Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday dog blogging

Today is the garage sale for the Center (great fun!) and this morning someone there asked me about my dog. She said she'd only recently started reading the blog and had only seen cats. Where was my dog? So here's a repeat. It's a great one of Izzy's old face:

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Photo by Ellie Finlay

I sometimes blog dogs on Wednesdays; that's "lifeform blogging" day. Would those of you who have dogs please send in pictures? I'll gladly post them. We don't want cats having too much of an edge, now do we?


Here's an attitude I recommend:

I find ecstasy in living -- the mere sense of living is joy enough.

-- Emily Dickinson

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Sandy's cat
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Self compassion

We've been talking about doing shadow work the last few days. It's a very important practice and ends up being truly liberating. But it's almost impossible to do shadow work without compassion for ourselves. Here's a comment on self compassion by Pema Chödrön that I just found:
As we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others -- what and whom we can work with, and how -- becomes wider.
When I ease up on myself, I ease up on other people. It's as simple as that!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on embracing the shadow

The higher the sun rises, the less shadow it casts.

Lao Tzu

Here are a couple of exercises that can help us bring aspects of our shadow into consciousness so that we can exercise skillful choices with regard to these traits:
Make a list of people you cannot stand. Identify the qualities in them that you dislike the most. Now recognize that those same qualities are part of your character make-up. Work with these shadow qualities. Have them tell you their stories, why they have shown up in your life and what they would like you to do about them.

Identify your golden shadows, those unused talents and gifts which for some reason you are more comfortable admiring in others than claiming in yourself. Who have you projected yours onto? Call these aspects of yourself home and have a dialogue with them in your journal.
Maybe there's nobody in your personal life whom you "can't stand". But take a look at public figures. Does anyone on the world stage qualify? Probably so! Also look at those whom you admire in public life. Both observations can help us gain insight into our own inner make-up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Shadow work exercise

In keeping with our theme this week for ongoing classes, I thought I'd offer an exercise that can help us develop skills for working with our shadow material. I found this on the Spirituality and Practice website:

This exercise, “Toward Away,” was created by Colette Aboulker-Muscat of Jerusalem, Israel. It enables you to work with ambivalent feelings, one area where shadow tends to manifest.

Breathe out three times. Imagine something that attracts you so much that you would like to move toward it. See it clearly and be aware of how you feel and how your body feels, particularly your face. Now let your feelings flow into your slow movements toward the thing that attracts you. Now move slowly away from this thing and let your movements express how you are still drawn back to it, even as you are moving away.

Breathe out three times. Imagine that very close to you is something specific that repels you strongly, something that you want to move away from. See it clearly and recognize all your feelings toward this thing, especially in your face. Let your feelings express how you are flying away from this thing. Now move again toward this thing that repels you and discover what it is that repels you. Then discover something which you can appreciate, something that actually attracts you toward it. Now move slowly away, being aware of how you are moving and feeling.

When you are finished, breathe out and open your eyes.
I would like to recommend that you try this both with your eyes closed and with your eyes slightly open. Eye closure does help with visualization - especially when we're first learning. But we want to cultivate the ability to do most exercises with our eyes open - partly to avoid sleep or going into a trance but also because having the eyes open is symbolic of the awakened, aware state that is our aspiration.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Embracing the shadow

According to Jung, the shadow is that part of ourselves we don't want to acknowledge, that part we reject. But the truth is, we not only cannot run from the shadow, we need it. Jung also said that 90% of the shadow is pure gold. It manifests in negative ways, however, when we refuse to get acquainted with it and accept ourselves in all our complexity. The symbol of the lotus as enlightenment, as spiritual practice, is consistent with the principle of accepting the shadow. The lotus is a beautiful, pure blossom but its stalk is rooted in the muck and slime. Likewise those parts of ourselves we find repulsive, that we resist knowing about are actually the material for our deep inner work.

Here are a couple of observations about the shadow I found today:

The very things we wish to avoid, reject, and flee from turn out to be the "prima materia" from which all real growth comes.
— Andrew Harvey in Dialogues with a Modern Mystic

To honor and accept one's own shadow is a profound spiritual discipline.
— Robert A. Johnson in Owning Your Own Shadow

Having a disciplined meditation practice can help enormously with doing shadow work because it can keep us from becoming overwhelmed with what we find out about ourselves. In meditation we learn to notice our thoughts, to accept them without judgment, to let them go, and to return to the support. If we are doing shadow work and feel overwhelmed by something, we can always treat it as a thought and it will have no power over us.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Following our theme of connections today I want to share with you a beautiful example of what recognizing our connectedness can look like:

