Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead … more from our social worker

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This is the sixth article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. The others can be found here.

At this time of year, Mexicans specifically remember the dead with the Day of the Dead.  Traditionally, on the 1st or 2nd November for Mexicans, the souls of dead loved ones are invited back to visit the living.  Communities across Mexico and elsewhere gather together to remember dead relatives and friends, toast their memory and reaffirm their feelings for loved ones who have died.

Health agencies around the world now celebrate the Day of The Dead to raise awareness of death issues to get people talking more about death for, as I try to point out in the following articles, it is important individually and collectively that we do so.  In the UK, the Day of the Dead is the 4th November.  Watch out for news and events relating to this, or why not do something yourself?

In my next couple of articles, I’ll be explaining how I used Buddhism and meditation to help me in my care of the elderly and the dying.

How to help the dying

In my third and final year as a student social worker I decided that my Buddhist values were best suited to the care of older people and the dying as there is less theorising about different types of care and more practical and dynamic compassion.  I feel the elderly, frail and dying are the best service user group where Buddhism could have a lot to offer. There is a lot of good information in this website and in Geshe Kelsang’s book Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully.

In Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully (2009) Geshe Kelsang says you can benefit those who are about to die. He encourages those benefiting the dying to help keep the dying person’s mind calm and peaceful, trying to prevent them from becoming upset or unhappy.  He stresses the importance of dying peacefully without any disturbance.

Geshe Kelsang (2010) also talks about the power of prayer. He says:

Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara

The power of our prayers depends upon the strength and purity of our intention and that having a mind of compassion for the dying or deceased is very important – if we have a genuinely compassionate motivation our prayers will definitely be effective.

Several times a day I dedicate my good fortune/merit to the vulnerable people I meet in my work as a student social worker; and when a service user I know dies, I do “powa” puja for them (transference of consciousness).

And how not to

During my final year of training I worked in an acute hospital trust within a discharge liaison team and I also focussed my dissertation on the care of older people and the dying. At work I played a part in helping service users leave hospital swiftly, but safely and legally.  It’s been my toughest job so far because it can be a very busy environment in which to remain calm (I had to interrupt busy doctors and nurses in their wards – asking them to improve their paperwork and inform me about discharges).  I was not Mr Popular with them but I managed the conflict well and made sure I got all the necessary information.

In my work it was challenging to see health and social care professionals disagree at times over the care and funding of care of a dying person. One memory that stands out is of a team colleague liaising in the battle between health and social care over who was going to pay for the service user’s care – whilst the actual service user was in the process of dying.  What affect must this have had on the service user?

Most discharges are not deaths; they are often issues around finding an appropriate care home for the service user, perhaps issues around mental capacity and their medical fitness.  Whenever there was a death there was often confusion about what was the appropriate action to take, whether to rush them off to home to die or to allow them to die in hospital.  This was the topic of my dissertation – how to have a good death.

Where would you like to die?

In the UK, 56 to 74 per cent of us would like to die at home but 60 per cent of us actually die in hospital.  Numbers of home deaths have been declining (to below 20 percent).  Roughly 500,000 people die each year with fewer than 8,000 specialist doctors and nurses, so there is not sufficient capacity. This combined with an ever increasing ageing population and more people living with multiple and degenerate conditions means there are increasing pressures on the health and social care system. Many people are not getting their wishes fulfilled of having a good death – at home.

Talking openly about death

There is an increasing awareness campaign in the UK to address these problems and in the future there may be more of a role for social care and social work to pre-empt matters.  The campaign is a continuous one that encourages everyone in our society to talk openly about death e.g. making wills well in advance, and planning and caring well for those who we know are very ill and perhaps dying. They even discuss issues around advance directives involving not using resuscitations and switching off life support machines, in certain circumstances.

I found similarities with this campaign and Buddhism in that they both recognise that we don’t like to talk about death too much.  In Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully, Geshe-la says:

Although intellectually we all know that one day we shall die, generally we are so reluctant to think about our death that this knowledge does not touch our hearts, and we live our life as if we were going to be in this world forever.

Through my dissertation research I found sociologists who agreed with this view, saying that, historically, institutions in our society have protected us from thinking about death, helping us suppress or suspend our thoughts about death.

At Kadampa Buddhist Centres we don’t have to wait for the Day of the Dead to discuss death and dying and how an awareness of death can enrich our spiritual practice :-) These kinds of discussion take place regularly!

