Saturday, November 7, 2015

HOW TO DEVELOP AN UNTROUBLED MIND

The great American preacher and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right] used to say, ‘Problems are a sign of life. The only people who don’t have them are the ones in the cemetery.’

Yes, problems and trouble are the price we pay for living. Peale used to say that the more problems we have, the more alive we are. ‘If you don’t have any problems you’re on the way out, and you don’t know it,’ he would exclaim.

It’s impossible to eliminate from our lives all problems and troubles, but the fact remains that so many of them are of our own making. All too often we think negatively and react badly to external events. We obsess over our own thoughts. We obsess about the past. We worry about the future. We don’t relate to other people as well as we could. The result? A troubled mind. The good news is that problems and trouble need not trouble you. In other words, you can have an untroubled mind despite the occurrence of problems and troubles in your life. That may sound Pollyannaish but it’s true.

Now, there are many ways to develop an untroubled mind. An obvious way is to simply refuse---yes, refuse---to worry about both the past and the future. What has happened in the past can’t be changed. Let the past stay in the past. As respects the future, what you are worried about may never happen. Worrying will not prevent something happening if it's inevitable that it's going to happen. Actually, apart from death and taxes, there is really nothing else that is bound to happen, and if what you’re worrying about doesn’t happen, then there was no point in worrying about the dame thing in the first place. Of course, all of this is easier said than done.

The Bhagavad-Gita has much to say about the importance of developing a ‘stable [or steady] mind’, that is, a mind that is imperturbable. An imperturbable mind is one that remains unmoved and undisturbed by not just external circumstances but also the vagaries and agitations of the contents of the mind itself, especially our thoughts, feelings and emotions. A person with a stable and steadfast mind takes things as they come, irrespective of their likes and dislikes (the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’), is not swayed by either their senses or their thoughts and feelings, and has an attitude of non-resistance and acceptance toward change. There's a metaphysical law known as the law of non-resistance. One formulation of that law is, 'What we resist, persists.' That's so damn true. Here's some very good advice from the Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic Rumi:

‘Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?’

Meditation is a most useful way of developing a stable and untroubled mind. Millions have found that to be true all over the globe. I have found that the regular practice of mindfulness is the best way to fortify the mind against worry, fear and anxiety. Listen to these wonderful words of the Buddha as recorded in section 3 (‘Mind’) of the Dhammapada (translated by Thomas Byrom):

'An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgements,
Watches and understands.'

There you have it. An untroubled mind is a non-judgmental mind, a mind that is choicelessly aware of the action of the present moment, be that action internal or external. An untroubled mind is a mind that ‘watches’ and ‘understands’. It is an alert mind which is open and receptive to whatever is happening. Actually, what the Buddha has so brilliantly described is mindfulness, and the characteristics of a mindset that is mindful as opposed to mindless. On the same point, the world-renowned authority on Zen, Alan Watts [pictured right], also got to the heart of the matter when he wrote, ‘Zen is not concerned with discovering what is good or bad or advantageous, but what is.’ Got that? What is.

Now, we must be careful here. Neither the Buddha nor Watts is saying that we should no longer concern ourselves with what is right and what is wrong. Buddhism, in particular, has much to say about those two things as do all other religions and codes of ethical living. The point is this. All too often, when an event occurs, we immediately proceed to interpret, analyse, compare, contrast, judge and evaluate that event rather than experience the reality of the present moment. We either fight against that reality or cling to it. The plain and simple fact of the matter is this --- unless we learn to let go of the present moment we will never experience and enjoy the reality of the next moment and the one after that and the one after that. The present moment is ever renewing itself as another present moment, then another, and then another. To live mindfully is to let go, but before we can let go we must---‘let be.’ If we interpret, analyse, compare, contrast, judge and evaluate the present moment we are not letting be. By identifying with the present moment we end up getting stuck in the past.


Pull yourself up every time that you find yourself interpreting, analysing, comparing, contrasting, judging or evaluating an everyday happening or event and immediately return to watching and observing the reality of the present moment as one moment unfolds after another. That is the only way you will understand. Pay attention. Watch and understand. Non-judgmentally. Choicelessly. 

I quoted Dr Norman Vincent Peale at the start of this post. Here's some great advice from him on the subject of developing an untroubled mind: ‘Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.' That's all you have to do. Get the body still first, then the mind will follow. Do that many times a day if necessary. Sit still. Be silent. And let---please note that word 'let'---composure creep over you. The Theravāda Buddhist leader and teacher of the Buddhadhamma Ajahn Chah said more-or-less the same thing:

'Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.' 

‘Let not your heart be troubled’ (Jn 14:1a). Trouble need not trouble you. You have a choice. So, let the past stay in the past. Make amends for wrongs committed and then move on. Prepare wisely for the future but don’t live in it or worry about it in advance of it unfolding. The future will unfold as it will. Live mindfully.


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