I thought I’d look at some examples of the ghosts in the cellar, especially those we thought we had already dealt with but then they raise their spooky heads again (carrying on from Dealing with our demons).
For example, I was talking to someone recently who thought he had totally gotten over an ex-boyfriend. He was feeling very content, but then, out of the blue, just idly swiping through Instagram, an image of a grinning man with a new lover jumped out and hit him in the solar plexis. WHAM!, he was back to relating to that attached person who needed this person to be complete and happy, so feeling bereft and jealous all over again.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of people reading who can relate to this, me included. Life is full of separations for all of us until we have unconditional love for all living beings, or deep faith in the omnipresence of holy beings, or an understanding that no one ever existed outside our mind in the first place.
He told me, “I haven’t been happy since he left and I won’t ever be happy again, not really.” I reminded him that this was in fact nonsense as he had been contented many times since the break up, and blissfully happy and free on occasion, not to mention stronger and wiser.
(NEWSFLASH: Not to put Tinder and Hollywood out of business, but we don’t in fact need a romantic relationship to be happy, as countless monks and nuns will testify, including Buddha himself, as well as lay or ordained Yogis, Yoginis, and Mahasiddhas galore. Plus a whole bunch of regular folk. Whether we are in a relationship or not, the only thing that can bring us actual, deep happiness is cultivating our innate capacity for mental peace. Neglecting this truth to chase happiness elsewhere can be exhilarating at the time but has a habit, sooner or later, of coming back and biting us in the butt.)
But this friend’s current mood was affecting his perception of the past and the future. It always does. And, overpowered by appearances, we grasp at these perceptions as true.
The painful, limited self is back! It is as if a pathetic, rejected, mournful ghost crawls back up the cellar stairs, rattling its rusty chains to demand our attention, and we think, “Man, not this one again!” But, as Geshe Kelsang says, there is no need to panic.
There is also no need to feel like a “bad Buddhist” as one commentator said in the last article. “I’m a Buddhist, I shouldn’t feel this way, I’m hopeless, I’ve been doing this for years, there is no point even trying!” This is succumbing to the laziness of discouragement, wherein that delusion has now crawled up the stairs as well, and put his gnarly hands around our throat, “Just give up! Join us! For you know you’ll never defeat us.” It is only if we identify with our delusions and shortcomings that we will feel like failures when they arise, when in fact we are not failures at all.
Instead, within the vast space of accepting ourselves — and feeling the deep acceptance of enlightened beings too if we can — we can eye this strange creature with curiosity, and then shine the bright flashlight of our Buddha nature straight onto him. It is a good time to remind ourselves of the love we do have for others, of our renunciation, of our faith, and so on; to feel our way into it by tuning into, for example, the affection we have for our brother or the gratitude we have for our teachers and precious human life. And we will find that before very long the ghost of the limited self evaporates, POOF!, and the Hero is back with all his retinue. At which point, the past doesn’t seem so bad any more, “Wow, I learned such useful lessons from this relationship, I’m grateful!” and nor does the future, “I have so many good things I want to do with my life.” The heavy spirit of attachment has gone. We can identify with being an unpainful, unlimited being. We are free.
And we know what to do next time.
Object of annoyance
I think in some ways objects of annoyance are easier to deal with than objects of attachment as we KNOW we don’t want them around, whereas with attachment we are not so sure. That may be partly why attachment is said to be harder to remove, like oil soaked into cloth, whereas anger is more like dust. But when a supposedly dealt-with object of aversion does come charging up those stairs again, we can remember the forgiveness we have felt for them, for example, and that “I am so much bigger than you!” Perspective gives us space so that we don’t feel cornered – and the whole of Dharma gives us perspective. Huge perspective.
We can do something similar when Jealousy, Boredom, Anxiety, Pride, and Lack of Self-Worth, not to mention Self-satisfaction, Complacency, and Pride, or indeed any of the merry tribe creeps back up the stairs.
Remember there is nothing really out there
By the way, if you have some familiarity with emptiness, it is well worth turning to that straightaway whenever the painful, limited self appears.
I like to remember that the more real it appears, the less real it is.
Last night I dreamt that I witnessed a violent crime and then had to flee for my life – only I had no idea where to go. Then I realized there was nowhere to flee, and no one to flee. There was no one or nowhere to flee from, and no one or nowhere to flee to! And there was no one to flee. The only thing to do was to wake up.
In a similar way we need to wake up from all dream-like appearances by remembering that they are utterly unfindable.
