Friends of Godwin Samararatne

Learn to be your best friend and also to be a friend of others. Learn to forgive yourself and others and then heal any wounds that you are carrying.

Month: September, 2014

It’s Okay Not to Feel Okay

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Often in our model of perfection there is no place for negative emotions, and we feel we should not have them. I suppose only enlightened people may not be having these unpleasant emotions. But as we are still human, as we are still imperfect, we should not be surprised when they come. Not being surprised and being open are related. There is a phrase that I use very often: learning to be friendly to them.

When I say this I am reminded of a myth which is presented in one of the Buddhist texts. It is about a demon who was living among human beings. When a human being got angry the demon used this anger as food, so as you can just imagine he had plenty of food. But demons can get bored with the same food every day, and one day this demon thought: “Maybe I should go to the heavens where the gods live and see whether they will have any food for me”. So he goes to heaven, he looks around and he finds that the throne of the chief god is vacant. Nobody was there so he sat himself down uninvited on the throne. When the gods arrived and saw this they got angry. And when they got angry, the demon for the first time had a taste of divine food.

In the beginning when this demon had sat down on the throne he was very small, but when the gods were getting angry with him, shouting and resenting his presence, he became bigger and bigger. The boss, the chief god, realised something was happening. He came to see what was going on and he spoke to the demon in a very friendly, a very gentle way. He welcomed the demon and said: “Would you like anything to drink?” and so on. You can guess what happened to the demon when the chief god became friendly to him: the demon could no longer feed himself on the divine food and so he shrank.

Psychologically this is really interesting. What we are trying to do with an open attitude towards our negative emotions is to learn to make friends with our monsters. A phrase you can say to yourself which can be helpful sometimes is: “It’s okay not to feel okay.” It is really about being friendly with yourself, accepting what is happening. I know it is not easy, but slowly, slowly, something interesting might happen. Your monsters might lose some of their strength. Helpful here is our friend the breath and the sensations in our body. These two friends help us to experience the present moment, and they can prevent emotions from blowing up.

When We See Shortcomings

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A very valuable skill is to learn to see an action or a word from another person not from your own point of view, but from the other person’s point of view. It is very difficult because we are so fixed with our own plusses and minuses, with our own assumptions, our own beliefs and our own value judgements. To be able to forget all that and try to understand another person from his or her point of view we need to have a lot of space and a lot of understanding about human nature.

When we see the shortcomings and the faults of other people it is important to realise that we’re not free from them either. When we judge others, when we give minuses to other people, when we give advice to other people, we tend to forget that we also have similar qualities ourselves.

Action and Reaction

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I would suggest that you develop a real motivation for relieving your own suffering and the suffering of others. And you will translate that compassion into action. Please realize that with meditation one does not become inactive, one does not become passive; rather you’ll be acting, but again the quality of acting will be different.

There are two interesting English words which highlight the difference: responding and reacting. So with meditation you learn to develop this quality of responding to situations, acting without reacting. Reaction is an emotional state: when you see suffering in others, you can’t handle it. But here I suggest you learn to develop this beautiful quality of responding, and therefore react less. As we are still human, in certain situations we might be reacting also, but that in itself can be a learning experience – to find out, to enquire, why did I react in that situation?

“What I’m Having, I See in this Other Person As Well.”

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Sometimes there are people with whom we have problems, it may be the boss or some of our colleagues at work. At home it may be your partner or your neighbours. We all have situations like that in our everyday life. The greatest challenge we have is to relate to people in whom we see shortcomings and faults. In such a situation one important thing is to remember not to be surprised. Why should we be surprised? According to Buddhism, human beings behave in this way due to the three drives of greed, hatred and delusion, meaning ignorance, not knowing or ignoring reality. We all have these three drives in us.

When you see it in other people you realise: “What I’m having, I see in this other person as well.” If you can really penetrate this realisation you can feel compassionate for people who display their frailties, their humanness, without getting angry, without creating a wound. The normal reaction we have is that we immediately give them a big minus. This is a very strong habit that we have, and we do exactly the same with ourselves. We don’t see the Buddha-nature in us, we almost refuse to see the good qualities, so we need to make a special effort in this direction. In the Buddhist texts the Buddha often mentions the importance of reflecting on the good things that we have done. This can give tremendous confidence, tremendous joy and considerable lightness and encouragement as well. With this perspective you relate to the human frailties in yourself and others in an entirely different way.

