Being realistic

captain sparrow quote about problems

ice cream makes you happyMore on delusions and how to get rid of them.

Just before any delusion develops, we have an inch of space to change things around. For example, we have the seed of attachment in our mind, and let’s say we have an attractive object, such as a donut. This does not guarantee a delusion. Why not?

The advertising agency in our mind

For attachment to arise for the jelly donut, we have to think about the jelly donut — how yummy it’ll taste, how it’s capable of giving us pleasure, how it’ll go really well with our coffee, and so on. We conveniently edit out all the things it won’t do for us – how it’ll rot our teeth causing pain at the dentist, how it’ll make us fat and flabby, how no one will fancy us any more, etc. The mind of attachment exaggerates the good and edits out anything unpleasant about the object, like an advertising agency in our mind.

When I first went to America decades ago for a visit, I discovered the most extraordinary invention, one that in my mind had Americans living up to their reputation for being innovative and smart. Anyone who could take chocolate, which is good from its own side, and then combine it with peanut butter, also good from its own side, and then combine them…. well, Mr. Reese must have been a genius.

things are not as they appear

Things are not as they appear

I developed a very strong liking for his peanut butter cups—and I would share them with others, my bags full of them whenever I returned to England. I tried to turn everyone else on to them, for their sakes. This went on for about three years! But you already know the end of this story. One day I ate one too many (“just one more wafer-thin mint!”), and I was struck with the thought: “I cannot put another one of these in my mouth!” I realized that whoever invented this sickly thing was an idiot. Now when I think about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I simply can’t stand them. I could talk about their bad qualities for a long time… Yet I have to concede that the manufacturers haven’t changed anything in them at all. I cannot blame them for letting me down.

Unrealistic attention

The way I was thinking about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was not appropriate because it was not realistic. Inappropriate attention, which was introduced in the last article, is like unrealistic attention. We’re paying attention to something in a way that is not going to work because that peanut butter cup for example is not capable of giving me the pleasure it pretends to give me. It can temporarily satisfy an itch, the hungry or bored craving for something both sugary and savory, and that’s about it. We can do a lot better than that.

It is the same with objects of irritation, such as the example of someone who walks into our room while we’re peacefully reading, and “annoying” us, as described in this article. We’re like a dog with a bone, we can’t let it go. “He’s ignoring me again! He is always ignoring me!” That song in Guys ‘n Dolls that goes something like this:

“You promise me this, you promise me that…. when I think of the tiiiiimes gone by, I could honestly die.”

We’re mentally writing a shopping list of all their failings while conveniently editing out all the nice things about them, like the fact that we’ve been married to them for 20 years and borne their children.

once you realize we're all mad And the next thing we know, we’re mad. Literally mad. We say, “I’m mad at you.” I think that we do go a little bit mad, sometimes very mad. It’s the same with “I’m mad about peanut butter cups.”  We are actually mad when a delusion arises, why? Because of this inappropriate or unrealistic attention. We’ve honed in on the object and we have totally exaggerated either its good qualities (in the case of attachment) or its bad qualities (in the case of anger.) We do something similar with jealousy, pride, and miserliness — they’ve all got unrealistic attention in them, they wouldn’t be here without them. If we didn’t pay that inappropriate attention, the delusion could not get a foothold and our mind would stay peaceful and happy.

We wouldn’t feel so helpless. We would stay in control of our minds and our lives. Sounds good to me.

An inch of space

So, there is an inch of space we have with every delusion before inappropriate attention gets going. For example, in the case of the irritating person, we have a choice. We may not take the choice, but we do have it. (1) We can follow the path of least resistance and start itemizing the laundry list of their faults, leading to a negative, uncontrolled mind, and a hundred clever, barbed comments to say to them next time we meet. This is the easiest thing to do because we are so used to doing it, it’s a bad habit. Or (2) we can choose to stop that train wreck before it starts, and with that inch of space we have before the inappropriate attention starts, catch ourselves as we’re about to get annoyed, and take our mind away from the object and put it somewhere better and more enjoyable.

Three good things

captain sparrow quote about problemsUntil we’re trained in this, we may even want to go to the restroom or something to get away from the object and steer our mind in a different direction. We can do a little bit of breathing meditation to forget the object, that’s very helpful, and then we can think, “Okay, this person is appearing really annoying to me right now, but I’m not going to get annoyed — I’m actually going to think about their good qualities.”