Your turn
What do you think? Is it too morbid or depressing to think or talk about death? Or has it helped you live a happier, fuller life, and/or to help others who are dying or bereaved?

Meditation versus action … more from our social worker

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This is the fifth article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. The others can be found here.

In this article, he is asking significant questions about the relationship between Buddhism and social action, important to address, especially in our modern age.  Please share your understanding in the comments box below, particularly if you work in any of the caring professions!

Continuing on my reflections on working for a mental health charity as a student social worker, I found that being mentally prepared for the work I did was essential.

Meditation on compassion

I tried to make universal compassion my main practice throughout these months, making sure I started the day with a meditation on compassion or at least incorporating compassion into my meditation e.g. having a compassionate motivation/intention at the beginning of the meditation and a compassionate dedication at the end.

I always dedicate my meditations for the enlightenment of each and every living being, but I feel it is ok to include people you know who have a particular suffering (which could include service users) and pray (without attachment) for their liberation from their present suffering.   In fact this makes my meditations and virtue more personal and more powerful.

At work, most of the time I was able to remain unnerved and at ease with service users, with love and compassion (being relatively free from my own self-cherishing) protecting my mind from any negativity in the working environment.

Tackling stigma and leading by example

Another aspect of working for a mental health charity can be tackling the stigma and discrimination there is against people with mental health distress. It has been encouraging to discover this year that mental health charities are beginning to make progress in this area, but there is still a long way to go.  I found that talking openly about my own past and present mental health distress has helped service users and their families considerably.  It can be so beneficial to open up and talk about your difficulties and, once you do, and there is some acknowledgement, difficulties can be shared and reduced, and as a society we can all become more aware of mental health distress.  You do have to check, however, how much you can self-disclose and such practice is more accepted in social work than it is in healthcare.

This placement experience reminded me that it was my own stress, anxiety and depression that led me to Buddhist meditation; and it is this medicine for the mind that I keep on taking several times a day for the rest of my life, gradually improving each year.  People can be relieved and less frightened too when they realise that you are human and experience similar difficulties.  They become more open to your help.

Meditation v. action

Trying to lead by example is the main way I help people, but there are times in social work where you have to act as an advocate, representing a group of people or to politicise a little.  You can become very passionate about this and feel justified in becoming angry.  On my course at university I was a student rep as I felt sorry for the younger students struggling with the course.  It felt good and beneficial to encourage them to stand up for themselves, but I struggled with representing groups of people who were angry or upset; and I realised that the Buddhist belief in personal responsibility doesn’t mix with trade unionism.

These are areas where I can have difficulties, and I am interested in what any of you have to say.  Are your own meditation, prayers and example enough, or could we do more for our society? Could the products that Kadampa Buddhism offers such as the meditation CD’s, teaching in schools, chaplaincy and any other act of public service be more offered and marketed to areas of our society that need it?

I often found that in the academic training in social work, my use of my knowledge and experience of Buddhism wasn’t appreciated, and perhaps there is danger of mixing Dharma too much into our worldly work life and that it is best to quietly lead by our own example? What do you think? If I was to train as some kind of mental health practitioner I would have to study practices that are similar but different to Buddhism.  Could and should Kadampa Buddhism offer more to the care industries in our societies?

Perhaps you would be willing to help me by letting me know what you think below.

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Advice from a Buddhist dad on making practice a priority

Biggest problem

This is the second guest article from our Kadampa Buddhist dad, who has five young kids and a very busy job. The first is Kadampa Parenting.

Making our daily practice a priority

In many ways, the biggest obstacle to our attainment of enlightenment is our inability to establish a consistent daily practice.  This is especially true when we have a busy family and work life.  But with a consistent daily practice, we will eventually attain enlightenment — it is just a matter of time.  Without a consistent practice, we will never attain enlightenment, no matter how long we wait.

Establishing a consistent daily practice really comes down to one simple question:

Are we organizing our practice around our life or are we organizing our life around our daily practice?  