Photo by Bill Miller

More on connections

I want to follow up on the theme I brought up yesterday - that of connections. This is a passage from The Busy Soul: Ten-Minute Spiritual Workouts Drawn From Jewish Tradition by Rabbi Terry Bookman:

'A man in a boat began to bore a hole under his seat. When his fellow passengers asked him what he was doing, he answered: What do you care? Am I not boring under my own seat?'
Leviticus Rabbah

We have practically been weaned on the credo, 'So long as what I do is not hurting anyone else . . .' But we have come to see that there is no such thing as an isolated, atomistic self. The American image of the cowboy riding off by himself into the sunset may work fine in the movies, but it is not real. All of us are connected, one to the other. And our actions inevitably affect other people as well. Many of us are so focused on ourselves that we don't even realize the impact we have on those around us, especially those we love.

What holes have you been boring in your life, thinking, 'It's only my seat'? Are you willing to take a look at how they are affecting the lives of others, especially the ones you love?

We really are all in the same boat. Both realizing that today and expressing it are profoundly counter-cultural. That doesn't mean it's not true.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

We are all connected

Here's a wise observation by Michael Lerner in The Politics of Meaning:
A spiritual sensibility encourages us to see ourselves as part of the fundamental unity of all being. If the thrust of the market ethos has been to foster a competitive individualism, a major thrust of many traditional religious and spiritual sensibilities has been to help us see our connection with all other human beings.
Of course, I would say not only human beings but animals and plants and stones as well. I am connected to every star in the heavens and every speck of dust on the earth as well as to every living being. Nothing is isolated or separate. No, not a thing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Empathy is the capacity to feel what another is feeling, to be in genuine solidarity with another, to lose the sense of separateness between yourself and another. Now it's relatively easy to have empathy for someone who is grieving or who has been hurt by another, but what about having empathy for someone who does wrong - who is cruel or unkind? Here's an excerpt from The Power of Empathy: A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding, and Lasting Love by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham:
Empathy leads us to tolerance, for only with empathy can we build bridges to others who seem so unlike us. Only with empathy can we reach out to people we initially want to push away because we imagine that in their brutality or their simplicity or their stupidity they are not like us. Empathy reminds us that the evil in others is a potential that we also carry within our own hearts. The capacity to hate, to exact revenge, to refuse forgiveness, even to take a life is in you as it is in me as it is in all human beings. That humbling realization and acceptance of our own shadow inevitably and unfailingly leads us to tolerance.
It is so easy to judge another. If I realize that I, too - under the right circumstances - am capable of that for which I judge another, I will have not only tolerance but true compassion.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Simon (AKA Kittyboy)
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

More on attention

Yesterday we looked at the principle that whatever we give our attention to flourishes and becomes important in our experience. Today I want to share with you an excercise I found on line about learning to increase our actual skill in paying attention:
The poet and doctor William Carlos Williams used to carry a notepad around with him in which he listed "Things I noticed today that I've missed until today." Make his practice into an ongoing project in your home or group. Every morning, remind yourself that during the day you are going to notice something new or see a familiar sight in a new way. That evening, describe your discovery to family or friends. If you are doing this project as a group, allow time for reporting at your meetings.
I do think that's a wonderful practice. I already specifically look for things I haven't noticed before on my drive home from the Center every evening. And I think keeping a notebook as suggested here will help motivate us and will enable to remember and appreciate what we notice. Maybe we could all make a point of reporting new things we've become aware of throughout the week when we come to class at the Center. I actually think that's a terrific idea. In the meantime, why not report on those things in the comment section here on this blog.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


This week in ongoing class we focused on the importance of attention. Here are two quotes that speak to this:

The first is from Ageless Body, Timless Mind:

The quality of one's life depends on the quality of attention. Whatever you pay attention to will grow more important in your life.

Deepak Chopra

The second is from Shelter for the Spirit:

Just remember that those things that get attention flourish.

Victoria Moran

Let's all make a point of noticing when we're just not paying attention and then coach ourselves to wake up!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

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Photo by Bill Miller

The "width" of life

As humans, we have the capacity to reflect on our experience. But we can choose not to do it. Sadly, many do choose not to look within or to explore inner reality.

I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.

