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A Crash Course in Bliss

By H. Raphael Cushnir

When times are good, we're happy. When times are bad we're unhappy. That's pretty much all there is to it, right? Well, not really.

Six years ago my wife attempted suicide. It was one of the worst days of my life. After receiving the news, I drove to the hospital with sweaty palms and a racing heart. Yet, at the same time, without denying or minimizing the severity of the situation, I was also radiantly happy, at home in a state of ceaseless bliss.

To many this seems inappropriate, perhaps even impossible. And I would've felt the same way, before coming to know, firsthand, what bliss really is.

For me, bliss is a feeling of profound joy and love. It emanates from the core of life itself. But here's the amazing part - it has absolutely no cause whatsoever. Nothing brings it about, and nothing can take it away. Bliss simply is, and it's up to us whether we want to choose it.

Consciously, most of us would love to experience eternal bliss. Yet unconsciously, we turn away from bliss all day long. Why we do that, and how, is the topic of my book, 'Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship.'

In this brief space I'd like to share the heart of the book's message. Not as an expert or authority of any kind, but instead as an observer, a questioner, a voice that calls you to assess your own experience.

In my experience, bliss comes to us when we're in a state of expansion. This means we're open, receptive, flowing with ourselves and our surroundings. For some of us this happens when we sing, or see a great film, or play with our children or walk in nature. The point is that we're available. And the more available we are, the more delightful our experience of bliss.

Unfortunately, however, we're often anything but available. Instead we're in a state of contraction. Contraction is a mental, physical and emotional reaction to anything we don't like or want. From small annoyances like a rotten apple to great tragedies like the death of a loved one, we touch the pain of the moment and instinctively recoil from it. There's nothing wrong with this, it's completely natural. In fact, all of life is a great dance of contraction and expansion.

The problem is that it's almost impossible to fully un-contract unless we're aware that we're contracted in the first place. And when we remain contracted, long past the experience that brought it about, we're living in a state of resistance.

Resistance is the key. Becoming aware of our resistance allows us to let it go, allows us to experience whatever we've contracted against. This is acceptance. And as soon as we make it through to acceptance, we're free to expand once more and access our bliss.

But letting go of resistance isn't so easy. As much as some parts of us want to let go, other parts want to hold on for dear life. This is where the two questions come in, two simple questions designed to bring us fully, radically into the present where bliss resides.

The first question is "What is happening right now?" It's what we ask whenever we've become aware that we're contracted. The more we ask it, the more natural and automatic is becomes. In fact, it begins to occur at a level deeper than language.

The second question is "Can I be with it?" To be with something means accepting it fully, no longer fighting its undeniable reality. Once we do that, once we're willing to feel everything that this acceptance may bring about, we've laid the groundwork for renewed expansion.

I call this process of inquiry Living the Questions, in honor of the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Living the Questions is simple, straightforward, and doesn't require you to change anything about your beliefs or your lifestyle. I encourage you to try it for awhile and see what happens. Try it in a traffic jam, during a fight with your friend, when your head is aching, or when your checkbook's overdrawn. It requires persistence and real courage. The rewards, however, are extraordinary.

Just by asking and answering two questions we go from being a spectator of life to truly living it. We're there, one hundred percent. And, more often than we'd ever expect, so is bliss.

Raphael Cushnir is a popular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. He has been a teacher, activist, screenwriter, and film director. His first book, 'Unconditional Bliss' was twice nominated as Best Personal Growth title of the year. His second book, 'Setting Your Heart on Fire' has been endorsed by Sharon Salzberg, Byron Katie, and Lama Surya Das and is used as a teaching tool in churches and spiritual centers throughout North America. Raphael's brand new book is 'How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment.' Raphael's work with the general public is described at

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