Oh woe is me! How to stop distracting ourselves from happiness.


Probably, as mentioned in this previous article, the worst fault of self-cherishing is how it undermines our wish and capability to love and help others. I have a couple of embarrassing examples of this from just now, which I have summoned up the courage to share with you below …

As my teacher says in his wonderful mind-training book Eight Steps to Happiness:

The main reason why we do not cherish all living beings is that we are so preoccupied with ourself, and this leaves very little room in our mind to appreciate others.

It is like you’ve worked hard and paid a fortune for a hotel room with a view, only to discover that this view is entirely obscured by a huge rocky mountain right in front of your window. Self-cherishing is likened in the scriptures to a huge mountain blocking our view of the valley of others, a big shame when we’ve paid a karmic fortune to be in this precious human life.

Tai Lung

The awful distraction of self-cherishing cannot be over-estimated and makes us useless to others. Whenever it arises it distracts us to a greater or lesser extent, and sometimes tragically, from the meaning of our lives and the source of real happiness, which is cherishing others.

I had a haircut yesterday and I don’t think Vince (not his real name) cut enough off. Vince was regaling me with a long sad story about an obese employee, and clearly he is a bit of a ham, and I’m not sure if he paid enough attention to my hair. He probably did, but my self-cherishing thinks he should have talked less and concentrated more. So I’m wondering whether to go back and have more chopped off, even though a friend told me its nice (but she doesn’t have to live with it on her head…). Basically, I have had some boring monotonous petty thoughts, plus annoyance at those bits of hair that keep falling into my eyes (which also remind me that my eyesight is deteriorating, which reminds me that I’m getting old…) Oh woe is me!

Then a particularly crafty mosquito buzzed around me all night and this morning, and I haven’t been able to catch her to take her outside. I have slathered myself with OFF! and smell like a chemical factory, but nonetheless she scared me in the night into having the sheet right up to my neck even though it’s hot, and she was still hungrily bugging me during my morning meditation session. Look, I love mosquitos in principle, and especially when they are behaving themselves. But I’m covered with itches. Oh woe is me!

So I open my emails and one is from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, who was always a bit disturbed but is now sounding flat-out paranoid and threatening suicide. I have to find a way to help her…. I also get an email from a close friend saying that her mother has just had a (mild) stroke and is being kept in the hospital, and that it is a “shock”. And it is, for a few minutes until Madam Mosquito bites again.

Okaaaaaaay……

You’d think those two bits of news would be enough to occupy my mind with thoughts of compassion and how to help, but no, still my self-cherishing wants to veer off those things and back onto the bad hair day and the buzzing mosquito. I have to make an effort to ignore its demands.

(I would like to seguey into a little praise here for my friend, the Buddhist monk Kelsang Nyima. Standing chatting with him outside the NKT mother center Manjushri Centre’s front entrance one day, I noticed his hands were covered with small red welts. Indeed, there was a still a mosquito sucking out his blood. I asked him why he didn’t shoo her away and he replied matter of factly that she was hungry. Then he changed the subject.)

I can only be humbled by such patient generosity, but at least my own 30 years of practice helps me to recognize that it is crazy and, frankly, embarassing to be even remotely bothered about myself given the far worse situations of my friends, not to mention the entire rest of the planet and all six realms. Yet these two incidents have been a useful reminder that, until my self-grasping and self-cherishing are entirely eliminated, I am always in danger and cannot be complacent. My “biggest problem” during the minutes of distraction is bad hair and buzzing mosquitoes, not my sick friend or my friend’s sick mom, if I’m honest, and I might as well be. Those seemingly reasonable and self-protecting worries are entirely unreasonable and treacherous. Stop you buzzing biting mosquito and let me generate compassion!!! Let me offer the victory to others, but please be sure my hair looks hot while I’m doing it.

(Check out this blog, where the blogger says the same thing, only better. I don’t think this blogger is a Buddhist, which just goes to show that these teachings are common sense and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to choose cherishing others over self. It works for everyone, every time. Buddha gave some beautiful wise practical advice on how precisely to do it though – and you can read this in Eight Steps to Happiness.)

Got any examples of your own that you’d like to embarass yourselves with in the comments? And if you like this article, please share it.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 35 years' experience, I write about applying Buddhist meditation to our everyday lives. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

19 thoughts on “Oh woe is me! How to stop distracting ourselves from happiness.”

  1. I was driving a relatively new Toyata Pruis down the expressway. Believe it or not, the highly green Prius is a ‘sexy’ car where I live. I enjoy driving the Prius, it feels good. And it comfortably accommodates my height, even on long drives.

    I was on the freeway when I passed a 30 year old car with a ripped rag top roof flapping in the wind. The paint was so old it had no luster left. The bumper might have been tied on with rope. And I developed tremendous pride that I was driving a ‘superior’ car.

    But I can’t afford my own car. ‘MY superior car’ was rented… *by the hour* ….

    :p

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  2. ‘Let me offer the victory to others, but please be sure my hair looks hot while I’m doing it.’
    I love the honesty of this line
    The whole post is wonderful – and this line just cracked me up!
    it’s so true and so honest.
    Thanks! 🙂
    -H

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  3. Luna , i wonder if someday i will be that wise….to forget about “me” and my little world…and begin seriously… to identify myself with my true nature…not with this character i am dreaming to be..that feels bad or sad for trivialities … to really learn how to cherish others… Thanks for this post…<3

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  4. Very honest of you Luna, ‘Stop you buzzing biting mosquito and let me generate compassion!!! Let me offer the victory to others, but please be sure my hair looks hot while I’m doing it.’ I love it, it’s so true! thank you again for your very clear mirror, and for the blog about the incredibly courageous little boy. I feel totally embarassed for all my daily selfish behaviour and moanings….got to make a start to change these thoughts. Thanks!

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  5. This article strikes a cord deep within me. I find myself so guilty of being engrossed in my own little me-me world but when I close my eyes and try to think how hard could it possibly be to step out and break “Free” you know what I discover? I just needed to lift my eyes up and look around. Just as hard as that!

    Thanks for sharing my post and for your kind words Luna 🙂 I’m humbled!

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  6. Oh how I wish I could remember that cherishing myself is such a waste of time, and really deeply believe it. The blog, from the link near the end of your article broke my heart. I can’t bear to think of children suffering. Children are so easy to develop compassion for, adults on the other hand tend to be a pain in the neck who just stop me getting what I want. That about sums me up. I am so familiar with this view that it is almost impossible to imagine things being any different. Without Buddhadharma and kind Sangha friends I would not even know about self-cherishing, so thank you for reminding me and using real, everyday examples to illustrate your meaning.

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