Buddhism Lite

BodhisattvaI am pretty fond of a lot of people in Florida. And I noticed the sigh of relief as Hurricane Irma downsized to a Cat 3 and then a tropical storm, and Tampa Bay seemed sort of spared, for now.

How many sighs of relief remain to us, as we dodge another bullet, even as the dangers get closer, even as others around us are falling to the ground?

Catastrophes are what happen to other people. That’s what we all think, until they happen to us.

Do you ever wonder if we might be sleepwalking through a very perilous time in human history, where we are in genuine danger of our planet collapsing if we don’t blow ourselves up first?! That the adults have all left the room!? And that these things may just be creeping up on us – and one day we’ll wake up to find … ?!

Look, I’m not a fear monger (well, maybe a little bit). Like a lot of us, I’m in the habit of switching channels and pretending none of it is happening, that me and you (especially me, lol) are perfectly safe. I’ve been trying to hold onto this complacency since beginningless time, after all, and old habits die hard. But for some reason I can’t this (life)time. I may want to keep seeing samsara as a pleasure garden, but in this life it is (for me) revealing its true colors. Which is great, in fact, because it means I am not condemned to stay here for ever and ever. And, if I play my cards right, nor are my friends.

IRC Grand Canyon 1One of my favorite quotes in Buddhism, which I stumbled upon 3 decades ago in Meaningful to Behold, seems more and more relevant with each passing year:

We should not let our habits dominate our behavior or act as if we were sleepwalking.

A new disaster baseline

I just read this:

Even if America joins a global effort to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible, as we surely must, we have already locked in a new disaster baseline, and will have to spend a lot to repair and adapt. ~ The Week

And a friend of mine has been collating the shifts in the climate as part of his work as a Futurist checking trends:

  • The historic heatwave that just ravaged Eastern Europe.
  • Historic flooding and mudslides in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Niger.
  • A massive earthquake off the Mexican coast.
  • Record radiation from the sun due to unusual sun spots activity.
  • Bigger and more intense hurricanes striking the United States
  • Political instability in the US, Syria, Venezuela and 15 other places around the globe.
  • Historic fires in California, Oregon, British Columbia, Washington, Greenland and Tunisia.

And all of this over the past 60 days.

Buddha Shakyamuni and many Buddhist teachers who followed him predicted these difficult, turbulent, “degenerate times” in this human world. And Geshe Kelsang — who is certainly not an irrational fear-monger nor prophet of doom, but the most sane, realistic, and hopeful person I’ve ever met — has also been trying to wake us up for decades, IRC Grand Canyon 3saying things like:

Superficially it looks as if our world is improving, but if we look a little more deeply we shall see that there are now many problems that never existed before. Terrifying weapons have been invented, our environment is being poisoned, and new diseases are appearing. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

And:

The result of an unbridled pursuit of happiness from external sources is that our planet is being destroyed and our lives are becoming more complicated and dissatisfying. It is time we sought happiness from a different source.

Time indeed. And that is not even taking into account the scary nature of other, lower realms in samsara and the distinct possibility that we could end up there after we breathe our final breath. Countless people are already trapped there.

So, what are we going to do?

I have so much I want to discuss on this subject these days that I have given myself writer’s block and haven’t written in weeks – I just don’t know where to start! But because I think the option of just getting all peaceful ourselves while doing nothing to help others is in fact no option at all, maybe I’ll start with that. (And now I can see I have written too much for one blog article, oops, but perhaps you can read it in installments, if you still have power after that hurricane.)

IRC Grand Canyon 2There have been a couple of articles recently questioning whether mindfulness has been co-opted and cheapened. Such as this one, which explores how “Pasteurized versions of the ancient practice of mindfulness are now big business”:

And this is perhaps the crux of the problem of the mindless application of Buddhist meditation practice: the marketing of mindfulness as a solution to work stress and life balance rather than the complex spiritual approach to living it is meant to be.

And:

Mindfulness is a way of living, not a substitute for taking action. If we truly become mindful of our existence, then our recurrent anxieties become not just a wave we watch pass through our minds, not something to be mastered in order to be a better servant, but a call to take action in order to be more fully alive.

And this article:

We’ve marketed an ancient Indian tradition as an antidote to stress, but traditional Buddhist meditation has two objectives: to become more compassionate, and gain insight into the true nature of reality. But meditating to gain compassion seems to have got lost in translation.

