In the words of Pema Chodron, “Working with our minds is the only means through which we’ll actually begin to feel happy and contented with the world that we live in.” As a VERY basic overview, the Buddhist practice is a (world-wide practiced) philosophy which emphasizes compassion and wisdom, and the Four Noble Truths – which are the truths regarding the causes of suffering, and how we can be essentially free of suffering (which is reaching Nirvana). In other words, it is a philosophy on how happiness comes from within you, and how happiness is directly related to ending suffering and ending attachment to things, people, and beliefs. It is rooted in the power of your mind.
This world is full of joy, sorrow, success, and unpredictability. This constant uncertainty, serves as a great force of anxiety and discomfort for many of us, particularly because many of us crave control. We run from anything that causes us discomfort. Think about it. When you have an important meeting with your boss, or an important job meeting in the morning, you may spend your night tossing and turning rather than sleeping, all because of anxiety about what is happening the next morning. You try to push away the nerves, and distract yourself from this discomfort by reading a book or watching a movie. By talking about other things with your spouse. By taking a walk. In the end though, you most likely barely had any sleep and go to the interview anxious and tired. This is avoidable. And this is when Buddhism comes into play.
Buddhism emphasizes that instead of avoiding these negative feelings of anxiety, worry, pain, discomfort, or stress, we need to truly allow these feelings to occur. Rather than trying to distract ourselves or push away the discomfort, we should actually experience the feelings…even embrace these feelings. Feelings will come and go- no feeling or experience is ever permanent. When negative feelings come, if we can truly feel and experience them, and make peace with the fact that we ARE feeling uncomfortable, we are more likely to make it through, or come out peacefully on the otherside. Accepting discomfort, or practicing mindfulness in the Buddhist philosophy, will make us more compassionate and moral people. It is key to understanding, and reaching, happiness. Just as we cannot change or control the weather, we cannot control every portion of life. It is OKAY to experience bad feelings. If we did not have bad times, would we really cherish the good parts of life? Buddhist beliefs teach us that if you can change your thoughts and views, you can ultimately change your world.
To live in the here and now, we must not worry about the past (aka the cause of anxiety) or the future (aka the root of depression). Buddha taught that to live in the present in such a way, we must learn that certain emotions are constructive and guide us through our lives, while other emotions, such as jealousy, anger, and pride are harmful and only set us back. These negative emotions should be acknowledged, but then abandoned. In Buddhism, when living in the present, it becomes only natural that happiness is seen completely different. Happiness is not about concrete items or material wealth and success. These are all things that we do not need to hold onto. Happiness will grow when we leave behind destructive thoughts, like jealousy, anger, and attachment (to material goods). When positive emotions guide our lives, we become more moral and compassionate – we become kind and genuine. We let ourselves open up. We let ourselves be raw and vulnerable. Essentially, we let ourselves FEEL…the good, the bad, the awful, the love, the misery, the joy, the uncertainty, the passion, and the rawness that life has to offer.
By listening to our minds and understanding the world around us in the here and now, we can find a place in which we are at peace within our hearts and minds. We do not need to be so anxious about what is to come. So, to sum things up: Live in the now. Feel things. Hold these feelings close to your heart. Be uncomfortable. Abandon negativity. Let things go. Do not dwell on the past or worry about the future.
Moments come and go – appreciate them. Your life is like a river…constantly flowing, and constantly changing course. Accept the beauty of this…whatever will be will be.