Are you for real?!

6.5 mins read.

We need to take the real self out. It is getting in the way of everything good, everything fun.

Grasping at our self as real is the reason we took rebirth as a human being in the first place. We blame everything and everyone for the problems of this human life of ours, but the real reason everything keeps going wrong is because how can anything other than polluted waves arise from a polluted ocean of samsaric rebirth? We need to purify our ocean-like consciousness of this contamination of ignorance by realizing that its object — the real or inherently existent self — does not exist.

I am carrying straight on from this article, so it might help to read it first if you have time.

Which is the real me?

In this meditation (outlined below), we can imagine lining up all our selves. There are so many of them! This is not even to mention the countless versions of self we have had since beginningless time. Line them up and see that the painful, overwhelmed one, for example, is one of many – so which one is the real you?!

What will come out of that is a moment of, “Oh, the self I normally see, the separate unique one, doesn’t exist!” Self exists, even the painful one, but only as an imputation of the mind — not from its own side. I am projecting a singular fixed self on shifting plural parts and believing it is actually out there, more than a projection.

We grasp at one of these versions of self at any given moment and believe it is the one and only, the real me, but why? And, for that matter, why do we pick that one and not another happier more resilient one?! There is no reason, just bad habit.

We don’t need to grasp any version as solid and real. Singularity is merely imputed – self is just a label that we are imputing on various parts of our body and/or mind, such as a thought “I’m hopeless at everything” and a feeling of being overwhelmed. There is no such singular self there. If we go looking for it, it’ll disappear like a rainbow:

When we look at a rainbow it appears to occupy a particular location in space, and it seems that if we searched we would be able to find where the rainbow touches the ground. However, we know that no matter how hard we search we will never be able to find the end of the rainbow, for as soon as we arrive at the place where we saw the rainbow touch the ground, the rainbow will have disappeared. ~ Modern Buddhism

The painful self is just a projection of our thoughts. We feel we have no choice but to experience it because we believe it’s real, but it’s not. What are we going to do if we understand this? Well, we will stop projecting it because it hurts. Why would we project that not good enough self?! That argumentative self? Especially when we have alternatives, which Buddha offers. We can be a confident, joyful Bodhisattva, for a start. We are not inherently a Bodhisattva (or anything else) but this actually means we can relate to ourself as one. This change of identification is grounded in reality, not fantasy, and will lead to incredible results.

A simple meditation 

I’ll now put some of the stuff from this and the last article together in a meditation.

Start by slowing down, as explained in this last article. Ideally generate a good motivation, such as the wish for your family and all beings to be free from the sufferings caused by self-grasping.

I always relate to myself as one self, a unit, a singularity. Is that true? For example, although I am happy, unhappy, tired, energetic, hungry, full, etc, I feel that this is the same single self that is sometimes hungry etc.  

Bring a painful version of self to mind, for example, “I’m not good enough/hurt/insecure.” Use a version that you get stuck in all too often. See how in that moment you perceive it to be your actual self.

I perceive that singular self as if it were independent of the mind and everything else, discrete, inherently existent. It appears to exist objectively as a single, separate, whole unit, delineated from everything else. This is the self I normally see. Spend some time getting a look at it. 

Then ask, “Is this my actual self? Is this really me?”

Line up a self that is an adult, daughter, friend, happy, sad, angry, attached, tired, etc. Which one of these many selves is me? The real me?

The self has many parts and therefore is not a singularity but a plurality. ~ Modern Buddhism

Therefore that painful self you’re stuck in is NOT the real you. It is A self, not THE self. The non-contiguous self that appears so clearly and at which you grasp does not exist any more than a rainbow:  

If we do not search for it, the rainbow appears clearly; but when we look for it, it is not there. ~ Modern Buddhism

Recognize that. Get a sense of relief as you let it go. 

What does this mean? Because my objectively cut-off painful self doesn’t exist, I don’t need to hold onto it. Because the self is just an imputation, empty of existing from its own side, I am always free to choose what to impute myself on or identify with. Because I am just projecting or imputing myself on a plurality of parts, I am free to project myself differently on different parts — I can identify with my Buddha nature, kindness, or wisdom, for example.

Hold this understanding for a few minutes if you can, feeling happy in the freedom of emptiness. And conclude with the determination:

I am not stuck; in fact I have limitless potential. I am free to be who I wish to be. Therefore, I will choose to be a happy self, a kind self, and/or a Bodhisattva.

