The art of letting go

Did you get a chance to try out any breathing meditation lately?

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It can be so very useful, indeed powerful; and we can gain some deep levels of concentration and mindfulness with it. While we remain in that state of peace, when thoughts arise we don’t feel the same need to dwell on them – we sense the space around them and the space within them.

Continuing from this article.

We can let even disturbing thoughts come and we can let them go. We are free from the mental chain reactions induced by the habit of over-thinking. We are more present – not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. We can stop identifying with our thoughts, as explained more in this article, understanding that:

There is an enormous difference between the thoughts “I am feeling bad” and “Unpleasant feelings are arising in my mind. ~ How to Solve our Human Problems

What’s next?

However, within minutes our meditation will come to an end and we’ll have to get up and get on. And even though we’ve tasted that space — and in fact even if we have some insight that things are more virtual reality than they seem — daily appearances can be very overpowering very quickly. We get sucked in.

In which case our delusions might quite likely not just rear their heads again but take over — possibly within minutes! — and we’ll be obliged to go back to our normal, crazy way of reacting to things as if they are solid, real, and outside our mind.

So, we need to take our spiritual practice further and get rid of delusions altogether by applying the antidotes of Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) both in and out of meditation.

Man holding crystal ball in landscapeWhen we do that breathing meditation, the first step, we feel the pure, clear, spacious peace that we already have inside us once we allow our delusions and their objects to simply subside. We give ourselves a break, giving ourselves permission to let go, relax, and take refuge in the peace of our own minds. And this in itself is evidence that our actual problems are created by our mind, because, when we let go of the thoughts of attachment and other delusions, our mind is at peace. The problem is gone; it actually just goes away.

Within that understanding, we train in Dharma to change our way of thinking about or holding onto things. Our mind and its objects — or our thoughts and what’s appearing to those thoughts — are co-dependent (not in a bad way!) Because they co-arise and depend upon each other completely, then when our way of looking at other people and the world changes, those objects change too. Literally change.

I think we’ve all had this experience.

Moving on naturally

attachment-1For example, if the person we are currently attached to has not replied to our 25 texts, we might feel desperate, holding them as neglectful and ourselves as unlovable. But instead of dropping this storyline, we’re like a dog with a bone. We try to wrestle with that person mentally, physically, verbally — whatever we think it will take to get them to change and start being nice to us again. We believe we need this to happen so that we can feel good about them again. AND good about ourselves.

To that end, we send a text, “Hey, do you like me?” We know it’s lame and will cause our self-respect to sink even further, but we can’t help it. We have to do something.

Seems like we’re always trying subtle and less subtle ways to get other people to cooperate, to get them to do what we want them to do. And it’s a bit of a battle, isn’t it? Because, funnily enough, they’ve got their own ideas and self-interest. And meanwhile we’re just exacerbating the problem because we are trying to solve it with the very same mind that is creating it.

But then one day, just naturally, even without deliberately changing our thoughts, we realize: “Actually I don’t care any more what this person thinks or does! Cool.” A cloud lifts. Our attachment has lessened. Maybe it’s even gone away. And at that point the problem’s gone, the battle is over. We have moved on, as they say.

We are now free to view that person and ourselves in a different way. We can establish a better kind of connection with them, maybe keeping the love part while ditching the attachment. This too can happen quite naturally — sometimes we discover we can feel quite warmly toward someone we were really upset about. Sometimes we can’t even remember what we were upset about, and it doesn’t matter anymore.

So, on Wednesday that person can seem like a major problem. And this is from their own side I might add – it is their bad behavior causing our pain and self-contempt. We wander around thinking, “It’s their fault I feel this way. It’s their fault, it’s their fault, they need to change.” That’s what we think, isn’t it, when we have attachment or aversion? It’s their fault. But then on Thursday we wake up and think, “Actually, I don’t have a problem with this person anymore.” We’ve let go, moved on. At which point the person appears very differently, do they not? And we are happy and confident in ourselves again – back to being cool and mysterious. (At which point they may start texting us again … just sayin’. Doesn’t matter either way though.)

That person hasn’t had to do a single thing from Wednesday to Thursday. They’re just going about their merry way, as usual, ignoring us or not, as usual. They haven’t done anything, but our thoughts have changed, and so suddenly they’ve changed and we ourselves have changed. When we think about them, it’s: “Oh they’re not so bad. I could be friendly with them again.” Maybe we can even think, “I really want them to be happy.” At which point they’re no longer a source of pain but a source of happiness for us.

The three spheresemptiness bend the spoon

And we are now identifying ourselves as, or imputing ourselves on, a loving, whole person, no longer a neurotic needy one. Again, these changes have not come from that person’s side, but because there’s a dependent relationship between our thoughts and their objects, including our self. Our mind and its objects arise together.

We have these kinds of experiences all the time, even without practicing Dharma. When our delusions naturally abate through time, the problem goes away and we’re free to have a totally different experience of that other person, relationship, and self. These are called “the three spheres”. They are all empty of existing from their own side.

Moving on more quickly

So, with Dharma, what we’re doing is understanding this connection between our thoughts and their objects and then changing our thoughts deliberately. This means we don’t have to wait for weeks, months, or years for our attachment to go away on its own, or for our aversion to subside, or for our disappointment or frustration or anxiety to fade. Through Dharma, we no longer have to wait for our thoughts to exhaust themselves. We can actually seize control over our own minds, rather than (as Buddha pointed out) having our minds control us, which is our current predicament. Our thoughts are no longer calling all the shots, because we are.

Through the meditations on renunciation, compassion, and wisdom we can learn to let go of our attachment, aversion, and other delusions, and in an instant be relating to ourselves and others in a happier way. And when we love other people — genuinely love them, not mixed with attachment or conditionality, just wanting them to be happy — then they present no problem for us. If they are an object of our attachment or aversion, they are a problem for us; but as soon as attachmentthey become an object of our love, they’re no longer a problem for us. Quite the opposite, in fact. They become a source of joy, even if they’ve let us down. Does that make sense?

