Can too much bad news make us sick?

DSC_0134.NEFHow can we make a non-existent me happy?

How can we get rid of its suffering?!

Answer: we can’t.

Which is probably the main reason why it makes sense to get rid of our self-grasping and self-cherishing and cherish others instead.

As of now, self-cherishing hasn’t gotten us anywhere – any happiness and good fortune we are experiencing is coming about despite our self-cherishing, not because of it. Meanwhile, cherishing others gets us everywhere we need to be.

Any pain and problems you’ve had already today come from your self-cherishing. Do you believe that?!

For a few minutes this morning before I got out of bed, I was for some bizarre reason itemizing everything that didn’t seem to be working out properly – it was quite a long list, and I was beginning to feel a bit agitated.

Then I decided to do what I like to do, which is take the self out of the equation, cherish others instead, and see if I still had all those problems.

I didn’t.

Health problems

Rash on skin?! – nothing compared with a friend’s sister who has Behcet’s syndrome. Look it up. It is no fun and considerably more excruciating than my own red splodges. DSC_0170.NEFAnd I have been praying for said sister, so my own rash is in fact a very useful reminder, and now I want to do some taking and giving for her. Therefore, although my skin has problems, I do not.

Work problems

Meanwhile thinking about work, I was beginning to entertain this distasteful idea that people are not being as efficient or organized as I’d like. Heck, more importantly, that I was not being as efficient or organized as I’d like! Then I realized that anything less than being able to help countless living beings on any given day is never going to be quite enough for a Bodhisattva, while at the same time helping even one person is more than enough. So I need to remember to be a Bodhisattva and, indeed, a Buddha who has already made it; and work from there. Might seem like the same activities – but they become a lot more blessed and enjoyable, and far less about ME trying to get things done or prove something.

It is the motivation of bodhichitta that is important, and where that is taking me and how many people that allows me to help at least indirectly each day. How can I hope to be at DSC_0146maximum efficiency while I remain as a limited self-revolving being?

I was also thinking that instead of pondering what people are not doing, the fact that anyone is doing anything to help me and help others is incredible; and I focused on that instead so as to feel grateful instead of annoyed. It worked very well.

As did making one of my favorite requests to my Spiritual Guide, namely to help me help him help as many people as possible today. I hope that includes this article, because that is what I seem to be doing with this morning so far.

Relationship problems

A friend was supposed to meet me and bailed. I also don’t like that people I know are sick and I can’t do anything about it.

When we are focused on how friends are not doing what we want, or when we are feeling burdened by the illnesses of relatives, and so on, there is always a pronounced sense of ME. Even when we are supposedly trying to be there for these people in our lives, feeling let down or discouraged indicates that it is more about us than about them.

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Because … when we believe that they owe us nothing, when all we want is for them to be happy and free from suffering for their own sake, the mental pain goes away and we lighten up. This happens whenever we genuinely cherish them. If they’re not happy, we want to help them be happy, and if they are suffering we want to help them get rid of it – not because of us but because of them. It is as simple as that. There is nothing for us to lose, we just try and don’t worry, as Geshe Kelsang puts it. Unconditional love works every time. And it increases, as opposed to undermining, our compassion.

World problems

The day’s headlines, while also initially infuriating and problematic, reminded me of a report I just read about how over-exposure to bad news is making us sick: Too much bad news can make you sick.

There is a lot in that – one being that mindless consumption of the 24/7 news cycle is overwhelming and over-stimulating while also being deadening; another being that if we take all of this stuff personally we are going to be in a constant state of stress.

Things are not getting better despite all our external development. These are degenerate times. People’s minds and environments seem to be getting more and more out of control. As the article claims:

The United Nations’ disaster-monitoring system says that since 1970, the number of disasters worldwide has more than quadrupled, rising to about 400 per year.

It is true that, “Thanks to technology, exposure to traumatic events has rapidly increased over the past few decades”. However, I was thinking that if we are training in compassion and wisdom, we have a way of dealing with every bad appearance. Every news story is a reminder of our need to control and transform our minds.

DSC_0213.NEFAs one professor says in the article, we need “to learn effective ways to engage with reality without being consumed by it”; and compassion and wisdom help us with this, not least by helping us to understand what “reality” is in the first place.

