Nature is always in a state of peace. There is peace in a raging hurricane and peace in a lazy summer sunset. For people, it is much easier to feel the peace in the sunset, because it doesn’t do any property damage. From a physics point of view, there is far more energy in a sunset than a hurricane. The Sun is busy warming the Earth, providing all that energy for the hurricane, but we are 93 million miles away from the sun so we can notice the peace of the beautiful sunset. With moods, we are generally right in the middle of them, so they can feel more like hurricanes than sunsets.
Every day brings you through a range of moods. Your range may fluxuate in a happy zone, anxious zone, angry zone, sad zone, or it may move back and forth between all these zones. Sometimes your moods may have the energy of a hurricane and sometimes they may have the energy of a sunset. When living with your changing moods, it is helpful to get some distance so you can find the peace and limit the property damage.
You don’t need to be a million miles away from your moods, only a fraction of an inch, or a split second. That is enough space or time for some peace to slip in. Whenever you feel like you are caught in a hurricane, take a breath and give yourself some space. Reflect on your moods of the past few hours. Imagine your moods in the hours ahead. Then, return to the present and be in the mood you are feeling. That is your hurricane shelter. From there you can watch the clouds pass and remain alert for the powerful, peaceful energy of the sunset.
No matter how much you try to live a peaceful and meaningful life, there are always people around you who challenge your ability to sustain that peace. Parents, friends, teachers, bosses, partners, strangers, people who care about you, and people who don’t seem to care about you, are all struggling to find peace in their own lives. When those around you are having difficulty connecting with peace, they will directly or indirectly, intentionally or accidentally, challenge your peace and cause you to suffer. When the way somebody else behaves causes you to suffer, you can use your awareness of that cause to get through your suffering.
When the cause of your suffering is something you are doing, it seems more possible to change your own behavior. When the cause of your suffering is what other people are doing, all you can change is your reaction. The ability to change your reaction is powerful. By changing your reaction, you can connect with the suffering in you and in others, and you won’t be swallowed up by it.
To gain control of your reactions, begin by noticing your reactions. If somebody is making you angry, recognize that you are becoming angry in reaction to what that person is doing. When you recognize that, you can take control. You can question your anger and see that it is one of a range of possible reactions, not the only option. As you practice this, you will learn to use your anger, or other reactive feelings, to look beneath the surface to the suffering that is happening in each person in the situation.
Nobody can make you feel anything. Your feelings are yours. If a tree makes you suffer, you don’t blame the tree. If you are suffering, you need some understanding. You have that understanding within you. When you practice meeting suffering with awareness and understanding, you can transform any situation and find the peace you are seeking.
There is no self or other. Those are delusions.
If you want to imagine how delusion works, just look at everybody around you. You can imagine that you are not deluded and that you understand the Truth. Then, as you interact with the world, see how you are able to recognize how other people seem to get it wrong. They may wear clothing that is out of fashion. They may say things that make you cringe. They may be sad about something that you know is unimportant. They may think that they are ugly when they are beautiful. They may think they know things that they don’t. They may do things to hurt themselves or others, even on purpose. Because you know the truth, you can see how others’ way of seeing the world causes them to do these things. Delusion is everywhere.
Once you get comfortable with seeing everybody else’s delusions, then you can begin to see your own. You can begin by looking at an earlier incarnation of yourself. You can look back to an earlier point in your life when you thought you knew things. Now, you may know better, or at least differently. It’s hard to see all that delusion around you and in you and not imagine that some is still happening.
Once you embrace the possibility of delusion in yourself and everybody around you, you are free to question everything. If something seems terrible, it may not be. If something seems wonderful, it well could be. Terrible and wonderful get all mixed up. When you see somebody else feeling terrible because of their particular delusion, you will be able to feel compassion for them, because you know a little something about how delusions work. When you feel terrible, because of your delusion, you can feel compassion for yourself. We are all small children in a big world, just trying to figure things out. It seems wise to act with kindness and compassion, at least until we know better.
Everything can be fine if you can look at it from a new perspective. Finding that new perspective is the challenge. To find a new perspective, first you need to throw out your current perspective. Throwing out your perspective does not mean ignoring what you observe in your circumstances, it only means changing how you react to the facts. If you stub your toe on a rock, then your toe will hurt. If your perspective uses the fact of your hurt toe to confirm that you are clumsy, or to become angry because somebody put a rock where a rock shouldn’t be, then your perspective is causing you additional pain and making the situation worse. When you notice that happening, you need to throw out that perspective and look again.
In order to throw out the perspective, it helps to recognize that the perspective is wrong. If you feel excessive anguish, worry, anger, fear, or anxiety then you can assume that your perspective is wrong. You are looking at things in a way that makes them seem less than fine. If you know that above or beneath it all things are fine, then you can ask yourself, how is this fine? An answer will always come to you.
Recognizing that things are fine, does not mean that you always have to be happy about how they are. You can be sad and fine, angry and fine, scared and fine, or worried and fine. You can even be terminally ill and fine from a certain perspective. If you cannot see that things are fine, or imagine that they could be fine, then you need to take a breath, clear your mind and look again. You’ll be fine.
