Happy without Fear

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Long, long, ago, before the Buddha was the Buddha, a beautiful baby elephant lived in the forest of India. Her skin was as white and silky soft as the feathers of a swan. While she was growing up, all the people who ventured into the forest and happened to see her there were amazed at her beauty. When she was fully grown, her size and strength were so great that the people who saw her were even more astounded. Word spread across the land about this great, big, strong, white, beautiful elephant.

When the king of that land heard about the elephant, he wanted it for himself. He sent his elephant trainers out to find her. After much hunting in the forest, they did. They caught her in a huge hempen net, drove her back to the palace grounds, and chained her to a stake.

The king wanted to be sure that the elephant would obey his every command, so when the elephant didn’t do what the trainers told her to do-and often they could not understand what they were asking-they jabbed her with their training sticks. Soon red, blue, and purple bruises broke out all over her beautiful white skin, and she was constantly terrified.

One day the elephant went crazy with fear. She reared up her hind legs and her chain broke loose. The terror-stricken trainers scurried away, and the beautiful, white elephant escaped. she ran up into the mountains, so far and deep that the trainers couldn’t find her. They searched and searched for a long time, but at last they gave up. Eventually they forgot about her.

But the elephant did not forget about them. Every time the wind moaned, whined, shrieked, or blasted, she dashed off in terror, racing abound in big, loopy circles, thrashing her trunk wildly from side to side.

Even though she was free, she might just as well been recaptured by the king’s trainers, for now her mind was so often troubles she forgot to eat. Her big strong body became thin and weak. Running in heedless fear, she would frequently trip and collapse over rocks, fallen branches, or in holes in the ground. Red, blue, and purple bruises broke out all over her beautiful white skin.

the only thing close to peace the elephant ever felt was when she’d lean against one special tree to catch her breath. This tree had a smooth, thick trunk and a big, sheltering crown of leaves where the wind would gently whisper.

Now at this time the Buddha was this tree.

Whenever the elephant would rest against the tree, it could sense the fear that was tormenting her, and so it felt great compassion for her. finally, one day when the elephant was shaking against its bark harder than she ever had before, the tree could no longer stay silent. Waving its leaves and stirring the wind, it whispered these words:

Do you fear the wind?

It only moves the clouds and dries the dew!

Look inside your mind-

There, fear alone has captured you.

As soon as the tree finished whispering these words, the beautiful elephant smiled. Suddenly she realized that she had nothing to worry about but her own habit of always being afraid. From that day on she was a peace with herself. She enjoyed her life in her mountain home. She had finally found her freedom.

A tale from India retold by Jack Maguire

What fear from your past is robbing you of your present happiness?

How to Be Happy with Yourself

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There was once a crow who did not like his feathers.

“I wish I were a peacock!” he would say.

“You are beautiful as you are!” the other crows insisted.

“How plain and dull you seem to me!” he’d complain, and fly off to admire peacocks.

The peacocks strutted about with their colorful tail feather outstretched. To the delight of the crow, some of the peacock feathers lay on the ground when the peacocks left.

Crow flew down to the ground and stuck the feathers into his wings and tail. He attached a few sticking up from his head.

“Now I am as beautiful as a peacock,” he said.

But, when he went to join them in their strutting, the peacocks poked him and pecked him. What a fuss!

“You are not a peacock,” they said, “Don’t imitate us!”

Bruised and still dragging some broken peacock feathers in his tail, he returned home.

After all his insults, no one wanted his company!

As he sat alone, the other crows said, “It is foolish to try and be what you are not. Learn to love the feathers you’ve got!”

How to be happy with yourself? Learn to love the feathers you’ve got!

The Insanity of “More”

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One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family. “You aren’t going to catch many fish that way,” said the businessman to the fisherman, “you should be working rather than lying on the beach!” The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, “And what will my reward be?”

“Well, you can can get bigger nets and catch more fish!” was the businessman’s answer. “And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman, still smiling. The business man replied, “You will make money and you’ll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!” “And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman again.

The business man was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman’s questions. “You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!” he said. “And then what will my reward be?” repeated the fisherman.

The businessman was getting angry. “Don’t you understand? You can build a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!” Once again the fisherman asked, “And then what will my reward be?”

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, “Don’t you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won’t have a care in the world!”

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “And what do you think I am doing right now?

