Archive for October, 2011

Making Life Yours

October 27, 2011

[ From DailyOM ]

A simple shift in attitude can help us recognize the hidden potential for fulfillment in every event.

There is no secret recipe for happiness and contentment. The individuals who move through life joyously have not necessarily been blessed with lives of abundance, love, success, and prosperity. Such people have, however, been blessed with the ability to take the circumstances they’ve been handed and make them into something great. Our individual realities are colored by perception—delight and despair come from within rather than without. Situations we regard as fortuitous please us while situations we judge inauspicious cause us no end of grief. Yet if we can look at all we have accomplished without dwelling on our perceived misfortune and make each new circumstance our own, the world as a whole becomes a brighter place. A simple shift in attitude can help us recognize and unearth the hidden potential for personal and outer world fulfillment in every event, every relationship, every duty, and every setback.

The universe is often an unpredictable and chaotic place, and the human tendency is to focus on the negative and assume the positive will care for itself. But life can be no more or no less than what you make of it. If you are working in a job you dislike, you can concentrate on the positive aspects of the position and approach your work with gusto. What can you do with this job that can turn it around so you do love it. When faced with the prospect of undertaking a task you fear, you can view it as an opportunity to discover what you are truly capable of doing. Similarly, unexpected events, when viewed as surprises, can add flavor to your existence. By choosing to love life no matter what crosses your path, you can create an atmosphere of jubilance that is wonderfully infectious. A change in perspective is all it takes to change your world, but you must be willing to adopt an optimistic, hopeful mind-set.

To make a conscious decision to be happy is not enough. You must learn to observe life’s complexities through the eyes of a child seeing everything for the first time. You must furthermore divest yourself of preconceived notions of what is good and what is bad so that you can appreciate the rich insights concealed in each stage of your life’s journey. And you must strive to discover the dual joys of wanting what you have. As you gradually shift your perspective, your existence will be imbued with happiness and contentment that will remain with you forever.

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Being Aware of Your Thoughts

October 24, 2011

[ From DailyOM ]

We seldom accept negative comments from others, however, we so often accept our own inner negative chatter.

Few people enjoy the company of individuals whose attitudes are persistently negative. Yet many of us tolerate the critical chatter that can originate within our own minds. Since we are so used to the stream of self-limiting, critical consciousness that winds its way through our thoughts, we are often unaware of the impact these musings have on our lives. It is only when we become aware of the power of such thoughts that we can divest ourselves of them and fill the emptiness they leave with loving, peaceful affirmations. Many people, upon paying careful attention to their thinking patterns, are surprised at the negativity they find there. But when we take notice of involuntary thoughts in a nonjudgmental way, we initiate a healing process that will eventually allow us to replace intimidating and upsetting self-talk with positive, empowering thoughts.

While the occasional downbeat or judgmental thought may have little impact on your contentment, the ongoing negativity that passes unnoticed can have a dampening effect on your mood and your outlook. When you are aware of the tone of your thoughts, however, you can challenge them. Try to be conscious of your feelings, opinions, and judgments for a single day. From sunup to sundown, scrutinize the messages you are feeding into your subconscious mind. Consider your thoughts from the perspective of a detached observer and try not to judge yourself based on the notions that come unbidden into your mind. Simply watch the flow of your consciousness and make a note of the number of times you find yourself focusing on gloomy notions or indulging in self-directed criticism.

As you become increasingly aware of your patterns of thought, whether positive and negative, you will gradually learn to control the character of your stream of consciousness. Endeavor always to remember that the images and ideas that pass through your mind are transient and not a true representation of who you are. In training yourself to be cognizant of your thoughts, you gain the ability to actively modulate your mood. The awareness you cultivate within yourself will eventually enable you to create a foundation of positivity from which you can build a more authentic existence

Daily Self-Care

October 18, 2011

[ From DailyOM ]

Putting yourself first means that it may be necessary to say no to someone else in order to say yes to yourself.