-- Diane Ackerman

Meditation helps us live the "width" of our life by enabling us to experience equanimity, compassion, lovingkindness and joy. Meditation gives us insight, awareness and clarity. Through meditation we develop observer consciousness which is essential for doing effective inner work. Be deeply grateful for your meditative practice because the benefits are truly incalculable.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Staying steady

Have you ever been in a situation that was difficult and somebody added to the difficulty by freaking out? Maybe you were the person who freaked out! What would happen if you maintained your equanimity? Wouldn't that make things better for all concerned? A great teacher of our day speaks to this in the following passage from his book Love in Action:

Without doing anything, things can sometimes go more smoothly just because of our peaceful presence. In a small boat when a storm comes, if one person remains solid and calm, others will not panic and the boat is more likely to stay afloat.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Let's all make a commitment to be a steady presence today in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Mendenhall Glacier
Photo by Bill Miller

No expectations

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I suppose I might have saved the following quote for Friday since that's my usual cat blogging day but I just found this and simply had to share it!

Having five cats around the house helps me have no expectations. They are not goal-fulfilling creatures in any human sense. There is little one can expect of a cat.

— Clarice Bryan in Expect Nothing

Once more, lest I be misunderstood here, observations like this are not to suggest that we go passive or become apathetic. Without a doubt, it is wise to take appropriate and enthusiastic action that is consistent with our aspirations. When we choose to let go of expectations, we prevent ourselves from being taken hostage by them. We let go of an attachment to results. We want results to happen, of course, but an attachment to results unsettles the mind and often causes considerable suffering when those results do not manifest.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A troublesome attachment

Someone sent in the following quotation:

Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You're able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.

-- Ralph Marston

In 12-Step groups the question is often asked, "Would you rather be right or happy?" Sadly, many people answer, "Right." Real interior growth has occurred when that same person can answer with enthusiasm and conviction, "Happy." It's good to remind ourselves of that question when the need to be right all the time sneaks up on us again!

Saturday, September 16, 2006


It's very common for people to project their own unwanted feelings and judgments onto others. And it typically causes great suffering. The Dalai Lama speaks to this in his book, An Open Heart:
As we contemplate the way in which we project our judgments – whether positive or negative – upon people as well as objects and situations, we can begin to appreciate that more reasoned emotions and thoughts are more grounded in reality. This is because a more rational thought process is less likely to be influenced by projections. Such a mental state more closely reflects the way things actually are – the reality of the situation. I therefore believe that cultivating a correct understanding of the way things are is critical to our quest for happiness.
If we see things the way they are rather than make up stuff about them, we will avoid the kind of projections that cause suffering - both to ourselves and others.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

(Used with permission)

Giving what we think we lack

Here's a quote that contains a lot of wisdom. It's by Neale Donald Walsch from his book Tomorrow's God:
You never need anything when you give away that which you thought you suddenly experience that you had it to give all along.
This is actually the principle behind the compassion practice of "sending and taking" or tonglen. When we have a problem, we do tonglen for others with the same problem. We take in the pain and suffering of the others and we send them the happiness and well-being they need. Through this, we actually feel better ourselves - that is to say, we discover that we had within us what we thought we lacked.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Remaking ourselves

It's interesting that someone who came as close to "remaking" the world as anyone happened to say something like this:

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world -- that is the myth of the "atomic age" -- as in being able to remake ourselves.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

It is the meditative process that enables us to engage in the "remaking" in an effective way. Otherwise, we tend to be trapped by patterns that simply repeat themselves. Meditation helps us first observe the mind as it actually is and then, from the insight this observation brings us, to make different choices than we would have made when stuck in our old patterns. It's a slow process, to be sure, but a very reliable one!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

American White Pelicans
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

We are more alike than different

One of the fundamental meditative principles is that we are not really separate; we are, rather, profoundly connected. It is to our great good that we dispose ourselves to remembering this great truth. Maya Angelou speaks to such an understanding in a passage from her book, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:
Human beings are more alike than unalike, and what is true anywhere is true every-where, yet I encourage travel to as many destinations as possible for the sake of education as well as pleasure.

It is necessary, especially for Americans, to see other lands and experience other cultures. The American, living in this vast country and able to traverse three thousand miles east to west using the same language, needs to hear languages as they collide in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

A tourist, browsing in a Paris shop, eating in an Italian ristorante, or idling along a Hong Kong street, will encounter three or four languages as she negotiates the buying of a blouse, the paying of a check, or the choosing of a trinket. I do not mean to suggest that simply overhearing a foreign tongue adds to one's understanding of that language. I do know, however, that being exposed to the existence of other languages increases the perception that the world is populated by people who not only speak differently from oneself but whose cultures and philosophies are other than one's own.

