The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about uncertainty and upheaval in our daily lives. Further, this is only the first of such crises that we will have to face in the near future. However, there is a way to maintain physical and mental balance through it all. By adopting a realistic perspective of the situation, we can think in a healthy and productive way. By having the right attitude, we can develop a balanced emotional state. By utilizing concrete methods of mindful self-awareness, we can have the capacity to adjust our perspective and attitude and respond to crises skillfully and compassionately. The following blog post presents my own approach to dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, based on the timeless wisdom of the Buddha.
Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been instructed to stay at home to prevent further spread of the virus. Here in New York City, it’s been a little over one week, and many people have become acutely stressed over dealing with the sudden changes. Some are adapting to the complications of working at home, while simultaneously helping their children adjust to daily life as schools are closed. Others need to assist family members with managing their anxiety, as people with already-existing mental health issues are more deeply shaken by the upheaval. Many people are fearful about the possibility of lack of resources, and are feverishly stocking up on food, in addition to worrying about the health risks of transmitting the virus. Some have been laid off altogether and are facing a complete financial crisis. What can we do to help ourselves deal with these challenges with peace of mind?
We can create peace of mind by addressing three aspects: 1) perspective, 2) attitude, and 3) practical methods. Perspective refers to our conceptual view of the situation—not only including the pandemic but our life in general—especially how we look at our mortality. Attitude is how we face the pains and vicissitudes of life, and mostly refers to the underlying emotional pattern of response to immediate stimuli. Practical methods are the concrete ways in which we implement our perspective, ease our emotions, and behave in response to the situation.
When things are going well, everything seems to be the “same as usual.” We have our jobs, our relationships, our wealth, and our health. Without noticing it, we adopt a perspective that makes things seem permanent. The seeming stability of daily life and of our own personality gives us an impression that our “self” and “my world” is constant and unchanging. Only when there are major changes like a death in the family, a loss of career, or a sudden break up of a relationship do we notice the fragility and impermanence of everything. The pandemic is a period where obvious and drastic changes occur that disrupt our sense of stability. During these times of sweeping change we are taken off guard, shocked, and emotionally unsettled. It’s hard to face the reality of change and we attempt to hold on to everything for dear life—and end up panicking and hoarding supplies (toilet paper strangely being among one of those “essential” items for daily living). We can easily forget our neighbors and think mostly of ourselves and those that we feel are important to us. We fight for resources and conflicts occur between people. This creates internal and external turmoil.
There is an option to this perspective and self-centered behavior: the perspective of impermanence. If we always keep in mind that everything is changing, not stable, and ultimately will pass away—or recycle into something else—we’ll be prepared at every moment for the reality of impermanence. If we observe change in the little facets of our daily life—our body’s gradual maturation or aging, our developing personality, our increase of knowledge or decrease of memory, the coming together and departing of our daily interpersonal interactions, and the rise and fall of our thoughts and feelings—we’ll be ready for anything. We are ready already. We accept the reality of impermanence and without panic or fear, do what needs to be done. A situation like a pandemic is then perceived as a normal result of the change that occurs when populations and human activities develop in an unstable way. We know that illness and death are part of life, while striving to protect life and improve the health and well-being of our self and others. With the view of everything—great and small—as impermanent and subject to being influenced by the conditions around it, we develop a clear and cool mind which is without fear.
Based on this perspective, we see the importance of needing to respond appropriately to crisis. During the pandemic, we don’t become apathetic, thinking, “Oh we’re all gonna die anyway… life’s impermanent… enjoy what you can while it lasts.” Rather, we learn about what’s happening, how to protect ourselves and others, and are careful about not spreading illness. We limit our social engagements, keep a distance, wash our hands often and avoid touching our eyes, nose, or mouth, etc. We responsibly yet calmly deal with the situation. And with this outlook, we’ll be more aware of when our thinking and behavior is either helpful or hurtful. We need to plan and act; we don’t need to worry and drown in fear. After we take action, we accept the results. If our original plan didn’t work, we make adjustments. However, worrying and then mindlessly looking for things to bring us security doesn’t help. “What if this happens… what if that happens… what would we do if…. It will be terrible… it’s the end of the world!” This kind of thinking is useless and harmful. It can spread faster and be more fatal than viruses. The last thing we want during a health crisis is more of us in the hospital due to fear and anxiety. If we adjust our perspective, we’ll be able to adjust our thinking, and our emotions will stabilize as well. We’ll become clear, calm, rational, and efficient in responding to our challenges.