Love, compassion, and so on are our greatest wealth because they will always help us solve our problems and find happiness. And this is because our problems don’t exist outside the mind. Nothing exists outside our mind. Nothing is independent of our perceptions and thoughts.

As it says in the synopsis of How to Understand the Mind:

If we understand that objects depend on the subjective mind, we can change the way objects appear to us by changing our own mind. Gradually we will gain the ability to control our mind and in this way solve all our problems.

Geshe Kelsang explains in his Mahamudra teachings how subject minds and object things arise simultaneously from the root mind like waves. Whatever we are experiencing or thinking about in any given moment, we cannot separate our thoughts out from their objects. Everything that appears to us entirely depends on the quality of our consciousness, or our thoughts. So, if we have a thought of irritation or anger, we have an object of irritation or anger. If we change that irritation into love, we have an object of love.

As we may know from Buddha’s wisdom teachings, everything is dreamlike. What appears to our mind depends entirely upon the mind itself. This is why Dharma works. Pure and simple – this is why it works. Change our mind, change our world. Literally. Not just tweak our world, not just make incremental changes, but change it. Transform it from the inside out.

Common experience

If we gain some experience of this peace and transformation, we have something to give, do we not? If we understand how our own thoughts operate, we can understand the same for others; and, feeling this common experience, are now more able to be there for them. We can help others, eg, give them some badly-needed encouragement or advice, because we’ve done it ourselves. Dharma is a win win. We help ourselves, we help the people we love, we help everybody.

Over to you. Do you have any examples or anything else to add?

Related articles

Ten-minute breathing meditation for building confidence

Happiness from the inside out

The relevance of inner peace

 

 

 

Back to work blues?

Apparently, that’s a thing, as explained in this article on CNN. And not surprisingly.

There is the predictable reason of having to go back to drudgery and a zillion work emails in a grey office or cold building site in a dark January after days and days off indulging in food, drink, sparkly lights, and entertainment, and waking up and going to bed whenever we feel like it. back to work blues.jpg

There is also the problem of even more attachment than usual, where our high hopes of stepping off the treadmill didn’t pan out quite as we anticipated. So we are feeling particularly let down – yet after all this disappointment we still don’t get a break, but instead are obliged to get right back on that treadmill. It’s not fair!

We see this in study after study. People tend to have high hopes coming into Christmas thinking time with their family will be like the Waltons or thinking Santa will bring us all that we want, but it never totally works out that way even if it was a really good holiday. That can leave you feeling let down, too. We see this every year, with a lot more calls to the crisis line, a higher number of deaths and there are even studies that show the letters to Dear Abby sound much more depressed after the holiday. ~ CNN

Conversely, for too many people in our fractured society it is initially a relief having to go back to work because they have just spent a thoroughly sad holiday all on their own. Worldly happiness is relative. That’s why Buddha called it “suffering of change“.

Not to mention all those who would dearly love to have any job to go to at all.

Looks like, one way or another, none of us has any choice in samsara but to feel dissatisfaction, not get what we want, and/or get what we don’t want. Samsara is set up for that, not to mention the big sufferings of birth, ageing, sickness, and death.

What’s the answer?

If we don’t like the back to work blues, the answer is probably not to engineer it to stay on endless holiday (even if we could, which of course we can’t), as that would get old very quickly. On Christmas Eve I passed a teenager in the back seat of his family car on an endless highway, staring sulkily out of the window – Christmas had already gone on way too long in his opinion. Imagine even the best holiday season lasting all year – old, young, or middle-aged, I reckon we’d all soon be pretty desperate to escape irritating conversations, all that sitting around feeling stuffed, Santa images, and torturous Christmas tunes. Classic suffering of change.

So what can we do about the back to work blues? I am going to borrow CNN’s research and do a Buddhist take.

Treat all colleagues like they are insane for the next couple of weeks, it works with family members, too. Know that most people feel like they are in the same sinking boat.

This is good advice for all times – we are all insane because we suffer from the hallucinations of the delusions. And we are all in the same sinking boat of samsara, all wanting and not getting the same thing, which is just to be happy and free from pain, please, is that really too much to ask? renunciation and compassion

So we can use our back to work blues to remind us of our wish for permanent freedom from our own delusions and contaminated karma, and develop empathy for everyone else in the same boat, wishing them the same happiness and freedom. These attitudes of renunciation and compassion will help us feel happy and fulfilled both at work and at home, both in holidays and in jobs.

Stay centered

Ease back into work. Don’t jump into the cold water, you’ll have a heart attack. Ease your way back into your routine. Set small goals to feel a sense of accomplishment. If you ease into this with full awareness, rather than trying to plan a ton and hope to get it all done in the next 24 hours, it helps.

As explained in this article, we can avoid stress and burn out at work by learning to feel more centered and happy in our heart. Even 10 to 15 minutes sitting quietly before we start work is immensely helpful if we do it properly and take refuge in it. Even a few 5-minute breaks through the day can be the difference between a joyful, balanced, creative day and a day that is just angst-driven and draining.

Also, we can overcome that feeling of being too busy and over-stretched by trying out the meditation in this article, as well as learning to be more in the moment. We have all of tomorrow to do what needs to be done tomorrow – so there is no point in worrying about it today. We need a method to shut down the tape that runs in our minds about all that needs to be done that day, that week, that year.

Don’t dwell. Know that something you enjoyed has come to an end, but make peace with it and know it will come back again.

636025932437932618-536324797_o-LIVE-IN-THE-MOMENT-facebookIt is so incredibly helpful and life affirming to learn to live in the moment — wherever we are. So, why not allow your back to work blues to motivate you to do just this?

As it explains in these articles on subtle impermanence, yesterday’s weather, for example, has completely gone, we accept this, we know not a trace of it remains today, so we don’t get all bent out of shape about it. But, heck, the whole of yesterday is like that – it has all completely gone, including yesterday’s me and yesterday’s holidays and/or yesterday’s work. So why try hold onto the past, onto something that has completely gone? Living in the moment by contrast is free, rich, fresh, and deep.

Resist feeling sorry for yourself.