Establishing a consistent daily practice is not rocket science, we simply need to “make it a priority and then make the time to do it.”  In the next two postings by me, I will explore these two points.  First, let’s look at why we should make our daily practice a priority. The bottom line is we do what is important to us.  We work on what we consider in our hearts to be our priority.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to act towards the fulfillment of our desires.  We cannot change this.  What we can change, however, is what we desire.  We need to make doing our daily practice the biggest desire in our heart.  If we do this, then maintaining a consistent daily practice will be easy.  So how do we make doing our practice a priority?  There are several things we can consider:

The most important thing we need to do is correctly diagnose what is our problem.  Without thinking too much, ask yourself the question:

What is my biggest problem?  

Instinctively, we come up with a long list of external things that are our problems, such as our work, our partner, our finances, etc.  Since we consider these external things to be our problem, we naturally work to change these external things as the method of solving our problems.  If we check, the nature of human life is problem solving.  All day, every day, our every action is aimed at solving our problems.

But here’s the rub:  we have misdiagnosed the problem.  Venerable Geshe Kelsang gives the example of our car breaking down.  In such a situation, there are two problems — the car’s problem and our problem.  We need a mechanic to solve the car’s problem, but our problem is our deluded mental reaction to the external event.  We suffer when our car breaks down because our mind relates to this event in a negative way.  If we examine it carefully, we will see that any external event only becomes a ‘problem’ because we don’t yet know how to relate to that event in a different, positive way.  If we can learn to relate to this event in a positive, virtuous way, our car breaking down won’t be a ‘problem’ for us, rather it will be a ‘blessing.’  Thanks to our car breaking down, we can now work on our mind and on overcoming our delusions.  Fantastic!  We will, of course, still need to go to the mechanic to fix the car’s problem, but our problem will have been solved.

The same is true with all external events.  We only have one problem:  our uncontrolled, deluded mind.  This is our inner problem.  The car breaking down is not our problem, it is the car’s problem.  Our only problem is our deluded mental reactions.  If we clearly see our deluded mind as the problem, then we will naturally see changing our mind as the solution to our problems.  Our daily practice is the very method by which we change our mind.  If we understand this, then doing our daily practice will be the very method by which we solve our problems, and we will naturally do it.  If we get this one right, the rest will be easy.
To get you started, one useful trick you can do is to connect your daily practice with whatever you consider to be your biggest problem.  Before you start your practice, ask yourself the question: What is my biggest problem? You will come up with something external.  Then think to yourself, “no, that is an outer problem, what is my problem?”  Then you will see how it is your deluded mental reaction to the external event.

Then, as you engage in your daily Lamrim practice, try to directly apply the wisdom of the Lamrim meditation for the day as the means of changing your mind with respect to that external problem.  For example, let’s say your Lamrim meditation for the day is the dangers of self-cherishing, try realize how your problem is you are considering yourself as more important than others and therefore the solution to the problem is to put others first.

Or if your Lamrim meditation is death, think to yourself :

Will I be worried about this on my deathbed?

If not, why should I worry about it now?”

At a very practical level, a useful thing we can do is to think about all of the things we do have time to do, and then consider how our practice is even more important than these things.  For example, we find time every day to wash our body with a shower, in a similar way we should find time every day to wash our mind with our practice.  If our body smells, it is a real problem.  But if our mind smells, it ruins everything.  Likewise, we find time every day to recharge our mobile phones, so in a similar way we should take the time to recharge the virtue within our minds.  We take the time to nourish our body with (hopefully) good food, so too we need to take the time to nourish our mind with virtue.  Just as we fill our lungs with oxygeon, so too we need to fill our mind with virtue.

Whenever we do these things (bathe, recharge our phones, eat, breathe, etc.), we can remind ourselves of how we need to do our practice.  If we make a habit of reminding ourselves in this way, it won’t be long before our desire to do our practice will be ever present within our minds.

Mind-training and social work

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This is the third article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. For the first, see Meditation helps me be a better social worker and vice versa and for the second, see Where is a problem? 

Throughout my three years of training to become a social worker I have undertaken three long-term work placements.  The first was in a baby’s hospice caring for children with life-limiting illnesses.  They offer palliative and respite care for babies/infants from birth to five years old. I loved this job!  To be honest I have never felt so much unconditional love for others in one organisation, especially towards the ill children.  I have lived and visited many Kadampa Buddhist Centres in my time who show a brilliant example of tolerance and acceptance to people from all backgrounds without wanting anything in return, and the experience at the baby’s hospice was similar.

