People of ancient times
Found ways to be free,
Of the prisons we create for ourselves
all within our minds.
How can we cherish the most precious gift,
Of the teachings and methods they’ve left behind?
People of ancient times
Found ways to be free,
Of the prisons we create for ourselves
all within our minds.
How can we cherish the most precious gift,
Of the teachings and methods they’ve left behind?
It’s very likely that we are addicted to something–but unaware of it. The human condition is ruled by addiction, actually, as most of our actions are guided by the momentum of our habits and attachments. We gravitate towards what we like; we avoid what we dislike. We seek comfort in the sensations and activities that can help us escape our troubles. Without knowing it, we are controlled by our habits and deeply rooted views.
When we are stressed, tense, or just bored, we look for stimulation–a way to excite ourselves and/or a means to release. We may watch TV, listen to music, surf the internet, read the news, socialize over some tea or food, go to a game, play a sport, or engage in art, watch a play or act out our own mini-theatre with friends.
Some of these activities are wholesome and necessary for a healthy life. After all, most people need some kind of stimulation, otherwise they’d become depressed. Some of these activities can be meditative, and help us develop wholesome qualities of mind such as concentration, clarity, and the ability to be creative and express one’s self–such as with painting, for example. However, some activities are toxic, and lead to mental and physical torpor, or agitation. For example, aimlessly surfing the internet and watching all kinds of violent, sexually explicit, or prejudiced material that fills our mind with pollutants–fueling the momentum of craving.
Regardless of the kind of activity we engage in, if we are habitually pulled towards it, seeking solitude in it, and find ourselves angry or frustrated if we cannot engage in it, then that is to some degree addiction.
However, even what we call “dedication” to a wholesome altruistic cause, profession, or craft can be a form of addiction. For instance, we work for charity and serve society, yet we’ve gotten caught up in it, and forget about taking care of ourselves or our family. We have raised thousands of dollars in funds, but our own house is a mess and our health has deteriorated. In another instance, we are a very skilled artisan or musician, and have mastered our craft, yet our emotional relationships suffer because we have ignored the people closest to us. Our family members wonder if we still love them.
Despite the virtue of concentration and dedication to our work, there is also an aspect of addiction that goes along with it. We can’t stop that activity. Our force of habit, liking, or absorption in something has taken over, and that prevents us from taking care of our other responsibilities. Our dedication to one thing has made us blind to the other people, things, and conditions that need our care and attention.
It is especially difficult to become aware of our addictions if they correspond to a wholesome activity. The activity itself–doing good–and the positive feedback we receive from others–praise and recognition–masks the fact that we are becoming attached and drowning in that activity.
So even though we don’t call our activities “addictions,” in most cases, craving is a major force behind our behavior. And what follows along with craving is aversion, naturally. When we are not permitted to engage in our activity, the object of our enjoyment or dedication, we become frustrated. This is our human condition–attachment.
In our own lives, can we see how this plays out? Are there activities–wholesome or unwholesome–that have become our addictions? Are these habits interfering with our health and well-being? Are we attached?
First we recognize that we have some form of addiction, whether it be a strong attachment to unwholesome stimuli or even a wholesome activity that we’ve become absorbed into. We can take steps to discipline ourselves and limit such activity–or stop engaging in the activity altogether. Another technique is to replace the detrimental stimuli with a more wholesome behavior, like chewing gum instead of smoking or listening to calming music instead of binge eating. These can be helpful, but are merely supplemental methods. Our discipline or alternative habit may not be strong enough to overcome the force of craving.
What’s essential is to first develop mental stability and clarity in general. In our habitual state of mind–one that’s pushed and pulled by craving and aversion–we’re often not very clear about the process of craving. We just go along with it and are absorbed into the addiction. At best we may have some awareness of the sense of craving, but then we get bulldozed by its momentum. We’re not so aware of the condition of our body or process of our thoughts and the patterns that lay underneath the flow of addictive thoughts.
With stability and clarity, we begin to see the causes of craving and addiction.