If people get interested in Buddhist teachings via “mindfulness” courses, I am all for it. I am actually grateful that contemplation and meditation are going mainstream in the Western world. And although very few people initially go to meditation classes to do any more than chill out and learn to relax, I am of course good with that, even if that is as far as they want to go.

But … I think it is important to let people know that there is infinitely more we can do with these teachings. People do often leave pleasantly surprised after sampling the low-hanging fruit, and more open to trying new things. Buddhism is not just a lifestyle choice to help us cope and escape, with no real bearing on ending suffering – the goal is all about ending suffering, wherever it is, and whoever it belongs to, because suffering hurts. And I would argue that our current times both reveal and request this engagement of us.

Meditation has in many cases become a type of therapy that shouts “Me, me, me” and entirely misses the point. Disengagement and self-absorption are not what are needed right now, not in this short window of opportunity we have to make a difference.

Stress reduction is necessary, as I have explained in this article, and it is essential to start by tuning into and identifying with the peaceful nature of our own minds; but becoming happier ourselves is only a means to a far, far greater end. Breathing meditation and so on help us still the mind, and from that place we have the space to apply the practical philosophy.

Bodhisattva factories

We do like doing this in the West, don’t we – stripping a philosophy out of its context for a simplistic quick fix. “Mindfulness with all the awkward Buddhist bits taken out” as a Guardian article recently put it. However, this cultural appropriation to a lowest common denominator, in the service of our “Me first” culture, implicitly underestimates modern humans’ capacity to rise above their egocentrism and transform themselves and their world entirely. The quick fix mentality means that people are potentially missing out so much, “starving themselves of the best bits” as someone who claims to have done that for years told me recently.meditating for world

But I don’t think Geshe Kelsang Gyatso could ever be accused of cheapening or watering down Buddhism in this way. In the last 40 years and counting, he’s been doing exactly the opposite, building up the Sangha, Centers, and study programs with 100% confidence that modern students can gain the same liberation and enlightenment as all the practitioners of old. His teachings are entirely in keeping with that of qualified, realized Buddhist teachers dating back in an unbroken lineage to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, with their emphasis on renunciation (wanting lasting mental freedom, not the self-satisfied incremental improvements of samsara), bodhichitta (engaged compassion, not complicity with the status quo), the wisdom realizing emptiness (the strongest medicine in the universe), and the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra (taking us so far beyond our limitations and ordinariness). These teachings can bring about universal happiness and world peace; it is simply a matter of applying them.

(And need I add that no personal profit is made from any of the teachings and so they are a great deal less expensive than many mindfulness courses. Just sayin’.)

IRC Grand Canyon

I have been very inspired this summer by the new International Kadampa Retreat Center, Grand Canyon. It has 75 rooms and plenty of room to grow. Like a portal located on the iconic Route 66, the golden roof of its Temple for World Peace (once it’s built) will be glimpsed by millions of tourists every year, giving them at least some food for thought, if not inviting them into the discovery of their wondrous potential as Bodhisattvas.

To echo this article, I think we urgently need to incorporate some Bodhisattva thinking into our world. In one of his earliest books, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso wrote:

Nowadays, with the world in turmoil, there is a particular need for Westerners to cultivate bodhichitta. If we are to make it through these perilous times, true Bodhisattvas must appear in the West as well as in the East.Meaningful to Behold

Whether we are practicing Buddhism Lite or not probably depends most on our motivation, whether it is worldly or spiritual. It depends on how engaged we are in actively overcoming suffering, and I would argue that this depends on how powerful our compassion is.Lekma in Southampton

We need three types of compassion, and the deepest, called “compassion observing the unobservable”, is to help everyone realize that suffering is not real (see Ocean of Nectar, just about to be studied on the STTP). But Bodhisattvas need to, indeed WANT to, solve every problem that they see. They don’t just sit back and watch Netflix passively for hours a day, twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns, excusing themselves: “Look, I did meditate today, but there’s not much I can do about all that suffering anyway, not until I’m a Buddha.” They are passionate and creative about ending suffering, day and night, and will do whatever is in their power.

Geshe Kelsang has also said more recently:

How wonderful it would be for our world if many modern-day practitioners could emulate the training the mind practitioners of ancient times and become actual Bodhisattvas! ~ How to Transform Your Life

I think supporting all our Kadampa Meditation Centers and World Peace Temples worldwide is crucial. They are Bodhisattva factories and — right about now — we need Bodhisattvas.

