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Just a little problem

elephant scared of mouse

Why are we scared of something so insignificant?

A friend said to me today, ‘Self-cherishing is just a little problem.’ I gaped at her in amazement, thinking, ‘My self-cherishing is pretty huge, actually!’ But then I let myself accept her view. Self-cherishing is a small problem; it’s only our self-cherishing that makes us think it’s so large.

Let me explain: self-cherishing is our ordinary view that sees ourselves as important and neglects the happiness of others. Geshe-la says that we have never had a single moment of our lives without this mistaken view, and for us, it is almost as natural as breathing. That sounds pretty big, right? But only because we are thinking about ourselves.

When we occupy the centre of our thoughts, self-cherishing seems like an insurmountable problem, because when we are focused on ourself we are feeding into our self-cherishing. As soon as we stop thinking about ourselves and focus on others, self-cherishing is reduced to a little problem: it’s just one mistaken thought in the mind of just one person.

Image result for eight steps to happinessIt really is that simple: move the focus of your attention to other people, and the problem disappears. That only seems difficult from the point of view of our delusions; stop letting our self-cherishing tell us how hard it is and just get on with it.

Whatever you’re doing, just ask yourself, ‘Who am I doing this for?’ If you are eating, stop eating for yourself and start eating in order to nourish your body to give you the energy to help others. When you wash, instead of being concerned with prettying yourself up, think ‘I’m cleaning myself so I don’t upset others by smelling!’ If we just keep forgetting about ourselves in a virtuous way, we stop letting self-cherishing puff itself up into something huge. It’s like we’ve taken our head out of the stormcloud and can see the vast space of the sky-like mind, because our mind has expanded to fit in our concern for all living beings.

Image result for eight steps to happinessKISS. No, don’t kiss everyone: that may be taking cherishing others a step too far! Keep It Simple, Stupid. I really think that Dharma practice could be simple if we let it. Even profound teachings like emptiness are in fact simple – it’s our minds that are complicated, we obscure the simplicity. Buddha said we become ‘exhausted by our elaborations’ – eventually, we get so tired of making things difficult for ourselves that we actually start to practice cherishing others!

The path to enlightenment is really very simple – all we need to do is stop cherishing ourself and learn to cherish others. All other spiritual realisations will naturally follow from this.

Eight Steps to Happiness


Take it further: Universal Compassion 

The eye of the storm: dealing with stress

Image result for stress quotesAlthough modern life is full of stressful situations, we do not have to get sucked into the whirlwind.

Instead of feeling frustration when we face difficulties, we can learn to cultivate a strong and stable mind that can respond to everything with equanimity: then we find ourselves in the eye of the storm. The chaos may continue to swirl around us, but our peace of mind is unaffected.

The key to finding this balance is first to realise that no situation is stressful from its own side. For example, we may think that our boss is a cause of stress because as soon as we catch sight of him or her our anxiety levels ratchet up a notch. But, if were an actual source of stress, then everyone would immediately feel stressed when they saw him. And maybe everyone who works alongside us does feel this too – but presumably, his mum finds sitting down with him for Sunday dinner quite relaxing. He is not the cause of our stress: our own mind is.

It’s actually a huge step towards attaining inner peace when we can acknowledge that our stress is coming from our own mental responses, not the external situation. Then we can start moving in the right direction. For as long as we think the only way to relieve our stress is to remove ourselves from difficult situations, it never gets better; even if we go on holiday we still feel stressed because we know we’ll soon have to go back and face the challenges we’re trying to escape from. When we start trying to change our mind, rather than the outside world, then we’re moving towards a stress-free life.

I’ve referred to that as ‘the eye of the storm’ because a stress-free life isn’t one characterised by lying on beaches sipping cocktails; we will continue to be surrounded by difficult people and unwished-for occurrences. Our external situation may not change at all, but that’s the point: it doesn’t need to. We’re in a calm and peaceful space in the midst of all that stormy weather, and that’s a real achievement to aim for.