No one likes pain or discomfort–well, at least not many people. It’s more accurate to say no one likes to feel something that they don’t want to feel. If we want to feel healthy and we are sick, we suffer. If we want to feel warm and we are cold, we suffer. If we want feel relief by purchasing that last item in the market and someone else grabbed it first, we’ll suffer. If we want to feel secure knowing that we will have our jobs tomorrow, yet we are not sure and feel anxious, we suffer. In this time of pandemic, many of us are facing the uncertainty of what life will be like tomorrow. The pain of losing a job and dealing with the resulting lack of financial stability is certainly not easy to deal with. Previously having a pantry full of food, and suddenly, having empty shelves and growling stomachs is not pleasant. Habitually, we often resist, worry, or complain about our hardships and feelings. We become angry, afraid, or even apathetic when we are faced with hardship. We arouse our animal responses of fight, flight, or freeze. These responses have less to do with rational thinking and more to do with our perceptions of danger, pleasure or pain, like and dislike, seeking and avoiding. These responses disturb our emotions and cause us to respond hastily and unskillfully. Emotional reaction is the foundation of chaos.
How do we avoid reacting emotionally? How do we not get caught in fear and anxiety? It’s important to remind ourselves that resisting discomfort doesn’t help. When we resist what is unpleasant, we add another layer of tension and dis-ease on top of it. We add a stratum of emotional thinking which clouds our mind and disturbs our body. If we remind ourselves to drop our resistance, we relieve ourselves of that extra layer of suffering. Seeking for something out of reach is the same. We often seek emotionally for that which we can’t have. We want this situation to be over already, and add a layer of obsessive thinking which also clouds our minds and is a burden to our body. If we remind ourselves that seeking obsessively is harmful, we have the awareness to drop it. We likewise relieve ourselves of the “seeking mind” which is not a healthy intention, but a burdensome emotionally-bound way of thinking. If we can remind ourselves to be aware of and to let go of these two extremes of emotional response, we’ll be able to accept the reality of the situation. We’ll be able to utilize our realistic perspective mentioned above to deal with the situation properly, with emotional ease. Thus, attitude and perspective are intertwined; our rational and emotional aspects of mind—perception and feeling, respectively—are bound together.
Yet, in order to be successful in adjusting our perspective and attitude, we need to be keenly aware of our thoughts and feelings. To be aware, doesn’t mean simply having an idea, “Oh, I know how I feel… I know what I’m thinking,” and merely reflecting on our thoughts and feelings in the past or future. To be aware means to be fully mindful, or conscious of, the workings of our body-mind in this present moment. To have such a moment-to-moment awareness requires training for most people. Although we are conscious beings—and always aware to some extent—much of the time our awareness is distracted and clouded by our patterns of absent-mindedness. We often lose awareness and are only partially conscious of what’s happening within and without. Our minds are clouded like dusty or dirty mirrors; what’s reflected in them is not accurate.
The means for us to develop our capacity for mindfulness are manifold. Some methods focus more on stabilizing the emotions and others emphasize seeing into the nature of our experience. To be accurate, those approaches for stilling mental distractedness are described as “calming” methods. Those which function to help one have a penetrating insight into our human condition are described as “insight” methods. This article is by no means the proper way to introduce these approaches in great detail, as that requires a book or even volumes. Better yet, direct instruction from a qualified mentor or teacher is ideal. But here, I will share one Buddhist mindfulness approach which develops both calming and insight, and can help us deal with adversity in a thoroughgoing manner.
A very direct and powerful way to calm and clear our body-mind is through sitting meditation. In the Zen tradition, there is method called “just mind sitting” (in the Chan tradition, it’s called “silent reflection.”) It is a simple yet profound way to practice. Simply put, “just mind sitting” is where we sit still and lay all of our mental and physical burdens to rest. We don’t think about anything and we don’t do anything. However, thoughts still come and go, and impulses to act also come and go. Emotions rise and fall due to habit and our unaware reactive patterns of thought. We still hear, see, and feel, yet we simply sit and observe it all happening. Although we are not actively doing something—as with some meditation methods that require the practitioner to reflect on some topic, silently recite a word, or visualize some image—“just mind sitting” does away with all kinds of mental busy-ness and allows the thinking mind to settle and become silent. It’s analogous to when we put a cup filled with dirty water down on the table, in time the sediment will naturally settle to the bottom, and the water will be clear. With “just mind sitting” we just sit, yet we should be clearly aware that we are sitting. We must have a sharp awareness that our body is there, poised upright, relaxed, and stable. Our attitude must also be relaxed, not resisting or seeking anything, while fully alert. Otherwise, if we “just sit” without “minding” ourselves sitting, it’s likely that we’ll fall asleep or be in a mental haze—like looking off into fog.