Yep. Self-cherishing is never any good for any of us. It is a “foolish, deceptive mind”, as it says in The New Meditation Handbook, that always upsets our inner peace and blocks us from making the most of our human life. We can remember we are just one person and others are countless, and enjoy the joy of spreading the love we normally reserve for ourselves to everybody. Suddenly our day is a great deal brighter.

Self talk and being optimistic is important. Look at kitten pictures online if you need a little lift.

Whether we have a good day or a bad day at the office, or anywhere else for that matter, depends on the quality of our thoughts = Buddhism 101. So we can focus on anything that brings out our love and compassion and joyful effort – perhaps it is kittens, perhaps it is not! Here are a few of my fosters, just in case it is. IMG_1961

Talking of online pick me ups … further to this article on some pitfalls of social media, I have been thinking that if we always approach our feed not with a craving for affirmation or FOMO but with the intention to spread love and good thoughts, it can be a force for good. We can use it to encourage others, be supportive of their trials, and rejoice in their happiness.

The point about self-talk is important. Our thoughts are free, and with meditation practice we get to let go of the ones that do us no good – after all, what happens to a thought if we stop thinking it? And we can choose to think more and more thoughts that are wise, positive, and happy-making. So, those blues are yet another inducement to get good at meditation.

Am I happy in my heart?

Take advantage of the break in your routine and start new office habits. Even if it is something small like being friendlier to random co-workers or getting up to walk away from your desk once an hour, it helps.

Yes, and we can use the small pauses in the day to get into the best habit of all, connecting with the peace in our hearts. There are so many of these gaps – waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for the lights to change, waiting in a long line at the Post Office, sitting in an irrelevant meeting, using the restroom. All the times we would normally pull out our phone and start checking texts, those are the times we could instead go within to check what is happening in our heart. Am I happy? As it explains in this article, we have a motto in the Kadampa tradition:

Always rely upon a happy mind alone.

pauses.jpgThroughout the day we can adjust and fine-tune the mind so that we are relying upon — or only trusting — a happy mind alone. If we notice our mind becoming agitated, we know not to rely on the evidence portrayed by this mind, because delusions distort reality like a storm destroying the accurate reflections in a still ocean. We can pause for a few valuable moments to reconnect to whatever can instantly bring us joy, such as love for our kittens (?!) or, indeed, being kind and friendly to random co-workers. And then carry on.

This way our life will also be a spiritual journey to a new destination, not just going around in circles.

Controlling the mind

I have a question for you: What can we control if we cannot control our own thoughts?

Without control, we have no choice. This is why meditation is so important. Even breathing meditation is taming the bucking bronco of our uncontrolled mind so we can steer our thoughts in the direction we want to go as opposed to being painfully tossed around by them. Our mind is very powerful and full of potential, as Buddha pointed out with that horse example; but it needs mastering or it will destroy our happiness on a daily basis.

With breathing meditation, we give ourselves a breather, literally, from most of our problems – the ones that are like a cracked record, where we go round and round in sad circles thinking the same boring and hopeless thoughts. Most of these thoughts are to do anyway with something that has gone, completely, or that may or may not happen in a future that doesn’t exist either. mountains black and white 2

We might find, even from the simplest breathing meditation, that we are in no hurry to pick up some of our problems again. We realize we don’t need them. And the ones that insist on hanging around longer – at least there is now some space around them, we don’t have our heads stuck in the clouds as if that is all there is, but are identified instead with the vast open sky.

Our world is a reflection of our minds. With this inner space, we might feel we now have more outer space to deal with the pressing situations at work.

Bliss is already inside you

Think about what you liked about your break and bring an element of it to your work.

Even from slight experience of a simple breathing meditation we can figure out that we don’t have to eat loads of food, watch blockbusters back to back, or hang out and get drunk with friends to be happy – we have peace, happiness, even bliss right inside us already. This can be a revelation.

So by all means think about what you liked about your break and then, rather than doing a poor job of trying to recreate it externally, take control of your own happiness and do the transforming enjoyments meditation explained here! This will help you reconnect to the bliss you have inside you – bliss that, one day, will be on tap. Take that! back to work blues.Hobbes euphoria

This ties in with some later advice:

Prescribe yourself an evening out with relatives or friends in the upcoming weeks without, of course, being drunk or overeating or staying up too late to start the cycle over again. It can help you be mindful that while the holidays are over, yes, but you can have fun again soon.

Why wait? — you can have fun again right now if you put your mind to it! This is because all peace, happiness, and bliss comes from the inside not the outside. So we can do it all, and without the unwanted side effects of outgrowing our skinny jeans or feeling hung-over.

Let’s say we are enjoying the presence of a person in our life. We can enjoy it, but understand that he or she is in truth a reflection of the enjoyment that already lurks within our own mind. Bliss is possible — but only if we stay with its actual source, which is not the person but our own experience. So instead of reaching outside the mind to grasp onto this person with attachment, we stay inside with the enjoyment and wisely recognize, “This person is a surface manifestation of the bliss that is always deep in my mind, like a wave arising from an ocean. Thank you very much! You’ve just reminded me of all that bliss I have inside me! (Even if you are walking out the door for the last time …)”

Only connect

Pajamas may not be in the dress for success plan, but if you enjoyed connecting with friends you don’t normally see, squeeze them into your weekly schedule, even if it’s for a 15-minute coffee. And do connect. People who are blue tend toward withdrawal. Push yourself to interact even if you don’t feel like it. Company helps avoid misery.

Water-cooler-conversation.jpgIt is indeed worthwhile to remain connected with friends, circumstances permitting, if they bring out our heart of love. And we can accomplish something similar by learning to love the people who are around us with equanimity, making them into our friends.

Imagine being at least as pleased to see the person who works at the desk next to you as to see that old college friend you hung out with over the holidays? Going to work would be a lot more fun. And this can happen, just do this meditation.

(As for pajamas, however, if it was up to me I would let people wear them all day long if they wanted to … )

Last and not least, for Kadampa Buddhists all over the world January is in fact their FAVORITE month because it is “retreat month”, when we emphasize our spiritual practices – whether this be for a day or so at the weekend or taking vacation time to do weeks on end. So check out your local center for those opportunities.