Taking the time to slow down

As a main takeaway from these last two articles, I’d like to suggest that we all take the time to slow down so we can wisen up. I have been telling myself this because I, perhaps like you, have been coming out of a challenging several months, with more heady conceptuality than usual from getting caught up in one unfolding crisis after another, personal and collective. None of us is alone in facing anxiety and feelings of isolation – people tell me and I see headlines about the toll this Pandemic is taking on people’s mental health. I am finding that the simple act of slowing down is helping me a huge amount. I think it can help you too.

We can try it whenever we notice that our mind is getting tight or inflexible or worried. We can try it when we are next waiting for something – for a red light, for a kettle, for an appointment, for a meeting to end. If we just stop for a few minutes and allow our mind to relax, we will most likely find that we start to feel better. Our wave-like troubles can subside in a still, tranquil ocean. And not only that, we will also likely find that we naturally start connecting to a deeper sanity that waits inside us, such as love or wisdom.

Retreat season is just around the corner, in January — a perfect time to slow down and get creative for a far better year … Here is an article about meditation retreats and what is on offer in 2022.

Over to you. Please leave any comments or questions in the box below 

Related articles

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Slowing down and wisening up

The meditation game changer

 

 

Slowing down and wisening up

7 mins read.

Do you feel like you’re in a hurry a lot of the time? Like there’s always something to get to after this?

It’s not very relaxing, but in my observation we’re pretty much all in a hurry these days, including me more than I’d like of late. I caught myself the other day even managing to feel in a hurry while waiting in line at the airport. I had nothing to do and no real choice except to be, but I had an antsy feeling wanting the line to hurry up and/or wondering about what I was going to do or say when I got to the head of the line. Even though it was obvious that I simply had to show my passport and Covid certificate — even though I knew that and was prepared (had spent days preparing! even had the Verifly app!) — I still wanted to get it all over with.

This was instead of being utterly peaceful and relaxed in the present moment.

Which I can be if I want. We all can. But for that we have to slow down. There are many ways we can slow down, the simplest being just breathing and relaxing into our heart. There is no need to push for any result – we simply give ourself a few minutes to allow all our busy conceptuality to dissolve into the peaceful clarity of our own mind. 

Slow down AND wisen up

When we allow ourselves to slow down, we start to feel happier and less rushed. Even better, as soon as we absorb just a little bit we automatically become a little bit wiser. We are able to see things with a deeper knowing. We drop below the flotsam and jetsam of our turbulent thoughts to the still depths within and everything becomes clearer, reflected more accurately, as in a still lake. And then we can start to figure things out on a more spiritual level such that we can truly let go and relax.

Being in our heart letting everything dissolve into emptiness is the most relaxing activity on the planet. At least it is if we are actually a little bit absorbed and present and not over-thinking things, pushing to get this done, pushing for an insight. To begin with, we have to let ourselves abide with our Buddha nature. From there we can gently contemplate Dharma instructions – allowing ourself to stay with each little insight as it arises so that it can naturally evolve into the next.

It doesn’t work if we try to stay in control of the proceedings and rush them as opposed to surrendering to a deeper, let’s say unfurling, wisdom. This wish to control is ego-driven and it doesn’t work for meditation. If we’re not careful we start to identify with someone who isn’t that great at meditation, believing that meditation is going to be too much hard work even though we know it is supposed to be good for us. Meditating with that self-identification is rather painful. Sometimes it makes us a bit “lungy”, which is when our inner energy winds stop cooperating so that we feel strained and distant from our own insights.

I’ve spoken about how to deal with these things on the blog, but today and in the next article I want to explore in particular that self-grasping we have at a singular self, such as the me that cannot meditate. Maybe we can approach this on the basis of a little meditation, such as the one here. See you back here in five minutes …

…. Hello again.

How to abandon grasping at singularity

As with any discussion of emptiness, first of all we need some intellectual understanding through listening or reading to instructions, and then we gently bring that understanding into our heart by contemplating it with interest or admiring faith, without pushing. When we get a personal insight, our heart moves and we abide with that for as long as we can, neither following other thoughts nor pushing for further insights.