The world has always been stressful, but experiencing acute events occurring thousands of miles away is a new and challenging phenomenon. On any given day, it feels like the world is falling apart.

This is true. And it has always been true – only now we get to see it close up through our screens without having to get out of our chairs. The report asks three rhetorical questions, which I’m going to answer 😉

“How can we brace for disaster and find the strength to withstand it?”

Understand that samsara has been forever thus … and the other realms are even worse. Far worse. Only Dharma is the truth — we need that refuge in Dharma to give us strength.

We also have to watch out for compassion fatigue:

Inundation of news and trauma can also lead to what is known as disaster fatigue, making us less concerned and more apathetic and feeling a diminished sense of urgency about the crisis at hand. Disaster fatigue occurs when prolonged exposure to news coverage of disasters causes potential donors or volunteers to lose motivation to address the problem.

DSC_0152Check out more on that in this article.

We can get strength by making an effort to rely on our community or Sangha, whoever they may be:

The research points to social connection as the bedrock of resilience and the best way to combat apathy. … The more that you are connected to others and you can call upon them, the more likely it is that your entire community will withstand.

Knowing the truth of suffering helps us all — everyone has indestructible compassion in them, and truly recognizing each other and what we have in common can bring this heroism out of us:

The most dire situations can lead people to be their best selves, serving others and coming together across difference.

And this is especially true for Bodhisattvas, who grow stronger from adversity, like peacocks thriving on the hemlock that harms other birds.

“How will we adapt to our greater exposure to trauma?”

By using everything to remind us to destroy our self-grasping and self-cherishing and help everyone else do the same. Those are the real causes of disaster, directly and indirectly; and luckily we can get rid of them.

The article says:

DSC_0190-EFFECTSIdeally, after the perceived threat is resolved, the body’s resting state of homeostasis should be regained.

Meditation — from the most simple breathing meditation to the subtle mind meditations of Tantra — can restore our homeostasis every time we are exposed to trauma. Trauma is “psychological injury”, and if we get rid of the real enemy of our ego minds we can’t be injured any further.

As it says in the article:

Self-care can seem indulgent, even selfish, in the face of destruction. … But in crisis, self-care is one of the most selfless actions. Practicing the ability to self-soothe and improve our nervous system’s response to stress will buffer the negative impacts of crisis and help us help others.

To go wide, i.e. to help everyone, we have to go deep. Carving some time out each day to meditate and experience the restorative nature of our own peaceful minds, even through a simple breathing meditation for example, is invaluable not just for ourselves but for everyone we want to help.

Unless we make some time every day to meditate, we will find it very difficult to maintain peaceful and positive minds in our daily life, and our spiritual practice as a whole will suffer. Since the real purpose of meditation is to increase our capacity to help others, taking time each day to meditate is not selfish. ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

It is also important to pay attention to our states of mind through the day in general so we can “stop” self-cherishing and its delusions when we notice their grumblings. As the article says:

What is important is to pay attention to when you are overloaded, when you start to get stressed, when you feel numb and moody or irritated or feel other outward symptoms of a nervous system response. Whenever you feel like you’re ‘off,’ that is a signal. That is your signal that you need to stop.

“And will our mental health be sacrificed in the process?”

DSC_0155Not if we do the above … quite the opposite.

Both our compassion and our wisdom protect us from stress and suffering, while enabling us to increasingly do what we need to do to help our world, including realizing the union of appearance and emptiness so that we can end our own and others’ hallucinations once and for all.

A sample selection

So that is how I dealt with today’s problems so far by remembering to change the object of my cherishing from myself to others. No doubt I will have plenty more opportunities to practice this even before the day is out. The challenge is always interesting and, I find, uplifting and confidence-building whenever I bother to make the slightest effort to greet it 😄

DSC_0164Meanwhile, as it’s my day off, I get to go to the park and read the new Mirror of Dharma as my hard copy has now arrived. And pictures of foster kittens (and flowers) taken with my new camera can’t hurt either (let me know if you’re in the business for a cat).

I am going to let CNN have the last word ‘cos it’s nice:

We might not be able to predict the future, but we can prepare for it using these strategies — a future that might be filled with catastrophe but that is hopefully brighter and more beautiful than the present.

Over to you …  comments invited as always.