Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship

Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship

by Howard Raphael Cushnir

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We can be happy in spite of hardship, heartbreak, or a job we hate. Pie-in-the-sky? This down-to-earth guy shows us how.

When personal tragedy struck, Howard Cushnir already knew the Zen practice of staying in the moment. But he wasn't prepared for the gift of grace he received. One day, all but lost, he was suddenly suffused with a complete sense of well-being


We can be happy in spite of hardship, heartbreak, or a job we hate. Pie-in-the-sky? This down-to-earth guy shows us how.

When personal tragedy struck, Howard Cushnir already knew the Zen practice of staying in the moment. But he wasn't prepared for the gift of grace he received. One day, all but lost, he was suddenly suffused with a complete sense of well-being---not a passing experience, but one available from then on. Paying close attention to the changes in his own inner states, Howard soon realized that feeling blissful is a choice we can always make, regardless of our circumstances.

His message is profound, but his method couldn't be more practical. All we do is ask ourselves two simple questions...

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Unconditional Bliss

Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship

By Howard Raphael Cushnir

Theosophical Publishing House

Copyright © 2000 Howard Raphael Cushnir
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8356-3073-3


How I Know about Bliss

FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS, WITH a seeker's heart and a skeptic's mind, I roamed widely in the spiritual marketplace. I explored my own heritage —Judaism — as well as any other traditions that sparked me. Throughout my investigations, I vowed not to accept anything on faith that I didn't experience directly. Except for a few peak experiences, I encountered no bliss whatsoever.

On the other hand I wasn't complaining. I considered myself a fortunate person. I was blessed with many advantages and had chalked up many achievements. I grew up in a difficult family (who doesn't?) but had worked hard to heal most of my wounds. My career and personal life were on track. I had my health. I anticipated life's ups and downs and managed them reasonably well.

And then, all of a sudden, everything exploded. The details of that tragedy aren't the subject of this book. What's important, though, is how deeply miserable I became. All my assumptions about life went right out the window. At the age of thirty-four, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing.

Eventually, that explosion came to serve me. I was cracked open, defenseless, and the hole left behind was wide enough for grace to enter. By grace, I don't mean anything religious at all. There was no "seeing the light" or accepting a savior or coming to a deeper understanding. In my case, grace meant the arrival of an inner transformation. Spontaneously, and without effort, my experience of living was suddenly and irrevocably changed.

In my core, in the region we call the heart, arose the ceaseless experience of bliss. For no reason whatsoever, I felt joyous and peaceful and loving. At first I thought it was a mood or another peak experience that would surely pass. But it hasn't, to this day, and that was a full five years ago.

So there I was, the same guy as before with the same rotten life, except instead of feeling rotten it felt spectacular. The bliss in my heart radiated throughout my body, and beyond, to anyone open to receive it.

On top of all that, nothing seemed to be required of me in order for the bliss to continue. It was a mysterious gift with no strings attached.

From the outset, I decided to pay very close attention to what was happening. I felt like my own life now contained the message I'd long been seeking, and I wasn't going to let that message elude me.

It didn't. I got it. And now I pass it along to you.


Don't Believe a Word I Say

USUALLY, IN A BOOK LIKE THIS, the writer presents a thesis and then sets out to prove it. You, the reader, follow the writer's train of thought. In the end, if you make it that far, you decide whether to agree or disagree.

Often, you're swayed a bit by the position and reputation of the writer. You probably choose to read the book in the first place because you have reason to respect the writer's opinions. Maybe the writer is a renowned expert or can document years of study on the topic in question.

In this book, however, I don't attempt to prove anything. Nor do I claim even a shred of expertise. I don't expect you to trust what I say, and in fact I hope you won't.

Instead, I'll present you with a series of observations from my own life. These observations have led me to believe that the direct experience of bliss is available right now, and all the time, to virtually every human being.

Does that sound outrageous? It might to me, if I were in your place. But I hope, as you read further, that you'll come to know this for yourself.

