How to Write and Think and Meditate Yourself Into Being Happier: The HAPPINESS CLASS!

ERDG 491Z -- University at Albany, SUNY

Professor Claudia Ricci, Ph.D.


Reading and writing transform the way we think, and how we see ourselves in the world. Neurological research now shows that changing the way we think can produce positive physiological changes in the brain. At a time when an epidemic of mental health issues plagues our nation, and threatens to paralyze students in the academy, this class presents a set of cognitive tools and practical skills that will help students refine and enhance their educational goals while examining a broad range of life issues. Beginning with philosophical ideas set forth by Aristotle, the class will rely on texts from psychology, neuroscience, literature and narrative theory, to open up discussions about the patterns of human behavior and thinking that tend to produce lasting fulfillment and deep reward. In keeping with research by psychologist James Pennebaker and others who have demonstrated the value of expressive writing, students will engage in extensive journaling and other self-reflective writing assignments as they seek to define what it means, and what it takes, to find happiness. Part of the work in the classroom will be to help students identify their individual “signature strengths” that can produce what positive psychologist Martin Seligman defines as “authentic happiness and abundant gratification.” In addition to classroom work, a special two-hour laboratory session, with attendant readings and writing exercises, will be required each week; students will work with experts in mindfulness, meditation, yoga, spirituality and stress reduction, and will document how these techniques can help the student better cope with the inherently stressful nature of University life.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Join Judi England and Sharon Salzberg in a 28-day commitment!

By Judi England

We live in a culture that loves more. More money, more stuff, more stimuli, more speed, more of everything! We move so quickly from one experience to the next, that the first sits, undigested in the past as we launch headlong into the future. Never mind the present moment. It seldom seems to be enough.

Sharon Salzberg’s latest work “Real Happiness, The Power of Meditation” is a gracious, workable antidote for the illness of “more”. It offers a step-by-step introduction to a practice that can enhance the quality of life and living, regardless of what that life might look like. As she writes: “We might not be able to change the circumstances of our lives, but we can change our relationship to those circumstances.”

With 40 years of personal practice, and 36 years as a teacher of meditation, Sharon knows her subject – quite literally from the inside out. Her students have included Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, police officers, burn patients, prisoners, and front line workers in domestic violence shelters. In 1975 she became a cofounder( with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein) of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Her written work includes eight books, as well as countless articles.

Sharon Salzberg

In “Real Happiness” she offers us a guide for how to begin (and begin again), and a wealth of techniques to explore in discovering what works best for each individual. A CD accompanies the book for audio support. But what adds depth and heart to her work is how she addresses the reactions, experiences and questions that come up in the process of meditating. It is here that her writing reflects the deep compassion for self and others which I always notice in long-time meditators.


JE: Thank you so much for taking some time from your busy schedule to share with our readers! In your latest book” Real Happiness, The Power of Meditation” you speak about the life events which led you to explore meditation. In all your years of personal practice as well as teaching, would you say there’s some common threads in what triggers a person to try meditating?

SS: Very often, as in my case, some kind of unhappiness or discontent leads one to explore meditation. Sometimes it is an intense curiosity about life, a wish to live not just on the surface of things that brings one to that exploration. And these days, with so much research going on, often people are motivated by seeking better health, less stress, and real help with all kinds of concerns, including ADHD, addiction, and a long list of conditions people find limiting or depleting.

JE: In my early days of practicing, I remember having a particularly restful, relaxing, almost ecstatic experience. Of course, being a zealous new convert to the whole thing I ran to my teacher to share my joy. His comment: “Don’t get caught in the Bliss-Trap”. Can you relate to this?

SS: Oh yes. We say that the essence of mindfulness is relationship: how we relate to pleasure, how we relate to pain, and how we relate to everything in between. Our goal is to experience the pleasure or even bliss that comes our way fully, but without that extra thing we tend to do of clinging and holding on. We want to relate to painful experience fully, without closing down, and with an open heart of compassion. And we want to wake up and experience basically neutral times with strong presence and connection.

JE: If meditation is about simply “being with” all that we are: sensation, thought, emotion – wouldn’t it promote a sort of passive acceptance of our life, rather than an invitation to grow and change?

SS: I think that’s the common misperception, and it is easy to see why – the words we tend to use to describe meditation can well imply passivity, but it’s not what actually happens. If we learn to simply be with our experience, that’s the beginning of the process of insight. If we are struggling against our emotions, our bodies, there’s not a lot of learning that can happen. If we are overcome and defined by all of our changing states, there’s not a lot of learning that can happen. As we learn to be with all of our experience, we are creating the space we need to make choices out of clarity and wisdom.

JE: How would you respond to a prospective student who considers themselves “much too busy” to “just sit” and meditate?

SS: I find that reaction very interesting. I often say that if most of us were told, “Here’s this activity you can do 20 minutes a day and it will really help your friend.” Most of us would jump at the chance. But framed as “It will really help you,” suddenly we are too busy, it seems selfish, not worth doing. I’d say start with just 5 minutes of formal practice each day, and add a few fun things – like not answering your phone on the first ring, but letting it ring 3 times, and breathing; have one cup of tea or coffee a day without multitasking at the same time – no checking email, having a conversation, listening to the news at the same time. These things really are fun when put into practice.

JE: The program outlined in “Real Happiness” asks for a 28-day commitment to begin a regular practice. I also know that you’ve already gathered a number of people to take part in this exploration and to report their experiences via your web site. Is there some way the readers of the Holistic Health blog might join in the adventure?

SS: We welcome everyone to take part in the 28-Day meditation challenge. People can read the book and do the practice laid out in the book. The challenge will begin Feb. 1 (although you can begin at any time). There will be a comment section on the blog on my website so people can post comments on particular posts. Also people can join in the challenge on twitter. They can post their reflections and follow others who are doing the challenge by following the hashtag #realhappiness. I will be hosting 3 live tweetchats during the month of Feb and if you follow @sharonsalzberg I will post the dates and times for these. The chats are one hour long and anyone can ask questions, which I will do my best to answer in 140 characters or less. And of course there is my FB page, where I will posting excerpts from the blog and everyone can comment/share there as well. I will be posting on my site as well as tweeting to give everyone support and encouragement all month long.

JE: Again, Sharon, my thanks for talking with us about your work to bring this powerful practice into so many lives. Do you have anything else you’d like to add? A favorite quote you’d like to share?

SS: Here’s a quotation from Real Happiness: The door of possibility has been opened—the door to authentic and accessible happiness. Welcome. Come in and sit.


…..and today, like every other day, is the perfect day to do that.

Peace-Judi England, RN, LMT, Kripalu Yoga Instructor – – 1/17/2011

Up and Coming Events in the Albany Area:

1) Creating and Vision Board for Goals in 2011 and Sound Healing Demonstration: Saturday January 22, 2011-11-2:30, Key 2 Joy, 142 Vly Road, Niskayuna, NY-Presenters: Janet Tanguay, Creativity Coach at Art ‘N Soul, and Shannon Keys, Key 2Joy, Inc. – $35 in advance, $40 at the door,

2) “The Power of Quantum Transformation” a free talk by Michael Wayne, author of “The Low Density Lifestyle”, Saturday, January 22,2011, 7-9pm- Hosted by Capital Region chapter of the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS). Home of Maryjane Cleary, Altamont, NY. For directions and more info call 518-861-1122

Writer Judi England, a yoga teacher and massage therapist in Albany, New York, writes the Holistic Health blog for the Times Union. This piece appeared there first.

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