Exchanging self with others

At times it was quite a busy environment and twelve hour shifts too.  I try and always make time to do my meditation though, even if very tired I do my daily offerings and pujas (chanted prayers) to keep the blessings going (and me).  One of the main meditations to focus on when in a busy care environment is exchanging self with others (from the Lojong or mind-training tradition).

In the morning before work, I always try and include prayers in my meditation such as Prayers for Meditation (available here) or Heart Jewel and try to feel close to Buddha.

Before actual meditation I dissolve Buddha into my heart and imagine that I already have the spiritual realisation of exchanging self with others, imagining what it would be like to have this mind.

Then I contemplate Buddha’s teaching on exchanging self with others, feeling it is possible to change the object of my cherishing from myself to all others, and develop a heartfelt determination to develop this mind.  I find that this meditation is meditation on love — cherishing love, perceiving others as precious and important.

A playful social worker

If it is a good meditation then I can carry this feeling of love for a while at work– even when extremely busy, having staff, visitors and children wanting my attention.  At busy times like this I try and mentally repeat in my heart, that others matter and are more important than me, repeating this like a mantra.  It helps me become more self-aware and less stressed, actively listening to what others are saying and trying to fulfil their expressed needs.

It is perhaps easier with children.  In the children’s hospice it was never a large group and most activities were therapeutic and playful.  In a way you are becoming just like them (although still aware of your duties and health and safety).  You join in with all the activities they are doing such as messing about in a soft play area, arts and crafts, playing with toys, laughing and joking, and trying to get out onto the swings in the park.

This playfulness reminded me of how I should be with my meditation practice to overcome laziness, being playful and light with meditation.

Non-sectarianism

The hospice is on the grounds of a Catholic nunnery and although it is not a religious organisation there seems to be a Catholic religious background and culture to the premises and nearby organisations.  I think people found it quite cool me being a Buddhist and I was accepted into the work life (as a professional and at times as a volunteer) and also, the social life of the organisation and community.   I found that there was harmony and mutual respect between myself and those in the hospice that were religious.

Gen Pagpa and other religious teachers opening the world cup stadium in Cape Town

In Understanding the Mind Geshe Kelsang explains how mixing religions causes sectarianism but that if you practice your own tradition and respect all other traditions at the same time, this leads to harmony and tolerance. (Gyatso, 1997, p162).  I showed this example here well, as did the Christians I worked with.  At times I was asked to attend church services with the children and often with colleagues we shared spiritual or religious beliefs and respected the similarities and differences.

Not so long ago I attended their Christmas party, hoping to be asked to be Santa, having been a Buddhist Santa in other care settings in the past. I missed out, but happily engaged in the fancy dress party (Cowboys and Indians), handing out Christmas presents to the children and making sure that they and their family had a good time – all part and parcel of trying to exchange self with others.

How to avoid stress and burn-out at work

burnout bang head here

This is related to the article, Meditation in the Pursuit of Happiness.

Do you or any of your friends have any of the following symptoms of chronic stress or burn-out?

  1. Do you have to drag yourself to work and, when you get home, do you have no energy left to do much other than flop in front of some entertainment?
  2. Have you become irritable or impatient, critical or cynical?
  3. Do you feel emotionally or physically exhausted?
  4. Do you feel disillusioned, discouraged or dissatisfied with your job?
  5. Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

In this article I’ll try and explore an effective solution based on Buddhist meditation practice. There are also external triggers for stress and burn-out that you can find solutions for elsewhere on the web.

Symptoms of stress and burnout

Everywhere, working people sometimes suffer from long-term stress and burn-outs. They push too much, overdo it, and find themselves running on empty. Some hallmarks are that they feel inefficient, unenergetic and useless — their sense of accomplishment and interest wasted — and they feel emotionally and physically exhausted. Sometimes people get ill, sometimes they have to quit for good, never is it a pleasurable experience. The results can last for years. And it can happen anywhere, in any job, even in a non-profit or Buddhist Center.

We can also become a less nice person when we are burning out. Our tolerance and flexibility diminishes — we want everyone to do things our way because we think that’ll make our life more manageable. Sometimes we hold others at a distance out of a misguided self-protection but then feel isolated, as if we are doing all the work and no one is stepping up to help us.