That won't happen because my observations make sense. Even if they do, and you accept them as your own, nothing but your beliefs will change. And the goal here is something much more profound.

I invite you to doubt my observations like a reasonable and skeptical scientist. I invite you to put them to the test in your own life. I invite you to experience this bliss when it's easy, when it's a challenge, and when it seems utterly impossible. Only then, if it happens, will you share the gift that was given to me.


This Is Not a New Age Book

THIS IS NOT A NEW AGE BOOK. In fact it's nearly the opposite. Perhaps you're wondering why this bears mention. The answer lies in what the New Age label represents.

In my experience, two key tenets are at the core of most New Age thought. The first is that each of us creates our own reality, from the world we see around us to the world we find within. According to this logic, anything we don't like we can change. The trick is to learn how we've made it so and then redirect that same process to manifest a new result.

Approaching life this way can lead to valuable self-empowerment. Many people employ it to uncover limiting personal beliefs. From my perspective, however, it can overemphasize the amount of control we actually have. It can lead us to blame ourselves, falsely, for the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes, in addition, it can allow us to deny what is. And denial of what is, as we'll soon discover, actually prevents change from taking place.

The second core New Age tenet is that each one of us possesses unlimited potential. If we can merely tap this potential, then all the love, health, success, power, and money in the world will be ours. Most of the books, tapes, and seminars of the New Age movement offer techniques for unleashing that potential.

This book isn't one of them. Though health, success, power, and money are often a byproduct of living the questions, they are never the goal. Our focus will remain on moment to moment experience, not results. In fact, what we'll be exploring here is a bliss that has nothing to do with the particulars of your life.

The claim I make is this: You can live in bliss even if you're alone, sick, failed, and broke. Not that I expect that, or wish it upon you, but it's certainly one hundred percent possible.

What we'll examine in the following pages is an outlook that separates our state of being from all we do or don't achieve. We're free to go about our business, but don't depend upon it for personal satisfaction.

Does that make any sense? Would you accept if it were true? Perhaps, like so many, you're attached to the idea that how you feel is the result of what happens in your life.

If so, for just a few hours, I invite you to suspend that assumption entirely.


A Defining Moment

THINK OF AN ACTIVITY THAT gives you great joy. This could be singing, reading, hiking, or even watching your favorite TV show. Once you've selected the activity, pause for a few seconds and summon up the feeling that the activity generates.

Next, think of a person whom you love as much as anyone on earth. If no one springs quickly to mind, choose instead a pet or even a place. Once you've selected your love, pause for a few seconds and conjure up the feeling it elicits.

Now take a deep breath, smile, and bring that joy and love together. Let yourself sink into the experience this creates. Plain and simple, it's bliss.

Joy + Love = Bliss

That is the formula, only we need to add a refinement. As long as this bliss is centered on an action, or a thing, it's bound to come and go. This type of bliss is therefore temporary, and that's not what we're after. A more accurate formula would be:

Joy + Love - Cause = Permanent Bliss

If you feel like it, give yourself a taste of this right now. Call up your previous two "causes," let the bliss flow, and then consciously allow the causes to fall away. If you stay with the feeling, with the experience of bliss, it won't fall away as well. Not for awhile, at least, until your mind jumps on board a new tangent.

In my own life, I've come to see that bliss is present all the time. It's truly permanent. And this is a great relief, because it means that I don't have to create it. But while bliss is always there, I'm not always there with it. Sometimes I choose to go elsewhere, and other times I'm swept away by one of many habits and patterns.

Of course I'm not alone in this. Essentially, it's the human condition. The problem we all face in our lives is not how to create more bliss, or even how to find it, but simply how to guarantee access.


Contracting and Expanding

THINK OF SOMEONE OR something that you really can't stand. Make sure this choice is one of your worst sore spots, that it frustrates and angers you to no end. Once you've got it, let yourself well up with these negative emotions. Go for it with gusto, until your whole being seems to brim with agitation.

