If you haven’t read part I please click here…
The next step is to try to ‘hold’ the positive attitude you have created, if you lose it repeat the process until it returns. Do this often enough and you will eventually find yourself reacting to problems in a new and positive way. Just through the power of familiarity you will start to view all challenging situations as part of your mountain.
Try to feel that life is a series of mountains to conquer, this feeling will inspire you to take every opportunity to grow. One of the main obstacles to a happy life is that we see difficult situations and people as just that. If we train our selves to look beyond this limited perspective we open up a whole new world.
Every time we choose to go in a more positive direction we are doing something very special with our mind. The processes of watching our mind, spotting negative thoughts or emotions at the earliest possible moment, not following these negative patterns, and actively developing positive thoughts and feelings is the process of successful mind training.
Memorize the four steps of mind training:
- Let go
Eventually the process of reprogramming our mind will become smooth and natural but to begin with it is useful to be aware of these four stages. To begin we need to WATCH our mind just by being aware of our thoughts and emotions in different situations throughout the day. By doing this it is easy to IDENTIFY uncomfortable or negative thoughts as soon as they arise and hopefully before they get a strong hold over us.
The sooner we spot or identify negative thoughts or emotions the easier it is to LET GO. If it is too late to let go just walk away from the situation if you can, or distract yourself with something else so that your mind is not being allowed to follow the negative path. Finally if we can we replace the negative with a positive and LIVE. I called the last stage ‘live’ because positive thoughts and emotions are life affirming, healing and mind expanding.
But don’t become too obsessed with this practice if you over do it now it is easy to become tired, our training needs to feel enjoyable, gradual and natural if it is going to be continuous and successful. If you want to begin some kind of gentle training today just start by watching your own mind but again not obsessively or constantly just naturally.
Now and then think, ‘how do I feel, how are my thought patterns today’, without being hard or judgemental, just watch your mind and develop some self awareness. Then if you feel ready let go of any negative feelings and repeat some positive words to yourself like ‘always rely on a happy mind’ or ‘may everyone be happy’ or whatever feels right for you. Start slowly and when you are ready develop a gentle daily routine for training your mind in this way. This gentle but constant approach builds firm foundations for long term change and growth.
When we are going through a difficult time in our life we often dream about the things we would do if things were different and dwell on how lucky others are. Many people who are healthy or materially fortunate have no real appreciation of their freedom and good fortune. Illness and other problems can seem like a prison and good health and wealth the cause of real freedom and happiness.
It seems on the surface that good health and money are a definite cause of happiness and illness and poverty a cause of depression and mental torment. But if this is a universal truth everyone who had a healthy body and lots of money would always be happy and everyone who suffered illness and poverty would be miserable. But we know this is not true.
It can take a long time to really appreciate the depths of this truth but our personal happiness, although influenced by external conditions like illness, is really completely dependent on our mind. It is possible to be physically very ill but to have a positive and peaceful mind.
Take some time to think about this carefully, do you accept this truth? If you do then you have to accept that to fulfill your wish to be happy and free from suffering you must learn to develop a happy mind. Also if illness or poverty can be one of the conditions for this to happen you might be more fortunate than a rich and healthy person! Although they are enjoyable we do not actually need good health, wealth, relationships etc. All we need is a happy mind.
This is a great affirmation to use when you are feeling that the world is against you, just think over and over ‘all I need is a happy mind’ and slowly you will start to feel the truth of this. Of course we shouldn’t abandon money, friends and health there is no need to and if we did we would be very unhappy and so would others. It takes time to change on a deep level so we have to accept that we will still need the temporary happiness we get from money and relationships until we are strong enough within to really let go.
Training the mind is an internal path so we do not need to change our external world too much. Eventually we will be able to let go of these things in our mind, whilst still being surrounded by them and living a normal life. This is important if we want to help others do the same.
We are very influenced by our external world because we are so familiar with it! We spend all our time wrapped up in the external world to the extent that we have almost forgotten that we have an internal world. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we are generally completely absorbed in the business of everyday life.
It is very easy to go through the whole of our life without ever spending time getting to know our own mind, yet this is where the answer to all our problems can be found. In some ways having an illness or other kind of challenging difficulty can be very helpful, these things can help us to stop and think. We often need something or someone to help us take a fresh look at life, if we are not going in the right direction the kindest thing someone can do is to tell us and point us in the right direction. In this sense problems might be our best friend.
When we have a problem in life we tend to solve it by changing something outside our own mind. When we have problems with our partner, friends, career we think of looking for new ones. We are never satisfied for long, we always need new things in our life to keep our sense of well being. Consequently our mind is very discontent and dependent upon good external conditions and we experience very little natural happiness from within.