Snowball delegation

Not to get too sidetracked from the main point of this article, but this ties in with our (in)ability to delegate and empower others. When we are stressed it seems we tend to delegate less rather than more, trust others less rather than more; but we still might get heavy with them and make them feel guilty because we don’t think they’re doing enough. Overly controlling our job and the people helping with our job is a bit like trying to push a snowball all the way down the hill ourselves — not letting go of it or giving it a gentle push and letting it just roll for a while so it picks up momentum and snow on its own. A snowball doesn’t actually grow bigger that way.

Solving the problem

Luckily this counter-productive syndrome can be averted. If we are practicing Buddha’s advice, we can stay relaxed and centered even in the midst of the busiest or most responsible job. We can maintain joyous effort, the fuel we need for both the short and the long-haul, and bring out the best in others too.

My teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is a perfect example of this. Even retired, aged 80, he still accomplishes more in any given minute than the rest of us accomplish in a day ;-), yet he is always entirely relaxed, blissful, and patient, and of course the master of instigation and delegation.

Over the decades of being in various positions and jobs, I and others have tried to observe how Geshe Kelsang does it so we can emulate him. In discussion with a good friend and successful long-term meditation teacher (who like me has had any number of “responsible” jobs and positions within the New Kadampa Tradition in the last 30 years), we have come up with the following suggestions.

Identify with your potential, always

The key is to feel centered and happy in the heart, and identified with our potential rather than our limitations.

This entails relying upon at least a little meditation practice, not neglecting it however busy or responsible we feel. Even ten to fifteen minutes sitting quietly before we start work is immensely helpful if we do it properly and take refuge in it. Even a few five-minute breaks through the day can be the difference between a joyful, balanced, creative day and a day that is just stressful and draining. (Make the restroom live up to its name if you need to, go meditate in there!) And even a ten-minute unwind and let-go meditation between work and settling in for the evening or weekend (or whatever little downtime you have) can help you disengage and relax such that you enjoy your time off from work and it rejuvenates you.

You can start with some breathing meditation, such as the simple meditation taught here. If you like, you can combine this meditation with visualization: examine your mind to see what stress, problems and limited self you’re holding onto and then breathe these out in the form of dark smoke, feeling that you’ve completely let them go. Breathe in the peaceful light of wisdom and compassion blessings into your spacious heart. Then spend a bit of time simply enjoying that peace with a still mind, however slight or relative it is. Give yourself permission to be happy.

This is the important part: We need to recognize that this peace is our Buddha nature, that this slightly peaceful mind represents our actual nature, our potential for vast peace and happiness; and that therefore we are not stuck in our unhappiness or frustration, but rather we can change. We identify with this.

Meditating skilfully

The main point here is that we don’t need to be great meditator to discover our potential. In truth, even if we are just able to stay with the breath for three consecutive rounds, our mind will become slightly more peaceful than it was. If we give ourselves permission and a few moments to abide with that slight peace, to savor it with a still mind, to enjoy it, we will discover that the actual nature of our mind is peaceful. It is only the delusions that produce agitation.

If we have time to go onto other meditations, the rest of our meditation, whatever it is, happens from that peaceful, happy place onwards. It is easy to develop any Lamrim mind when we are connected to our happiness and our potential. It is actually impossible to generate any Lamrim mind when we are identified with the self that we normally perceive, in other words when we are identifying with our limitations.

In fact when we “try” to generate a mind of renunciation, for example, while grasping at ourself as an inherently angry, unhappy or unlovable person, we end up relating to liberation dualistically, as something other than and outside of our own mind.

I am always here, freedom is always there, never the twain shall meet.

Consequently our meditation gives rise to tension or guilt, rather than an authentic and deeply joyful and relaxing peace.

We don’t need to give ourselves a hard time – our delusions do a very good job of that already, that’s why they’re called our “inner enemies”. Don’t let them. They are no match for our pure potential, any more than clouds are a match for the sky.

Try an experiment

To see if this is true, those of you who know the Lamrim cycle already, try this experiment. Meditate on your precious human life while not identifying with your potential but identifying with your limited, faulty self. What happens? Do you feel guilty for not doing enough, do you start giving yourself an even harder time? Meditate on your impending death with a mind of not identifying with your potential and what happens? Do you feel doomed?!

But meditate on your precious human life from the vantage point of being naturally pure, and what happens? You feel very joyful and lucky, your effort increases. Meditate on death from this vantage point and what happens? Your joyful effort increases even more, you know you can make the most of the time you have, everything falls into perspective and your worries and negative thoughts diminish. You can try this experiment with any of the Lamrim or Tantric meditations!