We have all heard the instructions of an airline attendant reminding us to put on our own oxygen mask before we help anyone else with theirs. This advice is often cited as a metaphor for self-care because it so accurately expresses why it is important. It seems to say, ironically, that if you can’t take care of yourself for yourself, do it for others. Few situations in our daily lives mimic the wake-up call of an airplane emergency, so it’s easy to keep putting self-care off—easy, that is, until we get sick, overwhelmed, or exhausted, and suddenly don’t have the energy to care for the people who count on us. That’s when we realize we haven’t been getting the oxygen we need to sustain ourselves. We begin to understand that taking care of ourselves is neither selfish nor indulgent; it’s just plain practical.

Putting yourself first means that it may be necessary to say no to someone else in order to say yes to yourself. For many of us, there is always something we feel we could be doing for someone else, and it helps to remember the oxygen metaphor. You can even encourage yourself by saying “I am caring for myself so that I am better able to care for others” or some other mantra that will encourage you. It also helps to remember that self-care doesn’t have to be composed of massively time-consuming acts. In fact, the best prescription for taking care of yourself is probably small, daily rituals; for example, taking one half-hour for yourself at the beginning and end of the day to meditate, journal, or just be. You might also transform the occasional daily shower or bath into a half-hour self-pampering session.

Whatever you decide, making some small gesture where you put yourself first every day will pay off in spades for you and the ones you love. The oxygen you need is all around you; sometimes you just need to be reminded to breathe.

Living Potential

October 13, 2011

[ From DailyOM ]

Your earthly existence provides you with ample opportunity to explore your purpose and use your gifts.

The gifts we are born with and those that we work to develop throughout our lives vary in form and function. Some we find use for every day while others are only useful in specific circumstances. Yet many times we overlook opportunities to share our unique gifts with others. It may be fear of criticism that holds us back or the paralyzing weight of uncertainty. Ultimately, we doubt that our innate talents and practiced skills can truly add value to others’ lives. But it is the world as a whole that benefits when we willingly share our gifts. Whether you have been blessed with the ability to awaken beautiful emotions in others through art or industry, or your aptitudes transmit more practical advantages, your gifts are a part of who you are. As you make use of those gifts as best you can, be assured that your contribution to worldly well-being will not be overlooked.

Your personal power is defined in part by your gifts. To use your talents is to demonstrate to the world that you understand yourself and are truly attuned to your capabilities. Your earthly existence provides you with ample opportunity to explore your purpose, to utilize your skills in a life-affirming way, and to positively touch the lives of others while doing so. Yet you may feel that your gifts are not as valuable or worthy of attention as those of others and thus hide them away. However, every gift lying dormant in your soul has the potential to fill a void in someone else’s life. Just as your existence is made richer by the love, support, friendship, aid, and compassion of others, so, too, can you add richness to their lives. Your natural ability to soothe hurt, inspire compassion, bake, dance, knit, organize, or think outside the box can be a boon to someone in need.

As you embrace your gifts and allow their light to shine, you will discover that more and more opportunities to make use of them arise. This is because your gifts are a channel through which the universe operates. By simply doing what you are good at and also love to do, you make a positive difference. The recognition you receive for your efforts will pale in comparison to the satisfaction you feel when fulfilling your innate potential.

The Eight Worldly Dharmas: Gain and Loss

October 10, 2011

 [ From Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive – Excerpted from the forthcoming book How to Practice Dharma: The Eight Worldly Dharmas, edited by Gordon McDougal, due out later in 2011 ].

 To like something doesn’t always mean being attached to it, but if we think of the material possessions we most treasure—money, cars, jewels and so forth—we’ll probably see the strong attachment we have for them. And this is true of not just objects but friends as well. When we meet friends we feel a kind of pleasure and completely believe that it’s real, true pleasure and don’t recognize that there’s attachment there as well.

 We think that we receive real happiness from our friends or our precious objects but that mind of attachment is confused. The temporal happiness we get from attachment is not true happiness; it does not arise by diminishing desire but by following it, by making friends with desire.

 Furthermore, whenever there’s attachment there’s fear of losing the object of attachment, and the stronger the attachment, the stronger the fear. If it’s a material object, we always have to keep it in safe place and lock all the doors. Even if it never gets stolen or lost, we’re constantly afraid it will be. If it’s a friend, the greater our attachment the more worried we are that he or she might leave us.