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try to understand each other, we may even become friends.
Yes, we may even become friends. And how seriously that it needed today. I'm grateful for the little traveling that I've done and how that has broadened me. But even if we can't travel much, we can use our imagination. And that will go a long way toward enabling us to understand and appreciate one another.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some interesting research on pain

This morning I found another interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn - this one about pain. Here's a research finding that is very interesting indeed:
There have been studies looking at how the mind processes acute pain at the sensory level. Subjects are randomized between two groups, then given the cold pressor test, where a tourniquet is placed around your bicep, then you stick your arm into ice water. There's no more blood flow, so your arm gets very painful very fast. They measure how long you can keep your arm in the water as a function of whether you are given an attentional strategy, such as paying attention to the sensations and really moving into them and being with them as nonjudgmentally as you can—a mindfulness strategy, in other words—or a distraction strategy, where you just try to think about other things and tune out the pain. What they found was that in the early minutes of having your arm in the ice water, distraction works better than mindfulness: You're less aware of the discomfort because you're telling yourself a story, or remembering something, or having a fantasy. But after the arm is in the cold water for a while, mindfulness becomes much more powerful than distraction for tolerating the pain. While distraction alone, once it breaks down and doesn’t work, you’ve got nothing.
So learning and practicing mindfulness is going to give a major pay-off when we're faced with really intractible pain. And I want to remind everybody that this is true for emotional pain as well as physical pain. Mindfulness is the tool we need for relating skillfully with our pain - no matter what kind of pain it is.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

The contemplative outlook

This is from a book simply called Perspectives:

Let us accept the invitation, ever-open, from the Stillness, taste its exquisite sweetness, and heed its silent instruction.

-- Paul Brunton

Sunday, September 10, 2006

More on the benefits of meditation

As I was driving home from church today, I happened to hear an interview of Jon Kabat-Zin on NPR. Kabat-Zinn is the founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as Associate Professor of Medicine in the University's medical school. Today he mentioned a study done with psoriasis patients. Apparently those who meditated while receiving ultra-violet treatment for their disease experienced skin healing that was four times faster than those who didn't meditate. That's really quite extraordinary.

I found the transcript of another interview of Kaba-Zinn on line and I want to share with you this story that he tells:
There was a famous trial in Massachusetts a few years ago. The defense lawyer was a long-term Vipassana student. After the jury had been selected, the judge delivered instructions on how to listen to evidence. It was pure mindfulness teaching: moment-to-moment, dispassionate, non-judgmental awareness - listening mind. The lawyer approached the judge later and asked, "Where the hell did you get that?" The judge replied "Oh, I'm taking the stress reduction class at the U. Mass, Medical Center, and it seemed we could use a little more mindfulness in our judicial proceedings."
Benefits abound!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ancient wisdom


Three by Euripides (484 BC - 406 BC):

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise person.
I have found power in the mysteries of thought,
exaltation in the changing of the Muses;
I have been versed in the reasonings of human beings;
but Fate is stronger than anything I have known.
Slight not what's near, while aiming at what's far.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

A VERY good observation

This is by Brother David Steindl-Rast from his book, A Listening Heart:

Happiness is not what makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.
Don't wait to be grateful. Start now. Find something that you're grateful for - anything. Can you see? Be grateful for that. Is the sky blue today? Be grateful for that. I was grateful for last night's unbelievably stunning full moon. Find something. Happiness will follow. It really will.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Giving back

It is a very great gift, really, to allow oneself to be helped. Interestingly, what usually happens is that the person who was helped is then moved to help others in return. Here's a story about that as told by Mother Teresa:
For some time now, we have had a small community of sisters in Guatemala. We came there during the earthquake of 1972 that caused so much damage.

The sisters in Guatemala came to love and serve, as they do everywhere, They told me something beautiful about a very poor man who was picked up from the city streets and brought to one of our homes. He was very sick, disabled, hungry, and helpless. But somehow, with the help he received he got well again.

He told the sisters, "I want to go and leave this bed for somebody else who may need it as much as I needed it when I came here."

Now he has a job. I don't think he earns much, but he is working. Every time he gets a little money, he remembers the other disabled people who are in the home and comes to see them. He always brings something for them. Even with the little he has, he always brings something.

This is the great gift of our poor people: the love they have.
I don't happen to see a much material poverty in my work with people but I see a lot of emotional and spiritual poverty. And I know that cultivating compassion - first for oneself and then for others - is the remedy. Cultivating this compassion begins with the willingness and the humility to receive the help that is needed. Only then are we equipped to pass it on.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo from
(used with permission)

Countering obstacles to meditation

Here's something the Dalai Lama said in his book, Transforming the Mind:
To summarize, we have seen that in order to counter the four obstacles to meditation, and particularly the two principal ones, distraction and mental laxity, what is required is the skillful application of two important mental faculties: mindfulness and introspection. Through introspection we develop a vigilance that enables us to see whether, at any given moment, our mind is under the influence of excitement or distraction, and whether it is focused or lapsing into dullness, Once we have observed our state of mind, mindfulness allows us to bring our attention back to the object of meditation and to remain focused on it. So we could say that the practice of mindfulness is the essence of meditation.

