Surfing life’s waves


The other day I saw a little dude with his surfboard looking disappointedly at the ocean – it was clearly his first day of vacation and his parents perhaps hadn’t warned him that the Gulf of Mexico is not known for its waves.

Lojong or mind-training practitioners are also a little disappointed when everything goes too smoothly because they have no exciting challenges to harness and transform into positive outcomes.

Transforming a sickness

My mother asked me how I found enough material to write about on my blog and, to give her an example of no shortage of subject matter when it came to applying meditation to daily life, I said I would write about my brother T as we had just been talking about him. Thanks for your permission, T, it is for a good cause ;-) (This is not the brother of this article, but after this I’ve run out of brothers to write about).

new life

T started life as a 7 pound baby and then a skinny boy. But by the time he reached his teens, he was starting to pack on the pounds, and he loved his food. He was also a brilliant and disciplined athlete who captained a whole bunch of school teams, scored 100 runs at Lords Cricket ground, can run fast, and is as strong as an ox (he can lift up my mother and me at the same time). But plump, and getting more so by the year. His Facebook picture is the Michelin man. I gave him the XXXL waistcoat (US vest) for Xmas and it barely zipped up around his big tum.

Early this year he was diagnosed with diabetes. My mother didn’t bother telling me for a month or so and, when she did get around to it, she sounded oddly cheerful. She even chuckled. I know she loves her first-born child, so what was that about?! Turns out it was because the apple of her eye is happy about his diagnosis! It has cheered him right up! I kid you not. He now says that he has to lose weight or die, and he is really relishing the incentive. He says having diabetes is making him lose the weight he could never have lost otherwise, it has given him the will power, and now he’ll live long and healthy and thin.

To give you some context here… people’ve been trying for YEARS, make that decades, to encourage him to lose weight. His two young daughters, his family, friends, his grandmother, everyone has veered between the extremes of nagging him and giving up and pretending the problem is not there. Naturally he has not been fond of all the interference and judgment, and in any case it didn’t make the blindest difference. His wife alone — who is so slim she disappears if you look at her sideways — accepted him the size he is. But the rest of us….

I saw him in the summer. He is a new person. At Xmas he was tired and listless and not as happy as he used to be. But the sparkle in his eyes is back, his energy levels are high, he is happy and engaging, and he has already lost 4 stone (56 pounds). His attitude to food has changed — he ate far less at lunch, for example, and didn’t seem to mind. He says he feels healthier than he has done in years. He intends to lick the disease through diet. If you saw what he ate before and how much, such bad habits over such a long period of time, you’d know what a huge step forward this is. And he can now fit into my Xmas gift with room to spare.

I complimented him on his discipline but he waved it off: “I’m not disciplined, I just had to do it. This was the greatest incentive.”

Suffering has good qualities

This is proof that diabetes is not inherently bad. You can’t call something inherently bad if it it is possible to transform it into something helpful. From a Buddhist point of view, we try to transform all our adversities into the spiritual path through renunciation (aiming for lasting freedom and happiness), compassion, bodhichitta (aiming for others  to have lasting freedom and happiness), wisdom… There is no such thing as a problem that cannot be solved with these methods. As Shantideva says:

Moreover, suffering has many good qualities.
Through experiencing it, we can dispel pride,
Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara,
Abandon non-virtue, and delight in virtue.

If we really in our heart of hearts know that suffering has good qualities and offers us unprecedented opportunities, as T spontaneously understands about his serious illness, would we not decide to make use of it, and slowly but surely take delight in doing so? As mentioned, ancient Kadampas would look forward to difficulties – they were almost disappointed when things were going their way (although we don’t need to worry, there are ways to transform good things too…;-) We can know for sure that it is possible to transform whatever difficulty arises into a solution, and then find out the best way to do that in each case – eventually it’ll become a habit. (If you want, you can start by picking up one of the Lojong or mind-training books – Eight Steps to Happiness or Universal Compassion for example. It’s all explained in there.) Like my brother T, we’ll end up healthier and happier and with thinner delusions.

Something needs to click

When we realize things with the force of certainty, it can be far easier for our behavior to change as we are no longer negotiating with ourselves over every detail or meal. It is as if T was sabotaging himself before — he knew he was eating badly and he didn’t feel good about it all, but even if he lost weight each January (due to his once-yearly diet) there was the swing back due to attachment, lack of conviction, or whatever. And he was able to live in denial.

We all have to overcome our self-sabotage, attachment and denial of what’s going on, and it is not always easy. We know on one level that we’re going to get old and sick and dead, and that this should be incentive enough to practice being positive all the time and prepare for the inevitable; but on another level we deny these things, ‘Oh, it won’t be that bad!’ Or we even romanticize them: ‘It’ll be cozy, I can wear my PJs and slippers all day, and then I’ll have a peaceful death. Maybe I’ll do Botox and look even better!’ But when the doctor was telling T directly that he’d have to shape up or face the consequences, something must have clicked. We all could do with those click moments. That is what meditation is for. These are realizations. Better to have them before we get too old, sick or dead to do anything about our bad habits.

I find this a great example of surfing life’s waves:

It’s your turn: If you have any examples of transforming adversity to share, please leave them in the comment box below, I’d love to hear them. Please share this article if you like it.

Comments

  1. from in the womb of my mother,her tension in samsara’s,harsh husband,felt always to hold on to happy mind,thought it will help my mother.Born with a chronic disease,I was challenged to hold on to happy minded,no choice.When with big depression,life sucked a bit,did not understand no more,I went deep in my self and said I have to get out of here,to much stubbornness.I always love sentient beings,I have learned to use my experience to help others,this works,so better a happy mind it helps others and gives me much joy to feel there joy,this is the most of experiencing living,thank’s to dharma,so precious,seeing the light in others,nourish me most,I give you my tender thought waves dear Luna,thank you Hum’s <3

  2. Ike Lichtenstein says:

    Thanks so much for the post. Very timely in my case. Lucky enough to learn Dharma but not be able to change ahead of the pain curve. Now I get it. Needs the pain to make the gain? Is that right?

  3. Uncannily well-timed, thanks Luna. That’s our Chonden in Oz too, at th top!

  4. dharmaprotector says:

    I love those types of shows. Thanks, I’m going to share it.

  5. maria says:

    This is very true, Sometimes things have to get really bad before we are jolted back into what is really important. I have found that this year especially.

    Incidentally, I watched the video above and was a little bothered when the audience laughed when the contestant said that he was a manual labourer. But when I looked at the video on youtube, the person posting it said that the audience was laughing at the slang word that he used, not at his occupation!

  6. For me, the first step to transforming anything is to be able to accept it. When my mind is fighting against some pain or adverse appearance, this non-acceptance gives me no space to view it in another way. I am grasping it as truly bad and trying to escape from it in some way – there is no room for transformation, only the perpetuation of the cycle of suffering. Those rare moments when I can accept painful feelings and appearances as they are, without fighting them, there is blessing and space to transform them into something meaningful, they can become my Spiritual Guide.

    I bow down to that patience which “welcomes wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other that what they are” (Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso)

  7. I believe I have a lot I need to “transform” in my life right now. I’m going to think about how I might do that after reading your post here.

    Thank you.

  8. Joe Peace says:

    Great article!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you take a look.! Luna also wrote a wonderful article about transforming suffering, which I can also highly [...]

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