Do you agree?!

Related articles

What is modern Buddhism for?

What is Buddhism?

A Buddhist way to world peace

 

 

Dealing with our demons

Light in cellarOf the three steps to overcoming our delusions taught in the mind-training teachings of Buddhism, the first is recognizing or identifying them. And that means not just intellectually but in our own minds. We identify them but we don’t identify WITH them — the difference is crucial. (The next two steps are overcoming them by applying their opponents and uprooting them completely with the wisdom that realizes emptiness.)

Monsters in the cellar

It is far better not to repress those bits of our mind that we don’t like. These delusions and the bad karmic appearances they spawn are not intrinsic to our mind but, while we fail to accept that they are there, they continue to lurk in our mental cellar. Even when they don’t jump out and terrify us, they still haunt us. They cause us unease and painful feelings without our even knowing why we are feeling this way. Do you ever find life a bit spooky, or is that just me? I think life is a bit spooky when we are living under the influence of unacknowledged mental monsters. We sort of know they’re all there, which is why we try to keep that cellar door firmly shut and bolted.

We have various strategies to avoid them, as mentioned here, but they’re not really working. You’ve seen horror movies, maybe — you know what people do to try and pretend there are no monsters in the cellar. They blame the creepy neighbors, distract themselves, and/or get blind drunk. Or they try to leave the house, but of course that never goes well (we cannot leave our minds.)monster in the cellar

Whatever they do, the terror still creeps up the stairs and through the cracks in the doors and windows; and it always seems to maintain the element of surprise. They know that, so they are never truly comfortable; they live in fear.

Our refusal to own our delusions pushes them into the cellar, where they exert enormous unseen influence over what we do in life. We need instead to have the confidence and authenticity to bring these inner demons of the delusions out into the open, invite them to show their faces in the light of our pure, indestructible potential, so we can (1) see that there is nothing to be scared of, they are not so intolerable, and we are far bigger and stronger than them; and (2) be prepared to learn from them to see what is really happening in our mind. Check out this article for more on how to do this.

Moving beyond

We cannot completely and whole-heartedly accept who we are or where we’re at if there are aspects of our mind that we are too afraid (or alternatively too self-satisfied) to explore. And if we cannot accept who we are, we cannot change who we are. If we want to improve, we need to take ownership and responsibility for our delusions, taking a good honest look at them rather than denying them or rejecting them outright.

Once we acknowledge instead of avoiding one of these dark traits or habit patterns, it will cease to have the same control over us. We will also see more clearly that we are not our delusions, that they come and go like clouds in a clear sky, like weather.

For example, we cannot move beyond our habitual dislike for others — that, “I don’t really like people very much, at least till I get to know them, and even then…” mind — until we realize we possess this mind of self-protective aversion, which is projecting unlikeability onto the mess of humanity (probably starting with ourselves). At the same time, we need to see that we are not the aversion, that our real nature is connectivity and affection.

One of the most valuable things I did during my longish retreat a few years ago was look at my delusions head on in this way, not papering them over with unapplied generalities of Dharma, not shoving them under the carpet, not pretending they were not shadow 1.JPGthere. I came to discover that when I had a strong delusion, my subsequent meditation session was even stronger as a result, such that I actively came to enjoy my delusions in a funny kind of way, certainly they lost a lot of their power to scare me or influence me. They became more objects of curiosity, of challenge. I’m not saying I have anywhere near mastered this yet, of course; it is a life-long practice and our delusions have many levels. (We always have to be on the look out for complacency and self-satisfaction too, which can rear their lazy heads when our mind is feeling comfortable.) But I do have total confidence in the possibility of genuinely accepting all our delusions, however shadowy, and letting them go with the help of applied Dharma.

More coming later! Meanwhile, please share your comments below on how you deal with the monsters in your cellar.

Change our thoughts, change our world

Let’s say a gardener wants to grow some plants, so he pays attention to the seeds, watering and fertilizing them, and sure enough little seedlings start to spring up. But then he gets discouraged, thinking, “Stupid little seedlings! You are so weedy, nothing like the big beautiful flowers I want.” And then he stamps on them.flower Dakas

(Carrying on from this article.)

