Buddhism teaches us that suffering is caused by attachment. This idea is easy to understand, but difficult to apply in our daily lives.
Suffering is caused by attachment? Simplistic? Elegant? Axiomatic? Whatever the case, the further along I go in my journey, the more this rings true. Perhaps it is just easy enough for some people to repeat the phrase and visualize the concept, but desire is a powerful human instinct and if you can overcome it naturally, then you are truly blessed!
Just about anything that bothers you on a daily basis is an example of this suffering thing that we want to avoid. If someone says something that is hurtful, or you take it personally, why do you let it continue to bother you for hours, days, or even years?
I ask myself the question, “why is this bothering me?” Then I go into the process of reliving the moment and the reaction again, experiencing the pain, and justifying why something was hurtful.
It seems that I most often want to somehow appeal to some abstract authority over the situation, whether you want to call that justice, social mores, God, mother, father, or perhaps an abstraction of all the above that I carry around in my unconscious mind. I want mommy or daddy to say, “it’s ok to hurt honey, that person was wrong and is bad.” But really, what is the advantage of my reliving this moment? Why do I continue working myself into a boil over something that was said?
During this process I am suffering, releasing cortisol, unable to focus my mind on the task at hand, and generally creating negative energy. Perhaps if I do this enough, I will reach a point where I can’t stand it anymore and reach a point of release…
But what is this release?
Is it to tell someone else about it? To share?
To achieve justice in the high courts?
To kick the offending party’s ass and condition them to not hurt me or others again?
Perhaps one of these is the psychological “release” or objective that you are looking for. But most often we realize that after you have either had the release, or get distracted long enough to forget, that the letting go was as easy and simple as changing your mind.
Only you can take offense. No one else can do it for you.
Sometimes by simply facing the problem head on and admitting, “that hurt me,” and realize that reliving the point of hurt again and again is of no use, you end the suffering. It is the idea that is hurting you. Remove the idea and the hurt is gone.
What is astounding is that when I start to think about all aspects of my inner mental dialog, I realize that there are painful moments deep in my past that I might be reliving again and again. I pick them up as if objects, and realize that they are only ideas, and that the moment of pain is long gone. During deep meditation, I am amazed at what bubbles up to the surface and works itself out.
On the other side of the coin is wanting. Desire. You want to have that thing that you know you don’t need: that smoke, that chocolate, that drink, that coffee, that shot of heroin, that lover, that position, or that car. Next time you find yourself wanting something, listen to the inner dialog in your mind. It can be truly ridiculous. Your want is nothing more than a thought, a sprite in your mind that dances around taunting you. But when you stare it head on and say, this is only my mind — this is not me, then you realize that the thought can simply disappear at will. That is if you develop control of your mind…
Learning to control one’s mind is a matter of practice. There is no right or wrong way to do it, I suppose, but there seems to be one thing common: that you must engage your energy in a way that helps you clear your mind of the daily chatter and simply exist in the moment as purely as possible.
This practice of quieting the mind helps you experience an alternative mode of consciousness to the constant chatter and noise that we experience, especially as modern humans. This alternative mode or what I like to think of as a channel allows you gain perspective on your thoughts as thought within themselves. Channel Zero.
We cannot control our thoughts because we are conditioned to live within them at all times. We are unable to separate our true being from the chatter of our mind.
That is until you realize that there is the essential you, the pure being that exists at the axis of all this, and is independent of brain function.
Your thoughts, active mind, and even perhaps your brain, are not you.
You may hear people say, “You are what you think…” Or, my father’s favorite was, “Attitude is everything.”
I find that this lends itself to misinterpretation, or perhaps a misunderstanding of how your thoughts effect your being. While it is obvious that negative thoughts are not helpful, at the same time positive thoughts are equally problematic if they are wrong-headed. Positive thoughts may be nothing more than denial. Denial is not the same as purified consciousness through mental discipline. These things are often confused.
It is the thoughts themselves that you must learn to detach from your essential consciousness, or your being, and for fleeting moments even objectify as they disappear into the imagination from whence they came. It is through this process that you begin to see reality unfold for what it really is, without the incessant banter of your mind’s many distractions influencing your perception of each moment: worry, regret, obsession, desire, boredom, etc.
If you can quiet your mind, and turn off all these “characters” or voices and images, then you have reached the beginning of meditation. By practicing this we can gain powerful insight and grow toward a sustainable happiness. If you don’t believe it, try it for a few days and see how it changes you.
Meditation does not require bells, incense, or the lotus position. In fact, I find these things to be more of an antiquated conspicuous distraction than anything. Meditation requires focusing on breath, relaxing the body, and actively controlling and dispersing the many thoughts and voices that bubble up as you try to clear your mind. Even if you find it impossible to completely sustain pure mind for longer than a moment, the process bears fruit and becomes easier as you practice. The key is to allow yourself time to do it.
Five minutes of clear mind is better than nothing. Ten is good. Twenty to thirty minutes twice a day is respectable ZaZen practice!
It is also possible to walk, run, or engage in a “mindless” repetitive activity while in meditation. Monks commonly use walking technique, so if you find that walking or rocking back and forth in a chair helps clear your mind, be sure to recognize that you might just be on to something!