In the chapter Ultimate Bodhichitta in Modern Buddhism, Venerable Geshe Kelsang explains how we can meditate on the emptiness of the 8 extremes. These specialist meditations are in the section “The emptiness of phenomena”, and are the 8 different ways in which we grasp at phenomena as real. It is a spacy section and a lot of fun! I’m going to jump straight to #7 to share a practical way of meditating on avoiding the extreme of singularity as it relates to our self.

When we observe one object, such as our I, we strongly feel that it is a single, indivisible entity, and that its singularity is inherently existent.

When we think “Me” at any given moment, we are holding onto ourself as singular. The one and only. I am a whole unto myself. I am a discrete entity, existing in and of myself, I don’t depend on anything else. I am just me, indivisible me.

In reality, however, our I has many parts, such as the parts that look, listen, walk and think or the parts that are, for example, a teacher, a mother, a daughter and a wife. Our I is imputed upon the collection of all these parts.

We impute ourselves on multiple things. Whenever our “parts” change, which is all the time, our self changes, because we are not inherently single but imputed on a plurality. For example, what happens to the unhappy self when our mood lifts and we are happy again? It disappears because it was only ever appearance to begin with.

As with each individual phenomenon it is a singularity, but its singularity is merely imputed, like an army that is merely imputed upon a collection of soldiers or a forest that is imputed upon a collection of trees.

That’s not how our self is perceived by our self-grasping ignorance! Regardless which version of self is arising, ignorance grasps it as objectively or inherently singular. There’s just one of me, right?! So when I’m feeling overwhelmed, for example, that me is a single overwhelmed self, the one and only me. I believe it and buy into it. This grasping fills my mind, and therefore I feel bad and have little energy to do anything.

However, far from having just one self, we have a lot of them — in fact we probably have hundreds in any given day. I’ll go first:

I am a daughter; in fact I am arguably two daughters – my mom’s and my dad’s. I am a sister and a sister-in-law. I am anxious. I am relaxed. I am a writer. I never get round to writing. I am a hiker. I am a lazy lump. I am good at meditation. I should be better at meditation. I am kind. I am mean. I am cool. I am a nerd. (I am a cool nerd.) I am overwhelmed. I am in charge. I am a traveler. I never go anywhere. Etc etc. I just threw those out randomly, I could probably go on all day.

Most of these versions cancel each other out, yet strangely I still manage to grasp at each single one as if it was the real me.

We have gotten habituated to this singular sense of self over this and many lifetimes. For example, we can go for a long time without identifying with, say, a jealous self, but then someone does something and we’re believing it again. In those moments, it can feel unimaginable that we may not be that self. A friend may encourage us, “Hey, just drop it!” Yes, why don’t I?!, but it’s impossible. You don’t get it, I am that.

Ten minutes ago I was a different self. I am swapping selves continuously. I have to let go of one self to be another. How real can any of these singular separate selves therefore be?!

Moreover, with each friend we have also developed a different persona – jokey, serious, flirty, etc. We are constantly swapping hats/selves. Yet due to ignorance we then keep grasping at each self as distinct and fixed and stuck.

And not only that, but what about all those distinct selves the rest of you see when you look at “me”? You all think something completely different when you bring Luna Kadampa to mind. How many versions of me are floating around?! I hope there are some decent ones, but it’s not entirely my fault if there aren’t.

I am out of time and you may be out of coffee break. But the meditation I’m going to explain next week (already written) will help with this.

Over to you 🙂 Please leave any comments or questions in the box below so I can address them as well in the next article.

Further reading

Drop into your heart and breathe

 

Meditation in the pursuit of happiness

 

Pausing in the pursuit of happiness to be happy

Quick fix meditation on emptiness

 

 

Permission to Relax

A Kadampa Buddhist practitioner for 25 years, this guest author is a self-employed, healthcare business owner who practices Asian Medicine in the rural American South. She claims that she can provide a stainless example of the trial and error of integrating Dharma into a busy modern life. Her disclaimer: “My observations are neither new nor unique, but I can sincerely share what it’s like to NOT use the power of rest and relaxation!”

This morning, I woke up aware (again) of a self that starts the day thinking, “TIME TO GET GOING!! SO MUCH TO DO! … Better HURRY!”

Picture1

Yeah, so maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing … IF the energy of these thoughts were used with positive spiritual intentions. They could be quite valuable to motivate and energize a self to get up out of bed.

But, usually, if you are anything like me, this starts up mental PUSHING.

The voice of this “I” or self has some strong belief that I need to push to “get through” the day.

