By Brandon Nappi
Maybe you’re like me. You tend to see the suffering of the world and feel its weight on a daily basis. You notice how unfair and random life seems to be. The countless injustices of war, racism, chronic poverty, systemic inequity smolder within until you flare up and flame out with indignation. Global problems intertwine with personal problems as you survey your own busyness, your messy house and your vague sense of uneasiness. You blame the kids, your partner, your parents, the government, Wall Street, technology, world leaders and God. At some point, you’ll likely even blame yourself — which is a vicious half-truth. While we are all to some degree responsible for today’s global challenges, the healing and peacemaking we most need around the world and around our dinner table will not begin with assignment of blame. In the end, all blame misses the point because it is rooted in an endless, subjective analysis of the past. Blaming only surrenders our authority to “author” a new path forward.
The hallmarks of the contemplative life are freedom, wonder and love. This is why we practice mindfulness, and this is why we developed Copper Beech Institute. We recognized that we need a circle of friends to support our commitment to waking up to compassion and awareness moment by moment. So we create a new center for mindfulness practice where we could ask the most fundamental questions that human beings can ask: How can I find contentment? How can I live with grace and equanimity? How do I transcend the incessant cycles of craving and aversion that seem to govern life? How can I find deep connection to myself and the people I encounter?
Our culture has persuaded us that thinking is the primary and defining human activity. The mind excels at calculating, safeguarding, planning and analyzing. These are critical skills necessary for our safety and survival, but they are not the only or the most important resources to cultivate. Often we live with the false assumption that if we get the right job, find the perfect partner and avoid unpleasant circumstances we will be at peace.
Outer change will not replace an inner shift. Until a contemplative shift in awareness is made, we will always live on a spectrum of pain and unhappiness. We will complain about the traffic; work will be unsatisfying; the vacation will seem over-rated; and family and friends will constantly fall short of expectations. The greatest gift we can give to our family, friends, co-workers and the entire planet it our willingness to wake up by cultivating present moment awareness.
I cherish mindfulness because it’s nothing special; it’s completely ordinary and doesn’t require any special set of conditions. Mindfulness practice offers us a deep reservoir of presence no matter what is happening. The most sturdy and reliable resource we have is the power of our presence. Mindfulness does not exclude any situation, but includes the entire spectrum of the human experience by bringing curiosity and compassion to whatever is arising. This warm act of loving awareness requires a softness in the heart and a willingness to be vulnerable. Through my practice I bring healing to the greed, selfishness and fear that are all too ready to colonize my life if I am not aware.
Still, living a life of deep awareness doesn’t protect us from pain; in fact, we might feel the inevitable pain of life more deeply and more often when we commit to living authentically and fully present to each moment. The inevitable lesson of mindfulness is that we can know true happiness only to the extent that we know true sadness.
Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. By suffering I mean the drama of craving and resistance. We too often cling to what we need to let go of and run away from what we think will harm us. Such strategies for happiness are hardwired to fail because they run contrary to life itself.
Happiness is not about creating extraordinary moments, but appreciating ordinary ones. Our awareness is our most powerful resource. Our presence is our gift offered freely in the service of healing and compassion. This is the shift that needs to hit the fan—one breath, one moment at a time.
Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 50 transformational programs annually to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.