We are always looking for happiness outside of our mind, yet happiness is simply a state of mind. I can’t repeat this enough! If we knew how to find inner happiness and ‘stay with it’ we would not need to put so much time and energy in to arranging our external world in such away that we occasionally find some fleeting pleasure.
Illness or any problem can be an opportunity to begin a new way of life. If we always get what we want when we want it we might easily become a very spoilt, shallow and superficial person. Often we need challenges and difficulties to help us grow, to help us become more whole and complete human beings. The big and little problems that come our way can be a great challenge to overcome and can really help us to develop special inner qualities.
If we ask our self what is the real meaning of a human life we have to finally say that if we leave this world a better person than when we entered it and if we have helped others to change and grow then our life has had been well lived. If we just accumulated wealth or followed our own selfish wishes what use is this? If this life was just a ‘one off’, if at the moment of death we ceased to exist then may be we could justify a selfish approach to life.
But our mind and our body are different entities when the body dies the mind does not cease because it is not produced from the body, in fact Buddhists believe that the body is produced from the mind! According to the law of Karma the body we have now is the result of our actions in previous lives. Positive actions bring positive results, if we have a healthy body this is good karma returning to us created by our previous positive actions.
Our mind is not a physical phenomena like the body, it has no form or shape or colour or taste, although it changes in character and ability from life to life, again according to our karma. We know that animals have a mind but it is less intelligent than most human minds. From the Buddhist perspective this is because animals are again experiencing the results of karma, but this doesn’t last forever, when their animal karma comes to an end they die and new karma carriers them in to a new existence in a new body.
Obviously we will not all feel comfortable with this explanation of the different forms of life that exist but I mention it here because understanding the law of Karma helps Buddhists train their mind. If we feel deeply that our words, thoughts and actions shape our future beyond this life we are going to be very careful how we live and how we treat others.
If we know that swatting a fly or physically harming others may make us experience poor health in our next life we will let the fly live. In fact if we just consider that a fly has a mind and although quite limited in its mental capacity it can still experience pain this understanding will prevent us bringing more pain in to the world. If we are aware that anger is a cause of ugliness and patience a cause of beauty this will also help to change our behaviour!
So in conclusion everyone wants to be happy, even flies in their own way, and in this sense we are all the same, we never wish for suffering. So the real purpose of life is to fulfill this wish and find a pure happiness that never ends and to help others find this. You can find this, many people have, and your problems can help you!
The essential points from this chapter are:
Without a consistent wish nothing will change. Keep developing your wish and your power to change will get stronger. Develop your ability to watch your own mind and identify clearly which are positive and beneficial thoughts and feelings and which are negative and harmful to your self and others. If we can learn to let go of negative thoughts and feeling and develop positive ones over time our mind will become very peaceful, strong and happy. Eventually even the most difficult situation will not disturb our sense of inner peace.
Develop a realistic plan for learning to watch your own mind. Just start in a small way, but be consistent and remind yourself that this is important for your personal happiness. May be just begin with half an hour per day. When the time comes, just remember why you are doing this, the more you become aware of what thoughts and feelings are running through your mind the easier it will become to identify which are good and which are harming your happiness.
It doesn’t matter if you cannot change your mind at this stage, just be gentle with yourself, your ability to change your mind will come in time. Don’t change your daily routine, choose the same time everyday for mind watching and try to do it whether you are talking, driving, working or whatever. Don’t over concentrate, just at the back of your mind try to be gently aware of whether your words, actions, thoughts and feelings are positive or negative.
Don’t be hard or judgmental just watch and accept and continue to act naturally. Obviously if you suddenly feel you want to think or talk in a more positive way follow this positive notion! You could also keep a simple diary of your experiences this can help you to identify more clearly your mental habits and areas that you might like to improve in time.
Now try a meditation:
When your mind has settled down develop a good intention like ‘may every living being benefit from this meditation’. Spend a few minutes doing the gentle breathing meditation explained in chapter 4. Then meditate using the following contemplation:
We need to develop the consistent wish to change. Think about how your life has been in the past and what it will be like in the future if you do not change. Then spend some time thinking and imagining what it would be like to be a different person, imagine if your mind was naturally confident, relaxed, strong, kind and peaceful all the time.
Imagine how it would feel to always meet challenging situations with a positive attitude. Think about how your quality of life would improve if your mind was like this. Then try to come to a deep inner determination to gradually move your mind in this direction, think ‘I am going to spend the rest of my life steadily and consistently developing my mind’, try to meditate on this positive thought for as long as is comfortable.
When you have finished make a short dedication like ‘through the power of these positives thoughts may all living beings find lasting happiness’ and try to carry your positive thoughts in to the rest of the day.
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It will look like this: Everything Begins With A Wish Part II