Ground Control to Major…

In light of the heightened psychological stress that many of us are experiencing in the current pandemic, and now going into the winter holidays with condensed family time helping to ‘stir the pot’, the good news is that the Buddhist wisdom tradition has literally an unlimited amount of upāya (‘skillful means’ in Sanskrit) to offer us. 

Starting with the acknowledgment that all thoughts and emotions arise out of our own mind, challenging times can be an opportunity to wake us up. That is, so long as we can maintain recognition that our reactions are coming from our own mind! In the midst of emotional upheaval, this is no doubt a difficult task, but no matter how dark our world may seem, our situation is always workable. Throughout our infinite variations of worlds, we all share in this same predicament.  

Buddhist wisdom, or dharma, teaches that the quality of the mind that can tune in, to be aware – is unborn. It is actually innate and can not be created or destroyed. This intrinsic wakefulness is also our greatest treasure, for it holds the potential of complete freedom from suffering. In Sanskrit, this organic basic goodness often referred to as Buddha Nature, is called Sugatagarbha; ‘garbha‘ translates as embryo or seed, ‘Su‘ as excellent complete bliss, and ‘gata’ as gone. 

So, if we are already basically good, then why do we consistently end up in struggle? Why do we continually find ourselves battling it out amidst an aggressive environment – feeling aggressed over and over again?  

Woman in Lhasa

Creating the Dualistic World of Saṃsāra

This is because we don’t recognize what we already have, what we already are. Instead, a thick numb film coates our awareness and we are absorbed into our thoughts, emotions, concepts, and projections – habitually holding onto these ever so tightly as we regard them as supremely solid, fixed, and real. Thus, we reactively subscribe to a dualistic world of self and other, a world in which we suffer (Saṃsāra in Sanskrit).  

Formal Practice as a Support

This is where formal meditation practice comes in ~

It is impossible to take an addict who has been addicted for endless lifetimes, place him or her in a room full of drugs, and expect the addict to miraculously overcome their addictions. This will just not work and it is exactly the same with our predicament. Creating the right atmosphere for our mind to settle plays a huge role in orienting ourselves towards sanity. We simply can not do this in the throws of passion & aggression, hope & fear, at least not until a degree of mindfulness has stabilized.  

Samye Prayer flags
Samye Prayer Flags

‘Renunciation’ as Taking Delight in Virtue

Discipline & renunciation are trigger words in our culture. They sound harsh and rather like polar opposites of peace & compassion. We want to steer far away from these when stressed & exhausted. But coming from the perspective of the Buddhist tradition, engaging in true discipline & renunciation starts by taking delight in wakefulness and formal meditation practice, by knowing that our practice will ultimately be a cause which creates the conditions for sanity to manifest in our lives as well as in the lives of others. 

One may fear that by taking time and space for oneself that this is a selfish gesture, entertaining that they may become a ‘dry’ meditator; emotionally rigid, dull, and grasping at solitude – avoiding noise, chaos, and activity at all costs. But this fear, like all other fears, is a distraction and could become an obstacle to one’s practice. Many great realized masters have emphasized that daily formal practice is indispensable, and that retreats are also necessary, to progress along the path of meditation.  

Unmasking the Layers of Self-deception

That being said, it should not be taken lightly how valuable 5 minutes of śamatha (Sanskrit for ‘calm-abiding’, aka mindfulness) meditation practice can be, or how rare the thought of wanting others to be happy and completely free from suffering is – amongst infinite thoughts & emotions, this one is said to be the most precious. These are tools which can help unmask our layers of self-deception by stripping away our self-centred numbness. These practices are tried, tested, and true. They work. There are realized beings among us, totally free, and they are handing this down to us as it has been handed down to them.

Green buds
Heart Buds in the Kathmandu Valley. Photo Credit: Henrik Kjær

5 Minutes of Touching Base

When we find ourselves in times of distress – in heated reactivity with our family, friends, partners, & ourselves – it is a good time to check in with our state of mind. Perhaps our experience is too intense to meditate for 5 minutes and we should go for a walk or exercise instead, but when we are able to create the habit of taking 5 minutes to touch-base, to be with our mind – this is a massive step when considering the infinite spectrum of our experience – for better or worse.

Just as an addict must retreat from the substances of their abuse in order to become sober, we must also extract ourselves from our triggers in order to cultivate sanity. Letting go of our phone, headphones, gossip, or argument to sit down and just be can inspire joy and delight within – and it should!

Harnessing the Storehouse of Energy Within

There is an immense storehouse of energy (karma) that has been built up by acting upon our dualistic fixations, and this is the fuel which spins the wheel of Saṃsāra. This energy is not going to disappear on its own. Instead, the Buddhist path outlines a skillful way where we can ride on this energy towards freedom, one step at a time. Sanity begins by making proper use of this energy, which is described as simple, down to earth, and quite an organic process. It is just the way things work – the way nature works.

For instructions on meditation practice and the Buddhist view in general, please check out our resource page here:

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