The recovering businessman’s prayer: “Lord, please save me from the insanity of ‘more’!”

“Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu

How to Be A Happy Man (or Woman)

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The king’s son was so sad that is eyes forever threatened a downpour of tears. In the palace, servants catered to his every need. The cooks prepared the tastiest dishes for him. Toy makers created the cleverest playthings. Tutors shared their most stimulating ideas. Yet he remained sullen and sad.

The king cherished the boy and wished only for his happiness. Finally, unable to bear the prince’s despair a moment longer, the king called for advisers from far and wide to study the situation and provide a solution to the prince’s sorrow. After much stargazing, consideration, and calculation, the wise counselors decreed, “You must dress the prince in the shirt of a truly happy man, and he will be curred of his sorrow.”

Delighted with this simple solution, the king set out on a journey to find a truly happy man whose shirt would make his son happy again. With a great retinue he traveled to a nearby town where there lived a pious priest whose radiant smile cheered and comforted the heart of everyone he met. Because the priest was known to be a happy man, the king went directly to his home. the priest greeted the king with a humble bow. “To what do I owe this honor, Your Majesty?” asked the priest.

The king replied, “Since you are so revered for your holiness and good nature, I would like to know if you would accept the position of bishop should it be offered to you?”

The priest smiled happily and replied, “Most certainly!”

The king frowned and said to himself with a sigh, “This man’s shirt will not do. He is not truly happy. If he were truly happy, he would want no more than what he already has.”

The king journeyed on to another land where lived a sultan whose kingdom was peaceful and whose people were content. The visiting king said to the sultan, “You seem to be a happy man. What makes you so?”

The sultan replied, “I have everything I could possible want and truly want no more. Yet late at night as I fall asleep, I worry about losing all I have worked so hard to gain.”

Once again the king sighed and said to himself, “This man’s shirt will not do.”

In place after place, the king searched but could not find a man who was truly content with his life.

The king was about to give up the quest when he happened to be riding across a vineyard and heard the most joyous singing. In the distance he saw a poor farmer who was harvesting his grapes and singing at the top of his lungs in a voice that rivaled the birds. The king approached the peasant, who turned with a sunny smile and said, “Good day!”

The king climbed down off his horse and walked toward the man. “You seem so happy today,” said the king.

The man replied, “Indeed I am, every day. I am blessed with a wonderful life!”

The king said, “Your smile is so radiant. Come with me to the royal castle.  You will be surrounded with luxury and never want for anything again.”

The man munched a grape and said, “No thank you. I would not give up my life for all the castles in the world.”

The king could not contain his joy. “My son is saved! My son is saved!” he shouted. “Please, you must do something for your king!”

The man bowed and said, “Anything you wish, Your Majesty.”

The king reached out and, opening the farmer’s ragged jacked, shouted, “You must give me your shirt!”

The king’s eyes stared wide with astonishment at the sight of the young man’s muscular chest. The truly happy man was not wearing a shirt.

“Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.”  Helen Keller

How to Handle Pain

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An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man,

At this the master sat beside this serious young man who reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things…Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening

Are you a glass or a lake?

The Secret of Satisfaction

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There was once a mouse who liked his country house until his cousin came for a visit.

“In the city where I live,” his cousin said, “we dine on cheese and fish and bread. Each night my dinner is brought to me. I eat whatever I choose. While you, country cousin work your paws to the bone for humble crumbs in this humble home. I’m used to finery. To each his own, I see!”

Upon hearing this, the country mouse looked again at his plain brown house. Suddenly he wasn’t satisfied anymore. “Why should I hunt and scrape for food to store?” he said. “Cousin, I’m coming to the city with you!”

Off they went into the fine town house of the plump and prosperous city mouse.

“Shhh! The people are in the parlor,” the city mouse said. “Let’s sneak into the kitchen for some cheese and bread.”

The city mouse gave his wide-eyed county cousin a grand tour of the leftover food in the table. “It’s the easy life,” the city mouse said, and he smiled as he bit into a piece of bread.

Just as they were both about to bite into a chunk of cheddar cheese, in came the CAT!

“Run! Run!” said the city mouse. “The cat’s in the house!”

Just as the country mouse scampered for his life out of the window, he said, “Cousin, I’m going back to the country! You never told me that a CAT lives here! Thank you, but I’ll take my humble crumbs in comfort over all of your finery in fear!”