Image result for stress cartoonsThere are lots of methods within Buddha’s teachings to combat our stress – I just want to give you one little practice that can make a big difference. It can be summed up in a verse by Shantideva:

If something can be remedied
Why be unhappy about it?
And if there is no remedy for it,
There is still no point in being unhappy.

If there is a way to remedy an unpleasant, difficult situation, what point is there in being unhappy? On the other hand, if it is completely impossible to remedy the situation or to fulfil our wishes, there is also no reason to get upset, for how will our becoming unhappy help? This line of reasoning is very useful, for we can apply it to any situation.

How To Solve Our Human Problems

For example, if you’re stuck in traffic and are about to be late for an important meeting, is there anything you can do to change that? No. So you have two options: you can be late and stressed, or you can be late and happy. You are going to be late either way: being stressed as well is a complete waste of energy, so don’t bother. At least you can waltz into your meeting (eventually) ready to impress everyone with your poise and resilience.


More: Dealing With Uncertainty | A Stress-Free Life

Sunny side up

Image result for optimismMy New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to be more optimistic. I’ve always been a bit wary of optimism before: isn’t it just burying your head in the sand or putting on a pair of rose-tinted glasses? Now I’m beginning to understand – real optimism isn’t pretending things are perfect, it’s having the confidence that you can make things better.

This means believing in your potential, knowing that you can change. One day you will be a Buddha, for goodness sake, what is there to be pessimistic about?

Every living being has the potential to become a Buddha, someone who has completely purified his or her mind of all faults and limitations and has brought all good qualities to perfection. Our mind is like a cloudy sky, in essence clear and pure but overcast by the clouds of delusions. Just as the thickest clouds eventually disperse, so too even the heaviest delusions can be removed from our mind. Delusions such as hatred, greed, and ignorance are not an intrinsic part of the mind. If we apply the appropriate methods they can be completely eliminated, and we shall experience the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.

~ Eight Steps to Happiness

That’s from the introduction to Eight Steps; right from the very beginning, Geshe-la has been telling us this incredible truth. If we just had faith in these words, there would be no basis to ever be discouraged. As Shantideva says:

Having mounted the steed of bodhichitta
That dispels mental discouragement and physical weariness,
The Bodhisattva travels the path from joy to joy.
Knowing this, who could ever be discouraged?

We need to make a habit of relating to our potential rather than our present limitations. We are not confined by the self we normally see; this is just an illusion. Stop listening when that self insists on being ordinary: tell ourselves ‘I can be something better instead.’

Most importantly, optimism is a choice. We can actively decide to have faith in a better outcome; we don’t have to wait for the world to provide us with something to be optimistic about. We already have ample cause to be encouraged: this precious human life, a supreme Spiritual Guide, our Buddha nature just waiting to be discovered.

Confidence

Most of the tips you see on how to develop self-confidence recommend telling yourself how great you are and that you can achieve anything. I’m not so convinced – sometimes this will just be setting you up for disappointment. England will probably not win the European cup, however many fans tell themselves ‘we’re the best.’ If our confidence is based on the belief that we are better than someone else, then our bubble will be popped soon enough and we’ll end up discouraged. A more honest confidence comes out of recognizing the equality of self and others.

If we consider ourselves and others to be of equal importance, we level the playing field so there will never be a reason to think that our contribution to the world is less significant than anyone else’s. For example, if we’re in a meeting we can confidently express our opinion because we will feel that our view is just as valid as our colleagues’.

The confidence that is based on equalizing self and others also does not contradict being humble. I can’t remember who said this, but it’s a great quote:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Humility grows out of an inner strength that values ourselves highly enough to be able to set our own agenda aside; we can take a back seat and give others the limelight because when we have authentic self-confidence we don’t need others’ recognition or approval.

More on this: Building Self-Confidence day course