Geshe Kelsang says we should not be like this with the seedlings of our spiritual realizations. Let’s say that since you started meditating and contemplating these subjects, you have a little bit more peace than you used to. Now is the time to love that little seedling — to nourish it, protect it, appreciate it, grow it. Now is not the time to stamp on it out of discouragement or impatience.

We can identify with our potential every day, never getting discouraged, giving ourselves permission to abide with it, identify with it, be happy with it. We come more and more to associate ourselves with those feelings of transcendence and inner freedom, however nascent.

Give ourselves time

To do this, by the way, we need to find at least some time each day to meditate on peace and clarity or we will clearly find it hard to become familiar with it.

We also can let the blessings in, they automatically give us some space and perspective. We can pray whenever we like to whomever we perceive to be a holy omniscient being who is looking after us, we can feel our peace connected to their peace, we can take refuge in that. Our inner peace is never different from enlightenment, for our peace is far more realistic than our delusions, and what is enlightenment other than reality? Recognizing this, we can naturally receive even more blessings. 

textingThen if we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed during the day, we can give ourselves a few minutes in the rest room to reconnect to this increasingly familiar clarity and serenity. There are plenty of natural pauses in the day if we know how to use them – if instead of pathologically filling them up with texting, FOMO, etc, we go in confidently toward the heart instead. For our heart is our true home and resting place, where gradually we will come to see that we already have everything we need.

Mindfulness

Then whenever anger or self-disparagement arises, we acknowledge it, but we know there is such a lot more to me because I‘ve seen it, and I remember it. (This is mindfulness.) I know it’s there. I am on a forward progression. I know where I’m headed. These feelings are not going to stop me in my journey even if, for now, they insist on coming along for the ride.

We need this patience with ourselves, for over-expecting is a recipe for disappointment. How long or short it takes to fully realize our potential doesn’t matter, we just keep going, it just gets better.

Within an appreciation of who we are, we accept what comes our way, knowing that life is full of challenges, big and small, and it’s the same for everyone; we are not going to be the exception.

Turning inward

At the beginning of Great Treasury of Merit, before we get going even on breathing meditation (let alone all the beautiful Sutra and Tantra states of mind), we are advised to look at what is going on in our mind:

12376793_1011315862240332_3829193927311312144_nOne of Je Tsongkhapa’s questions was “What is the most important thing to do at the beginning of a meditation session?” The Panchen Lama replied that we should begin by examining our mind. Sometimes the mere act of examining the mind, if it is done conscientiously, will pacify our distractions. ~ page 46.

We are not papering over what is in the mind or immediately expelling it by, for example, breathing it out with the dark smoke of breathing meditation (useful as that can go on to be); but just turning inward to watch it. And this alone can reduce the distractions of delusion, especially if we do it in the ways explained in these articles.

Patient acceptance

As mentioned earlier, there are many ways to transform our painful feelings, but the first step is to learn patient acceptance with whatever is arising – accept it is there and let it be without freaking out. If we can do this — if we can tolerate the thoughts in our own mind and stop identifying with them — then we can relax and they relax too. We see that they are not as solid as we thought, that they are empty. But for as long as we are holding onto them tightly, and making them solid, how are we supposed to let them go?Cc8D6cIWwAAMICS

We have to understand and accept what is going on with our thoughts because that is what is going on. Then, once we’ve relaxed, we can use what we have seen to discover where these thoughts are coming from, what they are holding onto (including some noxious sense of ourselves), how they upset our natural peace, and how we can change them to move in a new direction.

Freedom

As soon as our thoughts change, everything changes. It is amazing sometimes, after months of battling, to see how a problem just isn’t there any more, simply because the delusion has gone. The problem felt so real, so insurmountable, but now it is no longer appearing. At those times, I think it’s important to pause to relish the liberation we feel, understanding that there is plenty more where this came from. This is both encouraging to our self-confidence (and we need that), and a way to increase our wisdom. We realize that there is nothing behind our empty thoughts, and even our thoughts are empty – free — depending as they do upon their objects.

Hope you’re enjoying these articles on mindfulness, there are a few more on their way. Meantime, I am also enjoying your comments here and on Facebook, thank you.

Accepting unhappiness without panicking

Another instinctive reaction to hurt feelings (accentuated these days by 24/7 availability) is to try and distract ourselves from them, hoping that by sweeping them under the carpet they’ll go away.