The secret of satisfaction, and thus, happiness, is focusing on what you have, not on what you don’t have.

How to Deal With Your Troubles

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There was once a woman who had so many problems, so many worries, so many troubles…that at times she felt she had more troubles than anyone else in the world.

Well…there was one friend she knew who had quite a large share of troubles herself. But this friend seemd to be able to move through her troubles and come out the other side with her head still held high. The more the woman thought about her friend, the more she began to think “I could ask her to tell me how she deals with her problems and then I would know how to deal with mine.”

The woman became convinced that this was the answer – so one day she knocked on her friend’s door. The friend invited her in, they sat down and chatted together while they shared tea. By and by the visitor told the friend why she had come to visit.

“Oh, but I can’t tell you how to deal with your own problems” the friend told her, “only you know what are the right choices for yourself.” The visitor’s face looked so crestfallen that the friend added “But I could tell you some advice that someone once gave me that helped…”

“Oh would you? Could you?” the visitor encouraged her.

“Alright,” the friend answered. “Why don’t you let God take over caring for your troubles.”

“Well…alright.”

It wasn’t the kind of advice that she had expected. The visitor stayed a bit longer, chatting and catching up, then said goodbye to her friend and began walking home. On the way home she thought “I really have tried everything else I can think of – what do I have to lose?”

So that night, when everyone else was asleep, she shut her door, got into her bed, sat there and said “God, please help me with my troubles. I don’t know what else to do…”

Then she figured she must be done, so she turned out her light, pulled up the covers and fell asleep…that night she dreamed a dream…

She found herself in a vast candle lit cavern, surrounded by gray bundles of all shapes and sizes, as far as she could see. Walking toward her was a woman with flowing long white hair and dressed with a long dark cape.

“Who are you?” asked the dreamer, “and what is this place?”

“This is the cave of the bundles of troubles and I am the Keeper of the cave.”

“Bundles of troubles?”

“Yes,” the Keeper explained. “Each person who walks the earth carries a bundle of troubles on their left shoulder.” The dreamer turned to look and there was a gray bundle on her left shoulder – it had been there all this time and she never noticed. “If you wish,” the Keeper continued, “you can take your bundle down and exchange it for another.”

“Really? I can?” The woman lowered the bundle from her left shoulder. Oh it felt so good to put it down. Then she began picking up different bundles, feeling their weight, trying them on for size…She did this for hours until finally she said, “Can I take this one? This one feels just right.”

“Certainly you may,” the Keeper told her. “But first, why don’t you open it up and look inside.”

So the woman put the bag down and pulled on the gray drawstrings and looked inside… “But these are the same troubles I brought here!”

The Keeper of the cave smiled softly and nodded. “That’s usually what happens, but do not despair, for there is another bundle on your right shoulder that should help lighten your load.”

The woman turned and saw another bundle on her right shoulder. It had been there all this time and she never noticed! Only this bundle was woven of silver and gold threads and it sparkled like a diamond in the sunlight.

“The Keeper spoke – “Why don’t you take down that bundle and look inside.”

So the woman did. The bundle was light as down. She pulled the silver and gold strings and looked inside. And there was…all of her experiences and all that she had learned. There were her talents, her gifts, her hopes and opportunities yet to come. The woman felt her heart fill with joy and she looked up to thank the Keeper of the cave. But the Keeper of the cave was gone. And she found herself sitting up in her own bed with the morning sun streaming through the window, shining on her face.

Adapted from a German folktale adapted by Allison Cox from the story – Bundles of Troubles, Bundles of Blessings” in the book A Piece of the Wind, by Ruthilde Kronberg and Particia McKissack

How do you deal with your troubles? Is it working for you?

The Secret of Continual Happiness

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The Master was in a mellow mood and the disciples were inquisitive. Did he ever feel depressed? They asked.

He did.

Wasn’t it also true that he was in a continual state of happiness? They persisted.

It was.

What was the secret? They wanted to know.

Said the Master, “This: Everything is as good or as bad as one’s opinion makes it.”

a story by Anthony de Mello, SJ from One Minute Wisdom

What is your opinion of this moment?

Happiness without Applause

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The Camel had her heart set on becoming a ballet dancer.
“To make every movement a thing of grace and beauty,” said the Camel. “That is my one desire.”