Over to you. What are your strategies for overcoming the back to work blues?

Building self-confidence with meditation

7 mins read

I got the chance over the holidays to house sit in the Rockies, taking care of 2 Dogs, 2 Cats, and an unspecified number of Fish. I took the time to do lots of meditation, in between animals jumping on me, that is, and hiking up snowy mountains.

25994971_10155953488152442_8915196409857787568_nNever since I was a child woken cheerily by my mom have I been so consistently warmly greeted in the mornings… What I learned from Charlie and Maverick is that it can be very cool waking up — to jump out of bed and wag your figurative tail and be practically ecstatic to see everyone … You can bounce delightedly around the yard (again, figuratively) and relish every tiny treat that comes your way, as if it was the Best Thing Ever.

This is not, I am sorry to say, how I normally wake up, which is slowly and requiring tea. But I figured this week that if dogs can be this enthusiastic about waking up and being alive each morning, then I certainly can too with my precious human life.

And so to help get our 2018 off to a good start, I’m now going to outline a ten-minute meditation for developing some confidence in inner peace (as explained in the article Changing direction), as well as in ourselves. We can relax into our heart, contemplate a little, and decide to love our way out of our problems instead of relying upon the usual attachment or aversion.

downloadFirst a bit more background.

Has anyone not had a problem today?

Whenever I ask this, it is rare that people say yes. Truth is, everyone in the world has problems, except for those who have controlled their minds. And whatever problem we’ve got, the first thing we need to be able to do is relax and let it go. Stop holding onto it so tightly and — even if only for a short while — quit trying to solve that problem outside of ourselves.

Whatever problem we’re having at the moment, we can examine our customary methods of solving it. Do these involve attachment or aversion — trying to fix something, manipulate the object or person, change the situation? And is it working?

It’s not working, is it? That’s pretty wild. Why do we keep doing it? We don’t have to keep doing it, so at least there’s that.

f7f610fb4efcff233711ba54ea373a31Our inner peace is always there, latent, because it is the very nature of our mind. It is just that we are constantly shaking it up, like shaking up a glass of water for example. Left to its own devices, when not following attachment and aversion, our mind is as clear and pure and peaceful as a still glass of water. But when something attractive or unpleasant appears to us, it’s like we shake this water up and down and around and around. Our mind gets turbulent; it can go quite crazy quite quickly. And the peace and and the purity and the clarity – why, we forget it’s even there.

We feel so involved with the object outside our mind, and it’s so frustrating because there’s nothing we can do about so many of these things we try to do things about. Such as trying to change other people’s behavior.

How’s that going for you? Trying to get people to cooperate? Good luck. At best, we can get people to cooperate for a few days or a few minutes. Through force, or bribery … Or if it happens to coincide with their interests. We can’t even control our own thoughts at the moment, so what makes us think we can control other people or external situations? copo_agua

As I’ve said loads of times, this doesn’t mean we stop doing anything practical at all. But it does mean that we change our motivation and our understanding of where problems really come from and how to solve them for ourselves and others.

So here’s the meditation:

We can begin by simply relaxing into a good meditation posture, with a straight back. We relax our shoulders, relax our arms with our hands resting in our lap, and so on. We take a moment to focus on how we’re sitting and let everything else go. We don’t need it for this meditation.

We can feel contented for the duration of this meditation, thinking:

I have this opportunity to increase my compassion and wisdom, learning to use it to solve my own and others’ problems.

We feel too, that we’re already in our heart. We have dropped from our head into our heart, and all wave-like problematic thoughts have dissolved away into the clarity and peace of our ocean-like root mind. Just imagine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now to settle the mind some more, everything that’s on our mind, everything that needs to be solved outside, all those uncontrolled thoughts that keep trying to go outwards all the time … these all take the form of thick heavy smoke. And we recognize:

I don’t need to keep thinking these thoughts that constantly shake up my natural peace of mind. I can let them go.

Every time we exhale, we now breathe this thick smoke through our nostrils, and it completely disappears. We do this for a few minutes, feeling our mind becoming lighter and more free with every breath.

Now every time we inhale, feel that our breath is in the aspect of very blissful light, and breathe this deep into our heart. It is not just light, it is inner peace, it is blessings, it is the love, compassion, and wisdom of all enlightened beings. We feel this filling our heart with every in-breath, spiritual sunshine dispelling the darkness of ignorance. We do this for a few minutes with concentration and conviction.

Now we are in our heart, experiencing peace, warmth, light. It is true:

I don’t have a care in the world!

Our mind feels radiant and peaceful. We feel happy. (Even if we don’t feel totally happy just yet, we can still imagine we do – everything starts in the imagination, everything IS imagination or imputation.)

And we develop the confidence that we have everything we need inside us: 

I don’t need to keep going outside of myself to get happy and solve problems, I already got it going on inside.

So we relax into this peaceful feeling, thinking:

This is me. I can always feel this way. And I can deepen this.

Within this peaceful space, we can now take any problem that is coming up for us in our life and spend a couple of minutes seeing how we’re trying to solve it with attachment or aversion, how we are grappling with it like a dog with a bone.

And then we can examine in our own experience whether this is working for us, whether it has ever worked, and whether it is ever going to work.

If we check like this, we can see that we’re trying to solve our problems and get happy using the very same minds that are creating these problems and making us unhappy in the first place.

So we can contemplate this conclusion for a couple of minutes:

I am going to give up this useless way of solving problems — by dropping these delusions and using Dharma instead. The more I familiarize myself with wisdom and compassion, for example, the more genuinely peaceful and problem-free I will become.

Finally, we can observe how, instead of other people being the objects of our delusions, we can transform them into the objects of our love and compassion; at which point they cease being a problem for us.

And one day, with practice, we will have the love and compassion of a fully enlightened being, constantly radiating bliss into the hearts of all living beings, zapping and transforming them with blessings.th

We’ll be like Buddha Shakyamuni, who is now appearing in our life and in front of us as our Spiritual Guide, guiding and inspiring us through these teachings. He is surrounded by the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas — those who have completed their mind-training — and we can think:

I want to and I will become part of this enlightened assembly.