 With strong attachment, even if we live in a very luxurious house, wear very expensive clothes and eat delicious food, life has little taste. Our body is there but our mind is not happy. The greater our attachment to the four desirable objects, the greater our worry about meeting the four undesirable objects. And when we meet those undesirable objects we don’t know what to do. Our life gets completely confused and we go crazy; perhaps we even see suicide as the only escape from our suffering.

 We have the constant, nagging worry that the four undesirable objects are waiting for us just around the corner. They might not exist for us now—we haven’t met the object of dislike yet and might in fact never meet it—but in our mind it’s as if the problem were already there. And when something really happens to an object we cherish—it gets lost or destroyed or our friend leaves us—then the more our attachment, the greater our suffering. We get incredibly upset, our mood plummets into depression and our whole face completely changes.

 Think about some precious object to which you’re attached. Do you have any anxiety about its being lost, stolen or destroyed? Even though you have that object and are never separated from it, even though that hasn’t happened yet, are you still afraid that it will? Visualize that precious object or that precious friend. Visualize the object being destroyed or your friend dying and imagine how you’d feel, how it would affect your mind.

 Let’s say that we have a bowl to which we are very attached, whether it’s a valuable antique or just an old cracked Tibetan one. One day we break it. Our mind gets incredibly upset; we become inconsolably unhappy. If we’d been less attached to the bowl, we’d suffer much less at its loss. On the other hand, if somebody steals our garbage, we’re not worried at all; it doesn’t shake our mind. Without attachment, losing our garbage doesn’t cause our mood to plummet. Of course, it’s always possible that there are people who are attached to their garbage and would be upset if it were stolen.

 If we compare our lack of attachment to garbage to our attachment to a precious object and compare our lack of suffering at the loss of one to our intense suffering at the loss of the other, we can easily see that our suffering comes from attachment, not the loss of the object.

 Whenever there’s the thought of the worldly dharmas—clinging to shelter, food, clothing and so forth—there’s worry and fear about losing them. Whenever there’s attachment to comfort, there’s fear of losing it; whenever there’s attachment to receiving material things, there’s fear of not receiving them; whenever there’s attachment to praise, there’s fear of being criticized; whenever there’s attachment to a good reputation, there’s fear of receiving a bad one. That’s the fundamental suffering. Not having the four desirable objects is suffering, but so is having them and, because of attachment, being afraid of losing them.

 We’re in samsara so of course we can’t always possess the objects of our desire. We’re constantly looking for the four desirable objects but more often meeting the four undesirable ones. This is not a new experience; in fact it has been going on forever. The antiquities in a museum are absolutely nothing compared to this. No matter how old they might be, they originated after this world system started and we can still count their age in centuries or millennia. Our experience of meeting undesirable objects, on the other hand, started long before our current rebirth, even long before this world was created, and as we’re still not free from samsara we’ll continue to meet undesirable things for as long as we’re in it. That is the nature of our samsaric life.

 As long as we rely on external objects such as consumer goods and praise for our happiness, we’ll never find stability. The external world is always changing, so our reaction to it always changes too, up and down all the time—the sun shines, happy; the rain comes, unhappy; praise, happy; criticism, unhappy; good program on television, happy; boring program, unhappy. Whenever the conditions change our mind changes along with them, up and down, up and down, constantly.

 Say it’s Christmas and there’s somebody who’s usually very generous and always gives us a nice present. We come to expect presents from her, so when we see her our mind suddenly gets lifted up. That’s a sign that we’re attached to receiving material things. Then, one Christmas, for some reason she doesn’t give us a present. We get confused. We make up all sorts of reasons for why she has neglected us and strong dislike for her arises in our mind. We complain to her face that she loves everybody but us. We shout at and criticize her. Perhaps we even spit in her face. If we’re sitting at the table having dinner, even before we’ve finished eating, we hurl our plate to the floor, stamp our feet, run from the room to our bedroom and slam the door shut so loudly that everybody can hear. Then we throw ourselves onto our bed crying and complaining, criticizing her over and over, like a mantra. For hours and hours we recite the criticizing mantra. Thinking how she loves everybody else so much more, we get completely depressed and generate incredible anger toward this friend and jealousy toward everybody else. This is the work of the thought of the eight worldly dharmas.