Suffering is a complicated thing to do. Lingering bad moods, anxiety, or depression can make you feel bad and, at the same time, zap your motivation to do anything about it. When you get stuck in that unenviable situation, it’s easy to imagine that there is something wrong with you. That’s not quite right.
Something is wrong for certain, but nothing is wrong with you. You are the unfortunate royal child, locked away in the tower for some logical but absurd fairy tale reason. The bright side of being locked in the tower is that you are safe and able to observe the world from there. The bright side of not actually being in a fairy tale is that you don’t have a benevolent or malevolent character holding you captive and you don’t have to wait around for some romantic rescue party to deliver you from your predicament.
When you know that something is wrong, but not wrong with you, you can eliminate a compelling train of thought that searches the world for things that are wrong with you. Your search is then free to focus on what is wrong with your mood and why you are not feeling the joy that is supposedly trying to burst into each moment of your life.
When things seem not quite right, but you don’t know what it could be, observe your thoughts, observe your feelings, observe your environment, observe the lingering cloud in the sky. With that powerful, faithful observation, you will notice what is quite right, and your actions will be motivated by your wisdom.
When the joyful rescue party manages to defeat the captors and break open the gates of the tower, the tower will be empty. You’ll be out amongst the flowers, experiencing the weather, whatever it may be.
One of the biggest traps of Zen is trying to become enlightened. The hook of enlightenment is enticing. Enlightenment promises the end of suffering. Who wouldn’t want to become enlightened and stop suffering? Not only can you stop your own suffering, you can also stop the suffering of all sentient beings. How could it get any better than that? It gets better. In order to end your suffering and the suffering of those around you, all you have to do is recognize what you already are. How could it be any more simple?
That’s where it gets tricky. What you are is suffering. Things hurt. Things are annoying. Sometimes things are boring. You get hungry, tired, sick, cranky. One day you are going to die. You get angry. You get sad. You get confused. There are a million ways to suffer. Not only do you suffer, but everybody around you suffers. You routinely complain to each other about all this suffering and empathize and sympathize with each other about the particular brand of suffering that you are enduring at the moment. So how can you end all this suffering just by realizing what you are, if what you are is suffering?
The key is suffering. Enlightenment is suffering without suffering. Of course you suffer. That’s why you would like to be enlightened. As you strive for the liberation of enlightenment, you may suffer further each time you suffer because it demonstrates that you are still suffering and therefore not enlightened. However, when you recognize this happening, you are a little bit enlightened and you suffer a little less for seeing that your suffering is your enlightenment.
If you are trying to become enlightened, you should not seek enlightenment. If suffering is enlightenment, you should also not seek suffering. Not seeking suffering is easy, that is our natural habit. Yet we continue to find suffering. If you find yourself suffering, there you are, enlightened.
Everybody wants instant enlightenment. That is the one that comes with a fireworks show and a few months of elation. Gradual enlightenment is living in suffering until the point of suffering is lost. Either way, everybody is as enlightened as they will be when they realize that they are enlightened. If enlightenment occurs to you through a gradual build up of logic, through hours of focused meditation, or from hearing a stone strike a stalk of bamboo, it is the same enlightenment. It is the same enlightenment that is happening in the midst of your ordinary, everyday life.
One sign of enlightenment is not noticing that you are enlightened. If you don’t think that you are enlightened, how can you be sure that you are not. Enlightenment is nothing to strive for, nothing at all.
There is the Truth, and there is talking about the truth. The history of the world is a story. The life of Buddha, the life of Jesus, the life of Mohamed are all stories about people who tried to interpret the Truth. Once an experience is written down it is a story, it is not the Truth. If you try to convey how an apple tastes you can talk about flavor, texture, good or bad, but only you know how that apple tasted to you. That experience is lost on the rest of us. We can experience your words but we will forever wonder just how that apple tasted.
If you want to know the Truth, live your life. That is your truth. Your thoughts, feelings and sensations are little bits of the Truth speaking to you. Listen, watch, wonder.
Although it sounds pleasant enough, how can paying attention to the present moment help make you feel better? The present moment contains your feelings. If you are feeling bad, you are feeling bad in the present moment. Paying attention to that feeling will give you a sense of separation from the feeling. When you are able to focus on feeling the feeling, you slow down the unconscious thoughts that are feeding the feeling, making room for new thoughts that will help the feeling pass.
It is a normal habit to gravitate toward pleasure and avoid pain. This habit gets in the way of understanding our more painful experiences. When we feel pain we shut down. With a mindfulness practice we challenge ourselves to remain present through all of our experiences and we become familiar with the natural ups and downs of our moods.
Although being mindful will not just turn a sad situation into a delightful one, it will give you the ability to handle a sad situation when one arises. It can also help you relate to others who find themselves in difficult circumstances, because you understand the feelings and they are no longer threatening to you.
Paying attention to the present moment won’t always make you feel good, but it will make you feel better.