With this intention we can, if we want to, do the Liberating Prayer.

Then, when we rise from this meditation, our mind is calmer and will remain so for as long as we stay mindful of our own inner peace. We will feel more confident that we have what we need inside us and, interestingly enough, as a result we’ll get a lot more done to help people.

Happy New Year! May we solve our own and others’ problems for real, and bring genuine peace and happiness into the world.

Related articles

Good beginnings

New Year’s resolution to meditate

Doing meditation retreat

The relevance of inner peace

Good beginnings . . . to everything

A guest article from a Kadampa practitioner in New York who is determined to start the New Year right … everyday.

6 mins read

new years

Well looky looky, here it is again. The New Year. The time when we are reminded that a “fresh beginning” is again upon us and that perhaps (perhaps) this would be a good time to make some internal and/or external life changes. . . or at the very least, some worthy tweaks.

But first …

I know, I know, I know. . . The whole New Years resolution thing…it’s a ritual schtick. There is nothing intrinsically “transformagical” about the beginning of a new year. It’s a construction. It’s a convention. I’ve got that. It’s not really any different than any other random moment of the Earth’s solar orbit. January 1st. February 14th. July 4th. All these “special” days are simply designations, names and numbers bundled together and endowed with various agreed-upon meanings. As many a Kadampa teacher would say, “Find January 1. You can’t. It’s not really there, at least not the way you think it is.”

I love that.

It’s not really there.

Picture2I love this because what it means is that we get to assign meaning. How is it that the “New Year” can posses its fabled rejuvenating qualities? How can there be actual power on this very day in our resolutions to start doing this, quit doing that, begin eating this way, etc.?  Simple. Because we choose to name it as a day of power. That’s it, folks. The magic wand of our mind says it is so. Presto change-o. It’s nothing else but what we name it. So I’d strongly suggest that we name it well.

Beginnings

So, let’s scoot back for a moment to Day One of this life. Happy New Life. Your own personal January 1. How do we begin our life? No real news flash here, it’s with our breath, correct?  Inhale. . . exhale. . . cry like a baby. All of us, at some point in this rebirth, we each took our very first breath. We sucked some of that good old O2 down into our little chests. And so it began: the appearances of this life. Welcome (back) to Karmaville. Happy New Life.

Picture6Here’s a question for you. Meditation. Our precious tool for transformation. How is it that we begin our meditations? Well, traditionally, it’s also with the breath. Once we have settled in on our cushions (cracked our knuckles, scratched our head, readjusted our legs, rubbed our nose, noticed some dustballs on the floor near our shrine…) we close our eyes and bring our attention to our breathing. Many people, it turns out, have trouble with this part. It’s boring (they say). It’s too hard to do. It becomes its own distraction (“Am I breathing correctly?”).

I don’t dare reveal how many years it was that I did the shabbiest of all jobs in this “bring your attention to your breath” part of my practice. Along with the excuses I just listed, part of this shabbiness was due to my urgency to get on to the “real” stuff. You know, the contemplation, the single-pointed focus, the insights, the clear light mind, the liberating of all sentient beings from their suffering through the power of my correct imagination and compassion and wisdom, etc. Why the heck should I sit here and stare at my boring old breath when I’ve got all these more fun and more important matters to attend to?

Who knew? The breath rocks.

As it turns out, this neutral object is an astounding thing. It’s a fantastic vehicle to start us on our road to all those powerful places we want to go. Inhalation … exhalation . . . inhalation . . . exhalation.

Perhaps it will help if you stop thinking of it as breath. Try thinking of it as a tide that washes up onto the shore then draws back from the shore, clearing and cleansing with every single cycle.

Picture4Or as a wind that blows smoothly and calmly through your entire body and mind, dislodging and dispersing any sort of stuckness and ugh-ness that has been building up there. That’s nice.

Or let it be light: a cascade of radiant illumination silently blasting away any and all shadows. Your call. It’s just breath. It’s invisible. It’s about as “not really there” as you can get. So you can picture it any way you wish. Go wild. Designate at your pleasure. And “pleasure” is the key here, isn’t it?  We need to enjoy. The best advice on meditation in general that I’ve heard from my beloved Kadampa teachers is: Have fun with it. It is being presented to us as a joyful path to good fortune, not a frustrating or boring one.

So we begin with our breath. Just like we did on that day we were reborn. But rather than simply breathing mindlessly as we did then, now we make skillful use of it to help direct us toward the experience of peace, of stillness, of expansive inner relaxation that is our potential. And of course the breath is so convenient an object. It’s right there. All the time. Usually being ignored. It’s like Dorothy’s red shoes…just sitting there waiting to start you on your way to fantastic places.

Picture5Lately, I’ve been employing the phrase, “Follow the breath into the heart,” as one of my encouragements, one of my suggestions to myself. “Do this. This will be nice. Follow the breath into the heart. This will help.”  And it has helped. Quite a lot. Geshe Kelsang provides a potent encouragement of his own (no surprise) in How To Transform Your Life:

Even though breathing meditation is only a preliminary stage of meditation, it can be quite powerful. We can see from this practice that it is possible to control the mind, without having to depend on external conditions….So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from the mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we will be able to reduce this stress. We will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed toward other people, and our relationships with others will naturally improve.

Beginnings are important

Which is all to say (among other things), that beginnings are important. They can set the stage for what comes next. Little baby sucking in that first breath . . . a very good thing. Little meditator taking the time to create focus and inspiration with those first breaths . . . a very good thing.

And now, back to the New Year. 2018. It’s coming. That thing that holds no inherent meaning. That thing we get to imbue with meaning, if we so choose. What I’m going to suggest is that when 2018 rolls around, we notice our very first breath of the new year and make a resolution to follow it into our heart. Let it take us there. And let’s remain there.

Picture3Even better, what say we follow that first breath into the hearts of those we know? Or of those we encounter in the course of our days and nights? And those we hear about or read about, or even merely think about?  Good idea? And then follow the next breath there as well . . .and the next . . . and the next . . . “and so forth.”