One of my good friends has a wonderful, practical method for staying positive that has stood him in good stead for decades, so I use it too. He comes up with, for example, three good things about this person. Or, if he can’t do three, if that is too much of a tall order, he does one! Anything that takes our mind away from inappropriate attention toward appropriate attention will do. And there is always something. Perhaps Mister Annoying has a dog they rescued who loves them — focus on that! How nice! We avert the irritation, and our mind stays under control and peaceful.

These three—the seed, the object, and inappropriate attention–are the main causes of delusion, and the stage of inappropriate attention is the weakest link and the opportunity to change things around. We can do this through learning meditation, slowly but surely putting it into practice in our daily lives. This is definitely possible. It is how people learn to control their minds to actualize their potential for lasting peace, happiness, and fulfillment.

My choice

We have the choice. Right now it may seem we don’t have much choice because our habits are so strong, but they are just habits, they are not us; and if we understand the causes of delusion, then we know that we do actually have a moment of choice there. We can continue to follow the same old frustrating rigmarole, taking the path of least resistance, or we can change; and the choice is ours for the taking if we understand how delusions develop.

It all depends how we’re looking at it

dolphins

dolphins and meditationSo I have recently moved from Florida (80 degrees, wall to wall sunshine, sea breezes, pelicans and dolphins) to Liverpool (frozen lake, not quite wall to wall sunshine, bracing wind, swans and Lambananas.)

Just now I was scooting down the stairs to the World Peace Café that is conveniently placed inside the large house I’m living in, meaning I don’t have to go outside, ever, if I don’t want to. At 3.48pm, it is already getting dark out there, and I was wondering whether to feel sorry for myself when I ran into J on the stairs.

“How are you doing, J?” “Great, thanks.” “What about this getting dark at 3.30, then?” “Oh, I love it! I love the winter.” “You do?!” “Yes, I love it. I love the spring and the summer too.” “Hmmm. I daresay you love the Fall, erm Autumn, as well?” “Oh yes, I love it! I love all four seasons.” Just as I was pondering mentally how anyone could love winter with such enthusiasm, and perhaps he had nothing to compare it with, he added, “I lived in Fort Lauderdale and Miami for three years when I was younger, and it was lovely, but I really missed the seasons!” lambananas in liverpool and kadampa life

“Well”, I told him, “That really shows how everything depends on the mind! And now I’m going to love the four seasons too.” So, dear reader, if you catch me complaining, please remind me of this conversation. As a friend told me the other day, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. (It reminded us of Shantideva’s famous analogy about leather on the feet.)

In the last article on delusions, I talked about the object of delusion. While our delusions are still rampant, there is not an awful lot we can do about objects of delusion. Geshe Kelsang sums this up:

Even if we were to live in an isolated cave there would be some parts of the cave that would appear more attractive than other parts, and some kinds of weather that would seem more pleasant than others. We would soon find ourselves preferring this sort of birdsong to that sort of birdsong, and we would still have all the memories of other objects of delusion. ~ Understanding the Mind

It sounds like a pretty nice idea to me: “I’m going to get away from it all, get away from all these trying people and/or objects of temptation that surround me wherever I go. I’ll go to the countryside on retreat, or on top of a mountain in Brazil or Switzerland, or perhaps even a cave in the Himalayas. Hey, that’s awesome, that’s the answer!” meditating in a cave retreat season in NKT

Actually, it can be very helpful to go away sometimes from our usual environment and work on our minds, for example in meditation retreat. January is retreat month in the New Kadampa Tradition and it provides a refreshing and significant start to the year. However, by itself, getting away from it all is not going to solve the problem because, as they say, wherever we go, there we are. Our deluded mind comes along for the ride.

Cause of delusion # 3, inappropriate attention

As mentioned in this first article on the delusions, there are six causes of our delusions. These are like a chain that bind us to suffering and problems. To break a chain, especially one as strong as this, it makes sense to find its weakest link.

We just saw how the object is not the weakest link – it is hard to isolate ourselves from all objects of delusion because they are going to pop up wherever we take our deluded minds. We can run, but we cannot hide. Sooo, what to do?

Now we come to the weakest link in the chain that binds us to suffering, insofar as it is the easiest one for us to break at the moment. This is very lucky for us. We can work on all six causes of our problems to a certain extent, of course, but this is the one where we can really get in there and stop the course of the delusion.

I keep saying a delusion is an unpeaceful, uncontrolled mind, and this is true, but strictly speaking the actual definition of a delusion is “An unpeaceful, uncontrolled mind that arises from inappropriate attention.” Even if our mind meets an object of anger, say, we will only get angry if we let inappropriate attention develop. delusions distort

Inappropriate attention is that function of honing in on a jelly donut, for example, and exaggerating its power to make our day, or honing in on someone who annoys us and letting our peace be destroyed ostensibly by that person but actually by our inappropriate attention toward that person.