Carrying straight on from this articlejack in the box

Maybe we switch on a miniseries on Netflix for 6 hours, get drunk, run away, try and put ourselves somewhere else. We are trying to get away from our own thoughts, but what we resist persists; and by ignoring, repressing, or denying what is going on inside the more intrusive our thoughts become. Undealt with thoughts have a habit of coming back and biting us even harder the next time. What happens to a jack in the box when we try to push him down?

Do you remember me mentioning this experiment in Science Journal? The scientists got 700 people to sit in a room on their own, that was the experiment! But … they took away their smartphones. Horror! And how long do you think those poor souls lasted? Apparently all of 6 to 15 minutes before they preferred to administer themselves with electric shocks than endure any more time in solitary confinement. People are seemingly incapable of sitting with their thoughts due to unaccepted and unprocessed grief, loss, sadness – so, when left alone, they started to get sad. People everywhere have lost the art of accepting, processing, working through, letting go, moving on.

IMG_6725So, suppressing our unhappy thoughts is not the way to get rid of them, whereas accepting that they are there, like clouds, is the beginning of being able to transform them. We need to let them be, without panicking. As Ven Geshe Kelsang says in How to Solve Our Human Problems:

Unfortunately, by reacting so quickly we do not give ourself the time to see what is actually going on in our mind. In reality, the painful feelings that arise on such occasions are not intolerable. They are only feelings, a few moments of bad weather in the mind, with no power to cause us any lasting harm. There is no need to take them so seriously.

Phew, what a relief!

No need for internal conflict

12743909_945984215455688_7422037828919330423_nSo, instead of trying to immediately get rid of an unpleasant feeling with blame, suppression, or distraction, we can instead be confident enough to welcome it, saying: “Come in! Sit down! Join us! I find you not so intolerable really, you are in fact quite interesting, like a weird grey cloud formation; but bear in mind that I don’t believe a word you are saying, not for a moment. Your advice has always been blinkered and disastrous. I prefer the advice of my wise friends over here, my friend patience for example. You’re acting all self-important as usual, but there is plenty else going on in my life and my mind if I think about it.” We have perspective. However bombastic or seductive they may be, we stop giving them the platform, stop listening to them, stop writing stories about them. We realize our delusions are ludicrous and self-seeking and stop taking them so seriously. (Hmmm, could be writing this about the upcoming US elections.)

DON’T PANIC!

Geshe Kelsang says:

Just as there is room in the sky for a thunderstorm, so there is room in the vast space of our mind for a few painful feelings; and just as a storm has no power to destroy the sky, so unpleasant feelings have no power to destroy our mind. When painful feelings arise in our mind, there is no need to panic.

don't panic.jpgLove that last line. It reminds me of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When I read this book in the past, I started saying this to myself when thoughts seemed to be racing away with themselves, “DON’T PANIC!” We panic – “I can’t handle this!”, and we spin out of control because we can’t handle this feeling of being upset or betrayed or lonely. It fills our mind and we overreact. We give our thoughts power, not realizing that there is nothing behind them. Literally nothing. We really don’t like being unhappy and because we have no patience with it, we are not accepting it, we feel actually hurt by it — which means it sits there looking inherently horrible, all solid and real.

How effective is it to cling onto misery really tightly while at the same time wishing it would go away?

I was in New York in January for the monster Storm Jonas, but within a day the sky was crystal clear again. We know this about weather, so we don’t panic that we are never going to see the sun again. I used to even enjoy the raging thunderstorms in Florida, knowing that in a day or two the sky would be blue once more. We can be more like this with our minds and our moods.

So we don’t pretend that unhappiness is not there, but we do know that this thunderstorm is not all that big shakes, that it’ll pass, that it is never going to destroy my sky-like mind. This gives us the 12744175_1002357209802864_5939240562791456254_nspace and wisdom to see more deeply why we feel mad or jealous or anxious or saturated with longing — how these painful appearances, however overwhelming they seem, are arising, for example, from the unfurling of the karma in our mind — just karmic projection.

