15 Ways To Make Friends With Your Mind.

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You know them when you see them: people who radiate joy, don’t sweat the small stuff, naturally attract people to them and who seem to be in a pretty constant state of peace.

What do these people have in common? Well, they’ve all worked hard to tame the beast within and turn their minds into their greatest allies. For the rest of us, life might look a little bit like this: worrying, regretting past actions, stressing out about potential future events, spinning out of control, retreating to worlds of fantasy and distraction … sound familiar?

You don’t want to feel like this. You might be thinking about starting meditation and mindfulness practices, to become more Zen, but don’t know how where to start. As you work up to your Namaste, then, it can be helpful to try a few practical things aimed at familiarizing yourself with the lifelong companion that is your mind, which you definitely want on your team!

1: Recognize that you are not your mind.

Here’s a telltale sign: you can actually observe your thoughts and feelings as they come up, which means you are not inextricably bound with them. This awareness is truly a revolution, and the first step toward empowering yourself to begin the work of calming the mind down and getting it on your side.

“To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is.” – C.G. Jung

2: Become a witness of your mind.

Your mind is capable of extraordinary things once you learn to take the reins. One of the main purposes of meditation is to connect to the present moment by accessing your inner witness. Rest quietly and become aware of your body and immediate surroundings. Observe thoughts as they arise and slip away; they will do this over and over. As you distance yourself from your thoughts and feelings, you’ll start to wonder you we attach so deeply to ephemera that come and go like clouds in the sky.

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” – attributed to Buddha

3: Be careful what you put into your mind.

In some ways, the mind is very simple: it builds on what you feed it. If you funnel negativity into it, it will soon be hard not to feel negative, because the mind – which is not your enemy, just doing its job – adjusts and happily works with what it’s given. This is known in neuroscience as “plasticity” : our brains work with new stimuli no matter how old we are. Letting the good stuff in will actually, if slowly, make it easier for you to feel positive over time.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” – Mahatma Gandhi

4: Explore your mind like it’s a foreign country

The best kind of travel is all about being curious, having no expectations, and being ready to be dazzled, even enlightened by what we find. Take the time to be in stillness with your mind and contemplate the thoughts and feelings you find there; they have a lot to teach you about your coping patterns and how you have come to view the world over time. In short: discover yourself!

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Dalai Lama

5: Distinguish between knowledge and wisdom

Knowledge involves learning facts and developing the intellect. You might come to realize that accumulating knowledge does not make you feel any happier. Wisdom, on the other hand, involves learning from our life’s experiences about what is meaningful so we can live our best possible lives with heart. Learning things is great, but acquiring wisdom is invaluable.

‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.’ – Lord Alfred Tennyson

6: Embrace compassion, the gateway to happiness
As we focus more on wisdom than gathering information, we come to understand whey we are really here: to benefit others and know deep within that we don’t want anyone to suffer, as we ourselves don’t want to suffer. Cultivating empathy compassion through meditation and contemplation is one of the best things we can do by encouraging the mind to serve our purpose of being agents of good in a world that badly needs it.

“More smiling, less worrying. More compassion, less judgment. More blessed, less stressed. More love, less hate.” – Roy T. Bennett

7: Seek truths that thought cannot produce

The rational mind computes, analyzes, discriminates and assesses very well, but left to its own devices, it does not naturally guide you toward greater consciousness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get there! The mind just need some coaxing. Attempt to remember your dreams. Comb your mind for things people have said to you in the past that struck you as wise. Don’t dismiss insights; write them down. Embrace synchronicities that seem to fall on your lap. Recognize wisdom and deeper truth for what it is and let it support your conscious life.

“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” – Jiddu Krishmanurti

8: Listen to your heart and your gut and let them win

Contrary to conventional belief, it’s been shown that reason and emotions are not two passing trains in the night. Our emotions actually guide our rational and cognitive functioning to a large extent, and our “gut” area has come be known as our second brain. Don’t rationalize your gut instincts away: take the time to listen to the messages you receive from your body and inner wisdom.