There are many levels of inappropriate attention, from very subtle to very gross. At the moment, whenever we see an object we naturally apprehend it as being inherently existent, as independent of the mind, nothing to do with us. This itself is an exaggeration and the most subtle form of inappropriate attention. It is also our ignorance of self-grasping.

attachment to jelly donutBecause we are grasping at things as if they were outside the mind, we then believe that their apparent desireability or distastefulness inhere in them, and have nothing to do with the way we are perceiving them. If something out there looks nice, we naturally want to pull it toward us, and attachment is born. If something out there looks nasty, we naturally want to push it away from us, and anger or aversion is born. Due to our initial exaggeration of the object’s ontological status as being inherently existent as opposed to a mere projection of our mind, like a dream object, we then engage in even more exaggeration: “That donut out there on the cake dish is really nice (ie, from its own side) – just look at that red jelly oozing out of it, and the sugar sprinklings, and think how well it will go with the Cappuchino from the World Peace Café downstairs?!” This is gross inappropriate attention, leading to attachment.

We can overcome subtle inappropriate attention with wisdom, and we can overcome gross inappropriate attention with mindfulness, alertness, and conscientiousness, applying the opponents to delusions as described here.

More on this subject later … over to you for now :-)

How meditation overcomes negative thoughts and emotions

how to get rid of delusions

A bit more on the subject of delusions and how to get rid of them.

Nothing is as it seems

If it is true that

“The things we normally perceive do not exist”

it means that nothing is really out there, and everything is free of being real and fixed. This means we can change everything by changing our mind. As Nagarjuna says:

“For whom emptiness is possible, anything is possible.”

If we fall into the trap of thinking that the causes of our problems are out there — independent of our perceiving consciousness, existing from their own side — it’ll make us focus all our time and energy into solving them out there; when all this time it has been the delusions inside our own mind that are actually wrecking our happiness.

the things we normally see do not exist

Things are not as chunky as they seem.

Meditation is designed to tackle these enemies within, having understood that we’re not doomed to suffer from their attacks forever, unless of course we do nothing about them. They’ll never go quietly away forever on their own – but if we learn what they are, how they function, and how they arise, we can identify and get rid of every last one of them.

Delusions are just thoughts; we don’t have to let them rule us forever. They are not an intrinsic part of our mind — they are like clouds in the vastness of our sky-like mind, which will not manifest without the appropriate atmospheric conditions. So, devastating as they can be when they do arise, they’re not here to stay, any more than Superstorm Sandy stuck around. If they were a permanent and intrinsic part of our mind, we might as well just curl up in a ball and give up. But we know that even without doing anything about them our delusions come and go. This explains why right now you probably don’t feel like yelling at anyone, but the conditions could come together and then you might, only to get over that and regret it later. Or why you are lovesick today but will probably feel pretty cheerful again later. delusions

This is why we can say “Time heals”. Of course, if we do do something about our delusions, time heals a darned lot faster.

Making positive habits stick

Wisdom realizing that things don’t exist from their own side is the ultimate antidote to all delusions, and each delusion also has its own temporary opponent. Love, for example, is the opponent to hatred, giving is the opponent to miserliness, patience is the opponent to anger, non-attachment is the opponent to attachment, humility is the opponent to pride, rejoicing is the opponent to jealousy, and so on. Every deluded mind has an opposite, positive, peaceful mind, and to the extent that we become familiar with that, to that extent we are opposing our deluded mind. That’s what meditation is, familiarizing our mind with positivity, both on and off a meditation seat. We build up positive habits of mind to directly oppose our negative habits of mind, and over time we make these positive habits stick. We are reducing the overwhelming waves of painful thoughts in samsara’s ocean to small manageable ripples.

i want to change the worldSay for example you want to decrease your dislike, irritation, intolerance, etc — the whole cluster of delusions associated with the inner enemy of hatred. Well, first of all you could identify the mind of hatred, see what’s wrong with it, see how it’s causing you and people around you to act and suffer, and in this way develop the determination and will power to get rid of it. You can then meditate on its opponent, which is love — finding others likeable, holding them dear, wishing them to be happy.