Back to work

When you rise from a meditation like this, I promise you’ll feel far more ready for what comes next, you are ready to be productive at work again. It is amazing how much burn-out will be averted if we actually experience the restorative powers of our own pure natures. And when we are happy, we naturally engage with the world, feel involved, and are efficient.

And when you start to stress out again later in the day, because it is a bad habit, take yourself off to rest in that room for five minutes! It is always going to be worth it.

Please let us know in the comments section if this method works for you and/or if you’ve had other successful ways of overcoming stress and burn-out.

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Anyone can try!

(Anyone who is stressed out can learn to do five or ten minutes simple meditation a day and hopefully get something out of this article. I met someone in the ocean just yesterday who has never meditated and knows nothing about Buddhism, but he is experiencing stress at work due to new bossy middle management, so I gave him advice based on this article and he seemed very ready to try it out.)

If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with

eagle flies with the dove

Equanimity, feeling equal warm affection toward others, was my first favorite meditation and I still rely on it today to put me in a good mood whenever I need. If I am missing anyone in particular, this meditation is the best antidote. I may be using Stephen Still’s lyric in entirely the wrong context but it works for me:

“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with!”

If I feel lonely, this meditation makes me feel connected again. If I am experiencing irritation, this meditation helps me see the person in a totally new light. If I find people uninteresting, if I look right past them, this meditation helps me see that they are lovable and worth paying attention to.

The strangling incident

After university, I did a year’s postgraduate certificate of education at another college in York, England, training as a secondary school teacher. I did this at the time mainly as I thought it’d be a soft option — I wanted an excuse to stay near Madhyamaka Centre and also delay an inevitable real grown-up job. However, it really was not a soft option. It was gruelling. It was like being a policeman, but without a gun. The class 4D was my most challenging. Another teacher accompanied me to my first lesson and, when I asked why, told me that it was to make sure they didn’t throw chairs around, as was their apparent habit with student teachers. Even getting them to stop talking was a major endeavor, let alone trying to teach them anything. One day I actually went over to one of the 15 year-old boys and, much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I put my hands around his neck and started to strangle him…

Luckily I recovered my wits before he was dead, but this incident showed me how crucial it was that I developed equanimity as quickly as I could if I and my students were to survive the year. I needed an equal affection for everyone, not just the nice quiet girl at the back who never gave me a hard time, did her homework, and actually listened when I spoke.

Every morning before going to school I got up a half an hour earlier and did a meditation on equanimity. I used the one in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, and I would recommend it to anyone. You start by believing that in front of you are three groups of people or three individuals – on our  right, our current best friend, on our left our current object of annoyance, and in the middle someone in the checkout line, that is, anyone we’re not bothered with either way.

Pigeon-holes

At any moment in time, we are pigeon-holing people into these three categories. And they feel very real. Our best friend really is an inherently fabulous person, even if other people don’t get it; our enemy is inherently dreadful, even if their mother strangely seems to love them; and the stranger is just, well, inherently boring, even if they have kids and a dog who adore them.

Have you ever noticed that every friend you have today started off as a stranger, perhaps even as an enemy? And that is not even taking past lives into account. The fact that people are jumping from category to category every day, even every hour, and that even one person can jump into all three pigeon holes in the course of a day (e.g. our beloved/annoying/boring partner) usually escapes our attention. And as a result, at any given moment we are feeling attached, annoyed, or indifferent (a facet of ignorance). These myopic, self-seeking and unbalanced delusions are the cause of all our daily ups and downs, as well as all the racial, sexual, religious and cultural discrimination in the world today.

Life in Technicolor

But in the meditation on equanimity we bust everyone out of those rigid categories and develop an equal affection and warm feeling for all – like our affection for our best friend, the one we’re currently delighted to see. We bring everyone up to their level, we are not going for “bland” (and this point is clear if we understand that equanimity is the foundation for universal love and compassion.) As a result we start to have a fine time, really enjoying everyone we meet or think about, wherever we go.

Without equanimity the mass of other living beings appear annoying or, mainly, just plain dreary, and often as not in my way. It is like living in a black and white world, with just a few splashes of color for the people I happen to like at the moment. Meditation on equanimity transforms the entire world into brilliant beautiful technicolor.