Lamrim has solutions

If we have studied and appreciate the Lamrim meditations, we can think for example that this unhappiness is reminding me to clean up the projector of my delusions and negative karma while I still have the time to do so, while I am still breathing, in this precious human life. I am on parole from the lower realms – states of existence where suffering appearances are so overpowering that there is no longer anything we can do about them and we have no idea that we even have a choice. I’m going to break parole and flee to12717396_1002005613171357_141140646733730239_n the Pure Land, I owe nothing to Officers Self-Grasping & Self-Cherishing, I’m not going back with them. Then I’ll be in a position to start busting everyone else out of samsara’s prison too because they don’t belong here any more than I do.

Slowly but surely we take responsibility to transform our minds to view the world in different ways, ways that don’t engender feelings of unhappiness and further delusions in the first place. Eventually we learn to control what weather comes up in our mind, which will help us now and always, and allow us to be there for others.

Next installment here.

Getting perspective on hurt feelings

I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought
And I ain’t got the power anymore. ~ Quicksand

As mentioned in the previous article, step one in transforming our mind — gaining power over our lives and destinies — is to start by focusing on the breath. One reason for this is that we are all breathing, whereas we’re not all necessarily experiencing universal love or an insight into the ultimate nature of reality. So the breath is the easiest object to find and serves the purpose of allowing us to gain some control over where we put our thoughts. Thmeditation and realityis way, they can no longer suck us down like quicksand.

Trust clarity

It’s worth noting too that a still body of water reflects everything very accurately — the trees and the birds for example – we can trust those reflections. But when water is churned up, everything is distorted and reflections become deceptive. Similarly, when the mind is quiet and settled, relatively free from strong delusions and distractions, it is not only naturally peaceful but naturally still and clear, and as a result it reflects reality far more accurately. This is unlike our delusions, which arise from inappropriate attention and distort and exaggerate like a storm ruffling a lake. With anger, for example, we effectively don’t know what is going on. Our delusions are never reliable — on the contrary, their job is to deceive us. That’s one reason why I like this Kadampa motto:

Always rely upon a happy mind alone.

Meditation is therefore not an escape from reality — it puts us far more in touch with the truth of what is going on inside, and by extension outside, in our lives.

Plenty more where that came from

So as soon as our mind quietens down and we get a mini-vacation from our delusions and distractions, we feel some peace within. It is really important to recognize that this peace is the seed of lasting happiness and freedom, that there is plenty more where that came from; and to identify with the sense of potentially boundless serenity inside, like an open endless sky, more than with the passing clouds.

IMG_6770I was watching the sky yesterday, on a sunny-cloudy Denver day here in Cheesman Park, and the dramatic clouds were making the sky even more beautiful in a way because I was feeling the space of the sky, the clarity that IS the sky. It is all pervasive, it is not in any conflict with the clouds, clouds have room to be, they come and go. They come from the clear light like all other cloud-like thoughts — the only difference is that they arise in dependence upon unrealistic or inappropriate attention and so their suggestions are not to be trusted. Stop identifying with them and the pain associated with them also goes, and we are no longer stuck. And then we realize we can transform them — for example, the pain of grief or disappointment can remind us of everyone’s pain, and become the object of our vast blissful compassion, metamorphosized.

In any event, as mentioned in this article, our thoughts and their appearances cannot be separated out from the clarity of the mind; they are aspects of that clarity. Change the mind, change everything.

Just a mortal with potential of a superman

We need to spark our clear light, the extraordinarily deep Buddha nature that we all share. Every being on this planet has this really quite incredible spiritual potential, and the soVajrayoginioner we can relate to it and identify with it, the sooner it will manifest and get strong. It is all waiting to come out, we don’t need to add anything. But for as long as we skid about on the surface of our minds, caught up in our “flavor of the day” reasons why we are unhappy, we are neglecting who we really are and what we are capable of, and we’ll not give ourselves any choice but to stay stuck in bad habits of suffering.

The key to letting go of unhappy thoughts is to stop identifying with them. And how do we do that? By identifying instead with our natural peace and potential. We need the kind of confidence knowing that we’ve really got it going on inside and no one can take it away from us. It’s ours. It’s the NATURE of our mind. If our mind doesn’t feel peaceful, it’s because uncontrolled thoughts are destroying that peace. But let them settle and we get a sense of the peace that is possible, and we can be happy with that, contented. 

