Learning From The Life You Have: Perspectives From A Buddhist Nun
As both a practitioner and teacher of yoga, I have learned to enjoy being in a state of peace and quiet. It’s like a warm bath for the mind or lying in the sun soaking up its warmth into the limbs of your body. We all need times in our life to simply be – where we feel some of the ups and downs of human existence have settled into a gentle purr. We could even see such times as akin to a basic state of meditation where the mind experiences peaceful stability.
How very nice.
But within that yogic path I have seen that the story does not end there – unless of course, you are able to walk around with a bath of warm water on your back, putting it down and disappearing into it whenever daily life throws you a curve ball! As the path of my life has unfolded (who ever knew THAT was going to happen or HE was going to turn up) I have begun to see that my yoga practice and Buddhist prayers have had a big impact on one thing: how I respond to the not so nice stuff, the comments I don’t like or the uninvited events.
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Dealing with Changing Circumstances
In Buddhist terms, this is the mental challenge of circumstances arising which could lead to a state of mental aversion; of not wanting things or people to be as they are. In daily life, as a Buddhist and a human, I have sometimes struggled with how to be skillful in such circumstances. What do I do when I see someone being unkind to a dog? Do I accept? Do I act? Can I have a conscience without expressing it through anger – pure acceptance of this yet-to-be-perfect world that often doesn’t feel either kind or wise?
Perhaps you too have faced this dilemma and reflected on choosing the best way.
I am not going to tell you what to do. I am simply going to share that, in my life, I have found the areas of difficulty which I struggled with and wished not to be there, in the beginning, have been the ones which have made me learn and change and expand. If I have developed any kindness or wisdom it has come from situations which have challenged my thinking and many of these have been in situations I felt I did not want or with people I found tough to communicate with. Situations, to be honest, I would rather not be in and when I would have happily called in the warm bath.
I have read many times in various spiritual traditions that it is our ‘enemies’ that we learned most from, our toughest situations which are our true teachers but it took a long time for me to really grasp this. A long time of repeated patterns of reaction which I began to realize I did really want to change and it was the sense of groundhog day at my own repeated difficulties which gave me the determination to develop the attitude of ‘enough is enough – this method is not bringing me happiness – I need to try something different’.
This change in basic approach was important – after that, I started to look at all moments and situations as fertile soil and practiced not pushing some of them aside. I opened to them – yes it surprised me too! In doing so I found myself experiencing a profound sense of mental freedom. I realized that situations I had sought to push aside or dislike or avoid had one thing in common – they made me feel unhappy. EVEN if I had every right to be annoyed – yes even if I had RIGHT on my side. In the end, I was left disgruntled and unhappy at the event or person or comment. My reaction had played a part in why I felt so disgruntled.
So could it work to take a different approach? Was it even possible? If you too want to see if something else is possible – here are my pieces of advice:
Choose an area in your life which you feel negative about. Not a huge thing but a small or medium-sized thing. It’s important to choose wisely; a bit like parents often say: you have to pick your battles.
Now stand back from it in your mind and think how you would see it if instead of concentrating on how much you dislike it think that this situation is fertile ground; that you can really learn something from it. So then ask yourself what could you learn from it?
3. Active insight
Finding there is something to learn could be enough to keep you aware that you do have a choice in terms of how to act or think or speak. You don’t have to repeat a past pattern which led to you feeling rubbish later.
4. You are in control
For me, I found that my state of happiness is more in my own hands than I had thought and that gave me a new kind of courage – something stronger and wiser than anger.
This in term made me realize I could be calm or kind in situations where I had not thought it possible and that felt really good. You might be surprised to hear me not recommending meditation at such times but I feel this more conscious and scientific approach often works best when experiencing what to do with a state of aversion. Sometimes if there is a habit there meditating can be a definite cold shower rather than a peaceful warm bath when we are moving forwards as whole human beings.
What is of great benefit throughout this process of change is developing the steadfast wish that ALL beings be free of the activities which cause them to act in ways far from their highest self. Developing and strengthening this underlying attitude can be done at all times and forms the basis for a mind which can begin to be less in a state of wanting or not-wanting towards many other beings. Developing this attitude as a daily practice is definitely recommended. So the next time a curveball (new or repeated) comes your way duck and watch it fly into the pond. Don’t rush to save it. Use these tools and let it sink right to the bottom. You never know perhaps, above the spot of the sinking, a lotus flower may be starting to bloom.
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