One of the Buddha’s key teachings — arguably the key teaching — is the four noble truths, which tell us 1) that suffering happens, 2) that it happens for a reason, which is that we cling, 3) that it’s possible for us to reach a state where we don’t suffer (nirvana), and 4) that there are practices that help us to attain that state.
Although these four truths, or facts, might suggest that we can somehow learn to avoid suffering, what’s really required is that we learn to deal better with life’s sufferings, because they are inevitable. In other words, we need to learn to get better at suffering. It’s not that we should seek … Read more »
Someone wrote to me yesterday, saying that as she was getting into her spiritual practice, anger was starting to arise:
I have very recently started my journey towards freedom of suffering at the hands of myself or others. It would seem as though it has turned into an anger issue with me. So I am looking forward to any suggestions that may help me get to my centered, grounded, healing, happy place.
This can happen. As we’re leaving our comfort zone, fear can be triggered. We can also become more sensitive to the body as we practice meditation, and so we feel our feelings more strongly.
My own experience is that anger is a response … Read more »
It was late in the evening when my son told me he’d left his backpack in the car. That’s not a huge deal, but there were things in it that he needed for camp tomorrow, and because of where I live my car’s parked a few minutes’ walk away from my apartment. Again, not a huge deal, but I was tired and I was in the middle of getting both kids together for bed, and would have to wait until they were asleep before I went to retrieve the backpack.
So, with the kids asleep, and my energy failing, I trudged downstairs to fetch the forgotten backpack. I was grouchy and a little resentful — … Read more »
Apologies for not blogging these past three months, I’ve been at the home of my teacher, Sangharakshita, living in community and taking part in study and retreats for ordained members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.
I’ve been doing a lot of turning towards my direct experience. It has been a challenging practice. When I turn towards my experience, it’s all in the body: just pleasant, unpleasant, neutral (vagueness) or a mixture of all three feeling tone in the body.
Sometimes I like it and I want more, I cling to it, and begin to crave. Sometimes I dislike it and I push it way, and move into aversion. And sometimes, I just move into a … Read more »
The saying that “happiness is a choice” is extremely common. There’s a book by that title, as well as a gazillion articles. They all say that you can choose to be happy.
It’s not true. Happiness is not a choice.
Or at least it’s not strictly true that happiness is a choice. There’s a grain of truth here; we can influence our happiness. But happiness is a feeling, and we can’t directly choose our feelings.
What is true is that happiness is the result of our choices.
We can choose actions that will bring long-term happiness. We can choose what we say. We can choose our attitudes. We can choose to have thoughts that increase … Read more »
There’s a famous teaching, the Sallatha Sutta, in which the Buddha discusses our suffering as consisting of “two arrows.” The first arrow is simply the unavoidable suffering that we all experience as a result of being human. We’re all going to experience loss, hurt feelings, physical pain, illness, etc. The wise person simply observes this pain mindfully. The unwise person responds to suffering through resistance: “Why is this happening to me? This is terrible!”
The Buddha called this reaction “grief, sorrow and lamentation,” and he pointed out that this was like responding to the first arrow with a second one! Our resistance to pain simply causes further pain—perhaps even more than we’d originally experienced. … Read more »
Self-compassion is the most radically transformative practice that I’ve stumbled upon in more than 30 years of exploring Buddhism. It’s helped me to cope with many difficulties I’ve faced, ranging from the mundane challenge of a child’s tantrum, to financial problems and even serious illness. It’s helped me to become kinder and more compassionate not just to myself but also to others. In fact I don’t know of any other practice that’s changed me so much. I’d describe self-compassion as “lovingkindness squared.”
Self-compassion is simply treating yourself kindly, responding to your own pain with compassion in the same way you’d respond to the pain of someone you care about. “Self-compassion” is a bit of a … Read more »
You’re walking down a busy shopping street, and you hear panicked screaming. You turn to see what the fuss is, and behind a fleeing crowd you see something impossible: a velociraptor. It’s snarling and roaring, turning its head from side to side as it follows the hysterical populace, almost as if it’s herding them. Perhaps it is.
You panic. Before you even realize you’re doing it, you’re sprinting to the doorway of the nearest shop. Fortunately velociraptors, as is well known, are not good with door handles. As long as you get through that doorway you’ll be all right.
Safe behind the protection of the shop window, you watch people on the street fleeing the … Read more »
Recently a meditation student who’s only just begun practicing wrote to say that she’d experienced a bereavement. She wondered if I had any suggestions to help her through the grieving process.
I have to say first of all that I’m not a grief counsellor. I’m just a meditator who has ended up sharing what he’s learned about working with pain. And I also would like to add that I’m hesitant to give advice in such situations because I know how feeble words can be in the face of powerful emotions. I long ago gave up on the notion I once held that there is some magical form of words that will make everything better.
Despite … Read more »
Last month I was honored to be a guest of Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, who had asked me to talk about and to answer questions on self-compassion.
It was supposed to be a video, but unfortunately my camera decided to stop talking to my computer just as the webinar began. But Leo kindly send me the audio of the conversation, and I invite you to listen to it below.
I discuss the practice of self-compassion in terms of a very useful Buddhist teaching extracted from the 12 nidanas (links) that illustrate dependent origination, or paticca-samuppada. These are (in a slightly adapted form):