The New Year is empty.  Beginnings are relative. Lucky us. We choose. We can fill that first moment of our new year with good purpose, and then holding that intention, see where it leads us.

I will prostrate to the new moon . . .

Good Beginnings.

Happy New Year.

Over to you. Comments welcome.

 

Changing direction

6 mins read

In Buddhism, we train to solve our own and everybody else’s problems through compassion and wisdom.

This is a bit different to the usual way we try to solve them, to be honest, which is generally through attachment and aversion.IMG_2523.jpg

Out of attachment to a world outside our thoughts, a world in fact projected by our ignorance, we wish and sometimes expect things to turn out a certain way and people to behave a certain way. We’re constantly going outside of ourselves to get what we want and get others to cooperate with our wishes.

But it doesn’t really work, does it? Because we still don’t have everything we want and, even when we do get the things we want, we lose them. And then we get disappointed and upset. Worldly pleasures, as Buddha explained, are like scratching an itch. Indulging in them just satisfies the itch that’s created by our attachment in the first place.

In this way, attachment is a bit of an inner demon, deceiving us; but it’s sometimes hard for us to recognize this because we feel it’s what’s making us happy. This is our habit. We’ve always used our attachment to go out and try and get what we think we want.

And with aversion we try to push away the things out there that seem to be getting in the way of our happiness — people or situations that seem to be threatening us or harming us in any way. And this makes our mind unpeaceful. We don’t like things. We don’t like people, and we want them to behave differently, or go away. We are not in control – we have to push out mentally, verbally, and/or physically.

IMG_2519.jpgWe’ve been doing this since beginningless time, trying to solve our problems with our attachment and aversion, and for that matter all our other delusions too; but it doesn’t seem to be working, does it?! Because here we all are, still probably with the same number of problems we started with this life, or this morning, and still without all the things we want, or, even if we got them, still wanting more.

Newsflash: We cannot solve our problems through our delusions when it is our delusions that are creating our problems in the first place.

So, with Dharma (ie, Buddha’s teachings and the experiences we gain from practicing those teachings) we learn to become what’s called “inner beings”, appreciating more and more that the way to solve our problems is to change our minds. And on one level it may sound obvious, but it can’t be that obvious to us or we’d be doing it all the time. It may be intellectually obvious to us, but at the moment we have the deeply ingrained emotional habit of trying to solve our pain and problems outside of our mind. We try to get what we want by rearranging stuff outside of our mind.

What we need to do is change these habits and approach our problems with wisdom and compassion, which have the power to solve all our problems not just straightaway but permanently.

To get started …

When we start our training in meditation and Dharma, we need first to learn to experience our own inner peace by allowing our minds to relax and settle. Otherwise it is no wonder we feel we have to get our happiness from out there. Even Dharma seems to be something we have to find from out there.

IMG_2524.jpgWhat we come to understand when we start meditating (skillfully) is that Dharma is already within us. We already have the seeds of everything we need inside us, including a naturally peaceful, blissful mind. We may have heard this many times, but sometimes we forget. We also forget that peace equals happiness, and that when our mind is experiencing peace we don’t have problems.

So the very first step is learning to rely on that inner peace — identifying with just how good we feel when we allow our mind to relax and just forget those stupid delusions for awhile. We can do this through breathing meditations, relaxing into our heart, clarity of the mind, and so on. This is the first way we usually taste that freedom, that peace we have inside us. We can relax into it and think:

This is me. I’m home.

We really need to give ourselves a break and, by letting our mind chill out, see how our aversion and attachment settle down a bit, like waves disappearing into the ocean of our root mind. We can let this go. We can let our thoughts go. And when we let our thoughts go, their objects go as well; so for awhile we’re simply free of that problem! We feel peaceful inside, it’s like, “Hey, I don’t have a problem!” If we can just forget it though breathing meditation, we feel COMPLETELY FINE.

IMG_2536-1And it doesn’t matter what the problem is, to be honest. Any problem can be temporarily solved through breathing meditation if we get good at it. Or even if we’re not that good at it. Just by allowing ourself to focus on our breath, or relaxing into our heart, we get a little peace, a little space from that problem. And we stop, at least for a short while, trying to solve those problems OUT THERE, in that most frustrating way we normally have. We relax, we rest, we experience this feeling of contentment and think:

“That’s incredible. I have this peace inside me. I can relax. And, you know what? This indicates that there is so much more where this came from. This is just the beginning of the peace I can experience if I change direction — from trying to solve everything outside myself to just allowing myself to practice these teachings and change my mind. This is only the beginning, but I can rely on it — I can understand that this peace is how I can be feeling all the time, and it is who I am.”

IMG_2521-EFFECTS

At the moment we are so habituated to following our attachment wherever it takes us, or our aversion trying to solve everything out there all the time. These delusions are what’s shaking up our minds and causing us so much aggravation, pain, frustration, tightness, heaviness, sadness, depression, not to mention negative actions, etc., etc., etc. IT’S OUR DELUSIONS. We get a glimpse into that simply by experiencing some temporary freedom from those delusions. We should really take refuge in that peace, knowing we can always go there.

Then we can arise from that peace with a clearer mind and happier heart, more centered and better able to deal practically with the so-called outer problems that present themselves.

Coming up before 2018 … we have a really fun and insightful guest article on breathing meditation to look forward to!!

Happy Holidays.

Related articles

The relevance of inner peace

Coping with anxiety

Going wide means going deep

The relevance of inner peace

Right now it may seem as though our problems are getting in the way of our inner peace. But the only thing getting in the way is that we’re clutching onto our problems and determined to solve them all out there. Anxiety can arise when we feel an excessive need to do this, and what it does it shake our mind up more and more with inappropriate attention – dwelling, exaggerating, conceptualizing, elaborating – whether this be our relationships, our politics, our health, our work, war with Korea, etc. We’re like a dog with a bone, we can’t let go.

Carrying on from this article.

The need to solve our problems becomes more compelling the more we focus on them with inappropriate attention.