If you have wisdom, you can use it to shine a light on any problem, “This person whom I normally see does not exist.” Dissolve them and us away and start again. Physical problems too. They seem real and fixed, eg, tinnitus, headache, even cancer, but they are not.
I know what I want to do – pop my own and others’ bubbles and be fully alive in groundlessness. Our karma has been blowing insubstantial, impermanent bubbles since beginningless time. We get caught up in one after another, as if they are actually important, but in samsara, as Ven Geshe-la says, all our dreams are broken in the end. I want us all to wake up and STAY awake.
More next time… meanwhile, please comment, including sharing any experiences of banishing your painful, limited self.
Thankyou so much for this. Exactly what I needed to hear right now. I have a tenancy to panic and beat myself up whenever I have a delusion in my mind (so I beat myself up a lot!). Rather than running away from them I need to give myself room to investigate them and weed them out of my mind. Thankyou ♥
Glad it’s helpful 🙂
Such wisdom in these word. Thank you Luna for sharing your wisdom. I wanted to comment that beyond remembering emptiness, what helps me is to think of future lives and consider my current pain or attachment in the entire continuum of my mind. This really puts things into perspective. Then whatever is appearing I experience as literally a blimp, insignificant really. It also encourages me to engage in meditation and purification practice. Much love to you 💖
Yes, that is so true. Just a blimp.
Dear Luna, your wisdom and kindness are endless, thank you!
Another poignant and relevant post. Today we were separated from a very dear Aunt (of my husband) and close friend – she passed away this afternoon. Dharma wisdom is a saviour, particularly today. Please could you include Denise in your prayers. With love, A x
I will pray for Denise. So sorry for your loss. Glad she has you.
Thank you 💗
Thanks for this.
I needed to hear this again right now experiencing the laziness of dicouragement.
I have felt some resurgrnce of these obstacles lately.
They pop up where I least expect them.
Best friends from our Sangha and places of refuge even have rolled out unpleasant surprizes of pain.
Knowing these are possibly teachings is good.
And not to panic and to patiently accept.
Love ourself and feel loved by enlightened beeings.
Being happy for other’s happiness.
Knowing the true nature of non existent self.
There is a Great Mother Puja at a centre near by next week I should go to try to unblock obstacles.
Thanks so much for this one
I really needed today,
I woke up thinking so many different discourage stories about my self…that i was feeling totally poor and thinking on what changes i needed to do….then i read your article and i instantly felt relax…. Remembering my true nature , with no limits and also, that everything is like an illusion…and as you beautifully said:
“All of us are floating around in dream-like bubbles.”
The good news are that i have now the perfect Teacher and method to learn and train my self on how to wake up from this profound dream , now I just need to practice with effort , faith , patience and a happy mind 😉
you are an inspiration to many people Maria, including me 😘
Overcoming self-grasping is like removing layers and layers of old paint from the surface of a beautiful peace of wood. Sometimes when you start, you don’t realize what’s there but gradually the layers wear away as you continue to sand and scrape.
Another amazing teaching, thanks!
Would you please write something on dating, entering into a relationship and then maintaining a relationship, such as dealing with qualities you did not know or anticipate your partner to have (especially the ones you don’t take too well) and relating to other attractive people (especially when they display interest in you). Would love some of your wisdom here to prepare protection for my mind as I venture into territory not yet explored by me (it’s making me super jittery!).
I’d push the person away like I always have in the past on the pretext of I don’t want to distract myself from my practice, as it does reduce the time I have available to study, read and do a formal practice. But I feel there’s a delusion at work there. Could you highlight how to “change my swing” in my practice to adapt, or even better, grow, in the new relationship?
Relationships from their own side are neither here nor there and we have had them with absolutely every other living being since beginningless time! As Buddha said, “all meetings end in parting”, so investing too much energy and thought into a relationship with one person just for its own sake can end up being a massive distraction if we’re not careful. So I personally think the most important question to ask is whether or not the relationship is helping you or them make spiritual progress, and if not why not, and how can that change.
If a relationship is just about making ourselves a comfy corner in samsara, leading to some complacency or distraction from the real job at hand while the months or years go by, it ends up being a deceptive worldly pleasure (or suffering!) But if it adds fuel propelling us both along the path to true freedom and happiness, then that’s great. Only you can figure out what’s what.
