Staying positive

Category : General advice, Philosophy 20th September 2020

Inside Yoga 308 (20/9/2020)

Perhaps I can speak for most of us, but doesn’t all the Covid news get us down, or at worst encourage a worrying mind? After six months it is not surprising that many will find it hard to see the bright side?

I posit this thought: after seeing one interview where the person passionately argued (or was it ranted?) about how the news was too negative and causing mental health problems. And then listening to lunch news I did think it is hard listening at present, as news stories continue to tell us stay safe follow the rules, etc.

At first the war against Covid-19 felt energised as we got to grips with our “new normal” but as time goes by it wears us out and more often and not we will feel worn out and low.

We don’t want to let all this get us down, so how do we cope?

One of the lessons from the story of the Buddha is when still a young 29-year-old prince he went into the city and for the first time he saw with his own eyes his people’s suffering, including sickness, beggars and death. For most of his life his parents had tried to hide all the bad stuff from him.

He ran away from home, renouncing his princely life, seeking answers to meaning of life and the rest, and through his enlightenment six years later (I like to add this timeline to warn those who think this comes quickly and easily), he became the Buddha, and the rest is history as they say.

The point here is that I do believe we cannot hide from bad news, and we need to learn to cope with what we see and do not like, and perhaps learn to control our exposure to distressing news and events. We can get the news in digestible amounts, and do not need to watch 24-hour news TV all day (unless it is our job, but I am sure they switch off when at home!).

We can also learn to see that bad and good news are two ends of the dualistic nature of our existence. A dualism that when uncontrolled throws us to and fro, like a pendulum swinging without control, from good to bad, leaving us potentially a physical and emotional wreck. Good-bad and up-down are dualistic ways of living. The solution is to develop a non-dualistic perspective and response to life and its events.

Meditation practice (and I include yoga in this, as its essentially a meditation) trains us to strengthen our own mind against this duality which can wreck us, and contrary to some impressions that Buddhists retreat and hide, one of my teachers advocated engaged Buddhism, where we learn all we can through the practice and engage in daily life, doing what we can to improve the life we lead and the lives of others. The altruistic intention is important, because putting others first will in the long benefit us.

Facing the reality of what is around us, and learning to keep a serene yet calm smile not just on our face but in our hearts is the important goal and lesson.
Our current situation is a challenge. But we can manage. We can learn to cope.

Using our practice, whether it is yoga asanas followed by quiet seated meditation or simply just sitting, we train and give ourselves strength to live fully in this world, even the Covid one. Because when we are calm and free from disturbing thoughts, everything will feel fine. Then we are prepared: when experiencing clarity we are better placed to respond appropriately to whatever is thrown at us by life.

When we open ours eyes after meditation and go back to whatever is our daily life we will be more prepared and ready to face the world.

The bad news can be heard with compassion to feel for how terrible things can be, an open heart which perhaps feels the pain, but also, the strength to not be personally floored but it all. Bad stuff rarely disappears for ever, so we always need to be prepared.

The Dalai Lama would often speak of the tears he shed thinking about certain people and their suffering, but he still retains his formidable strength and ability to do his work. Compassion does not mean we cry and throw in the towel. It asks us to feel others’ suffering but asks us to be present and strong at the same time.

In the Tibetan tradition there are references to becoming a spiritual warrior who learns to be both in touch with their (spiritual) heart but also strong and able to face the suffering that can rise in life.

A clarification: sometimes people write the Buddha said “life is suffering”, which is incorrect interpretation, because the message was “in life there is suffering”. A big difference! The correct meaning shows that yes, life can be tough, suffering can fill it at times, like is right now for so many people, but light is there at the end of a tunnel, because there is an end to suffering.
This is possible, because whatever the “bad” is in our life we can reduce our suffering, the situation might not change but we can change how we approach our life and our thinking.

People with cancer have often shown how they can still live a full life with a smile even when so much is wrong, and if they aim to live one day at a time, one moment to one moment, they can feel stronger and better about their life.

In a similar way, we train ourselves to take each piece of news, Covid news at present, in our stride. Focus on what we have which is good right now. There is use of the word “bubble” at present, sometimes we need to go back in our bubble to rebuild and strengthen then remerge. In Buddhist practices retreats are used as a way of retreating from the external world, ie our daily life and spending some time with ourselves, meditating and so forth. This really helps. Then we can go back to our daily life feeling prepared and ready.

In a similar way, though smaller scale, in terms of time, our yoga classes are doing similar work. The hour just practising yoga helps to get rid of what we don’t need, it helps us shed and clear our mind and body, then we are ready for the world, be it family, work and so forth.

I am a firm believer in staying in touch with what is happening in our country and the world. I also believe in maintaining my yoga practice. They can work together, because as much as we like to think otherwise, we are part of the world, and it is part us. Our liberation from suffering can be through understanding our interdependence with all around us. Being connected as opposed feeling separate and alone is a way of improving the quality of our life.

We can train ourselves to see the world and also see who we are, with a non-dualistic perspective which implies a steadiness, not thrown to and fro by feelings or events, and clarity, able to see what is happening; and hopefully to respond appropriately.

The Buddha never said this was easy, but we can learn.

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