One thing we discover when we are more stable and clear is how tense the body is. Why is the body so tense? It may be partly due to poor habit of posture or overuse of a certain muscle group, yet most tension is due to mental agitation. Because the mind is scattered and anxious, the body is tense. What we’d normally do to relieve the tension is look for stimuli to release it. With awareness of tension, we can then relax physically and mentally. Relaxation alone minimizes the momentum of seeking release through external stimuli, since relaxation itself is the most direct way to release! This is the start of getting at the cause of addictive behavior–with awareness, we deal with these causes directly.
Another insight we can have about the source of our cravings is the problem of our self-image. Even if we have a confident sense of self, and believe we are good, hard-working people, we’ll surely encounter attacks to that image. When we think we’ve failed or done something wrong–and especially when we are criticized by others–this self-image comes under attack. The image in our mind may be conflicting with the new idea that something is wrong with our behavior. This contradiction of self-image is a fundamental source of mental dis-ease and feeling of lack.
Another example is when, due to a rough childhood and broken home, we may have grown up feeling unloved, and un-worthy of being loved. The desire to be loved and cared for, and the feeling that we are still lacking that, combined with the conflicting view of an unworthy self may cause us to seek comfort in sensations. If we feel unloved, uncomforted, sometimes absorbing ourselves in stimulation can temporarily fill the sense of lack.
In any case, the reason we gravitate towards our cravings is that there is a sense of discontentment–a dis-ease due to the conflict of self-image and our attachment to it. This is a root cause of addiction. This attachment and resulting sense of lack may be lurking in our mind unnoticed. It’s not a comfortable state of mind to be in, and so to avoid the bombardment of self-depreciating thoughts, we medicate ourselves with addictive habits.
Yet, through meditation and developing our self-awareness, if we can recognize this process of attachment and see through the problem of clinging to a self-image, we can begin the process of releasing the mind from that cyclic and destructive pattern. In addition, if we can see the flaw in trying to fill that sense of lack, and that essentially it’s not possible to fill with sensations or any activity–and that to rely on love from others is not completely fail safe either– we have a chance to escape the cycle of addiction.
What’s key is to have the right approach to meditation which allows us to have these penetrating insights.
Meditation, preferably seated meditation, is the most efficient tool for developing mental stability and clarity. Sitting still, the movements of our body and mind become more obvious. Amidst activity it is initially harder to be clearly aware of our feelings, thoughts, and intentions–like finding it difficult to hear someone speak on a busy street corner. Sitting still, not moving our body, speech, or thinking, the subtle movements of distracted thought and afflictive emotion become as obvious as a trumpet playing in a library. Sitting still and applying a method of meditation designed for calming the body and mind, we become more stable, relaxed, and settled. In this calmness, our condition becomes clearer.
Meditation develops two kinds of power. One “power” is the calm and peace we find in meditation that provide us with a sense of contentment and joy. This joy surpasses the joy of stimulation, since the mind in meditation is gradually calmed as opposed to excited. The joy of calmness is longer-lasting and greater than the short-lived agitated joy of entertainment. Sometimes this may be enough to help us turn away from addiction and turn towards discipline and balanced living.
The second kind of “power” is the clarity that meditation brings. This clarity is not just a sharpness or alertness of mind, rather it’s the ability to see our condition clearly. We are very clear how our behavior affects our body-mind, other people, and the environment. We become clear of our underlying psychological issues, and how they revolve around the problem of our attachment to self-image. With this clarity we can learn to let go of attachment to it and find genuine release and contentment.
Clarity also helps us to have more accurate judgments, where we choose our actions more wisely. We can clearly see that our addictions cause disruption in our minds, disruption in our daily life, and we choose to avoid addictive behavior. We are clear that when we regulate our activities in a balanced way, that our minds are clear–and everything in life falls into place. Or better yet, we can say that whatever happens in our life, we have the clarity to adapt in a skillful way. If we lose our job, we see the opportunity to go in a new direction, learn new things–instead of resorting to sedation in addictive behavior.
