What to do when feeling despair


getting out of bed 2

The world’s a mess! But please don’t despair …

This is the second half of this article.

Got blessings?

There is so much suffering in the world right now – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just wave a magic wand and have it all go away? Well, in a way, we can. For that is what blessings do.

I find it doesn’t hurt to tune into blessings whenever I need shadows chased away. Blessings always cheer me up. One quick way to feel them is by recognizing I am not outside enlightened beings’ minds and they are not outside mine.

Whatever faith we are – Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, etc. – we can all pray and receive powerful blessings for ourselves and others. This is because holy beings transcend our labels and help everyone who asks – that’s their job. If we are a living being, we have a divine spark in our heart (in Buddhism, we call it our Buddha nature) that will be ignited if we allow ourselves to believe in blessings.

Our prayers for others act as a bridge between them and the holy beings we are praying to. In the midst of the deepest depression, glimmers of light can appear in people’s minds through the force of our prayers invoking blessings. Some hope reappears to quell the hopelessness — a little window through which they can peek through the murk of their delusions to a brighter day. This is step #1 in their feeling better.

prayer mudraIt is always worth remembering that holy beings are infinitely larger than samsara – they can flick away our samsaric nightmare with one finger if we let them. They appear in forms to show just this – the Wisdom Buddha cuts it down at its root with his wisdom sword, for example, and Buddha Vajrayogini swipes it away with her curved knife.

We can also send blessings from our own good heart – such as in taking and giving, which can be supercharged in our Tantric practice when we have generated ourself as a Buddha (see next section). There is always something we can be doing to help those around us and in our world.

Remember who we really are …

We are usually so wrapped up in an ordinary, limited sense of ourself, replete with all its suffering and lamentation – but that self does not exist and we can learn to drop it, more and more quickly.

Who we are depends on who we think we are at any given time, as explained here. When I stop identifying with the limited, painful self that doesn’t even exist — just drop it and generate a more realistic and less deluded vision of myself, eg, as a Bodhisattva warrior or a Dakini — I find I can accept the past, present, and future perfectly happily.

So, if I am in a bad mood, I dissolve all those mistaken dream-like appearances into ultimate truth emptiness and arise in a new dream as a Bodhisattva Heroine, whereby everything and indeed every time — present, past, and future – looks very different. Plus, whenever we self-generate as a Bodhisattva or a Buddha, we automatically receive blessings.

be someone

And, by the way, we need to think “I AM a holy being”, not “I am an ordinary being pretending to be a holy being.” We are neither inherently pure nor impure. We are neither inherently ordinary nor extraordinary. Who we are is not absolute but relative for it depends upon many factors, including our thoughts.*

Self-generation as a Buddha is not a device. It is reality. It is far more realistic than grasping with ignorance at an inherently existent ordinary person and not letting go.

It takes practice and mindfulness, but there does come a time when it is harder to hold onto a deluded sense of self than a cool, happy, heroic one, because our thought habits have changed.

… and who others are

And others are not inherently impure either, so we can generate them as blissful pure appearances of our blissful pure mind. With that, we are halfway there — they will catch up to that pure view themselves one day.

We are making all this up anyway — the attractive friend I see, for example, is totally different to the “meh” stranger you see. Who is right? It depends. So we may as well make this relativity work for us by choosing the thoughts that will liberate us all.

In Sutra it is the same principle — we change people by changing our thoughts. We transform people into objects of love with our mind of love, for instance, thus making them lovable as opposed to annoying appearances to our aversion. And this helps to bring out their good qualities as a result.

(*To get profound for a sec: it is not just any old thoughts that we identify ourselves with in Tantra – we are identifying ourselves with omniscient wisdom and bliss, which in fact source and pervade all reality. We can think of our very subtle mind as like an ocean from which “all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously, like waves” as ocean wavesVenerable Geshe Kelsang put it in 2000. That root mind will, when purified, become the omniscient wisdom and bliss of a Buddha; so in Tantra we bring the result into the path by identifying ourselves with that in the present moment. Also, if we take care of the ocean by purifying it, the waves of our thoughts and appearances will take care of themselves.)

Radical acceptance

Bodhisattvas can accept whatever comes up for the sake of helping others — everything that appears to them helps their renunciation, or compassion, or patience, etc.