Again and again she practiced her pirouettes, her releves and her arabesques. She repeated the five basic positions a hundred times each day. She worked for long months under the hot desert sun. Her feet were blistered and her body ached, but not once did she think of stopping.

At last the Camel said, “Now I am a dancer.” She announced a recital and danced before and invited group of camel friends and critics. When her dance was over, she made a deep bow.

There was no applause.

“I must tell you frankly,” said a member of the audience, “as a critic and a spokesperson for this group, that you are lumpy and humpy. You are baggy and bumpy. You are, like the rest of us, simply a camel. You are NOT and never will be a ballet dancer!”

Chuckling and laughing the audience moved away across the sand.

“How very wrong they are!” said the Camel. “I have worked hard. There can be no doubt that I am a splendid dancer. I will dance and dance just for myself.”

That is what she did. It gave her many years of pleasure.

a fable by Arnold Lobel

Are you happy without applause?

The Secret of Happiness

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Once there was a young boy who set out on a journey in search of his happiness. He searched far and wide; he searched the cities, the towns, and the countryside. He searched from the top of the earth to the bottom of the earth. He asked everyone he met along the way.

“Excuse me, Sir, can you tell me where to find my happiness?” “Well son, I don’t rightly know what happiness is, so how can I tell you where to find it?”

A little further down the road…”Miss, oh Miss, can you tell me where to find my happiness?” “Oh child, I can’t find my own happiness, so how can  I tell you were to find yours?”

He was becoming a little discouraged, but he continued on his journey. Time passed. The little boy became a young man.

One day, he came upon an old, old man, sitting under a bodhi tree. He thought, That old man looks wise. Surely he can tell me where to find my happiness.

“Wise One, I am searching for my happiness. I’ve looked everywhere. I’ve searched the cities, the towns, and the countryside. I’ve searched from the top of the earth, to the bottom of the earth. And I’ve asked everyone I met along the way. And still, I could not find it.”

The Wise One said to the young man, “Go and find a one-eyed turtle floating on a sandalwood log, and return to me. Then you shall know the secret of happiness.”

Ohhh, the young man was so excited. All he had to do was find a a one-eyed turtle floating on a sandalwood log, and his search would be over.

Now on the bottom of the ocean floor lives a one-eyed turtle. This turtle has neither limbs, nor flippers. His belly is as hot as eight hot fires, while the shell on his back is as cold as Snow Mountain. What this turtle yearns for day and night, the desire he utters morning and evening, is to cool his belly, and to warm the shell on his back. But only the wood of the sandalwood tree has the power to cool his belly. So the little turtle longs with all his might, to climb onto a sandalwood log and place his belly in the hollow in order to cool it, while at the same time, exposing the shell on his back to the sun in order to warm it.

But by the laws of nature, the little turtle rises to the surface of the ocean, only once every thousand years. And even when he does so, the ocean is vast, the little turtle is small, and floating logs are few. If he should happen to find a floating log, it is seldom made of sandalwood. And even if he should happen to find a floating log, and it is made of sandalwood, it rarely has a hollow in it the size of his belly. If the hollow is too large, he will fall in, and cannot warm the shell on his back, and there will be no one to pull him out. If the hollow is too small, he cannot place his belly in the hollow. The waves will wash him away, and he will sink back down to the bottom of the ocean floor, to wait another thousand years.

Even if, against all odds, he should happen to find a floating log, and it is made of sandal wood, and it has a hollow in it the size of his belly, he has only one eye. His vision is distorted. If the log is floating eastward, he perceives it as floating westward. If the log is floating north, he sees it as floating south. The harder the little turtle tries to climb onto the log, the farther away from it he goes. Thus, he always moves away from the log, and can never approach it.

So, the young man returned to the wise old man, without the one-eyed turtle floating on a sandalwood log. “Old man, old man, you tricked me. I couldn’t find a one-eyed turtle floating on a sandalwood log.”

“Then, young man, you have found the secret to happiness. We cannot see our own eyebrows, which are so close. Nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that happiness exists in our own hearts. Searching for your happiness outside your own life is as elusive as finding a one-eyed turtle floating on a sandalwood log.”

An ancient Buddhist parable, adapted by Denise Valentine.

Where are you searching for happiness?