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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Beyond Happiness

There are 30,083 books with the word "happiness" in the title on www.amazon.com. Of those, 10,484 are in the self-help category, and 6,436 are listed under religion and spirituality. Clearly happiness is a hot topic.

 But many of those books are misguided, Nancy Colier says in her new book, "Inviting a Monkey to Tea: Befriending Your Mind and Discovering Lasting Contentment." Colier maintains that there is a state beyond happiness, which is fragile and dependent on outer circumstances. Rather, Colier proposes that we can attain well being, "a state of being that is deeper than happiness, one that can support us and keep us eternally OK."

Colier lays out a clear road map in her book, which draws on her training in eastern spirituality, flow states, and psychotherapy. She uses highly relatable stories from her clients to illustrate how travelers on the path to wellness get there: A woman who shops to avoid the feeling of anxiety, a man who gets upset about missing the train and arriving late for an appointment, an athlete whose body can no longer be a source of pride.

The book offers a step-by-step guide to achieving well being, starting by describing our personal and cultural addiction to happiness and ending in the state beyond happiness, where all events, emotions, and mind states can be accommodated with a sense of ease and confidence.

 Colier knows the path well, which provides both inspiration and assurance.

"As a student of Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, I have been practicing awareness and meditation for a long time. For a good part of that time, I was using my spiritual practice to try to make me feel a different way than the way I felt, or maybe, more accurately, to take me somewhere else internally -- anywhere other than where I was. Peace and happiness were the goal for my spiritual practice," she writes in the introduction.

Colier says she experienced glimpses of that, but "again and again, when life presented its toughest challenges ... the peace and happiness that I had achieved on the meditation cushion slipped away." Tired of continually trying to get back to a fleeting state, Colier changed the focus of her meditation practice. Rather than meditating to find happiness and peace, Colier began meditating to see what was true in her life at that moment.

"I suppose you could say that I stopped using my meditation practice as an object whose purpose was to provide me with something, transport me somewhere else, make me someone else," she writes. She began to use her meditation as a way to be with whatever was happening. That led her to "a peaceful, contented state that fed on what was real, here, and now."

"It was not until I stopped relating to happiness as an object to be gained, stopped searching for happiness -- as a way out -- and started searching for what is --as a way in -- that I discovered a doorway to somewhere far more blissful than happiness had ever taken me."

Want to go there? The book is a step-by-step, detailed guide. None of it will be surprising to students of Buddhism or psychology. This ground has been walked before. But Colier -- who is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post as well as an interfaith minister, psychotherapist, and public speaker -- presents it in a clear, contemporary, straight-forward way, balancing theory with enough personal details from her own life and from clients in her practice, to make it possible.

It's also clear that just reading the book won't get you there. You have to do your own work to get beyond the addiction to happiness and into the land of well-being. You still have to get to the meditation cushion. But this book is a helpful guide for working with what you find there.