And, the gaping agenda of any given day: the household chores, the email, the messages, the work tasks, ah, the ToDo List … and, not to mention, getting on the meditation cushion … I will have to push myself to get to it all. It can certainly feel like it’s not “okay” to relax my mind or my body. 

Picture 2However, what I have learned in over two decades as a Kadampa practitioner is that I have a strong identification with a uncomfortable limited self, one I have drolly named “Nagatha”.  She “nags” me on.  She schemes and plots, always pushing me — she is never satisfied.  Her list is never done and, although she “lets” me have some daily formal meditation, it is rare that she allows for much satisfaction for some inner peace.

Reading the more recent Kadampa Life posts HERE about self-hatred and being self-critical, I started thinking about how this very critical-nagging-Nagatha self takes a lot of license to keep pushing me around. Nagatha wants to keep me believing that I have to push for the energy to “get through” the day.  But, sadly, it’s never enough for Picture 3her. And the overall “I” or Self that gets reinforced is the one who believes she’s never been enough, she’s not enough now, and she never will be enough. 

How easy it is, then, to start to hate that self, to believe that “she” is a failure, day in and day out.  This further fuels Nagatha, of course, to keep on criticizing, nagging, and pushing.

I realize more and more that this is the very opposite of what the enlightened beings have long been saying to us.  Geshe Kelsang has spelled out in many places the importance and power of rest.  My Nagatha tends to stay busy overriding and drowning out his words.  She bullies me into believing that I will be able to rest my mind when (and only when) my ToDo List is finished. I call this the “Unfinished Business of Busyness” — which Nagatha is determined to make me DO.

When someone in my clinical treatment room looks at me wearily and elaborates on how exhausted they are, I usually find that they also picture 5don’t believe that they have permission to stop, to rest. Even the mention of making “time to meditate” seems like just a really cute little ideal. “Yeah, right, like I have any time to stop or sit still! … I can’t do THAT!” 

But there’s always much to do and many things to pay attention to (read: distractions). Our family, our culture, and our world all make for plenty of evidence.  However, no amount of evidence alters Buddha’s verdict. This inner battle we create — between our striving and pushing self and our wiser, more peaceful self — has never delivered lasting happiness. 

We continue to engage in a kind of inner ‘Warfare” instead of developing inner ‘Well-fare’. It doesn’t make for a healthy day — much less a healthy experience of the spiritual path.

Geshe-la says, actually, in How to Transform Your Life (free for download HERE), that we need to:

take care of ourself and look after our needs…otherwise we undermine our capacity to benefit others. … Moreover, others may conclude that we are imbalanced and consequently will not trust us or believe what we say … so we will not be able to help them. 

He also says that if we are

not happy with ourself or foolishly neglect our own well-being, we will have neither the confidence nor the energy to effect radical spiritual transformation.

picture 6Sounds to me that this masterful spiritual teacher of mine is directly highlighting something I have definitely experienced along the way: that if I am going to be self-critical or neglect my own need for rest and replenishment, it will set me up for failure. A failed self who wishes to be of benefit to others.  I won’t be able to provide authentic or lasting assistance (right again, thanks Nagatha!)

In the past I was able to override basic physical needs for much stopping or resting … and eventually it caught up. What was also terribly dispicture 7heartening to discover was that it began to  threaten and undermine my confidence in my potential — my Buddha nature — which is inexhaustible in its power to benefit others.

Nagatha’s pushing kept feeding the self I would normally see and then believe: the self who is never enough, doing enough, having enough, being enough.   

So, I had to check: Who IS this self or “I”? 

picture 8

And is this really the self I am going to ask for permission to relax and be happy?!

If I keep on asking Nagatha, can I really expect to be granted time to stop, reflect, regroup, or refuel for a positive, relaxed, much less joyful daily life?

I don’t know about you, but I found that I would rather find and listen to someone who has a bigger mind than I do. Who has seen and explained that rest itself is a power — it is one of the four essential powers of joyful effort. And, after all, Buddha seems pretty darned positive, relaxed, and joyful!

Geshe Kelsang explains very clearly in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that if

we relax at the right time we shall soon be able to apply new effort again. … Timely relaxation maintains the constancy of our practice. … If we neglect the need for rest we become  overtired and we are not able to apply effort again with joy.