You can try this method at home, by adopting an upright sitting posture (on a chair is fine) that allows you to balance yourself without using muscle to hold your body in place. Then, allow your muscles to relax fully, allowing the structure of your body to support itself. Relax mentally, drop all thinking and be simply aware of your body sitting. Don’t focus on your breath or certain parts. Just know your body is there. If you get distracted and realize that you’ve been daydreaming—lost in thought—then continue to know that you’re sitting. No worries, no problem. Most likely you’ll often drift away into mindless thinking. But again and again, return to the simple awareness of the act of sitting. In time, drifting thoughts will quiet down, and you’ll have a sharp and clear awareness of sitting. You may not even feel your body so much, but you’ll know that you’re there sitting, relaxed, and fully aware of what’s happening in and around you. At this time, you won’t be bothered by anything, yet fully alert and at ease. You feel at peace, while wakefully knowing what’s going on. This practice starts with sitting, but can be extended into all aspects of daily activity: walking, eating, cleaning, working, talking, having a meeting, or even dealing with an emergency.
With the foundation of a relaxed, stable, and clear mind, cultivated through “just mind sitting,” you’ll be both calm and insightful. Insight refers to the capacity to notice the problematic thinking patterns which interfere with your life. You’ll notice the emotional responses that disturb you and others. In the face of adversity, you’ll then be able to drop the unskillful thinking and responses and choose wise, healthy ways to think and behave. Regardless if you’re in a crisis such as this pandemic, or if it’s another “ordinary” day, you’ll be well prepared to deal with any challenge. This is not magic, and the results do not come to complete fruition overnight. It’s a practice, and you develop it over time. Yet as soon as you practice, you get results. The moment you are minding yourself sitting, walking, working, eating, talking, or any activity, in that moment you are emotionally calmer and mentally clearer. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes. You’ll eventually discover firsthand that self-centered obsessive thinking leads to a host of conflict, whereas societal concern and compassionate action can resolve the worst of crises.
Although the above approach is not a comprehensive means for how to deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a core practice for dealing wisely and compassionately with all crises—big or small. This is the “better way to be confined”: where we open ourselves to our capacity for mindful awareness and compassion, while confining ourselves to whatever space we must be in. In addition to this practice, we can supplement other means of staying healthy during this period of confinement, which I plan to share later.
I hope that this little blurb has been useful for you. If it has, please share it with others. May you have peace and ease of body and mind and bring that into your daily life through your presence and way of being.
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.
Addiction amidst Dedication
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.
Good, Bad–It’s all Attachment
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?
Stability and Clarity
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.
Tension and Relaxation
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.
Getting to the Root Cause
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.
In Stillness there is Power
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.
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.
View of Permanence
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.
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?”
What are we doing?
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.
Embracing our Situation
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.
We often hear that acceptance is what helps us face our lives with peace of mind. But what is genuine acceptance?
Well, firstly we should know what is false acceptance. False acceptance is understanding our lives through a filter of perceptions, and embracing it as such. This is when we use our internal commentator to describe and analyze our experiences, fit them into a neat box, regard them as fixed. “Oh, my situation is like this and that…my family is such-and-such, my mind is always like that… I always feel this way… this is just the way it is.”
With false acceptance we may feel a bit of relief because we are not struggling internally with our thoughts. Yet, in this way, we conform to a delusive view of life, based on a string of perceptions. We mistake these perceptions as ultimately real, representing the objective situation. We’re then trapped in a mode of thinking, and unable to see past it. We then lose sight of the reality of our present situation, and lack the clarity to make wise decisions.
With genuine acceptance, we see the delusive nature of our thoughts and ideas, and embrace the ever-changing, indescribable life of this present moment. We experience our lives fully, baldly, without the layers of commentary and mental fabrication. However, we do not have blank minds, and can make judgments and evaluations when necessary. Yet, with the immediate awareness of our condition at hand, we do not become trapped by views.
In this way, we accept that our real situation is unknowable and un-graspable by our intellect–and that’s fine. We can relax into the moment with a clear and reflective mind, flowing along with the conditions at hand.
There’s true joy and ease in this un-created, genuine acceptance.