Joy in an Age of Anxiety
by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
REAL PEACE IS IN OUR MIND
How can we have joy? Transform your mind. How you want to use your mind is in your control. We all face ageing, we have no choice but to go through it. We cannot change this fact. But how we face it or how we react to getting old is up to us.
When a person faces a problem, typically the person will think that it is the worst situation he or she can face and find it hard to cope. The mind exaggerates due to our belief that our happiness depends on our external circumstances. But really, the main cause for our happiness or suffering lies within us.
So we have to understand the essence and quality of our own mind. My father once advised me, “Do not look for a solution in the external situation. The real peace is in your mind.” He gave me this piece of advice as I was at that time suffering from panic attacks. I realised then that panic itself was not a problem, but how I related to it was the issue.
THE TWO CAUSES OF OUR SUFFERING
My motivation to learn meditation then was to rid myself of panic. So when I meditated, I did it with the intention of “Hello panic, get out! I’m meditating.” My teacher told me not to meditate in that manner as the panic would only become worse So I changed and started meditating with the intention of “Hello panic, welcome. I accept you. But why are you still here?”
Later I realised, our unhappiness stems from two things:
One, it is disliking, resisting and being averse to a situation or an object, for example the panic I am experiencing. Or what I called the panic of panic.
The second is craving for something else that we do not have, such as in my case: the desire or attachment for peace and to stop the panic.
In the end, I truly accepted my panic and learnt a lot from it. Panic has become my teacher and friend. I learn awareness, loving-kindness, compassion and also wisdom from my panic.
I am then able to be with my panic when it comes. I am happy too when it comes visiting because my meditation also comes along.
TRANSFORMING SOMETHING NEGATIVE TO POSITIVE
For example, pain is generally unpleasant. But you welcome the pain from foot reflexology because you know it is good for your heart, liver, kidneys and other organs. So such sensation of pain becomes pleasant. The same thing goes for chilli. When you are young, you don’t find chilli nice as it is too spicy. But now, as an adult, if you don’t eat your food with chilli, you don’t find it as tasty. It is the same with panic. You can change it to become your support for joy, just like foot reflexology and chilli. Even if someone points a gun to your head, that person may harm your physical body but your mind is in your hand.
So how do we do the actual practice? First, cultivate awareness of the body. Normally our mind is up there, jumping between past and future. When we are busy, it is even harder to stay in the present moment. So how do we focus our mind on the body? We need awareness and that is the essence of meditation.
Awareness is with us all the time. Our awareness is with us 24/7, even as we sleep. But we don’t know it. So the main thing is we have to recognise our own awareness.
MEDITATION IS ABOUT RECOGNISING AWARENESS
Meditation is all about recognising that awareness and maintaining that recognition. That’s it. In order to recognise awareness, we need some form of support, such as our body. You don’t have to block any thoughts or emotions. If you do that, it becomes worse so just let them come and go. Just don’t forget your awareness of the body. After a few seconds you may forget the body. It’s okay. Just come back to it again.
So now, let us begin the practice. Sit gently with your spine straight. Place your palms, joined together on your lap, or place them lightly on your knees. Close your eyes, relax your body. Feel your body and know your body. Be aware of any sensation within the body and relax. Bring your awareness on your body, part by part.
First, begin by bringing your awareness to the top of your head. Relax the muscles on top of your head. Be aware of any sensation on top of your head. It doesn’t matter what sort of sensation. Slowly bring your awareness to your forehead. Relax the muscles in the forehead. Be aware of your entire face, and relax. Be aware of the back of your head and relax. Then bring your awareness to your shoulders and relax. Next, your chest and relax. Be aware of your back and relax. Then focus on your stomach and relax. Then be aware and relax your arms. Next, be aware of your legs and relax. Be aware of your entire body and relax. Be aware of any feelings, sensations and emotions within the body and just watch and let them be.
If you can relax your body, good. If you cannot relax, it is okay too. Allow anything to happen. You do not have to pretend to be somebody or act to be someone else. Just be yourself and be free. You are free and in control of yourself.
As long as you are aware, you are meditating. That is the essence. Just watch and be aware. If you can see the river, it means you have not fallen into it and have not been carried away by it.
For instance, you cannot stop toothache just through meditation. But it can transform toothache as a support for awareness and become a cause for happiness. It’s not easy, especially for beginner meditators. But we can try. Only by trying and making mistakes can we have success in the future. The more failures the better as it means we did try and will lead to success eventually.
So when you watch — positive emotions, negative emotions, crazy monkey mind, peace, joy or whatever experience, feeling or emotion you have — it doesn’t matter; just watch. Don’t block them because it is impossible and needless to do so.
For example, if I ask you to think of anything except durian in your meditation, the one thing that will come up in your meditation is durian. Not having any thoughts is not the path of meditation. It is an experience of meditation. Just like peace, joy and bliss are experiences of meditation but not the essence of meditation.
Awareness is the essence, and is the heart of basic goodness. We all have wonderful qualities that are with us all the time such as love and compassion, abilities, power, wisdom, skills and lots of other good qualities.
We are more capable than we believe, and more good-hearted than what we feel. But people usually focus on and exaggerate the negative aspects, which generally make up just 10 percent of their lives, instead of the positive. So we have to learn to think, talk and act positively. Only then will you discover good qualities within.
In a nutshell, first, find joy and peace within you rather than seek them in the external environment. Second, utilise meditation as a tool to find that peace within you. And third, appreciate our basic goodness, appreciate our lives and be grateful that we are still alive and breathing and able to experience wonderful conditions such as living in a delightful country like Singapore.