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The Buddhist advice that’s fit for royalty

Padraig O’Morain, Irish Times

‘Discuss your problems and meditate together each morning to empty the mind of all your problems.”

This is the advice given to Prince William and Kate Middleton by Britain’s senior Buddhist monk, the Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala.

The picture of the two young royals sitting down to meditate each morning seems an unlikely one. Yet they could do a lot worse, and there is much in Buddhist philosophy that can help them or anyone else to negotiate the sometimes stormy waters of marriage.

For stormy waters there will be, meditation or no meditation. A point will come when they will start to irritate each other and the age-old question – Why can’t you be more like me? – will become the battle cry.

Buddhists also have rows and sulk and break up, though I believe, without having statistics to prove it, that they have at their disposal approaches which make a break-up less likely.

Take their attitude…

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to unpleasant events: when your partner has been annoying or even obnoxious and when this leads to a row, what matters, according to therapists who have studied successful marriages, is how fast you can both get over the row.

What keeps the row going is each of you re-running it in your head, having the quarrel again and again in your imagination and so on.

In Buddhist psychology, this is compared to being in a trance in which you react to the anger in your head and not to the real-life person who might have been obnoxious yesterday but perhaps is not obnoxious at all today.

Far better, the Buddhists would say, to respond to the real person there in front of you and not to whatever is going on in your head.

The concept of impermanence is also key to Buddhist thinking and is helpful in marriage. Nothing stays the same. You might be as close as cooing doves today, but in a while you’ll be irritated with each other over something – so make the best of those good feelings while they last.

But the irritation with each other is also impermanent, so you can recognise that you will, when this is over, get back to billing and cooing. The issue between you is not the end of the world and it doesn’t need to mean a battle to the death.

I’m not saying that you can get over every issue. Violence and control freakery, for instance, are usually not tolerable, and it would be a bad idea to use any of these approaches to make them so.

But often it’s the small change of life, the relatively unimportant differences between two people, that causes conflict when the honeymoon is over.

And the Buddhist philosophy of staying out of the war in your mind, and realising that positive and negative experiences constantly change, can help to prevent these issues from escalating to the point at which they corrode the marriage.

So that’s what I’d like William and Kate to remember when they’re sitting some morning grimly meditating and mentally growling at each other as the butlers hover nervously. Just focus on your breathing and realise that, soon, everything will be better for another while.

You can read a report of Seelawimala’s advice to the royals on the wildmind.org website at http://bit.ly/buddharoyal.

My column on March 1st (http://bit.ly/thatsmen) suggested that maybe women don’t know as much as they think about relationships and that perhaps men know a thing or two as well.

A reader writes: “I usually find your articles thoughtful and enlightening. Now find myself doubting that a counsellor could write such a crass and badly researched piece. Suffice it to say I would cringe at the idea of letting you loose on the psyche of any woman who might come under your influence. I think I got a glimpse of who you really are. Yuck!!!!”

Okay, I’ll go meditate now.

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@ireland.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by e-mail.

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