Whatever forms of meditation you practice, the most important point is to apply mindfulness continuously, and make a sustained effort. It is unrealistic to expect results from meditation within a short period of time. What is required is continuous sustained effort.
Actually, I've known quite a number of people who've experienced positive results from meditation surprisingly quickly. The important thing is, however, not to be attached to the idea of results. Simply meditate in order to meditate - truly for its own sake. Results happen but an attachment to results will sabotage the process.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Guard your peace

Three observations from a great philosopher:

Strive to do your work with feelings of peace – and give yourself freedom from all other thoughts. You deserve the freedom that a peaceful mind brings. If you seek only peace, you will see how easy it is to live a happy live – one that is like the life of the gods.
Do activities break you from your peace? If so, give yourself some quiet time to return to your path. If necessary, change directions or take up a new activity. The most important thing in life is to have a focus and purpose.
It’s not another person’s mind that destroys us, but our own. If we are watchful of our mind’s contents, we will rise above the troubles of the outside world.

-- Marcus Aurelius

Monday, September 04, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Labor Day meditation

A meditation teacher named Susan Kramer has a regular column on the website BellaOnline. I've brought you her meditations before and I'm happy to do that again today as a Labor Day special. Here's what she has to say:
Labor Day is dedicated to rest, relaxation and celebrating all the effort we put into work.

This is a perfect opportunity to commemorate through a walking meditation in nature …

To begin, pick a familiar trail so you needn't worry about where your next step may lead, while reflecting inwardly on the benefits received in your life by giving "your all" to work.

Set out in an even rhythm such as taking 2 steps to breathe in and 2 steps to breathe out. Let your arms swing at your sides - right arm and left leg forward, then left arm and right leg forward. This practice develops right-left brain synchronicity.

Walking along in stride let your thoughts turn to appreciation for all gained in life by your labors, such as the essentials of life for yourself and family, and the companionship of coworkers and colleagues.
This is an exercise in appreciation, isn't it? While you're at it, why not contemplate with appreciation and gratitude all the working class people who make your way of life possible - from field laborers to service industry workers to clerks in stores. Then do what you can in terms of action to support economic justice for all.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The importance of inner work

Today I want to bring you a passage from the writings of John Dear, a Jesuit priest who is committed to the work of peace. In it we see how important it is to confront and heal the violence that lives within:
A few years before his death in 1999, the great Latin American advocate for the poor, Brazil's Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, was speaking at a crowded church in Berkeley, California. He was asked, "After facing death squads, would-be assassins, corporations oppressing the poor, violent government opposition, and even hostile forces within your own church, who is your most difficult opponent?"

Without saying a word, Dom Helder pointed his hand into the air, then slowly arched it around, until it turned on himself, his index finger pointing to his heart. "I am my own worst enemy," he said, "my most difficult adversary. Here I have the greatest struggle for peace."

Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi was once asked about his greatest enemy. He spoke of the British and his struggle against imperialism. Then he reflected on his own people, and his struggles against untouchability, bigotry, and violence in India. Finally, he spoke of himself, and his own inner violence, selfishness, and imperfection. The last, he confessed, was his greatest opponent. "There I have very little say."

If we want to make peace with others, we first need to be at peace with ourselves. But this can sometimes be as difficult as making peace in the bloodiest of the world's war zones.

Those who knew Dom Helder Camara and Mahatma Gandhi testify that they radiated a profound personal peace. But such peace came at a great price: a lifelong inner struggle. They knew that to practice peace and nonviolence, you have to look within.

Peace begins within each of us. It is a process of repeatedly showing mercy to ourselves, forgiving ourselves, befriending ourselves, accepting ourselves, and loving ourselves.
We cannot truly show mercy to others until we show mercy to ourselves. We cannot genuinely forgive others until we forgive ourselves. We cannot authentically befriend or accept or love others until we befriend and accept and love ourselves. There's no other way, my friends. Please believe me; there's no other way.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


The happy heart gives away the best. To know how to receive is also a most important gift, which cultivates generosity in others and keeps strong the cycle of life.

-- Dhyani Ywahoo

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

Happiness is an inside job

Dr. Johnson

The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.

-- Samuel Johnson