Tuning into the way things really are

This meditation is in fact very powerful and profound because it tunes right into emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality. My teacher Geshe Kelsang gives as an example of emptiness the fact that Sheila can appear to three different people in entirely different ways – as beautiful, as evil, as tedious — so stand up the real Sheila! Of course she cannot, because there is no real Sheila.

I won’t explain the whole meditation here, not enough space, and it is beautifully presented in Joyful Path. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Postscript

I will always be grateful to Class 4D for being my experimental equanimity lab that year – our relationships improved as bit by bit and one by one I made friends with them (while acting tough too so as not to be eaten alive.) So dramatic was the overall change that when the examiner came in months later to observe me teach, Class 4D all sat as quiet as mice and behaved like such model students that I thought I had gone to a parallel universe. Thanks to this kindness of theirs coupled with their fearsome reputation, I passed my teacher training course with distinction!

If Tarra and Bella can be friends, might there not be hope for the rest of us?!

Where is a problem? … more from our social worker

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This is the second article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. For the first, see Meditation Helps Me Be a Better Social Worker and Vice Versa.

The problem is not in the person — the problem is the problem and the person is the person.
~ Solution-focussed social work theory

Our problems do not exist outside our mind.  The real nature of our problems is our unpleasant feelings, which are part of our mind.
~ How to Solve Our Human Problems, Gyatso, 2005, p3.

When I first started training as a social worker I was immediately drawn to an approach which I feel is similar to Buddhism.  It’s called “solution-focussed assessment and intervention”.  As the first quote says, you don’t identify a problem in the person — the person is the person, the problem is the problem — and it is about identifying with solutions, and not giving too much energy to problems.

This reminded me of my Buddhist practice of trying to acknowledge my delusions, then let go of them and increase my positive qualities (solutions), and how as an aspiring Bodhisattva I can have a special view of others by not looking at their negative qualities, but focus on their good qualities and let these outshine any negative ones.  As Geshe Kelsang often says:

“Where is a problem?  It does not exist outside our mind.”

Many social workers are into empowering people and I find solution-focussed social work to be empowerment at its very best.  You try and get clients to understand that they don’t have to identify with their problems, to get them to try and see the changeability of a problem and that they can eventually deal with and even transform the situation.For example in a mental health charity I worked for I helped a service user realise that external problems such as personal relationship difficulties and negative people within the community weren’t always problems and that, when she was feeling good, the people were friendly and the problems weren’t there as much.  She understood the changeability of the situations and my advice helped a little. This person lacked self-esteem but I was able to help her improve her view of herself by helping her understand her good qualities such as being a good cook, being good at arts & crafts and being a very social person.  She learned to deal with her problems and difficulties better.

Arya Asanga

As a social worker you are a mediator between an individual and society.  You are concerned with helping vulnerable people and can often be a positive change agent for individuals.  Helping vulnerable people can be very beneficial.  In Joyful Path of Good Fortune my teacher Geshe-la quotes Arya Asanga’s eleven ways of helping others such as: alleviating the suffering of others and offering them assistance in their work, teaching others skills when they do not know how to accomplish tasks, removing dangers that threaten others, consoling others when they are in grief and giving material assistance to those who are destitute. (Gyatso, 2006, p457)

My Kadampa values have definitely helped me in my social work practice!  Through them I am now adopting my own individual assessment and intervention approach based on solution-focussed theory.  You always have to be aware of risk and assess this, but resilience, people’s strengths and solutions to problems are the main emphasis.

Your turn: your comment, questions and observations are most welcome! Please leave them in the box below. And do share this article if you found it helpful.

Other articles by our guest social worker are available here.

Meditation helps me be a better social worker. And vice versa.

kadampa social work

Here is the article I promised from the friend I quoted:

Being a social worker makes me a better Buddhist. Being a Buddhist makes me a better social worker.

Someone wrote me on Facebook to say they thought this was a good Kadampa motto. Replace “social worker” with your job title.

And ask: Does my meditation practice help my job and does my job fuel my meditation practice? (If yes, you’re all set, as you probably spend most of your waking hours at work… ) Here is how one person is doing it:

“For almost three years now I have been training to be a social worker.  It’s been difficult, challenging and very busy but I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I feel I have been on quite a journey, developing as a person and as a social work practitioner.  Throughout my time Kadampa Buddhism has helped me cope, stay calm and transform difficult situations for myself and others.