Now take a step back mentally and observe the result. Do a quick scan of your physical sensations. Notice what it feels like to be in your body during such an experience. Notice where in your body all of those unpleasant feelings concentrate.

If you're like most people, this experience is one of clenching and constricting. Your whole body goes into a state of contraction. The contraction begins in your gut but almost immediately spreads outward, often concentrating in your shoulders and breath.

Being contracted is being closed. You're alive to the sensations in your body but dead to what's happening beyond it. Or, if you're one of those people like me who use thinking to keep from feeling, you might not even be alive to your body. Instead, you might unconsciously be trying to think your way out of all that tension.

Bliss, on the other hand, is all about being open. The more you feel it, the more you expand. As opposed to the gut where contraction starts, expansion begins in the heart. It, too, spreads throughout the body, creating relaxation like a warm, inner bath.

Upon reading this, it might seem that contracting is bad and expanding is good. But that's not the point at all. Contracting and expanding are the way of life and particularly the way of human beings. Even when we don't encourage the process willfully, our bodies still contract and expand on their own. No matter how many advances we make in energy science and mind-body medicine, there will still be such a thing as waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

With regard to energy science and mind-body medicine, it's common in some circles to talk about esoteric concepts like opening and aligning the "chakras." In addition, we may sometimes hear about the "subtle body," the "mental body," and the "emotional body." In another context, these terms may be useful and important. Here, however, they're much too elusive and complex.

All you need to know about energy, as far as bliss is concerned, is this fundamental dance of contraction and expansion. When you're feeling clenched and agitated, that's contraction. When you're feeling joyous and loving, that's expansion. And when you're not feeling much of anything at all, then you're somewhere in between.

I encourage you to investigate this yourself. Give it a day or so. With a watch, an alarm, or merely a mental monitor, check your state of being about every fifteen minutes. Do a quick body scan and see where you fall on the scale. If you get lost in the flow of the day and can't report as you go, then look backward in the evening and recall your major highs and lows.

Expand and contract, expand and contract. It's as natural and automatic as breathing in and breathing out.

Our goal, remember, is to guarantee access to bliss. Understanding contraction and expansion is the first step. From there, we can see that access to bliss becomes available only with expansion.

But if bliss requires expansion, and it's a natural cycle for us to expand and contract, then how can we ever experience constant bliss?

The answer arises from paying a closer look at the causes of contraction. Forget about expansion. If we're fully there, and if we choose bliss, then the floodgates open and we're instantly suffused. But contraction is where all of us dam the works. And though a bit of that's inevitable, the vast majority we bring upon ourselves.



WHENEVER WE DON'T LIKE or don't want something, we automatically contract against it. It's an unconscious process, equally true about a nasty comment, a lover's betrayal, or a terminal illness. Because the process is so wide-ranging, it happens literally hundreds of times a day.

Think about it, or better yet imagine your way into it. Picture yourself getting cut off on the highway by a manic driver. What happens? You contract. Now imagine stubbing your toe. Your whole body goes taut from the pain. An overdrawn checking account, a critical parent, a mealy apple — they all lead to the same physical reaction.

At the same time, each situation may elicit a particular emotional response. We may be afraid, angry, or disgusted. Different emotions affect us in different ways. But the whole array of unpleasant feelings, despite its surface variation, arises from the same type of core contraction. And we can't help any of this, either. It's hardwired deep in our circuitry.

Every single one of these reactions is completely instantaneous. But when we hold onto the contraction after that instant is over, when we align ourselves with its rigid quality, that's a personal choice. We are choosing resistance. And what are we resisting? Something which already exists.

Resistance is a denial of what is, and as such, it's a wasted effort. What's worse, it keeps us from the expansion which allows for bliss.

Let's look at two brief examples. First, imagine you have a truly annoying new coworker. The worst thing about him is his screechy laugh. Every time he lets one out, you want to reach over and strangle him. You would never do it, but that's the initial reaction. You want this guy gone, for good.

