Have you noticed how we spend our whole life furiously rushing here and there, busily organising all those things we have to do?
The list of things which are essential to do or organise gets bigger and bigger, somehow the more we do the more there is to be done.
We all know that we have to stick to plan A to get it all fitted in, without successfully completing plan A life would just be impossible to live. Woe betide anything or anyone that gets in the way of completing this plan, everything has to fall into place ‘just so’, or our life would be disastrous.
So we get irritated, annoyed, stressed, anxious, angry and depressed when things don’t go according to plan. Basically we end up miserable trying to do all the things we think we need to do to enjoy our life. Isn’t that ironic?
But have you ever experienced those times when things seriously go adrift, when disaster strikes and we can’t stick to Plan A, or even Plan B or C? An unplanned event or situation has arisen, blasting its way through our carefully laid plans.
We try desperately to hang on to our plan: ” But i really need to be there at 7pm”, “at the very least I have to be there by monday lunchtime”,” I can’t possibly take Monday off work”, we cling on to any semblance of our original plan getting more and more stressed and anxious by the minute. The point eventually arises when we give up all hope of adhering to those plans, the situation is beyond our control, therefore we have to mentally surrender to circumstance, give up resistance to the situation and accept.
Have you noticed in those moments immediately following this surrender, that we experience a deep sense of calm and peace of mind? Accepting we cannot change or control a situation releases our tight resistant mind and sets it free to ride with the waves instead of wasting our energy paddling upstream, trying to fight the inevitable.
Such a liberating experience to accept the unchangeable!
How wonderful it would be if we could always live life this way, unfettered from our chains of tension, stress and anxiety.
We know from our own experience that there are many difficult painful situations we can’t avoid but we can definitely avoid the anger and unhappiness that they normally provoke in us.
As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in “How to Solve our Human Problems“: “It is these habitual reactions to hardship rather than the hardship itself, that disturbs our day-to-day peace of mind. When we learn to accept difficult situations patiently, the real problem disappears”
We may feel this is impossible or even unnatural, but what is the option? To develop miserable angry minds whenever something goes wrong in our life? That’s going to be a lot of time wasted feeling miserable and unhappy.
We may think that once we get over this problem the rest of our life will be ‘plain sailing’ but we need to look at the facts.
We probably suffer from some sort of dissatisfaction on a daily basis, encountering a steady stream of minor mishaps e.g we miss the train, get stuck in a traffic jam, the boss/partner is in a grumpy mood, our favorite item has sold out from store, an appointment is cancelled, we get sick and miss the planned movie/meal/party; the list is endless. It is likely we have also suffered from major life-changing experiences such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, illness. If we haven’t it will appear one day, it is inevitable.
So we can continue to get irritable, irate and depressed or we can try to learn to accept.
The situations will still occur but our experience of the event is altered, and our experience of the event is the only way the event exists, so by changing our experience of the event we are effectively changing the event itself.
We don’t develop the tension in our mind but remain peaceful, calm and accepting. This may seem hard to imagine but consider this: have you ever been in a situation with a group of people and somebody walks in, says a few words and leaves. After they leave everybody has a different view ” They were a bit stroppy don’t you think?”, “That was kind of them”, ” Who rattled their cage today?”, “Öh that was a very good comment”, each person had a different experience of the same event, according to the way they perceived it. In exactly the same way we can choose how to perceive the difficult situations which arise in the rest of our life. We can be tense, anxious and irritable or train our mind to accept the things we cannot change.
In Buddhist terminology this is called “Patient Acceptance”, learning to accept those situations we cannot change. If we can remedy a situation, then obviously we do so, but by accepting things we cannot change we avoid a lot of negative energy and mental tension and live a happier life.
As Shantideva , a great Buddhist Master said:
“If something can be remedied
Why be unhappy about it?
And if there is no remedy for it,
There is still no point in being unhappy.”
This may seem impossible for us right now, but if we look at the logic we will see it is worth training our mind to accept the things we cannot change. As the verse above says, if we cannot remedy or change something why make it worse by dwelling on it and prolonging the unhappy state of mind? Accept and move on.
As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains; Patience is not about gritting our teeth and putting up with things but about giving up the idea that things should be other than how they are. It is always possible to be patient and it will prevent unhappy thoughts taking over our mind.
This is not about gritting our teeth or repressing our feelings, it is about retraining our destructive thought patterns into something more conducive to a happy state of mind and therefore a happier life free from pain.
Human life will always be fraught with difficulties, nobody escapes problems, but if we can gradually overcome our habitual reactions to difficult situations and begin to develop patient acceptance we can be free from the mental torment which normally accompanies these difficulties.
As with any habit we are trying to break be realistic, start with the small stuff e.g those relatively trivial difficulties mentioned earlier, lets face it, being angry and furious when stuck in the traffic jam is not going to get us out of it any faster, but will only leave us feeling rattled and irritable. Being annoyed when we miss out on an event due to illness is not going to change things but just add mental pain to the physical pain of our illness.
It also helps to ponder or contemplate the logic of these suggestions in meditation, this helps us to gain the motivation to really change our mind and our life.
So why not give it a go? If you have ever experienced that complete state of calm when you finally submit to the uncontrollable situation you have been fighting it will give you an idea of what could be achieved with practice.
Patient Acceptance is not in any way a weak response, it is a sign of courage. It is about having the strength of character to refuse to fall into old habitual ways of thinking which drag us down and threaten to destroy out happiness. Neither is it about accepting situations we can change e.g. we do not continue to be abused in a relationship under the banner of “Patient Acceptance”, we can still walk out. Remember we are accepting situations we cannot change, it is not about putting our safety or welfare at risk.
What is there to lose? Only a miserable, angry mind which arises whenever things go wrong – and that is going to happen many more times in the future.
What can be gained? Freedom and fearlessness of mind, happiness and peace.
Sounds worthwhile to me! 🙂
Tagged: anxiety, buddhism., happiness, WPLongform
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