I have seen over time that following the advice of the self I normally see makes not only my day, but my spiritual life path, a less than joyful one. Instead it can become all about pushing, hurrying, and busyness.  And the self who lives that life eventually gets really really tired.

picture 9Why is it that when we’re thirsty we get a drink and when we’re hungry we find some food, but when we’re tired we’re like: “What is WRONG with me?!”

Perhaps we can check in: “Do I need to find ways to rest more?” I am betting that if you’re like me, you will see that resting the body and the mind, even for a few more peaceful moments throughout the day, goes a lot further to fostering more heartfelt presence for others.

A more relaxed mind naturally has more space for kindness, love, and compassion. There’s more available energy to be satisfied and fulfilled in our own efforts.  If we ourselves can experience these inner resources, we will naturally be more able to resource others.

Do you permit yourself to take a rest, even a short break from pushing, or from your nagging self? 

How often do you make one of your own “ToDo” items Rest and Relaxation?  Do you give yourself that permission?

I spend my days at work offering these questions in the spirit of permission. (People actually PAY me to offer some room and time to rest and physically and mentally stop!) Surely this indicates a basic need — one that Geshe-la has always told us about. Not to mention, the enlightened beings themselves don’t seem to be busy hurrying around in a bustle of dissatisfaction!

Maybe, if you will, just think about it.  Maybe take a moment to stop and contemplate (dare I say ‘meditate’ on this?) … I am talking to myself here, as well as to those of you who have been self-professed meditators for a long time but are still feeling less than deeply relaxed.

Here are some simple instructions to start giving it a try — a short mental rest break. 

And here’s a Permission Slip: picture 10

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 perceived 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

 

How to overcome anxiety

[Update Mar 23 2020: Hello everyone. Here is some Buddhist meditation advice on dealing with anxiety during these uncertain times.

Please check out an increasing number of live-streaming meditation classes at a Kadampa Center near you — learning to meditate or increasing your meditation practice will really help! Anyone can learn. All you need is somewhere to sit quietly for a while, and a wish to experience inner calm. Then just follow along.]

Sometimes dubbed “the age of anxiety”, people are reportedly experiencing a lot of (di)stress in this modern age. Up to a third of the UK population, for example, will suffer from anxiety disorder or panic attacks at some point; and more people go to the doctor be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battlefor anxiety in the UK than for the common cold. In the US, 40 million people are suffering from anxiety disorders, where anxiety is constant and overwhelming; and as for the occasional bout of panic, or the grumbling day-to-day unease, the number is probably closer to 300 million! I didn’t do a survey on the rest of the world, but I can’t imagine it’s much better.

So, can you relate to any of these?:

You’ve got a big meeting at work coming up where you have to give a presentation. You have to see your family and have a conflict with a family member who’ll be there. You know you’re going to run into your ex-girlfriend, who is with someone new whereas you are not. You see a police car in your rear view mirror, and you are a person of color. You have discovered a bump on your body and a quick Google search reveals that death is imminent. Your prostate is ten times larger than it should be. Your tent is leaking. You have to leave home soon because you are approaching adulthood but the future is scary. You are getting old and find yourself worrying about the smallest things that never used to bother you. Your co-worker is AWOL (again), leaving you with no support. You can’t understand why you don’t feel happier. You’ve eaten too much chocolate and have to go dress shopping with your mother, who is stick thin and always on at you about your weight. Your dog is sick. Your daughter is on drugs and possibly in trouble with the police. You can’t afford to leave a monotonous job even though your boss is a psychopath. You might be losing your Obamacare soon. You’ve read some very disturbing articles recently about the forces of darkness descending on our world. Your car has a rattle. You can’t make up your mind whether to (a) go grey gracefully or (b) go blonde. You’ve just spilled coffee all over your iPhone while writing this, with splashes landing on your keyboard (that one’s mine.) You’re going to die.

Written down like this, does this seem like a list of anxiety-provoking situations?! Yet these are just snippets from the most recent conversations with the people around me. It makes me wonder, how much of our daily chit chat does revolve around things that make us anxious? Anyway, you may have more to add. And, while we have a mind to worry, the list is potentially endless for each of us. (At least we’re not alone?!)

Dictionary.com defines anxiety as: Distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.

It doesn’t matter whether fears or misfortunes are real or imagined, large or small — they all seem to consume us. With anxiety we can’t help overthinking, so there is no objective scale, you can’t number worries from 1 to 10 — worries never seem small because they each fill our mind.