So you sit at your desk, taut, just waiting for the guy to walk by. When he does, you tense up even further, and at lunchtime you commiserate with your associates. All afternoon it's hard to concentrate. You stew about it on the ride home. You try to think about something else, but it keeps popping back up. You tell yourself, "Let it go, let it go," since you know that's the "spiritual" thing to do, but obviously you're not spiritual because that doesn't work either.

This relatively minor nuisance, due to your resistance, has quickly become a pervasive poison.

Next, imagine you've been dating someone for awhile. You're falling in love. You want it to develop into a lasting relationship, but you're not sure if your lover's onboard. Every time you begin to raise the subject, you can't go through with it. You're paralyzed with fear. What if your affection isn't returned? It'll be too hurtful to bear.

Over time you grow nervous and awkward. You're even a little resentful that your lover hasn't brought the subject up for you. When you finally can't wait any longer and try to speak your truth, all that pent-up anxiety makes you tongue-tied. You begin to whine, to blame, to self-destruct with insecurity and frustration. Your lover, not surprisingly, backs off. Was it you, or just your delivery? You'll never get to know.

In this case, things are a bit more subtle. You've resisted the possibility that your love might not be reciprocated. Something which hadn't even come to pass caused a prolonged contraction with the worst possible consequence.

Resistance occurs when we cling to contraction. Throughout the book, we'll look at many more examples. Hopefully, at least one of them will hit close to home. It's crucial for you to relate to this idea experientially, to recognize in yourself the ways you contract and then choose to stay there.

"But what else am I supposed to do?" you may protest. "When I'm annoyed or afraid, to pretend otherwise would just be faking." If you are having a reaction like this, it's a great opportunity to examine resistance. Right now, in real time, notice where it lingers in your body. Don't attempt to understand it, remove it, or change it. Instead, just see if you can meet it with acceptance.



"THERE IS NOTHING UNWORTHY of acceptance." I remember distinctly the first time I heard that phrase. I knew immediately that it would change my life. I knew I had spent years and years resisting things, which somehow managed to go right on existing regardless of my refusal to accept them.

If something is, it is. Not to accept it is to live in denial, to remain trapped in resistance by our own choosing. The simple fact is this: whatever exists is completely independent of the stance we take toward it.

There is nothing unworthy of acceptance. It's about as close to a universal truth as we'll ever find. If a murder has been committed, if the planet is toxic, if twenty thousand people starve to death every single day, no amount of furious resisting is going to change any of that. If my parents didn't love me, if I'm a drug addict, if I'm overweight or underpaid, refusing to accept these facts will only lead to a lifetime of make believe.

Before going any further, it's time to make a vital distinction. To accept something because it exists is not at all the same as making it "okay." We put murderers in prison, prosecute gross polluters, and fund international relief agencies to deal with hunger. Similarly, we attempt to heal our personal wounds, recover from self-destructive behavior, and formulate a healthy self-esteem.


Excerpted from Unconditional Bliss by Howard Raphael Cushnir. Copyright © 2000 Howard Raphael Cushnir. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Mark Matousek
This indispensable handbook for spiritual well-being will satisfy even the harshest skeptics. Simple, direct, and deeply joyful, Cushnir's wonderful volume will help everyone struggling for happiness - the sort that lasts - in our complex and challenging world. (Mark Matousek, author of Sex Death Enlightenment and Dialogues with a Modern Mystic)
Surya Das
Both clear and practical, honest and wise, this book will appeal to readers of all persuasions. Howard Raphael Cushnir can help us plumb life's mystery and joy. (Lama Surya Das, author of Awakening the Buddha Within)
Sharon Salzberg
Unconditional Bliss is a wonderful distillation of the classical spiritual approach to life: bringing awareness and a transformed relationship to whatever we are presented with. It is practical, refreshing, and a lot of fun to read. (Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and A Heart as Wide as the World)

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