 With clinging, it seems that when we’re in the middle of bad times they’ll never end, but when there’s no clinging we can see that it’s not like that. If something unpleasant is happening, it doesn’t bother us so much. If we cut off the desire clinging to this life through such basic techniques as meditating on impermanence and death, then even if the four undesirable things happen, it’s no big deal.

 We might have huge problems in our life—nobody in our family loves us, everybody hates us, we have to go to court and it looks as if we might have to spend the rest of our life in prison, we have a very bad reputation and everybody gossips about us, wherever we go in the street or at home everybody criticizes and refuses to help us—and in our mind it might appear that this is going to last forever, as if it’s permanent, but in reality this life is over in a flash. It’s like lightning; it happens, then it’s gone.

 While the lightning is there we can see the objects around us vividly, then suddenly that appearance disappears. The appearance of this life is the same; it happens, then suddenly it’s gone. Compared to our beginningless past lives, this life lasts just a second, like lightning.

 Lama Tsongkhapa says that this life is as impermanent as a water bubble, gone in a second. Seeing this, we should strive to take the essence of this perfect human rebirth and let go of clinging completely.

Conscious Decisions

October 10, 2011

[ From DailyOM ]

Because an idea or way of doing things is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

Just because an idea or way of doing things is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. However, part of the way that something becomes popular is that many of us don’t take the time to determine what’s right for us; we simply do what most of the people we know are doing. In this way, our decisions about life are made by default, which means they aren’t what we call conscious decisions. There may be many other options available, but we don’t always take the time to explore them. This may be the result of feeling overwhelmed or pressured by family, peers, and humanity at large, to do things their way, the way things have always been done. Regardless of the cause, it is important that, as often as we can, we decide for ourselves what to do with our lives rather than just drift along on the current of popular opinion.

It is not always easy to make decisions that go against the grain. Many people feel threatened when those close to them make choices divergent from the ones they are making. Parents and grandparents may be confused and defensive when we choose to raise our children differently from the way they raised us. Friends may feel abandoned if we decide to change our habits or behavior. Meanwhile, on our side of the fence, it’s easy to feel frustrated and defensive when we feel unsupported and misunderstood simply because we are thinking for ourselves. It can be exhausting to have to explain and re-explain our points of view and our reasons.

This is where gentleness, openness, and tolerance come into play. It helps if we are calmly persistent, consistent, and clear as we communicate to those around us why we are making the choices we are making. At the same time, we have the right to say that we are tired of talking about it and simply need our choices to be respected. Our lives belong to us and so do our decisions. Those who truly love us will stand by us and support our choices, never mind what’s popular.

Understanding All Sides

October 10, 2011

[ From DailyOM ]

Looking at only one side of our life can make us blind to the many other ways of looking at our situation.

Whenever we examine our lives, we examine them from a particular side or angle. Most of us tend to favor one side over the others. For example, we may tend to look at things from an emotional perspective rather than a financial perspective, or we may prefer to think in terms of details rather than the big picture, or vice versa. To a certain degree, this is not a problem, and these tendencies add color to our individual personalities. However, they can also make us one-sided, blind to the many other ways of looking at our situation. Even if we have decided that we are most happy when we focus on one particular side of things, it is always worth exploring the other sides. When we do, we become well rounded, more understanding of other viewpoints, and even more solid in our own.

Perhaps you are a person who tends to see your life in terms of your spiritual well-being. As a result, other concerns such as financial comfort or social standing may not be prominent in your mind as you make decisions. However, taking just a moment to consider those angles will help you in several ways. One, it will enable you to see more clearly what your priorities are and how they influence your life situation. Two, it will enhance your sense of confidence, because you will see your situation from all sides, even as you choose one. And three, it will help you communicate with others about who you are and what you are doing, because you will come from a place of understanding that your own biases and tendencies are unique as are theirs.

Most of us instinctively come at things from a particular angle, and in many cases this is the right way for us. Still, understanding the other angles only strengthens us. When we look at our lives from all sides, we shed light on the big picture, giving ourselves access to many points of view and highlighting more clearly the one we have chosen to take.