What does anxiety feel like?

It can feel like we’re going mad, at its worst. We worry about everything and nothing. We feel out of control. The voice in our head is constant, we can’t stop it, it’s exhausting. We are on edge. Life is no fun. We can get no perspective even when we know we have things out of proportion and other people have it far worse.

AngelThere was a swan, Angel, in the small pond behind my caravan last week in the Lake District. Beautiful to watch on the surface, gliding around like swans do – but she was all alone, recuperating from an attack that killed her mate; and I felt sad for her. And, looking at her legs, I was reminded of a description I read of anxiety:

I smile gently while churning inside. I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck – paddling, paddling, paddling.

What makes us anxious?

There is always something to worry about if we have a tendency to worry: “What is there to worry about today?!”

Did you wake up happy this morning?!

Often when I ask people this question, they stoddlers 1ay they didn’t, not really. We are not even out of our warm cosy bed yet — nothing has happened! – and yet already we are feeling uneasy. So sometimes anxiety can be generalized, sort of random, lurking just below the surface of even the most uneventful day, with no specific cause. We usually cast around outside for something to blame for this feeling, “Must be because I have a presentation at work coming up in 3 weeks!” We can even lie there worrying that there is nothing to worry about, which must mean something horrendous is about to happen…

At other times we feel anxiety about something in particular, such as in the list above.

Luckily, although anxiety is a bad habit, all habits can be broken.

What can we do about anxiety?

Soooo, what is the secret of keeping it together in the face of worrying situations? Why and how do some people just seem to roll with the punches, while others are tormented by crippling anxiety at the merest glimpse of potential trouble? How do we rid ourselves of anxiety and connect with a more peaceful, balanced part of ourselves?

First off, we need to start to experience some genuine peace of mind in which we can take refuge. Then we can gradually come to understand the causes of anxiety in more depth, learning tools to train in during our lives that will help us overcome this crippling emotion for good.

Buddhist meditation can give us all of this.

anxiety girl

By the way, if you have concluded that meditation is not for you because you are just too distracted and worried to be able to concentrate, please know that pretty much everyone starts off too distracted and worried to concentrate. And this is exactly WHY we have to learn to meditate. Meditation is the medicine for distraction and distress. Not taking it is like saying:

“I am too sad to be happy.”

(Or as someone just said on Facebook “Actually, not meditating because it’s too hard is like saying “I’m too sad to take my Prozac.”)

Our uncontrolled mind is in a state of apparent chaos, lurching from one chaotic situation to another; we feel caught in that small space. But if we can step back and see what is arising from a bigger place, we can realize the bigger story. We can step back and then CREATE the bigger story.

So the first thing to do is to allow our mind to just settle, relax, and get bigger. Our mind is naturally peaceful, as explained here – our problem is that we keep shaking our mind up with uncontrolled thoughts, rather like a clear mountain lake being churned up by speedboats. Let the mind just settle through breathing meditation and we’ll discover that we already have peace, lucidity, and calm within.

Worries fill our mind, so we need to empty our mind, for a while at least. Things feel less overwhelming in that space. We realize we can cope. We realize we can feel good. Anxiety, as they say, is a misuse of the imagination. We realize we can think differently.

There are inner and outer problems, as explained here. I was thinking how each of those outer problems listed above requires different advice and solutions – the car may need to go to the mender, you may be able to enlist other people to help you with your work, your friends may have good suggestions on your hair, or you may be able to do something proactive to help prevent the forces of darkness from descending on our world. But internally, the advice is similar – control our mind and replace the anxious thoughts with helpful ones.

self-cherishing 3Breathing meditation is increasingly popular because it really helps people relax. Even a small amount of time and effort can yield surprisingly big results. The breath may not be the most profound object, but this meditation teaches us something profound – that we don’t need to add peace from outside, it is already there inside us. If we allow our inner problems to temporarily subside by taking our attention away from them by single-pointed focus on the breath, our natural peace comes to the surface. And we can know that even if it is only a little bit of peace to begin with, (a) it feels so much better than anxiety and (b) there is plenty more where that came from. Phew.

Plus we now have some space, control, and perspective to deal with the outer problems, as needs be.

You can find out how to get started in a breathing meditation here. And there may be meditation classes in your area if you check this link.