Overall, our behavior is less affected by the conflicting self-image and more considerate of others and the entire situation at hand. We become less reactive and protective of our self-image and the things we like, and we become more giving and able to sacrifice things.
The way to escape addiction is not easy, as our habits are deep. Yet, as long as we have the right perspective and methods, we can dissolve these habits–we just have to persist. Therefore, release from craving requires determination. Determination means that we continue to practice no matter what. We make mistakes, recognize them, then return to our method. With continuous practice, the force of addiction weakens and our skillful behavior increases.
This takes practice and guidance.
c) 2016 David Listen – Life Mentor
One of our biggest obstacles to contentment is that we don’t believe it’s possible… at least not yet, not now.
We are so accustomed to thinking that we can be happy only if certain conditions are fulfilled. We believe we can be happy, but only when we have a stable job, a partner, or our own house, for example. We think we’ll be content only when we achieve our goals, do what we’ve always wanted to do, travel to certain places, experience certain things. Contentment is a dream of the future.
Then when we fulfill that condition, does it really bring about fulfillment? Probably not. Then, we go on to the next thing. We conjure up another goal that we expect will bring contentment. We continue to look to the future for happiness. “When I can finally retire, and just take it easy–then I’ll be happy,” we think.
And by the time we retire, we’ll be too old and weak to engage in the activities that bring us enjoyment. Then what? Will we look towards the next generation? Will we expect that other’s happiness will bring us fulfillment? We imagine that when our grandkids are enjoying their lives, we’ll feel happy too.
With this kind of attitude, we condition ourselves to look towards external things for happiness. This lifetime habit is incredibly strong.
At the root of this attitude is view of the lasting quality of our self and these objects that we seek. We have the idea that our careers, families, loved ones, emotional feelings, and even health are enduring, so we invest a lot of energy in acquiring and maintaining them. Even though in the back of our mind we know they are impermanent, they seem so real and stable. Only when there’s a shock, when one of these things changes or disappears, do we sense their impermanence.
By that time, we’ve already invested so much energy that it’s just too hard to let go of. It’s almost impossible to believe that we can be content at any moment. We are still caught in the idea that we can find something outside of us to rely on. If we lose one thing, if a loved one dies, then we can at least find another person to fulfill our emotional void.
So when someone tells us that, “The less you seek, the more content you’ll be,” or that contentment is in the present moment, we probably won’t believe them. Even if we do agree, something guttural within us says, “It’s not possible.”
For the fortunate people, they experience the jolt of suddenly dropping their seeking, and tasting a moment of contentment. For a brief period of time, all the expectation of happiness in the future falls away, and the mind experiences a degree of peace and clarity. With that comes a natural joy, not based on anything conditioned.
Maybe they realized this by laying down on the grass under the spring sunshine, just wanting to take a rest, and suddenly all their cares dropped away. Or someone asks them, “Why can’t you just be happy now?” and they drop all their anxieties. Or they just started walking very carefully, very mindfully, and found that walking down the street –even a busy noisy street–can be a most wonderful experience.
For these people, they were ready for such an experience. They probably were already cultivating a certain degree of mindfulness in daily life, developing self-awareness, or questioning their attitudes towards life. They were open to such an insight. They were willing to drop their seeking for contentment in the future.
Now the question is, are we willing to accept that contentment is possible right now? If you just stop seeking for a moment, relax yourself, breathe, and let your cares drop away, what is left? Not waiting for something to happen, what is your experience at this very moment? Even if the mind is filled with a flurry of thoughts and emotions, can you be content with whatever conditions face you?
The answer is yes, of course. Happiness is right here. Whether or not we can believe it, apply it, and maintain this experience is another thing.
But that’s what life practice is all about.
After a winter of spending most of our days indoors, we may feel isolated. Along with the sense of isolation could be a physical sense of lethargy. Our body feels weak and our mind feels cloudy. Due to this physical and mental isolation, we may develop a mild depression.