There’s room in the sky

There is more than enough room in the sky for clouds — there is even room for rain, thunderstorms, snow, cyclones, hail the size of golf balls, every imaginable weather. No weather ever alters the fact that the sky is by nature clear, and that clarity can never be destroyed, only temporarily IMG_6676obscured. We tend to identify with our anger or worry or attachment as if it is everything, as if it is what is actually going on, as if it’s reality. “I’m angry and that person is horrific” or “I NEED her, she’s so cool, I’ll die without her!” – we are all wrapped up in it at the moment, but we can learn to recognize that the thoughts of anger or attachment are arising within spectacular boundless clarity. We can observe them and know they are not actually me. They are temporary fleeting clouds, but I am identified with clarity and peace. I don’t need to freak out here.

Instead of grasping at every fleeting thought as the be all and end all of everything, we get a taste for this boundless potential we have inside. This is me, this is my sky-like mind, and I want to be able to access this whenever I want.

If we get good at experiencing some peace and identifying with it, we start to have a lot of space in our minds and our lives; and then when unhappiness arises we are not so quick to think, “This is a total catastrophe, I need a bottle of sleeping pills.” We are not caught up in it, so we can let it go and/or transmute it.

What do we normally do?

I’m going to quote some bits from How to Solve our Human Problems in the next few articles, but treat yourself by reading the whole book if you can because it is so very practical and helpful:

Normally our need to escape from unpleasant feelings is so urgent that we do not give ourself the time to discover where these feelings actually come from.hallucinating

Geshe Kelsang gives some examples, such as someone we have helped responding with ingratitude, but I can think of countless occasions when we want to escape our feelings. Gazillion things hurt us at the moment, we are quite sensitive, our mind rather like an open wound, our uncontrolled thoughts like quicksand ready to swallow us whole. So what do we do?

These things hurt, and our instinctive reaction is to to try immediately to escape the painful feelings in our mind by becoming defensive, blaming the other person, retaliating, or simply hardening our heart.

“Our instinctive reaction” is I cannot handle this, I have to get rid of it, so we defend ourselves, our poor hurt sense of me. Have you noticed that we never let pain just float around in our mind, we always try and pin it down? There HAS to be a reason for the way I’m feeling and that reason is outside my mind somewhere. Even when there isn’t anything obviously wrong, we just woke up disgruntled for instance, we try and figure it out — “It has to be because of this, that, or the other!”

We have a well-worn habit of immediately casting around for something or someone else to blame. “I’m in a bad mood because of THIS situation”, and therefore I have to fix something out there. I was sitting here quite happily reading my book, you came into the room and made a face at me, I got upset, two plus two = five, it’s your fault. That’s the logic of the annoyed mind.

But could it simply be “I’m in a bad mood because I am in a bad mood”, and therefore need to let these thoughts go and practice love instead?

For example, on Tuesday we are upset with Jack, and on Wednesday it is Bob, and at the weekend it is Mary. Same old same old, just different packaging. The only reason there are upsetting people in our life is because of the unprocessed upset in our minds. If we try patience with Jack on Tuesday and get some result, then we can try it with Bob on Wednesday, and then with Mary at the weekend; and they can all become objects of love and patience. We become defensive, as Geshe-la says, blaming the object for our negative minds; but it is our irritated minds that are responsible for the irritating people. To someone whose mind is tamed, everyone is a friend.

Meanwhile, more coming up in the next article about accepting unhappiness without panicking.

The Biggest Problem Ever

still want to smack someone need meditationDid you have a problem today? Did it seem to fill your mind, even if, stepping back from it, you could see that it was not a huge big deal?

If the answer is yes, it would not be surprising.  This is because we have problems every day! Maybe every hour.

Another question: can you remember what your problem was this time yesterday? The one that filled your mind?! Or this time last week? Or this time last year? Or when you were ten?

All these problems that felt like a very big deal at the time, now we can’t even remember what they were! Might that be telling us something?

Such as, nothing in life is as important as we think it is while we are thinking about it.

Some days, or weeks, it just seems like our mind has nothing better to do than sit around creating anxiety and misery – we want this, we’re annoyed about that, we’re worried about that – the list never ends. We are moody, we take everything so seriously, we find it hard to happy. Everything is The Biggest Problem Ever.

As a friend of mine just wrote on Facebook:

So…  for the past few weeks I have been feeling very sad – oh for many reasons, mostly private ones. And I have been working on being very still and quiet – not running away, just watching as these feelings wash over me, coming and going, intense and then fading, sad and then sort of dull. And last night I just said to myself – this is my self-grasping, my self-cherishing at work. I am holding onto these feelings as if they are real… and they are not! They are just thoughts, wind in my mind, figments of my imagination. Let them go… drop the story line… just drop it!

