How to catch a problem before it catches you

This carries on directly from this last article.

My lovely dad turned 80 on October 2nd, and we were discussing the meaning of (the rest of his) life. He told me he’d been perusing the obituaries to get a sense of how long he had to live and worked out (by some strange and somewhat optimistic algorithm known only to himself) that most people die at 82. And he has been thinking about what he can accomplish in this remaining time. He thinks making his family happy might be it. I’m quite happy to go along with that 😉  “And how about accomplishing inner peace?”, I suggested. He liked that, so this article is for you, dad. (Your comments are welcome in the comments section below if you can figure out how to get it to work. Just scroll way down the first page of this blog til you see “I’d love to hear from you”, write your comment in that box, and hit the button that says “Post comment”. Anyone else reading this is also welcome to do this!)

Because to accomplish inner peace, I think, we have to understand that our mind is naturally peaceful. That natural peace is constantly being disturbed, however–but by inner problems, not outer ones.

waves on samsaric ocean In this article I talk about how according to Buddha all our problems fit into a pattern of seven types of problem, and all of these can be recognized as stemming from our delusions. The very day after we spoke, my father emailed me about a problem he’d been having with a car and possibly a policeman … even that would seem to fit into the category of having to encounter what we do not like.

So without understanding the nature and causes of our problems (as described in the last article), and if we try instead of fixing our delusions just to fix one outer problem at a time, our problems will continue to arise like endless waves on an ocean. My dad said he was using the car thing as a way to practice inner peace — if he manages it, his actual problem will be over, even if he still has to do something external to make the policeman happy. And also he’ll be better set up to solve the next problem that comes his way. Inner peace, just as much as anxiety, is habit-forming.

When was your last problem-free day?
should i tell him
We’re looking in the wrong place!

This time next year we will still be having a problem. It may well appear in a different shape and size to the one we have been having today, but it will still fill our mind, just like today’s problem. The chances are we will have no clue then what today’s problem was, it’ll be long forgotten. I don’t even remember what problem I was having this time last week. However, we’ll still be thinking: “All I need to do is solve this particular problem and I’ll be happy again!” This won’t work. We won’t be happy again, or at least not for more than a few minutes or hours. Something else will have come up. This is pretty much what has been happening for as long as we can remember – can you remember having even one completely problem-free day?

We have to heal our mind, our mental continuum. The causes of our problems have been lurking in our mind since beginningless time – now is the time to address these, not their symptoms.

Essential advice: catch them early

And it is a very good idea to come to understand how the delusions each operate in our own minds so that we can spot them early. Spotting the inappropriate attention as it is about to arise and dealing with it is like extinguishing a match before it becomes a forest fire. match

For example, if we feel the murmurings of disappointed attachment arising, “Why is it not as good as it used to be?” and we run with that, rather than letting it go and turning our thoughts to compassion or some other actual source of happiness, it will quickly take over our mind and make us feel despondent and lethargic. It will be hard to apply the antidotes to attachment once it has taken over the mind. If we let our delusions or so-called “afflictions” take over our mind, we have no choice but to ride them out or pray for a massive blessing to zap them away. We quickly become stuck and confused and powerless.

On the other hand, when the first murmuring of unhappiness aka delusion does arise, I like to ask myself:

Who are you, thought!? And where do you come from? Where are you going?

I let it dissolve away into emptiness and/or the clarity of my root mind, like a snowflake dissolving onto a hot roof. Then I think about something else, such as faith, or love, or wisdom. I know that my real pleasure always comes from these positive, wise thoughts, and that the changing suffering of attachment is always a disaster — so enough already.

anger 4For anger, I think it is particularly essential to catch it early if we want to control it. It is the most self-justifying delusion – once it has arisen in the mind, it brooks no discussion. So, if for example we feel the rumblings of discontent or dislike, and are about to hone in on someone’s faults and get mighty annoyed, thus ruining a perfectly good day, we can go into the restroom and remember just 3 good things about that person to derail the runaway anger train.

We can learn a thousand wise, positive ways of thinking to which we gently turn our mind as soon as we notice that it is getting agitated. In this way, over time, we can stay in control, stay spacious, stay light, stay content, stay free.

It is a great pity to let delusions/problems take over our mind if we have a choice not to do that.  And we do have a choice. We can understand how delusions arise in dependence upon causes and conditions that we can change, ie, from inappropriate, unhelpful thoughts that we don’t need to think if we just catch them early enough and learn not to indulge them. Then we can stay happy and problem-free instead.

In this way, we can remain with our natural inner peace and let it gradually increase — first for one hour, then one day, then two, then a week, then a month, then a year, then two years, then for the rest of this life, however long that may be, and then for all our future lives. May my dad and everyone else accomplish this permanent inner peace.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

22 thoughts on “How to catch a problem before it catches you”

  1. Luna, you write about your dad thinking of the time left and yesterday I received a phone call that my dad passed away. Keeping a peaceful mind and praying for him having a fortunate rebirth and that the Buddhas guide him to the pure land, is the only way I can help him. Thank you for sharing this article in such an appropriate moment. Om mani padme hum.

    1. Dear Patricia, I am so sorry for your loss. He is lucky to have you as his daughter, you can help him so much at this time. With prayers for his swift rebirth in the Pure Land, and love.

  2. Thank you for this article! I fell into a depression accompanied with anxiety for a couple months now. I definitely don’t recognize myself. It is difficult to find that peaceful state. Believing that thoughts are the clouds and our mind is the sky. But I know it’s through practicing that it will get easier. Every moment of good for me is accompanied by fear of all the suffering that exists. So it is difficult to feel grounded and making progress. Many thanks for such precious advice.

  3. So clear. Thank you. May all sentient beings have everlasting peace & happiness.

  4. Thank you so much, what a brilliant lifeline you give us, sometimes when we are in a bad space it can be difficult to know which antidote to apply and I am forwarding your blogs to a very dear Kadampa friend who is mentally and physically drained at the moment and your blogs are keeping her sane. Thank you Luna.

  5. Thanks, Luna Kadampa, I can’t tell you how much your articles have helped me!

  6. Dear Luna,

    Very timely advice for me. Thank you so much. My teenage daughter has gone missing and with your advice I can let go and just have love for her in my heart instead.

    1. You can have love for her, for sure, and stay sane; but I do hope you also find her soon. I’ll be praying that the enlightened beings have her in their loving care. Please keep me posted.

  7. How wonderful to read this post, Luna-it was very timely! Yesterday, I was full of irrational anger and spent the early hours of the new day meditating on underlying reasons and solutions, waking with new determination to reconnect with my inner peace (so far, so good….)-so appropriate that this should be the first thing I read in the morning!! Xxxx

  8. These Kadampa thoughts, are such a welcome lifeline for me at the moment, I’m trying hard to achieve this inner peace and free myself from destructive attachment issues…….I’m not always successful and wonder what can I do to work harder towards my goals?

  9. a wonderfully written birthday gift!
    may we all experience the countless wonders of life available in the present moment 🙂

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