What is a good method to deal with this condition?
Regardless of the weather, it’s good to get out. Even if we have nothing to do, we can just go outside and take a walk. Walk for an hour or more. Relax physically and mentally, and walk at an easy-going pace.
Open up the senses. Take in fully whatever is seen, heard, or felt. There’s no need to think about what we experience. Just stay present with whatever is at hand, and don’t add any commentary. Be like a walking mirror, or better yet, a globe-shaped mirror–that’s transparent. Yet, resist the temptation to look here and there in a distracted manner. Just relax the eyes and either look downward at the path you’re walking, or just look ahead in the general forward direction.
Let everything flow without interfering with it. This means to be aware of things without grasping on to or rejecting them. Our mind naturally reflects things as they appear.
Opening up to the world in this way, we open up ourselves and reconnect. Our mind opens up to experience, and we sense a true relationship with our surroundings. Our body opens up and receives fresh air and is energized by the movement of walking. We become enlivened by the simple act of walking mindfully, walking with full awareness.
Afterwards, go and have some tea. Have a chat with a stranger.
At every moment is the chance to share the joy of life with oneself or others. It depends merely on our openness of mind.
Sometimes we find ourselves faced with unfortunate conditions–and we don’t like it. It’s possible that we feel that the environment around us brings trouble, or that the people around us cause discomfort. Not only is it difficult to bear, but we often find it difficult to even accept such treatment. We feel it’s unfair.
Considering our behavior throughout our life, we think, “I haven’t done anything horrible enough to deserve this. How could this happen to me? I’m a good person.” It just doesn’t seem to make sense that we should be the bearers of such misfortune.
Or, when we relate to people, we often receive negative feedback–seemingly unprovoked maliciousness. When talking to people about a certain issue, they very quickly become irritated with us and end up giving us seemingly poor treatment. For example, when dealing with the cashiers at stores’ return registers, we often end up getting into arguments. Or when we have conversations with our friends or coworkers, they are easily be agitated by us.
It’s difficult for us to see the reason behind such responses, and often wonder, “What have I done to deserve such treatment? Is there a black cloud floating over my head?”
Although there’s no cloud over our heads or mischievous shadow following us, it’s possible that we are severely lacking in self-awareness. Because of that, the shadow of vexations follows us.
With a lack of self-awareness, if our behavior is problematic we won’t know it. We won’t notice the way we speak, the way we move, and are surely unaware of the movement of our thoughts and emotions. Although, we sometimes notice that we don’t feel good.
What we don’t notice is that for the most part, our concerns are largely focused on ourselves. We are self-centered and our motivations derive from pleasing ourselves or avoiding discomfort. Because of this, we unknowingly disregard others. We don’t think of others’ benefit, and we don’t notice how our behavior may irritate others.
When our self-centered thought patterns are the main force in our life, and when we encounter something adverse to our desires, our emotions will erupt. We will become agitated when encountering obstacles. This agitation then manifests in all our actions of thought, speech, and movement, making us and the people around us suffer. After all, who enjoys dealing with the picky customer who always complains and makes special requests at the register? If we are that customer, we may not notice ourselves that our pickyness is a source of suffering–it’s very hard for us to feel satisfied. There’s always something wrong.
After many years of acting out self-centeredness, we become well-trained. We become conditioned to respond very quickly in a manner to protect our interests and seek to quickly fulfill our desires. Our very appearance emits this kind of attitude, and people sense it.
Is it any wonder that we receive negative feedback from others? If we are very picky and not easily satisfied, is it any wonder that our perception of the world is that others are out to give us trouble? Nothing is good enough for us, no response from others is pleasing enough, so then it seems that others responses are unpleasant. Externally and internally, we bear a burden of uncomfortable situations.
This is our lot.
It’s useless to fight or complain. The only thing we can do is accept it. We accept that people may be irritated with us, and that we often irritate ourselves. We accept that it’s our own behavior that has led to this current situation. Whether we are aware of it or not, our own deeds have led to the current situations we face. Like sending out a message, we’ll receive a response eventually. Even if we don’t see the response, we’ve gotten one. Our actions have their results.