As human beings, we are uniquely able to do this. Rousseau, the Russian Blue, has of late been coexisting peaceably with Monkey, the Bengal Tiger, much to we humans’ relief. These cats are both adolescent alpha males who were at each other’s throats so regularly that Monkey’s parents and I had to come up with a schedule of when they could each go out. (For those of you who say they should stay inside, you may be right, and I tried it, but it was like living with a caged panther, actually in the cage…) Anyway, of late our schedule was set aside as the two cats have been seen lying near each other on the same sidewalk, even looking at each other without growling, an uneasy but welcome truce settling on the neighborhood.

meditation overcomes negative thoughts and emotions

Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

Yet two days ago I was once again forced out of my house with my water gun (range 25 feet!) when I heard the awful noise of two cats fighting. The water gun was not even sufficient this time – I had to wade in there and pull them apart. Monkey had narrowly missed scratching Rousseau’s eyes out, those same eyes that I find so beautiful and want to preserve, because he hated Rousseau at that moment due to the cloud-like delusion obscuring his mind. Who knows what exactly provoked them on this occasion, but I’d be prepared to bet that their reaction was over the top with inappropriate attention, not worth losing one’s eyes over, let alone one’s life. Later that evening I read about the latest fighting in some part of the world – one day young men neighbors on the sidewalk, the next day tearing at each others’ throats, the next day (or year) regretting it.

If, unlike Rousseau and Monkey, we generate the mind of tolerance and love through contemplating and meditating on instructions we have heard, and then hold that love at our heart and familiarize ourselves with it, it’s like turning up a dimmer switch in our mind. As we increase the light of our love, automatically the darkness of our hatred diminishes because they are polar opposites – they cannot both arise in the mind at the same time.

how to get rid of delusionsSo creating the atmosphere of love inside the mind means that hatred cannot get a foothold. That bad habit starts to get weaker and weaker through lack of use, and that good habit of love becomes stronger and stronger through the power of our mindfulness and our concentration. As we gain familiarity with it, it becomes more natural and more powerful, and sticks with us for longer and longer periods of time. We find that in situations that would have aggravated us before, instead of an automatic, uncontrolled response of dislike, we respond with liking, and then love. This really does happen.

Check out this Onion article for a great example of inappropriate attention :-)

Anger wrecks our day(s)

tantrum

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The smallest thing can fill our mind if we have no control over our thoughts.

Someone on Facebook fessed up that they had been engaging in an “internal tantrum and imaginary arguments”, and I thought to myself, “Now ain’t that the way our delusions go!”

It is so easy to get irritated if we let ourselves due to our unchecked habit of inappropriate attention. Normally I live in a pretty peaceful place with lots of space — just cats, dogs, possums, and huge parking spots for one’s air-conditioned car — I’m not rubbing shoulders with a mass of annoying humanity as I try to get around. But I also travel to NYC from time to time, partly so as to get my fair share of shoulder-rubbing, to keep it real :-)

On the plane recently a young man sat next to me and, despite his good health, looks and fortune, I could tell he was already feeling slightly edgy. He got out his Blackberry and engaged in some very fast texting with his two thumbs. I nosily eyed what he’d written and to my surprise the last text said “This fat b**** next to me is so large that I cannot put down my armrest.” I could tell this was the tale-end of a moan about the person sitting next to him, and I noticed to my alarm that the armrest between us was firmly up. But I’m not that big so I glanced hopefully to the other side of him just in case, and it did appear that a large lady was occupying that seat.

Relieved as I was that he wasn’t texting about me, I felt a little sorry for her, oblivious as she was to his annoyance at having to spend the next 2 hours and 48 minutes wedged next to her, thinking how mortified she’d have been if she had been as nosy as me and looked at his Blackberry. Perhaps she’d in any case sense his dislike and spend a few less than happy, confident hours as a result. Even hurtful thoughts are hurtful; they are mental actions that do leave some impression on our mind and our world. In the teachings on karma, Buddha says that no action is ever wasted.

Just as I was musing on this, he suddenly thrust his Blackberry under my nose, gesturing me to read his latest message, which just happened to be addressed to me. It said: “Don’t get weirded out if I sit closer to you, but the woman next to me is sitting half on my seat.” She wasn’t actually, and he was now sitting on my seat, but I thought I’d try and cheer him up a bit by smiling that it was no problem, sure, I don’t mind being squashed into half a seat even if he does, its not inherently bad after all… (I doubt he got all my silent messages, but I thought them anyway). The rest of the journey passed without incident, he entered his own sullen headphoned world — hopefully he cheered up later.

A tiny example of a minor irritation blown out of proportion, but these can waste every day of our whole precious life if we let them.

Got any good examples?!

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