We’re out of space, so I’ll explain more next time. Meanwhile your comments are welcome.

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Getting perspective on hurt feelings

Ever had self-loathing?

How do I get rid of problems?

How to avoid stress and burn-out at work

Problem-free days

Want your meditation to flow?

What do you do when your meditation isn’t flowing as you wish?water flowing

Sometimes we feel disconnected. All these teachings and meditations sound good, great even; but they are out there separated from us.

First bit of advice: Never push for an experience, and never get caught up in a “should” mentality – “I should be feeling love! But I’m not! Therefore, I’m no good.” The aim is not to self-generate as a bad person.

So the first thing we have to do when the mind is not moving is to accept it. Rather than thinking “Oh no!”, we think “Oh yes! This is what I have to work with now, this is what is appearing.” Once we let go of the resistance, within that space of acceptance we just need to find our way back to our basic spiritual foundation. Rather than pushing forward, we can step back to find our way forward. You can try this if you like:

Disengage from the unhappy thoughts for a moment, enough time to allow yourself to relax a little. Follow your breath if it helps, or simply sit there in your heart. Then turn  your attention to something that is generally guaranteed to put a smile on your face, such as your niece, or some kindness you have received. It doesn’t have to be much, something simple, just enough to shift your attention. You stop focusing on the things that are agitating your mind, so the natural peace of your mind can reassert itself.

inner peace 3No pushing to peace

If we stop shaking our mind, our mind will stop shaking. We don’t press our mind into peace; we just stop agitating our mind and it becomes peaceful. We can build more peace from there. No point wrestling with unhappy thoughts like a dog with a bone in order to sort them out, “I gotta sort this out! It’s getting in the way of my meditation!” No need to apply any opponents to our delusions just yet. We just relax back to some peace, however slight, and the rest of our meditation can take place in the space of a basically peaceful mind. Identifying with the peace, we can then apply the opponents later.

How do I meditate to get some feeling?

Someone who has been meditating for a long time but not enjoying it as much as she might asked me the other day how to meditate to get some feeling. This is what I suggested.

We need to start where we are, with our own experience, not pushing for a result that is somewhere outside of us. Start by getting into your heart and simply imagining there is some peace there. Find an inroad into that peace by connecting to a thought of gratitude and love that comes relatively easily to you, that works for you — like the last time you saw your dog, or the appreciation you feel for a friend. Then understand that the peace is your own Buddha nature, it is you, it is Dharma, and it is also not different to the peace of your Spiritual Guide, Buddha. Basking in the feeling of faith increases the peace even more, and on that basis you can spread out the feeling of gratitude or the feeling of love to more people, bringing them into its orbit.

IMG_7957
Foster kitten works for me.

Only once you have relaxed in this way, feeling in your heart the confidence that arises from your own experience, start your actual meditation.

If you like, while abiding in that space of refuge, do some blessed prayers as a way to purify the mind, increase your good karma, and receive even more inspiration for the meditation you want to do. It can help focus the mind too if you briefly generate the object of meditation before the prayers, and then recite the prayers with the implicit request to deepen and stabilize that particular realization.

I think this is where we need to start if we are not to be overwhelmed by appearances/distractions or identified with delusions and pain. There is more meditation advice along these lines here.

Our mind is on our side

Always remember: Your mind is on your side. Happiness arises naturally by letting go and abiding. We don’t have to force happy thoughts back into our head or push our mind for an experience of peace; we just need to let go of the thoughts that are shaking our mind.Digital Camera Exif JPEG

Imagine getting out of a perfectly functioning Ferrari to push it along the highway. Crazy, right? But no crazier than trying to push your mind when it is already perfectly capable of moving itself.

So, in summary, we don’t identify with ourselves as being blocked, negative, not able to meditate. That’s wasted time. Our mind is on our side, and even the slightest peace indicates its nature and potential for lasting peace, indeed permanent bliss. So it indicates our unbelievable potential, our Buddha nature. We can always go back to basics and identify with our Buddha nature. If we connect to our potential, we can feel that we are fortunate, and our peace will increase. If we allow ourselves to just relax into the nature of our mind, sooner or later this peace expands, takes on a life of its own, is pervaded by blessings; and we will feel that we can meditate on anything.

More about our Buddha nature and acceptance in the next article. Meanwhile, your comments and shared experience of overcoming obstacles in meditation are very appreciated.

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