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Book Review: Beyond Happiness March 22, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in review.
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A book I recently finished reading is called Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment by Ezra Bayda. Ezra is a Zen meditation teacher from San Diego. I just happened to stumble across this book at the public library, and have been drawn to Zen these days so I thought I would check it out.

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I really, truly enjoyed the book, every moment of it. I read through it twice to take notes because it was filled with valuable knowledge. I noticed while reading it that I think I have a lot in common with the author, which may explain why it seemed like the book spoke directly to me.

One of the things I loved about the book was it contrasted personal happiness with genuine happiness. Personal happiness is associated with positive emotions, feeling good, satisfying desires, etc., but these fulfillments do not last and are not truly satisfying. Genuine happiness, on the other hand, is being at peace with things as they are, not needing to change anything, regardless of whether you are feeling positive or negative emotions. I loved that the book talked about how personal happiness is only temporary and based on a benevolent environment that supports the state of happiness, while genuine happiness is available to us all the time.

Some practices I picked up in the book that I am trying to implement as much as I can are the practice of breathing into an unpleasant emotion to return to the breath, the physical body, and the immediate surroundings. In particular, I will be trying my best to take the advice to avoid analyzing or intellectualizing why the negative emotions are present as a way to avoid being present with the emotion itself, which is something I’ve noticed happens often if not most of the time.

I particularly appreciated the descriptions of how the thinking, analytical, intellectual mind is a component of the ego, and an aspect of survival that is bent on controlling our world. When we let the minds consume our experience with thinking, the thinking takes over and “shuts life out.” This is something that I found to be completely true for myself.

I also appreciated the criticism of some conventional self-help techniques that are aimed primarily at changing thoughts instead of changing behaviour or cultivating new habits.

Some favourite quotes:

“Genuine happiness is our natural state when all of the things that impede happiness–expectations, judgements, attachments, fears–no longer get in the way.”

“Whenever we seek special experiences to bring us happiness we are caught in striving, in the self-centred pursuit to feel a particular way, which undermines any aspiration to feel our true nature.”

“Formulas for happiness can only give us superficial fixes, they can’t deal with the complexity of human emotion and behaviour.”

“Changing our attitudes works primarily on the mental realm, but real change must address the deeply seated conditioning in the body.”

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