But this perspective can create difficulties as well, because you may use it as an excuse for being reluctant to act when people misbehave. You may say to yourself: “Well, it is due to ignorance”, and you don’t do anything. If parents are practising meditation they might get the idea that their children can behave in any way they like; or if the boss is a meditator then the people working under him or her may be excused anything, because it is simply due to their greed, hatred and delusion. If the husband is a meditator the wife can get away with anything. But this is not reality.

The question is then: how are we to bring these two perspectives together? One way is that without getting angry, without immediately giving a minus, we might get the person to reflect and to understand why he or she is behaving in a particular way. You’ll be surprised to learn that most human beings whom you meet don’t know why they are behaving as they are. Their behaviour is simply a habit, it has become a conditioning, and so they behave according to certain patterns; or they may carry unhealed wounds. People are just behaving in a certain way and they don’t know why. To give a person a minus and to show your anger and resentment to a person such as this is like taking a crazy man seriously and threatening him just as though he was a sane person.

Be Open

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We do not like to see ourselves as we are. We are very clever, doing all kinds of things simply so as not to see ourselves as we are. And over the years I have realised that this is quite common among meditators. Why do I say this? Because as meditators we are given ideas, models and images of how we should be. So there is a conflict between what we are naturally, and what we should become. Therefore we do not want to look at what we are, it is not so pleasant.

All the time, we are so impatient to become enlightened in the future that we don’t really see what is happening at the moment. What meditators do most of the time is to push away things, to deny things, pretending they are not there. Isn’t this very interesting, what we are doing to ourselves? So if we do not have awareness, if we do not have clarity, how can we make these discoveries about ourselves?

And if we can be really honest, sincere and genuine in seeing what we are doing to ourselves, then slowly, gently, like a flower we can open up more and more. Then we can be open to any pleasant experience, we can be open to any unpleasant experience. Pleasant experience comes: just a pleasant experience, no plus. Unpleasant experience comes: we are open to it, there is no minus.

Life Can Be a Hard Teacher

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I have had the good fortune to meet many masters, many gurus, many teachers from many traditions. Do you know which master, which guru has most inspired me? It is life itself. Life is our best teacher. So thanks to the Dhamma, when you realise the importance of the Dhamma, life becomes your teacher. And sometimes life can be a very hard teacher, but it is always a good teacher. It can indicate to us what we are really are.

Space for your Thoughts

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Try this in any posture you like: just allow thoughts to arise – thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future – and see how far you can simply observe these thoughts, just thoughts arising and passing away, as if these thoughts do not belong to you, as though you were observing another person’s thoughts.

If you are getting involved with the thoughts, if you are judging the thoughts, just know what is happening, and note the difference between being an observer and being involved with the thoughts.

Making friends with your thoughts, creating space for your thoughts by allowing any thought to arise, and observing how you react to the thoughts. The reaction doesn’t matter as long as you are aware of it, as long as you observe the reaction. Just being completely choiceless.

Now can you do the same in regard to any emotion that is arising in you. Whatever emotion is arising – sadness, anxiety, fear, joy – do not want it to stay in your mind, and also do not want it to go away, just be at one with that emotion, whatever it is. And do the same in regard to any sensation that is arising, pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations, whatever it is, just let it be.

Being choiceless about thoughts, emotions, sensations – learn to be a witness to whatever is happening in your mind and body. Learning to see things as they are, and not as they should or must be.

It Sounds Very Simple!

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What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.

And in relation to insight, according to the Buddha’s teachings there are three characteristics, three important aspects which we have to develop if we are cultivating insight. The first is to develop the understanding, to realize, how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. So while we are sitting now, your thoughts are changing from moment to moment; there is one thought, then another thought arises. So there is this continuous change taking place in relation to your thoughts. Sensations in your body are also changing from moment to moment. Your state of mind too is changing from moment to moment; sometimes you may feel happy, sometimes you might feel restless, sometimes you may feel calm. So whatever your state of mind, that is also changing.
It is a very important step to be open to the changes that you are experiencing internally, and then whatever changes take place in your mind and body, if you learn not to resist them and if you learn to be open to them and realize what is happening, there can be any changes taking place but there will be no suffering.

