January – Open Curiosity, kindness to yourself and a sense of humour

I will start with this wonderful Buddhist story that goes like this:

Two monks were sitting at the side of the road when another monk atop a horse galloped by. “Where are you going?” shouted the monks to the rider, “Ask the horse” came the reply.

Have you ever felt like that rider?

You know that you worry too much, yet as much as you try, you cannot stop thinking, or stop feeling angry, or say no; or stop feeling irritated, or sad. Perhaps it’s a behaviour that you know causes you and perhaps others suffering.

Our lives can be like that. Just like the rider, we know where we want to go but mysteriously (perhaps not so mysteriously) end up where the horse takes us.

So much suffering is caused by two very simple things: too much thinking and trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings. We do this in “autopilot mode,” unaware as we are lost in our thoughts about our thoughts and our emotional reaction to our feelings. It’s exhausting!

How do we break this cycle?

By paying mindful attention: intentionally bringing your attention fully to the present moment (which, after all is the only moment that you have) with a very specific attitude, a key element of which is open curiosity, that is to say, without judgement and if even you see yourself rushing to judgment, you observe that tendency too. You can be with your thoughts and feelings without believing that you should be feeling or thinking differently. When you do this, two things happen: you open the door to seeing more clearly and learning the lesson that is right in front of you. Whilst we observe in this way, you also sidestep the autopilot loop which leads us to anxiety, fear and anger. We also learn to feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable; this is vital for growth.

The next element is an attitude of kindness to yourself. You have probably already pointlessly berated or beaten yourself up for your past actions or inactions; for not doing what you think you should have or ought to have done; for not being “perfect” and how did that go? Did it work or are you still fighting the same problems? There are much more effective sources of motivation. Kindness toward yourself is vital for growth and for self-realisation. What would you say and what attitude would you adopt toward a good friend in the same situation? Adopt that attitude toward yourself.

The third element is a sense of humour. We take ourselves far too seriously, our egos are too easily bruised and the funny thing is that it’s all make-believe anyway. Develop a kind sense of humour towards yourself and life in general. Life is an archaic comedy rather like Dante’s “Divine comedy”. Lighten up. Your “suffering” is also the path to awakening. Hold things lightly in your grasp; nothing is permanent anyway.

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