What is a toolkit?
In the ‘old days’ a toolkit was considered to be :
” A set of tools to be used for a particular purpose”, or
“A personal set of resources, abilities or skills”
In our modern world we now have the addition of:
“Software designed to perform a specific function, especially to solve a problem”
With either definition I think we can agree that a toolkit is to help us perform a task or solve a problem. The skills we have been learning throughout our life to help us survive our modern world could be considered to be a ‘toolkit’, a set of mental strategies for making our way through life dealing with any hardships or problems that may occur and hopefully having a happy time on the journey.
So just for a bit of fun, here is a teeny questionnaire:
( you wont need a pen and paper!)
and giving you a hard time, do you:
a) get angry and shout louder than them.
b) phone a friend and complain angrily about the situation
c) slam out of the door and stomp up the stairs.
d) decide they are having a bad day and be calm and patient with them.
2. You have had a piggy day / week and decide you need a coffee and cake treat. The cake, though it looks nice is dry, tasteless and unenjoyable. Do you:
b) dwell on your misfortune and feel even more fed up
c) complain loudly to the waitress in no uncertain terms
d) decide you are experiencing some unfortunate Karma and accept patiently.
a) feel gutted, miserable, get depressed, have a few too many drinks
b) think of all the reasons why the other person shouldn’t have what you deserved
c) feel very jealous and vow to avoid the other person forever
d) try to develop some good feeling for their good fortune.
Now here’s the scoring:
Answers a) b) c)………………………. Score 0
Answer d)……………………….Score 10 points
If you scored 0: you are using the wrong toolkit to enable you to live a happy life.
If you scored 10 or above: you have started to collect the necessary mental tools in your toolkit which will lead you to a happy life.
During our brief lives we become familiar with certain mental traits or behaviours which we think will enable us to succeed in our society and establish the life we wish to experience, we could call this our ‘mental toolkit’.
We all have our own view of the type of live we wish to lead, whether it involves a high-powered career or merely a few euros in our pocket, a mansion or a modest bed sit, a family, a partner or a life of solitude and so on.
Regardless of our wishes and dreams , all of us have one wish in common: we all wish for happiness. Nobody wants any unpleasant, miserable, painful experiences or suffering of any description.
Over time we have gathered together our ‘mental kit’ to help us achieve this task. So the question is: How well is your toolkit working?
Do you experience perfect happiness? Unchanging perfect happiness?
Never a ‘down’ moment, no irritations, no jealousy, annoyance, anger or any less than perfect moments?
(If so you obviously have a 100% perfect toolkit, so no need to read on!)
For those who are still with me here, we will look at our three questions again.
The reason why responses a) b) c) score zero points is because, while it may be our habitual response to many situations it is not actually achieving the result we desire. The answer is right under the tip of our nose yet we don’t see it.
When we feel angry, irritable, jealous (or any other negative state of mind) we are not feeling happy, so how is this helping us with our aim?
We may feel quite righteous opening our mouth and letting the anger, spite and complaints pour out, after all they were well deserved. (Weren’t they?)
We’re quite right to feel depressed after working for years for that boss who overlooked us for that position. (Aren’t we?)
But at the end of the day, who is it helping? We can rant and wallow as much as we like but does this help us achieve anything? Does it calm down our partner/relative? Does it rewind and invigorate the dry tasteless cake moment? Do we step back in time and get the job? Does it make us happy?
If ranting and wallowing is giving us a deep feeling of peace, happiness and contentment, that’s great but highly unlikely. so therefore we are using the wrong toolkit! We need to acquire a new one.
How to collect your new toolkit.
We need to gradually replace our faulty mental tools with new efficient tools. Tools that do the job we require, tools that make us happy.
Develop new strategies for dealing with events in our life which eliminate our miserable negative states of mind and replace them with positive happy states of mind.
To do this, we firstly have to do some personal mental market research. Examine your state of mind when you have had a mini tantrum, felt disgusted because you didn’t get what you wanted or encountered a situation you did not want. See the effect this has on your mind. We actually feel agitated, not in any way happy.
When we can see clearly that the effects of plan A, using our old kit, are not producing the conditions we desire, we become more open-minded to plan B, gathering a new kit.
So in relation to our three questions above:
Q1) Consider intellectually the outcome of using our new toolkit.
If we remain calm and patient, understanding that our partner / relative must be having a hard time and we just happen to be in the firing line, the situation is less likely to escalate and we are more likely to keep a happy mind. If we can remain happy and peaceful we are more likely to be able to help defuse a difficult situation and help our partner ‘chill out’ rather than encourage a meltdown.
Anger in our mind is like a poison, guaranteed to ruin our happiness both now and in the future. But if we can learn the practice of patience, this is a way of training our mind or ‘sharpening our tools’ to deal with difficult situations and remain calm and peaceful.
This, in no way, encourages people to accept abusive situations; it is possible to keep a calm, peaceful and even happy mind and walk away from a situation if necessary.
Q2) Nothing we can do will change that piece of cake. So get over it! (I had to tell myself this recently after struggling to put a tent up after a long hard day, then my long-awaited treat turned out to be a rather dry tasteless piece of coffee & walnut cake! )
Even the tastiest piece of cake wouldn’t have made us really happy anyway, only provided a few minutes pleasure. Is it worth getting all hot and bothered over it? We could end up more miserable than we started.
From a Buddhist point of view, everything we experience today, we have already created the causes for in the past, from previous actions we probably don’t even remember. This is described by the word Karma, meaning an action of body, speech or mind. So a negative action creates the cause for a negative experience in the future and a positive action creates the cause for a positive experience in the future. A little bit like the phrase “What goes around, comes around”.
So, in a lighthearted view, long ago we may have taken the best delicious piece of cake and left the dried-up tasteless piece for our friend! (We could view this as a negative action from a selfish mind, selfishness being a negative mind and therefore resulting in a negative experience in the future… i.e. our tasteless piece of cake.)
So, on the simplest level, instead of wallowing or complaining we can just accept and move on.
On a deeper level, if we understand more about our negative minds (called ‘Delusions’‘ in Buddhist terminology) we will notice how they arise unbidden within us, encouraging us (even impelling us) to act in negative ways. With some knowledge of Karma and how negative actions affect our future, we can decide to train our mind to eliminate delusions, our ‘inner enemies’, and develop peaceful positive happy minds instead. Great tools for our new kit!
Q3) Similar approach as above: Will our miserable jealous dejected mind help us get over the lack of the job promotion? Will a hangover really help? Just like the piece of cake, we can decide to just ‘get over it’. We could avoid have a miserable, mean, jealous spiteful mind towards the other person and try to develop a positive mind feeling happy for them. The vital point about this is that if we can cultivate a happy mind towards the good fortune of others, this is a positive mind which gives rise to happiness for us, now and in the future, whereas the other negative minds do exactly the opposite. See for yourself: think back to when you last felt spiteful or jealous towards somebody, were you feeling peaceful and happy at that time? Unlikely, because all our negative minds function to leave us feeling unsettled and unhappy.
For longer than we can remember we have been dragged backwards and forwards by our unpredictable minds, happy, sad, angry,dejected, anxious or depressed, wherever they took us.
Now we can understand that we have a choice; ditch the old toolkit (our ineffective mental habits and behaviours) and put a little investment into acquiring a new set of tools which will give us what we really long for….real lasting happiness 😉