In the same way, externally, the world out there, the life out there is also always changing from moment to moment; sometimes good things happen to us, sometimes bad things happen to us, sometimes unexpected things happen to us. But here again, whatever is happening externally, if you can realize the fact of change, of impermanence, and be open to it, any changes can take place but you can still be free because you recognize that we have no control. Now I am told that very soon a typhoon will come here. Can you prevent that typhoon from coming to Hong Kong? But what we can do is to understand it, to be open to it and as it is said in the Buddha’s teachings, to see it just as it is. This is the teaching: I know it sounds very simple!

Living Here and Now

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In meditation there is the need to experience what is called living in the present, living in the here and the now. Its interesting that when you consider some of the meditation techniques like focusing on breathing, listening to sounds, focusing on bodily sensations, these techniques enable us to live in the present, to live in the here and the now.

It’s interesting that in focusing on breathing, you realise that breathing is something objective, it is a fact. Having thoughts which are related to the past and the future can generate unpleasant emotions, but with the help of focusing on breathing you can learn to let go of the past and let go of the future and experience the joy and the bliss of the present moment.

This reminds me of an incident which is recorded in the Buddhists texts, in the Buddha’s time – a non-Buddhist visits a monastery where meditating monks are living, and this person was very impressed, very inspired by the serenity of the monks, by the way they were relaxed and joyful in their behaviour. So he goes to the Buddha and asks him: Pray tell me what you teach your disciples?.

Then the Buddha said: I teach them not to worry about the past, because it is gone; and not to be anxious about the future because it is yet to come – rather to experience the joy of the present moment. And with that they have been able to exude this joy, peace and compassion in their behaviour.

Now living in the present can raise a question: is it possible always to live in the present? What about planning? What about using the past? If you let go of the past you will not be able to find your homes, you will not be able to use language, you will not be able to recognize anything. So what is meant here, what one has to experience, is that with this process of recalling and anticipating you do it now. This is a very important point for one to experience and realise, that what is considered as the past is just a thought in the present, and what is considered the future is also just a thought in the present. So when you realise this, when you experience this, you will be able to relate to the past and the future in an entirely different way, where you can use the past and the future functionally and not allow the past and the future, in this process of recalling and anticipating to generate unpleasant emotions which create our suffering.

Make Friends with your Thoughts

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You can sit in a comfortable position, because the posture is not really important. What is important is to have your spine erect but relaxed. And you may have your eyes open or closed.

Now just allow the mind to do whatever it likes.

If thoughts are arising, let thoughts arise – thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future…

There is no need to repress thoughts, no need to control thoughts. See how far you can be aware of each thought that arises. You need to have moment-to-moment awareness.

Just know how you relate to each thought that arises. Are you judging them? Are you getting involved with them? Or can you allow them to just arise and pass away?

You have enough space in your mind for every thought to arise. See how far you relate to each thought that arises. Learning to make friends with your thoughts.

Make your own discoveries. Are the thoughts mostly about the past? Are they mostly about the future? Are the thoughts racing one after another? Are they slowing down? Is there space between two thoughts? Do you get involved in some thoughts? Do you judge your thoughts? Make your own discoveries about the different aspects, about the different dimensions, about the structure of your thoughts.

Have moment-to-moment awareness of the way you are relating to each thought that arises.

Now can you do the same in relation to emotions? Can you allow emotions to arise? Especially the emotions that you don’t like, that you resist, deny, repress and control?

Emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt. Can you just allow such emotions to arise if they need to arise? Can you make friends with them? Can you make enough space for them? Can you just allow them to come? Letting them be without repressing them, without controlling them, without resisting them?

Thoughts and emotions: Learning to see them as they are, not as they should be or ought to be. Learning just to allow them to be. Just letting them be.

Can you make friends with the emotions that you don’t like, that you resist, that you control? Can you create space for them?

Can you do the same in relation to sensations in your body? Tensions, pressure, unpleasant sensations. Can you allow any sensation to arise in your body and just let it be? Just allowing it to be?

Thoughts, emotions, sensations, sounds. Learning to see them as they are. Learning to have a mirror-like mind, just reflecting things as they are. Not resisting anything, not grasping anything. Not liking anything, not disliking anything. Not accepting anything, not rejecting anything. Just being, just allowing. Surrendering to what is.

Be alert and awake from moment to moment.