Part of Life Practice is to develop self-awareness: the ability to directly know the condition of our body and mind. We cultivate a clear knowing of our physical state, feelings, thoughts, and intentions. We may even come to know the powerful motivating energy behind our habits; we can sense the push to act in a certain way. Developing this self-awareness, we then come to know the causes of our troubles.
Once we see the causes clearly, we see how our current condition is related closely to our past actions. We become more accepting of our lot, and we see the need to change our troublesome behavior. We make use of tools to improve the stability and clarity of our mind, and improve the condition of our lifestyle.
Life Practice provides these tools, including sitting meditation, journaling, daily life mindfulness techniques, and one-to-one mentoring.
With the proper adjustments, we’ll be able to transform our self-centered habits into more altruistic ones. We’ll find that we become more compassionate and considerate for others, and our interactions become more friendly, peaceful, and enjoyable. Instead of creating an atmosphere of irritability, we give others a sense of peace and joy. As our self-centeredness decreases, we experience greater satisfaction and ease with our life direction and current situation.
In our daily lives, we have a lot of things to do, and we have a lot of distractions.
We know what we should be doing, but very quickly we forget, as distractions can be so enchanting. We often end up unaware of what we’re doing, and we completely forget about what we should have been doing. This is forgetfulness.
You may have already lost your attentiveness, and have to read the above paragraph again. That’s fine. Read it again.
Forgetfulness is not a problem with our memory necessarily; it’s a problem due to our lack of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware of the activity at hand, without distraction. Distractions are our meandering thoughts, or more clearly stated, distraction is when our awareness is caught up in sensory stimulation and dream-like thinking. When we are distracted, we are unaware of it.
Mindfulness is cultivating an awareness of what’s happening, including our distractions. We become aware of what’s distracting us, and we return to the present moment–the present activity.
With mindfulness practice, we learn to sit, walk, stand, move, eat, sleep, work, and talk with full awareness. On a deeper level, mindfulness includes the awareness of how we attach to thoughts and feelings as real external objects and as a real self. We become aware of how we cling to everything and how that causes suffering. When we let go of clinging, we find peace and full awareness, unclouded by distracting thoughts.
Knowing this conceptually is not so difficult. Applying it is a little bit harder, and takes time to get accustomed to. What’s most difficult is remembering to practice mindfulness. Our habit of forgetfulness can be so strong that we may go through a whole day without being mindful even once. Even if we really want to practice, we still forget. This can be frustrating and disheartening.
What should we do to remember to practice? We remind ourselves! There are many different methods to remind ourselves to be mindful, and we can be creative in doing so. With help from these external reminders, we can develop the internal practice.
In time, our mindfulness becomes so strong, that we quickly recognize distraction and remember to return to our method.
A mentor serves as a living reminder to be mindful, and can help you to design your own lifestyle of practice, suitable for your individual situation. They reflect your own distractions at you, and help you strengthen your own ability to be aware.
Feel free to contact me for more info about participating in my mentoring program, and engaging in Life Practice.
We all have “blind spots”, often troublesome aspects about about our character that we do not see.
Our habits of reacting to situations are so deeply ingrained, and they manifest so quickly, that we don’t even notice them. Of course, then we wouldn’t notice if they are troublesome or not.
For example, we may have such a strong opinion, that we very quickly negate someone else’s ideas. “No way, that’s not possible.” Unknowingly, we close our own mind to possibility, and close out communication with others.
Sometimes it takes another person pointing out our blind spots for us to even notice. Such a good friend with a clear mind is a wonderful support for our own practice, yet we cannot depend on them. They won’t be there to remind us all the time, and they cannot see our most subtle blind spots.
So it’s essential that we have a method of introspection that’s suitable for our character, which allows us to turn the mirror towards these blind spots.
Only then can we take steps to resolve our problems, and see clearly.