Creating a small space between tasks stops the accumulation of emotional states.
Missing the alarm in the morning and oversleeping, Jack suddenly wakes up and realizes he’s going to be late for work. Panic! From that moment on there’s a world-shattering rush to try and get there on time: the morning wash at top speed, water and soapsuds everywhere; breakfast shovelled in; scalding tea gulped down with a yelp; legging it to the bus stop; spending the ride tapping the fingers and biting the lip, or driving like a madman, swearing at friend and foe, prepared to run over man, woman, child, cat or dog and finally arriving at work. Is that the end of the panic? Of course not! Late or not he’s set the pace for the whole day which turns into a frenetic onslaught of rush, anger, frustration, anxiety and stress, at the end of which his only comfort is an aspirin!
All this stopped of course when Jack became an expert meditator. Now if he’s late, he notices the sense of panic and anxiety, but doesn’t respond. He talks himself out of rushing, accepting the fact he’s late, and puts his effort into concentrating on what he’s doing. He may move faster, but not more wildly. And when he gets to work, late or early, he accepts this fact and realizes that from now on there’s no need to keep up the faster pace. He relaxes back into his normal routine — no anxiety, no frustration, no angry outbursts, no rush, no stress.
Now Jill, Jack’s wife, gets to work this morning, early enough, but feeling tired and depressed. As soon as she walks in, her boss says something she doesn’t like. She gets angry and all day is alternately depressed, tired, and angry. When she gets home, she shouts at Jack and the kids, kicks the cat and is thoroughly miserable.
But now, Jill has also become a meditator. She still suffers from depression, but now acknowledges it as a result of past conditioning. She tries to feel it as it really is and decides that though the depression may hang about, her energy and attention will be directed to the job in hand, to communicating, to raising the will to be helpful, open and friendly. By doing this she knows the depression won’t dominate her life and there won’t be reactions like anger, self-pity or anxiety. Her attitude to it now is as to any physical pain and she knows that this sort of attitude is allowing the depression to lose steam. She realizes she is reconditioning or re-educating herself. It’s hard work, but every so often she feels that the depression passes away that bit more quickly, that it is not quite so deep, that she is not so suffocated by it. The moods, once so solid, now seem softer and there is a general uplift towards calmness, peace and joy.
Jill knows that this technique, based on awareness, has to be regular and constant, so she trains herself into the habit of the inward glance. Moving from room to room means opening and shutting doors. In that small moment of opening and closing each door, Jill pauses to look inwards, taking stock and letting go of whatever mood she’s in, leaving that mood in the room she’s just left. Clearing her heart and mind, she returns to equilibrium. Walking along corridors, up and down stairs, during tea breaks and natural breaks, Jill practises this gentle self-monitoring. There is continual effort to let go of negative states of mind and to establish self-awareness, and then to turn outwards to be aware of all that is around. Jill knows now from personal experience that keeping this awareness leads to equanimity and clarity of mind. Her depressions may still come and go, but she’s no longer controlled by them, and in time they will pass away.
An extension of the continual process of self-monitoring, which is simply a way of being in touch with ourselves and of getting to know ourselves better, is to keep a diary. The purpose of this is to heighten our self-knowledge and to encourage us in our spiritual training. Writing can often get things off our chests. When writing about an occasion which upsets us, we can ask ourselves what it was that actually made us upset. Why did it? Was it rational? Did the response help the situation or us? What would be a better response to a similar situation in the future?
I knew someone who was having problems with his child. He talked about how unruly and angry the child was. As he talked he happened to mention that he often got quite angry with him. It occurred to us, when we discussed it, that maybe the child was simply reacting to his anger and modelling himself on his father’s behaviour, as any dutiful child should! A lot of the problems passed when the father changed his behaviour.
Perhaps if he’d kept a diary, he might have been able to make the connection between the child’s behaviour and his own before it became a problem.
It is good to spend some time before falling asleep, bringing the whole day to mind. Here, the diary is useful. Note all the times when mindfulness was lost — when, where and with whom. See if anything can be done in order to put right any unfortunate consequences of mindlessness. If nothing can be done, then accept the consequences totally; accept it and resolve not to let such a thing happen again. Recall moments of mindfulness, of joy, of friendliness, of handling tricky situations well. Then determine to continue your efforts the following day. Finally, go to sleep with the mind rested, gently following the breathing.
More articles by Bhante Bodhidhamma click here
First published in the December 1989 Buddhism Now.