Scrooge comes to mind here poor old Jacob Marley all those chains such a heavy weight to carry 😉
Let us turn to Frozen …. Let it go !!!!!!! 😊😊😊
Very helpful thank you
Thank you so much for this article. This happened to me recently. I have been a widow for many years but I started to worry about the future. Who will care for me when I am too old, who will want me, I cant bear to be a burden to my children Blah blah . I felt I could not go on. Over 20 years with NKT, which I love, and I am hopeless, useless, a waste of space, an unworthy lump, a figure of ridicule . etc. You name it, I am it … And then I read this piece, what a relief, what a joy. So much for me to work with.
Thank you with all my heart.
Would you like to have tea with me at Manjushri this summer? I will look out for you. xxx
Social media can be interesting when it comes to seeing past loves in other perspectives. Recently I saw a picture of a past love on FB. Needless to say, MAJOR heartbreak occurred over this individual. My world had been shattered. Looking at the picture NOW, I have to strain my memory in recollection of who WAS that person I had been? That suffering is a historical fact yet that history seems wholly unrelated to my identity now. Not even a little bit, not even to say I have learned from it. That past love has been reverted to a neutral status individual. I don’t consider that a triumph BTW. Indifference is not my goal. Bodhichitta is.
Interesting. Change the present, and the past changes too. The past is only a part of the functioning thing that is the present moment. I guess this means that if you develop pure love for this individual now, you will see their photo differently yet again.
Very helpful, I like the image of the ghost crawling up the stairs and grabbing us by the throat, that’s what painful delusions feel like. Dealing with a loss, the death of my cat, best friend, most loving “boyfriend” I ever had, has been hard. I wallowed in grief for a while cause that’s what I needed to do, but then realized that all through the years as a meditator, a Kadampa, a Buddhist, I was working on “identifying as a spiritual being”. And I started identifying my cat more as a spiritual being, boundless, blissful by nature, and I wflemingas albe to feel connected to him in a deepter way. The “sad, lonley, I have nobody to love me now” self started to dissolve away. Meditations are so important, our practices will hold us up when the storms hit. Identifying as a spiritual being is so important to do, before the death comes, before the loss and the devastation. The benefits of meditation and Buddhist practices will come to fruition and we get better at it as time goes by, practicing with the smaller ghosts at our throat is preparation for the big nasty ones!
beautiful, and so true. Thankyou!
After reading this, I feel so exposed, as if you have written this article specifically for me, know me personally, and are revealing my desirous attachment to the entire world.
I know that we don’t need a romantic relationship to be happy, but is it possible to have one without attachment? I think I read in one of Geshe-la’s books that it is like trying to lick honey off a razor blade!
Dharma does that! Feels relevant because we all have the same delusions and Dharma is the truth.
As for your question, I am not sure if it is possible to have a romantic relationship with no attachment at all, at least i have never managed it!! But if we keep our eye on the prize, the inner peace of enlightenment, and are determined enough, being in a relationship or not being in one can both be helpful, teaching (or reminding) us what we need to do.
Pure Love 💕 is Our Greatest Protector 👌
It sure is — more unconditional love we develop, happier we become, guaranteed.
I love your articles ❤️ Thank you.
my pleasure 🙂
Thank you for a very well written explanation of why “old love” delusions surface and linger leaving me with a sad heart and mental chatter~
Wishing you freedom from a sad heart always.
As I was walking into the grocery store tonight, a mother and her children were walking to their car, coming out from the store, walking in a light rain & she started them singing, ‘Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream’.
I had to wonder if a Buddhist wrote that & why it appeared to my mind at that moment. A gentle reminder I think. 😊
Shortly after I arrived here I turned on the taps at the Vajrayogini phenomena source-shaped Denver Art Museum and that song started coming out of them … the taps were singing.
As usual Dearest Luna you manage to bring out the truth and give hope! Thank you so much! I have found myself faced with seemingly endless visits from the sadness monster and the “painful limited self” that can’t move on from a past love. I have tried numerous Dharma antidotes, including some of the ones you have described. During a monster episode involving unpleasant feelings regarding my ex, I find that remembering karma brings my mind back on-line. I try to remember there’s nothing/no one out there to blame, it is merely karma, my karma arising, and by patiently accepting it I can purify it. While it’s still early on in the purification of this particular situation, every time I can remember karma, the sick feeling in my stomach abates and I can bring my mind to consider my Buddha nature and the emptiness of all that surrounds me, including me. It’s by no means a “fait accompli” but it’s a start.
Yes, karma is such a fantastic thing to contemplate. And take heart too from knowing that you can purify all your past attachment while you are at it so you don’t ever have to go through this again. Plus you can help others in the same situation, ie, pretty much everyone at some point or another.