Dakinis or Heroines also accept all appearances as part of a totality, not discriminating between pleasant and unpleasant appearances because they are all equal in emptiness. They are all equally part of Heruka and Vajrayogini’s blissful mandala, which includes the celestial mansion and the terrifying charnel grounds.

(Just to get a bit profound again for a moment … apart from bliss and emptiness, everything is mistaken appearance, hallucination. So take it with a pinch of salt!)

Bit of purification

Purification practice also comes in very handy when we are in a really bad mood, to wipe away the most stubborn-seeming karmic appearances and ordinary conceptions. Out of space here — check out this article.

Summary

When I keep doing any of the things explained in these last two articles — letting any re-visiting sadness remind me to do it – then there is no problem.

As someone generally interested in the spiritual path, we can learn to keep our eye on the prize – which is enlightenment (however we currently understand it) and the permanent end of suffering. Then I think we will find creative ways to do whatever works to lift ourselves and others out of any temporary funk.

So, no guarantees I won’t feel sad again in samsara, but that’s ok; it can be put to good use.

Over to you: Have you dealt successfully with any calamities lately? Are you finding ways to avoid falling into despair over the current world situation? Care to share?

 

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone 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!

4 thoughts on “What to do when feeling despair”

  1. What to do when feeling despair? Well, instead of letting go I just dived right in and let it obliterate all thoughts – including the idea of the object that had seemingly caused it. Reverse Tantra if you will… but it worked, making it clear that despair is just an unpleasant feeling and does not actually depend on anything “out there”. Eureka…

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  2. Wonderful post Dear Luna Kadampa. I am about to make profound changes in my own life, due to the fact that I am about done with the daily interactions with strangers and loved ones which are clouded and messy conditioned and samsaric, exacerbating my emotional sufferings. I feel I have a warped way of thinking and speech.
    I am an outsider too, cos I admire the concept of light and love, but am not perceiving reciprocal behaviour. Am I projecting? Are my expectations of being treated justly and lovingly over-reaching?
    From your Purification article I quote this:
    And it is powerful because I want it; it is not a vague open-ended promise, but one stemming from my everyday wishes to stay happy despite this thing or that thing not working out.
    I have, since finding the Buddhist Path in 2013 after a schizophrenic episode recovery period, being feeling the pull to join the holy spiritual friends in a monastery and totally reform my mind. I am feeling defiled and disillusioned by worldly survival tactics that are unquestioned and ridiculously divisive. So as I write this, my family have accepted that that is where I will be going. We are renovating our home to sell, whereafter I will be moving to a monastery in the UK, and my spouse and young adult kid and his girlfriend will be moving away to start over.
    It is hard for them to understand that I need to, want to, Have to do this. I see and feel their pain everyday. So it is a continual cycle of pain for us all.. me wanting to reach Nibbána in this life and stop all our sufferings, and they, knowing I love them, why would I leave them?
    The point is, I know I can only truly be on the Path of The Buddha by going forth to homelessness.
    I am sure I am not the first nor the last with these experiences, I just needed, I guess, to let off some emotionality. 🙂
    ThanQ for inspiring me, friend.

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    1. We are always projecting something, in response to your question 🙂

      My feeling is that, while homelessness is not for everyone, because we can practice Dharma anywhere, sometimes a change is useful. As long as we don’t get too attached to any external situation fulfilling our wishes, given that our mind goes with us wherever we go 🙂 Expectations will only set us up for disappointment.

      In our tradition of Buddhism, just for interest, people get ordained as monks and nuns, but most of them live in communities of lay and ordained, and many of them work. Both lay and ordained people do retreats.

      The main thing we all need to do as Buddhists is work on our renunciation, compassion, and wisdom — wherever we are and whoever we are with. I wish you and your family all the best on this next stage of your journeys.

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    2. I do feel for you, your pain is almost palpable from your line. However do consider your choice a bit better longer and deeper and please please make sure that you investigate several Buddhist traditions and monasteries not just one befor you commit. It seems to me that you’re investing all you have in this endeavor and have very solid expectations while at the same time you’re extremely vulnerable mental healthwise. Schizofrenia is a serious mental issue which no amount of meditation or monastic life will cure. You will probably need health care and medicines in the future, you must make sure that your monastic sangha will provide that for you, you must make sure now, BEFORE you join. I wish you all the best with all my heart, whatever you do.

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