Monday, 14 January 2013

Photo of a Monk

If you're like most people I meet you're vaguely interested in Buddhism and have heard "good things". Well, I'm going to give you some really cool examples of how it helps me in my daily life - I think you'll really like these; read on..!

A few weeks ago I had a few days where I felt I was struggling with life - as you do - so I took myself to the gompa (meditation room). I sat before the shrine and, looking into the eyes of a photo of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (a fabulous monk who's written a lot of important books), I asked for help. "What am I missing?" I pleaded with him, tears in my eyes. "I gave up everything - everything! - and now I'm back living the life that I've chosen, doing the things that please me. Why do I feel unfulfilled? Why am I looking at others' lives and thinking I should be doing more?" His pensive smile told me he had the answer so I held his gaze for a few moments before feeling myself drawn to the bookcase at the side of the room. I picked out one of his many books on Buddhism. "How to Solve Our Human Problems, The Four Noble Truths" it was called. I opened it at the first chapter entitled, "Desire", a shockingly short chapter of only two pages which included the following paragraph:

All our problems - our unpleasant feelings - come from our delusions of attachment and self-grasping ignorance, therefore these delusions are the main cause of our problems. We have strong attachment to the fulfillment of our own wishes and for this aim we work very hard throughout our life, experiencing many difficulties and problems. [...] If we had no such attachment, there would be no basis for experiencing suffering and problems at their loss.

Well, that was the answer I needed - I was grasping at fulfillment! All I needed to do was let go of the delusion that things "should" be a certain way and my mind would be calm. I meditated on that thought for a few minutes and then left the gompa, grateful and smiling.

I had a similar experience last week, something was troubling me enormously and so I took myself to the gompa and asked for help. "She's driving me crazy!" I told the Gyatso's photo. "I have no choice but to have her in my life right now but she's making it so hard that I'm always feeling anxious and upset which is beginning to make me ill. What do I do?" Again he smiled his knowing smile. I looked at him hopefully for a few moments before, once I again, I found myself picking out a book from the shelf. "Eight Steps to Happiness - the Buddhist way of loving kindness". A page had been marked with a small piece of cafe pad and so I opened it right there. My eyes were drawn immediately to a paragraph in italics:

The person who is harming or disturbing me is in reality encouraging me to practice patience; and since it is impossible to make progress on the spiritual path without developing the strong mind of patience, he or she is of great benefit to me.

This person in my life - that's been driving me crazy! - is here to teach me patience in order for me to make progress on my spiritual path. Just wow.

My third experience of this nature happened today. After being surrounded by like-minded, spiritual people in the community in Sweden, I'm finding it difficult to no longer have that valuable support from a group of people whose values reflect mine. I explained this to the photo. "I need to be with others who understand what I'm doing; I need some support," I told him. Again, I found myself picking out a book, this one entitled, "Modern Buddhism", which had two bookmarks marking page 319. "Going for refuge" was the title on the page. I read a little bit of it, not fully understanding what it meant but feeling it was somehow relevant. A monk entered the room "What's refuge?" I asked him. He explained it's when you come under the shelter of the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I knew that Buddha is the teacher, Dharma is his teachings. "What's Sangha?" I asked. "They're your spiritual community," he told me. That's what I need, I thought to myself, a spiritual community. A few hours later I sat in the cafe above the gompa to do some writing and met a few people who'd been meditating. One invited me to join them tomorrow for the third day of what he called their "refuge retreat". I'd been given exactly the support I'd asked for.

And these are just three neat illustrations of the many ways in which Buddhism helps me in my day to day. If you're struggling with life, as most of us do from time to time, I highly recommend visiting a Buddhist Centre for a beginners' meditation course. You don't have to be a Buddhist, everyone is welcome, and you'll be among friends. Or if you don't have a centre nearby, come and ask me a question on my agony aunt website where I give first class advice to help you with whatever you're going through.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

An intuitive New Year's Day walk

I set off walking, it was overcast and I could feel it would rain. I took the longer way around away from the traffic of the flyover that I've seen many times before but ignored, only to find the exit bricked up, forcing walkers on a less pleasant route. I could almost feel cold fingers grip the back of my collar, "No, Sunshine, you'll go our way." So, back around I went to the main road, past the signs barking, "No Parking!" No "please", no "thank you", no "you may park at X place instead", just an order not to do something and a sign saying you'll be clamped and fined with 14 days to pay. I saw our human rights, the ones stating that we're free to roam the planet we were born onto, slip into a hazy cloud in the distance, crying for me to save them as they're trampled by our police state.

It began to rain and I remembered a group song sung with a group of spiritual souls bringing a ray of sunshine to a cloudy day, and so I willed the wind to blow the rain clouds away, and it did. Down the road I noticed a family walking toward me with a black spaniel - I felt so much happiness seeing the dog and I could see it felt the same as it strained on its lead to get to me. I remembered how in India dogs live outside; they don't "belong" to anyone, they're free to walk wherever and whenever they choose, and I questioned how we came to the conclusion that a creature could become the property of another.

Upon reaching the park I felt peace. Under the giant, gnarled trees at dusk watching the birds circle the sky, I felt an affinity that I just couldn't muster for the nearby family with the boisterous children. I stopped a while near a waterfall to let their chaos pass, and then continued to the lake.

I started to take the well-trodden path but the wind blew so hard it felt against nature to resist, so I surrendered and, in doing so, found a river I hadn't known was there. I joyfully followed the flow of the river and intuitively the path through the woods, where again I felt complete peace.

A train track led me to a cafe that I'd hoped would be open but imagined would be closed today, however the lights were on and it looked very busy. I decided to go in anyway even though I was thinking I'd like there to be fewer people. I wanted a window seat, vegan hot chocolate and plain crisps and within five minutes I had all of that including the quiet, as almost everyone left.

I sipped my hot chocolate while trying to view the rolling hills beyond my reflection in the window. When a young family with a baby came to sit at the next table my knee-jerk reaction was to think, "Oh no, here we go..." but they were unusually tranquil! The baby seemed happy and at ease and the parents spoke to each other kindly and quietly instead of in the aggravated manner I'm used to witnessing. It was a joy to be near them and I told them so, and why, and they seemed happy to hear it. When I left the cafe I waved to the baby and the whole family waved goodbye.

Back outside, the cold had crept in, the evening had fallen and the trees and buildings stood in black silhouette against a dusky mauve sky. I zipped my coat to the chin, and stuffed my chilly hands in my pockets as I passed the lake, streams and waterfalls. Completely free and alone with the nature that surrounded me I felt that this represented the world I ache to live in; the strangled, suppressed world that, in society's frantic scramble for more, more, more... is becoming less, less, less...