But ironically we feel more and more powerless to solhead in cloudsve our problems because our mind is getting more and more out of control. Then, when we feel powerless, and that things have slipped out of our control, we get even more anxious and frustrated — we cannot see clearly what to do. You know that expression, we cannot see the wood for the trees.

Inner peace really does solve problems

It can take a while to become totally convinced that inner peace can solve our problems, even when we’ve had experience of this truth. This is because we have a deep habit of relying upon delusions to try and solve our problems. We are pretty attached to solving everything outside the mind.

For example, you ever had that feeling that you don’t even WANT to solve the problem you are having with an irritating person by letting go of your irritation because that just lets them off the hook!? We want to send them the irate email, we want them to know what we think of them, we want them to feel bad – and only when those goals are accomplished might we be ready to sit down and meditate. Or when we’re feeling hurt and neglected by our object of attachment, we don’t want to feel all peaceful by letting go of the attachment. No, THEY are obviously the ones who should change!

Outer and inner problems 

I’m not saying we don’t sort external problems out at all. Of course we have to pay some attention to them; but it is the kind of attention that matters. We need to approach these problems not from an unbalanced, chaotic mind, but from the sanity of inner peace.

To sort the outside out, we need to pay at least as much attention to the inside.

One of the most useful teachings we could ever stumble across is the difference between outer and inner problems. The classic example Geshe Kelsang uses is if our car breaks down — do we have a problem!? Sure our car has a problem (the outer problem); but we only have a problem if our mind gets upset (the inner problem). We deal with these problems in outer and inner ways — cars go to the garage, and inner problems need to be solved by transforming the mind.head in clouds 1

It is helpful to remember that solving our own and others’ outer problems — in itself — is never going to solve the inner problems, however busy or expert we become. But that’s ok, because even though we may never be able to solve every difficult situation, we CAN slowly but surely solve all our inner problems. And, as Venerable Geshe Kelsang says:

If we were to respond to difficult situations with a positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us; indeed, we may even come to regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development. ~ How to Transform Your Life, page 10

So we can afford to relax. We don’t need to feel bad about relaxing. Quite the opposite. Try, don’t worry, as Geshe Kelsang also says. Or, another favorite Kadampa quote:

Always rely upon a happy mind alone.

Come to love the space

As explained here, when problems come up they seem like reality because our head is in the clouds. We are caught up in the storms. We make them very real, very solid. Therefore, we are in worry.

head in the clouds 2Any problem tends to fill our mind when we’re in the middle of it. Our problems seem all encompassing — we have to get rid of them. But can you remember the problem you were having this time last week? This time last year?! It seemed totally compelling at the time, so where’s it gone, why can’t we even remember what it was?!

When we do allow our mind to experience its natural inner peace by letting go and relaxing into our heart, we see for ourselves how space solves problems. Just putting space around our problems, getting them into perspective, helps hugely. We relax and we see more clearly a way forward. We stop panicking. A cloud surrounded by an infinite sky is no big deal. On the basis of our mind being quieter, more mindful, more clear, we can then turn it to deep Dharma topics that will uproot all our problems more permanently.

Trusting inner peace

No matter how slight it is, or how relative, we can trust our inner peace. But we cannot trust our distorted, agitated states of mind, any more than we can trust a churned up lake to accurately reflect what is going on around it. The more peaceful our mind, the more in tune with reality, the more accurately it reflects the world. Truthfully, the world is just a reflection of our mind to begin with. This is why Geshe Kelsang says:

Without inner peace, there can be no outer peace.

Because we can trust inner peace, go there as often as you can. Even if it is only for a few minutes in the restroom at work, that will do it. As soon as you feel some inner peace, give yourself the permission to enjoy it, to remain with it, to remember “This is who I am.” It may sound unlikely while we are feeling anxious, but one day we will get to the point where we can bliss out whenever we want 🙂

And, far from being irresponsible or escapist, this will give us the power to solve stuff. It will give us the power to help others for, if we ain’t got it, how can we give it?

Thead in clouds 3his peace and bliss are sanity, reality. It is the delusions that are distorted. They are faulty ways of thinking that are not based on sanity and that make everything seem like a problem. Trust the truth of peace, compassion, kindness, and wisdom instead; they’ll never let us down.

How do I get started?

You may be thinking, “All this is easier said than done.” Well of course it takes no time to get these ideas written down on this page, but the reason these ideas are still around is because they work, countless people have benefited from them. We too can give ourselves permission to relax if we understand its importance and relevance to our “real world” problems. We can make time each day to sit quietly and look within, and the investment of time is going to be more than worth it. We could end up being far more productive! What have we got to lose?!

I am not even talking about hours and hours a day. I’m talking 10 to 20 minutes. Seriously. That’s really not a lot of time. You’ll may want to do more as you get better at it and love it more and more, but that’s not the point, you still only need 10 to 20 minutes to get started.

To summarize, learning to let go and relax through breathing meditation (a) feels good, (b) gives us essential space and perspective, and (c) is part of reality – it is sanity.

Bonus
Je Tsongkhapa on clouds
Je Tsongkhapa appearing on clouds of compassion

As a (big) bonus, this peace is also not separate from the non-deluded peaceful reality and good heart of an enlightened being, as explained here. Feel your connection to enlightenment, however you understand it, the divine. The more we recognize this, the more peaceful, blessed, and inspired we feel. Enlightened beings see us as we really are – at heart pure and good and worry-free, just not yet realizing it.

Related articles

How to overcome anxiety

Going wide means going deep

Acceptance — the first step toward self-transformation

 

Coping with anxiety

You might have heard the expression “Xanax is the new Prozac”? This is because worry worryand anxiety have already reached epidemic proportions in our modern society. And if we are prone to worry, there certainly seems more and more cause for it as the days and months roll by.

You’ve probably seen the articles. They report that, for example, in 1980, 4% of Americans suffered a mental disorder associated with anxiety. Today half do. A third of Britons will experience anxiety disorder at some stage in their life, with an explosion of reported anxiety among teenagers and young adults.

And so on and so forth, all over the world. It’s bad. It’s sad.

