Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning wheel…that could as equally be applied to the cold I have just now , as to the windmills of my mind. A never ending cycle of snot, fuelled by the never slowing pace of life. It’s wearisome indeed, and I look like I’ve punched in the nose by a villain wearing red paint-stained gloves.
On the plus side, it’s not man-flu:
And I’ve had the good fortune to have been able to spend the day doing absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Jack shit. I’ve not been over the door and have even had a respite from mothering for the day, which means I’ve spent most of it alone, in peace; reading a book and blowing my nose. On the negative side, I’ve not had anyone to look after me, which as a fully functioning grown up, I don’t really need, but it is nice. As are pointless pictures of cats:
Often we don’t know how much we need to slow down until we are forced to do so, usually by illness. This point was reinforced yesterday when I went to the Buddhist meditation workshop. It was not what I was expecting: first of all, it was more about listening to the teachings of the Buddhist nun with a few short bursts of mediation. And it was a packed room, full of all sorts of people, of all ages, social backgrounds and colour. In other words, not too many of them looked like the type of people who knit their own lentil shoes. Which of course is my own prejudice.
The teachings (or dharma) were really interesting. The nun was an intelligent, wise and funny speaker, who made it clear that the teachings were about helping us in our daily lives, not necessarily about becoming a Buddhist. No doubt, like me, you have seen countless memes on social media with wise quotations from the Buddha, or other spiritual leaders. We usually have at least one friend who posts them. They are nice, but for me, essentially meaningless tropes: I am one of those people who has to discover and understand things for myself. Soundbites on a picture of nature don’t mean much unless I have the wider context.
Slowing down to appreciate things and do less multi-tasking was one helpful theme. The essential point, as I understood it, is this: the mind is all powerful and the key to happiness and peace in our lives. It isn’t circumstances that make us unhappy, it’s our reaction to them (even if it’s to people who are genuinely complete arseholes). Yes, there are some circumstances that are undeniably crappy, but the key is how we respond to them. If we can bring clarity to our minds, we can control them. And how can we achieve clarity of mind of we are rushing about like maniacs, trying to do everything superfast with so many distraction and assaults on our senses?
Sounds simple and obvious, huh? Yet, it isn’t. Until we become more aware of our patterns of thinking and what pushes our buttons, it is difficult to change them. She referred to delusions of thinking, which in Buddhism, just means any uncontrolled or unpeaceful state of mind. Like getting wound up over an argument you had with someone ten years ago, or failures from a parent; even sexism in the Daily Mail, or getting messed up because all the people in the Spartan team are better than you. I am guilty of all of the above.
So how much do you want things that are beyond your control to wind you up? Anger, jealousy, and ignorance (thinking we know how other people think or feel) are all powerful delusions. We become convinced that our delusions are reality, and act on them, perpetuating that reaction in others. And the worst impact of all is on ourselves: it destroys our peace of mind and causes stress and anxiety.
There was so much sensible teaching there that chimed with me, but there is little point in a complete novice giving out a crash course in Buddhist theory. She did have some practical tips to avoid this craziness in our daily life. Her seven steps for overcoming your delusions before they grow into an unmanageable size, are worth sharing:
1. Remove the object. The object is the thing that is winding you up. If it’s something on TV switch it off. Do not look at the Daily Mail.
2. Remove yourself. If the object is a person, then it’s not a good idea to remove them. Murder is still illegal. Just walk away, or step away from that political debate on Facebook. It’s not worth it.
3. If you can’t do either of these, and you can’t immediately remove, be still like wood or stone. Take a minute to just breathe and let the emotion bounce off you.
4. Name the delusion aloud. This can be powerful either when are alone, or with others. Telling someone else you are just angry right now can really deflate a fight. Or telling yourself, before you tweet something you might regret.
5. Remember the consequences of when you acted on that impulse before. Chances are, it wasn’t a good outcome. Don’t repeat it.
6. Create an act that is better and more positive. I’m a bit vague on this one, as I was because simultaneously trying to scrabble for a notebook to write all this down and trying not to sneeze too violently. But I think it’s self-explanatory.
7. If all else fails, summon up love and compassion in the mind, as they are the ultimate antidote to all conflict. This applies to yourself, as much as it does to others. We know it’s easy to feel these for family and friends, but finding it for strangers, or acquaintances that generally annoy you is much harder. And sometimes it’s even harder to show that kindness to yourself.
Apologies if this seems like one of those annoying ‘list’ articles that fire out into the internet on a daily basis. Maybe this just sounds like a load of bullshit. Or maybe you can recognise ways of thinking that harm you and others around you. This is not about becoming one of those irritating people that don’t seem to care about anything. I know I am a fiery person that gets passionate about things. I don’t want to change that. But I do want to focus that and find a way to channel it more usefully, in a way that causes me less grief and stress.
This will all take a lot of practice. Serenity won’t necessarily help me climb over a muddy wall in the Spartan Race. But this race, like life, is mostly about attitude. There are other ways to overcome obstacles than to fight hard against them. This quotation is clearly not from the Buddha. But I like it anyway.
Until next time,