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Don’t Panic* or A Few Stress Busting Thoughts

November 20, 2012

“Just as there is room in the sky for a thunderstorm, so there is room in the vast space of our mind for a few painful feelings; and just as a storm has no power to destroy the sky, so unpleasant feelings have no power to destroy our mind.”

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Transform Your Life (hardback, p326)

This last week or so i’ve definitely felt the icy hands of stress try to place their brittle grip upon my heart. Job interviews and end of year deadlines taking me into the long nights. I’m sure I’m  not alone in this, so I thought i’d share some of the things which help me to cope and even grow from such experiences.

Hell Is Not Other People

What I have learned is that stress is the consequence of putting my problem solving efforts into the wrong place. It is thinking things should be other than how they actually are and then trying to hold back what can’t be stopped. It’s at these most stressful moments that I find Buddha’s clear teachings so helpful because whilst I would otherwise flap around fighting everything but the real cause of my suffering, he points clearly to the real problem and so gives purpose to my efforts.

You Should Know Suffering

Don’t stop reading!! To know suffering is also the key to busting stress. This was actually the very first teaching that Buddha gave. To know suffering means to understand how it is produced and why we experience it; just as the cure for diseases such as cancer lie in knowing their nature, causes and effects. So the extent to which we can cure suffering depends on the profundity with which we can know its nature, causes and effects.

When I feel stressed it seems like my happiness depends on the actions of other people, or things going the way I want and so I try to control all the factors that lead to the fulfilment of my wishes.  But with so many things to control, not least of which being people, and the world being so unpredictable, its no wonder I lose sleep!

Sartre famously said “Hell is other people”, but as a Buddhist I would re-state that,

“Hell is the belief that hell is other people”

This view, which is a very natural reaction to difficulties, sets up an exhausting impossible chain of chasing the things we desire and desperately trying to avoid or destroy the “other people” or things we believe cause us harm. Since there are no end to the number of people and conditions which can produce suffering and problems, trying to avoid them will leave us exhausted and worn out.

So actually what is suffering?

All suffering is one or a combination of  3 types:

 1.    Manifest suffering

This includes aging, death, sickness, being parted from what we want and failing to satisfy our desires. Most of my end of year problems can be found right here, and the truth is that to a greater or lesser extent they are inevitable. The cure here is not to try and avoid them, which is impossible, but to learn to see them in a positive or useful way. In fact, if we get this right, we do not have to suffer at all

Shantideva, in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of life said,

“Moreover, suffering has many good qualities.
Through experiencing it, we can dispel pride,
Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara,
Abandon non-virtue, and delight in virtue.”

For example I think a great deal of our mental pain comes because we feel somehow entitled to fulfil our wishes and to not do so seems like an injustice of which we are a victim. This is actually the mind of pride at work. One symptom of pride is feeling separate and different from others, perhaps also misunderstood.

The truth is we came into the world dumb, helpless and naked. Everything we now have is the result of the kindness of others and surveying the world we can see many living beings are far less fortunate than ourselves, not because we are better or more deserving than them, but simply because we are more fortunate. Our encounters with suffering help to remind us of the good fortune we normally experience, of the kindness of others and how rare and precious our conditions are.

“Because of Suffering … Joy is Found ” Photo Copyright Leonida 2012

I think the nature of stress includes feelings of anger and dislike, where the objects of blame are cloaked by a vale of ignorance which constantly frustrates our efforts to connect with and solve the problem. Whilst a proper understanding of suffering leads to opposite feelings of patience, compassion and the light of wisdom revealing the situation clearly. In other words a state of mind which is very strong, clear and comfortable where we are able to connect with and understand other people and so no longer feel isolated,

To transform suffering in this way, it is essential to understand what is the problem and what can be done. For me personally I am so grateful that Buddha taught un-mistakenly what we can change (our mind and our view), and what we need to accept.

In this blog post, I just wanted to focus on one point, but here are the other two major types of suffering:

2. Changing suffering which is our capacity to transformation any pleasure into pain or dissatisfaction just by its increasing or prolonging it, examples include a holiday that lasts too long, or eating too much food or staying in a great job until you feel stale.

3. Pervasive suffering, this is very subtle but is basically the possession of the basis which enables suffering, such as a human body and mind who always carry with them the potential for us to suffer.

Knowledge of these two types of suffering frees us further from the ignorance believing that happiness lies in the things we possess or the circumstances we meet. The more profoundly we come to understand this, the more liberated we can become, until there is no circumstance and no place on earth where we do not feel completely free and at ease.

Some other thoughts

Actually, the title of this blog post was a little response to the most recent article on, Marvin the Manically Depressed Robot*. Anyone familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide will know the reference. I wanted to mention this article because I also found it really useful to remember when the stress kicked in, “There is no bogey man under the bed”. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you take a look.! Luna also wrote a wonderful article about transforming suffering, which I can also highly recommend.

Your Feeback

If you have time, i’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback and experience on this subject. Thanks once again for taking the time to read Heart of Compassion, I hope you’ve found at least one useful thing in amongst all these words 🙂

From → Fundamental

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