But it is not inevitable. And (along with the medication in some cases) meditation and Buddhism can help; they are designed to help.

Plus, we need to try and solve our own sense of anxiety and hopelessness if we have any desire to help our world. As we have probably all noticed, it is not easy to help others when we are feeling unbalanced or unhappy ourselves.

I am carrying on from this article.

How is it that some some people can cope with worry and stress and even thrive on it, whereas others get overwhelmed and even ill? Of course there are various factors at play, but there are also good methods for alleviating worry and stress that anyone can try.

I was interested to see that the dictionary.com definition for worry is:

To torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts; fret.

Note the word “oneself”. We are tormenting ourselves, no one is doing it to us. We are the ones thinking our thoughts. If we could control our thoughts, we could get rid of our worry. If we could change our thoughts, we could — we would — learn to be peaceful.

Break the vicious cycle

IMG_1750-EFFECTSWhen we notice our anxious symptoms, responding to some perceived threat, we think that we can’t cope with the situation, and therefore we become more anxious. This is the start of the vicious cycle of anxiety, the cycle we have to break.

If we are prone to worry, this means that our thoughts are thinking us us rather than the other way around. We have inadvertently boarded trains of thoughts that are taking us from worry stations right through to panic stations. We have to find a way to get off.

We don’t have to think all our thoughts. We don’t have to give them power – the only power a thought actually has is the power we give it. If we learn to control our mind, we can think our thoughts rather than the other way around. We can transform our thoughts and we can transform ourselves.

Thoughts depend upon the thinker just as the thinker depends upon the thoughts – change one, the other changes automatically.

This is a simple but devastatingly profound insight from Buddha, which can change everything. And we can experience it for ourselves by learning simple meditation.

Meditation has proven benefits in stopping worry – including even the simplest breathing meditation that anyone can do, such as the 15-minute peace meditation I explained in the last article on worry. Basically, in this meditation, we are making our mind bigger so that our problems become smaller. And we are learning that we can control our own thoughts.

Feeling foggy?

IMG_0956-EFFECTSOur mind is naturally peaceful. Our problem is that we keep shaking our minds up, like shaking a clear glass of water up and down, or like speedboats churning through a still mountain lake. Whenever we give ourselves some time and allow our mind to settle and relax, we experience some of our own natural peace of mind. Our inner problems subside temporarily because we have taken our attention away from them. And, even if we experience only a little bit of peace, we can know that there is plenty more where that came from.

Another analogy for our mind — and its infinite depth and spiritual potential – is that of a vast clear sky. When the fog rolls in, the whole sky can feel foggy, as anyone in San Francisco will tell you. But we know this is temporary, not the nature of sky; and that it can and will change. It is only if we are not aware of our limitless sky-like depth that we identify instead with our fog-like delusions and problems, and feel foggy ourselves. Our head is stuck in these as if that’s all there is. We get caught up in our fleeting feelings, clutching onto them as if they comprise our entire mind.

The first thing to do is allow these foggy problematical thoughts and feelings to disappear by focusing on the breath and not following them. Instead of shaking our mind up, we allow our mind to settle down. In this, we can start to experience the restorative nature of our own peaceful mind, which has the power to heal us.

This goes for any problem – relationship problems (is he texting me enough?!), work problems (will I get that thing done on time?), health problems (why isn’t this diet working?), children problems (how can I help them when they don’t want to be helped?), world problems (where do I start?!) — we can let go of the inappropriate attention. Just allow ourselves to forget about all this for a few minutes, relax, let the attachment and anxiety drop away. We’re not going to miss anything.

Hey, I can’t afford to do that!

Maybe we think that if we relax like this we are reneging on our responsibility – that we need to chew over every problem until we have solved it, especially when other people are involved. For example, if I am not worrying about my parents/children/pets/the world, I am letting them down. We feel guilty. We think, “Let me just try and sort this/them out first, and then I can get back to feeling peaceful — I can reward myself, go on retreat or something.”IMG_1950

But this is completely the wrong way around. The fact of the matter is that over-thinking is not the way to solve our own or others’ problems. Trying to sort everything out “out there” is not the way to solve problems. Space is the way to solve problems. The sanity of inner peace is the way to solve problems.

There’s a saying in Buddhism that worldly activities are like a man’s beard – though he may shave it off in the morning, it is growing back again by the evening. Even if we did manage to sort everything out “out there” on any given day (an entirely dubious proposition, at least in my experience), is it not true that there are more problems to sort out by the next day? We need to learn the art of relaxation and letting go as the way to (dis)solve our own and others’ problems.

Then — and this is very much part of it — we can approach the external problems from a far more helpful and realistic perspective.

Who are you?

It’s also helpful to ask ourselves, “Who am I, really?” Once we are feeling more peaceful, we can spend a few minutes developing a really positive mind – for example by contemplating some brief instruction on love.

Then we can relate to ourselves as a loving compassionate person, or at least, “Hey, I’m not so bad!”, as opposed to that limited anxious person, “I am useless and doomed.” We can start to get a foot in the door, some agency in our own narrative.

We are who we tell ourselves we are, and in fact it is closer to reality to see ourselves as loving than as hopeless. The love goes far far deeper, and it is our own nature.

IMG_1037We can learn to go through our day with this relative peace, love, and confidence in our heart — try it out for size, let it grow through practice. At least know it is in there somewhere, that there is an alternative to this anxiety. Dive into the restroom when we forget there is peace at the heart, make it live up to its name.

Also, my advice, if you can: go to regular classes and get guided in meditation. You’ll learn stuff that you can practice all week, plus you’ll get the support and encouragement of others in the same boat.

Start the virtuous cycle

So, through breathing meditation we can develop a little space between us and our suffering — it is no longer consuming all our attention by drawing it into an exaggerated sense of a limited, suffering me. From that perspective, we have a better chance of using our own problems to empathize more deeply with others — and the more we do this the less anxious we will feel. We have started a a virtuous cycle to replace the vicious one.

More ideas for helping with worry coming up soon. Meantime, is this helping at all? Please share your experience and questions in the comments.

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