My daily meditation practices have helped me keep a good motivation at the beginning of the day and allowed me to off load any stress at the end of day when I have got back from work or study.

I have found that the Buddhist values and way of life are not dissimilar to that of a social worker. Social workers have a code of ethics which include: human dignity and worth, social justice (e.g. equal treatment without prejudice or discrimination), service (e.g. enabling people to develop their potential), integrity and competence.

Compassion and love for others is an integral part of Kadampa Buddhism and of becoming a bodhisattva.  My kind teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Meaningful to Behold says a bodhisattva is someone who wishes to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings and that they are motivated by the desire to benefit all living beings (p95-96).

I aspire to be like this and find with practice it can become natural to want to help those who are around you whether that is at home or at work.

In one of my placements I helped people staying in a mental health hostel with their daily living.  I helped and advised them with their shopping and budgeting, encouraging them to go to social activities or work and engaging in therapeutic activities with them such as making pizzas, cookies and playing pool.  This work seemed natural for me from the intentions, minds and values I have discovered through Kadampa Buddhism.”

Part Two, Where is a problem?

Part Three, Mind-training and social work

Where are the Kadampas?

kadampathoughtbubbles

Kadampas everywhere, I think it is time you are heard.

Geshe Kelsang’s parting request at Festivals is to take the teachings we have heard and use them in our regular, everyday lives and family.

Here is where I am coming from. There are thousands of Kadampas out there. Many are not working directly for the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT~IKBU) Centers or may not even be attending Centers at the moment. (There are all sorts of reasons, but they are not relevant for the purposes of this argument).

What is relevant is that we are not hearing from any of these Kadampas — what they are up to, how they are using Kadampa Buddhism in creative ways to inspire and transform themselves and others at home, in jobs, or with family.

But is that not the meaning of  “Kadampa” (i.e. those who take Buddha’s teachings as personal advice and put them into practice in their daily lives)?

Google Kadampa or any variation on that theme and see what I mean — you’ll find (1) the official or corporate Center sites (all well and good, they do the job),  (2) a fair amount of criticism (some justified, most over the top), and (3) sites that address that criticism (they too do a good job). What you won’t find is (4) all the Kadampas.

The majority of Kadampas don’t seem to be represented on the Internet at all, yet this is where billions of people are hanging out these days.

We hear from each other at Festivals, and aren’t those Festivals amazing? I’m happy to spend money and time to go hear my Spiritual Guide — invaluable, but I also do it to meet up with you lot. I always find it inspiring and epic to hang out with old and new friends and hear what interesting stuff they’ve been up to. But then the Festival ends and we don’t hear another peep. The world at large, the one outside the Centers, could be forgiven for thinking these nice, creative, light-hearted, funny, down-to-earth, wise and warm Kadampas don’t exist.

One of my subscribers sent me some articles about how he uses Kadampa Buddhism in his job as a social worker. He said:

Becoming a social worker makes me a better Buddhist. Being a Buddhist makes me a better social worker.

I like this a lot. Isn’t that really the meaning of “Kadampa”? So I’m going to post the first of his articles soon. If any of you want to send me stuff, well why not, if I like it I’ll post that as well. Or post your own stuff on your own blog.

I hope my blog is just the beginning.

Word Afterword… here they come!

Since I wrote the above,  Kadampa blogs are appearing, for example:

Daily Lamrim

This Mountain, That Mountain

Kadampa Working Dad

Cosmic Loti 

Heart of Compassion 

Family Kadampa

Tottielimejuice

Kadampa Poetry

Kadampa Wisdom

The Happy Kadampa

Kadampa World

Happiness/Freedom

Transcultural Buddhism

Skipping on the Treadmill

My Mala is Now a Teething Toy

One in Spanish:

Luna Creciente

And two in Portuguese:

Reflexoes de um kadampa 
Coracao de sabedoria

On Tumblr:

Dancing Dakini

Kadampa Life on Tumblr

Buddhist Friend 

Also, the New Kadampa Tradition is starting to appear all over Facebook (and Twitter), with official fan pages for Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, New Kadampa Tradition, Meditation, and Modern Buddhism, as well as a growing number of individual NKT Centers (and not to mention hundreds if not thousands of individual Kadampas). There is also a new unofficial Facebook page/forum for parents and another one for professionals.

I think these are very welcome developments, don’t you?!

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