This morning, the sun started to filter in … and a soft breeze fills the space of my mind, my heart.

benefits of meditation manThis is meditation in action. Throughout each day there are thoughts streaming through our minds but one of our issues is that we don’t recognize that thoughts are just thoughts, fleeting, insubstantial. We take our thoughts to heart, believe them at face value, pay attention to them, give them more food, build entire storylines around them. We rewind, thinking, “I feel bad today and, come to think of it, I always feel a bit depressed.” We fast-forward, thinking, “I feel bad today and this is the only thing I’ll ever feel.” Or “I feel lonely. I am going to be alone for the rest of my life.” We get caught up in our fleeting thoughts, and identify with them, even taking them to be who we are. “I’m an anxious person, that’s just who I am, I always will be, I better just get used to it.” This identification is part of our ignorance, and a deep habit we have. Luckily we can get past it.

Patience accepting suffering

I want to share some thoughts in this and future articles on how we can practice the patience of accepting suffering, so here is a working definition of patience for starters:

Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. ~ How to Solve our Human Problems

This doesn’t just mean accepting bad circumstances such as unexpected bills and broken relationships, but also welcoming the actual suffering arising in our minds, ie, our unpleasant feelings, indeed our delusions themselves! We need to accept fully that they are there without panicking, because only then can we let them go and transform our way of looking at ourselves and the world.

exercise-be-happyIt is very important that we all learn to do this, I think, which means we need to train in mindfulness and introspection. Recently I was in NYC and my friend Julian took me along for several workouts with her trainer at the local gym. She got me all the Active Wear so I could get in the mood and look hot, and her 6 foot 4 magnificently brawny trainer pushed us mercilessly until all I could do was fantasize about getting out of there and into a hot bath. Even his stretching my limbs at the end, the part that was supposed to be fun (I thought), had me banging my hand on the mat begging him to stop.

Of course it feels good to get fit if we can, which is why I went back; and a lot of New Year’s resolutions are about our bodies – we want to eat better, exercise more, have more massages, ideally look better if we can. We pay a huge amount of attention to our bodies. It is good to be physically healthy, I’m a great believer in that, but it is even more important to pay attention to the state of our mind. What thoughts are we exercising or failing to exercise? Are we exercising our love, our insight, our patience regularly, or even at all?

It takes ages to get our body ready to go out in the morning, all washed and clothed and beautified, as we may not dream of inflicting a smelly unwashed body on others; but we seem perfectly prepared to go out and inflict our hideous mood on them. Then we expect to have a good day.

We love feeding our body – we’d spend all day feeding it if we could get away with it – but how much time do we spend nourishing our mind? Again, we may not dream of leaving the house without breakfast, but we might well leave the house without nourishing our mind with good energy and kind thoughts that enrich our own minds and help us enrich the lives of those around us.

Our exercise, eating, and self-beatification often seem to positively reinforce one another — if we exercise properly we are often more mindful of what we eat, for example. One evening I offered a big slice of yummy chocolate cake to Ken, a friend, when he got back from a heavy workout, and he was able to resist, “That kind of defeats the point.” It is the same with our minds — once we get going on a good mental workout routine we tend to become naturally more mindful to avoid bad habstart where you areits that undermine it, we tend to stay more in charge of ourselves.

I know for a fact that I can only train this body so much … I’ll never be as pumped as Julian’s personal trainer, I just don’t have those muscles, and I’ll probably never compete in the Olympics either. But the same is not the true for our minds, which have infinite potential for improvement – we can all become Olympic athletes of the mind.

So I did enjoy my workouts, very much considering the agony; but could not help thinking that if we could put even a fraction of the time we put into our bodies, even ten percent, into meditating — purifying, feeding, and exercising our mind — we’d be incredibly happy by now, maybe even Buddhas.
breathing meditation

Learning to meditate

So if, perchance, you made a new year’s resolution last month to meditate more, I hope, unlike the average gym membership, this has lasted longer than January. For if our mind is peaceful, our mind is happy, and our life is good.

Click here for a starter meditation on feeling peaceful and relaxed, if you’re new to this site.

Up next, exploring our potential for peace (and omniscience).