get in the way. In this sense, although this experience of happiness has no external cause, it can still be cultivated by working with all the things that block its natural occurrence. As we get to know ourselves, and begin to see all the ways we thwart our natural happiness—our sense of entitlement, our wallowing in the past or worrying about the future, our disconnecting emotions, our deeply conditions behaviors, our attachments—we can learn what it take to cultivate this more genuine state of true contentment.
Pp 8-9 1 - Compassion and loving kindness p 8
The Dalai Lama…says that the greatest happiness comes from the cultivation of compassion and loving –kindness--not from self-centered pursuits. Studies bear this out; it’s been found that people who live a life based in giving or service to others are generally happier than other people. It also helps to cultivate perspective and a sense of humor. After all, everything is relative depending on our perspective.
Experience of enlightenment or mystical experience p 8
Some of us may still hope that one great experience, like an enlightenment or mystical experience, will promote lasting happiness. Buteven though such experiences can show us possibilities, and in some ways help change our viewpoint, they rarely[my emphasis] have a lasting impact on our behavior. Take the example of the many thousands of people who go to workshops or find the latest guru. They may have some dramatic insights or become deeply inspirited, but after a few weeks or months there is often not even a residue of that insight or inspiration. And the reason for this is clear--we can’t just change the mind without addressing the deeply seated conditioning in the body. [emphasis mine]
Moral training p 8 bottom and onto p. 9
This is also why moral training doesn’t really work in making us happier. Even though we can firmly know what is the “right” behavior—say, to refrain from anger or inappropriate desire—our bodies, with their deeply conditions emotional history have another view, one that is often more compelling than a primarily mental and, moral dictate. [emphasis mine]
Beyond Happiness -Bayda – pp 18-19
One way to become aware of our specific beliefs and fantasies about life is to ask ourselves the following question whenever we’re feeling low: “How do I think it’s supposed to be?” This question will usually point us directly to our specific expectation or entitlement.
The point in seeing through these entitled beliefs about how things should be is not to become cynical. After all, cynical beliefs like “life is cruel” or “people can’t be trusted” are also just beliefs, arising from disappointments that remain unhealed. The point is to cease living out of any sense of entitlement, because every entitlement we hold to, every mental picture we have of how life is supposed to be, blocks our ability to be truly present with what is.
Perhaps the most basic belief underlying all of our feelings of entitlement, our “if onlies” and even our illusions, is the belief that life should please us, that life should be comfortable. All of our resistance to life is rooted in our wanting life to be pleasing, comfortable, and safe. When life doesn’t give us what we want–the job that isn’t satisfying, the relationship that isn’t quite working, the body that ages or breaks down–we resist. Our resistance can manifest as anger, or fear, or self-pity, or depression, but whatever form it takes, it blocks our ability to experience true contentment. We see our discomfort as the problem: yet it’s the belief that we can’t be happy if we’re uncomfortable that is much more of a problem than the discomfort itself. One of the most freeing discoveries of an awareness practice is when we realize firsthand that we can, in fact experience equanimity even in the midst of discomfort.
Recently my wife, Elizabeth, and I went to Paris, and on our first day there I stated feeling pretty flu-ish, with bad sore throat. When we went out for a walk, it started raining, and by the time we sat sown to rest in Notre Dame Cathedral, I was feeling pretty crummy, and it had all the makings of A Miserable Moment.
So I asked myself: What’s blocking happiness right now? And the answer was obvious. It was the story of the future–about how I wouldn’t be able to enjoy our time in Paris if I was sick, about how it might rain for four days, and so forth. But dropping the story of the future, just staying with the actual physical experience of the present moment, the potentially miserable moment became an experience of just mildly unpleasant physical sensations. But more than that, I realized that the present moment included sitting next to Elizabeth in one of the most beautiful churches in the world. As I surrendered to the experience–sore throat and all–the experience was one of a deep and quiet joy, despite not feeling well.
What was required was two things: first, seeing that I was caught in my mental picture of how life was supposed to be: and second, being able to surrender into the very specific physical experience of the present moment. This is a key point that will be emphasized over and over–getting out of the head and into the body. Awareness, and the appreciation and happiness that can come with awareness, doesn’t often happen without the intention to be more awake. Awareness allows us to see where we’re stuck, where we’re holding onto beliefs or feelings of entitlement. Seeing these blockages is the firs step in finding the way s to true contentment, of moving beyond the smaller, ephemeral experience of personal happiness.