“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.” – Milan Kundera, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being

9: Tend to your mind like a garden

Before we start on the garden, it looks like a mess of jumbled weeds and dried clumps of earth. Who wants to go there? But with effort, you end up with a gorgeous kingdom of your creation, full of beauty, nutrients and wonder. So it is with the mind – with a little pruning, love and care, persistently attended to every day, it can grow into a gorgeous and fruitful splendor.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” – Plutarch

10: Develop equanimity

Equanimity means regarding the things you experience without judgment. Stop liking things so much that you can’t live without them, and stop focusing energy on despising things, which only strengthens their iron grip on you. Practice observing your reactions to things, and notice how naming and being aware of these reactions helps make them less intense over time.

“It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.” – Osho

11: Allow wonder in

Little kids are so full of awe at everything they encounter – we can be that way again too! The world is really a playground, and we are infinitely lucky to be in it. Life isn’t always going to be easy, but you can access that innocent, childlike wonder anytime by opening eye and heart to the magic all around us. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for it!

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” – Walt Streightiff

12: Slow down and be silent

We’ve all experienced the overwhelm that comes with trying to be productive all the time. It’s time to stop burning yourself out. Carve time in the day to spend time with loved ones, enjoy the rewards of your labor and reflect on your life. There’s a reason we’re afraid of silence; here we are forced to confront ourselves, and it’s not always pretty. But in coming face to face with our demons, you can overcome them and ease through to peace and harmony.

“Silence is the language of Om. We need silence to be able to reach our Self. Both internal and external silence is very important to feel the presence of that supreme Love.” – Amit Ray

13: Know that you don’t have to be defined by your stories.

Humans have an amazing capacity for storytelling and to create identities based on the stories we tell. It’s key to keep in mind that in choosing which stories you tell and whih memories you latch onto, you are reinforcing certain aspects of your identity, for better or worse. Stories are fluid and can always be rewritten.

“A student, filled with emotion and crying, implored, “Why is there so much suffering?”
Suzuki Roshi replied, “No reason.” – Shunryu Suzuki

14: Replace “what ifs” for “thank you’s”

One of the “best” ways we waste time is to pine over mistakes and wonder, what if we’d done things differently? Well, we didn’t! The life we are living now is a product of the decisions we’ve made, and the best antidote to regret is gratitude. Express thanks for all the million ways in which your life is awesome and worth celebrating, and more of that is bound to come

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Maya Angelou

15: Take a walk in nature, be wild and write a poem about it

You don’t have to literally write a poem, but tapping into your creativity is also tapping into your nature. Nature and creation go hand in hand. Humans are among nature’s most awe-inspiring creations, and so much of the discord we feel comes from how far we’ve strayed from our roots. We are designed to think and feel more clearly when aligned with nature’s rhythms. Doing things like breathing clean forest air, sitting under trees and using our natural-born creativity – whether you think you are “good” or not – will do wonders to restore the mind and get it working in your best interest.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir

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The Yellow Ribbon for the Dalai Lama

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Thousands of people have already crowded into the sprawling Kalachakra Temple compound in Dharamsala, India by the time my husband and I arrive at 8:00 a.m.

We’re gathering in anticipation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first day of teachings at the very temple where he has his private chambers, and where he frequently addresses the public. Everywhere you look, your eyes rest on a sea of Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople, a sizable smattering of foreign tourists and a substantial sprinkling of Indians, many of them journalists, cameras and video gear in tow.

As we thread our way through the crowd, I get the sensation that this colorful medley of humans, against the ornate backdrop of the temple, resembles a living, breathing and moving mandala- the cosmic order come to life. There is infinite possibility on this cool, crisp morning; all mysteries might just reveal themselves in this gathering of good intentions and open hearts.

We walk upstairs past a jam-packed garden to where there are two prayer halls, one of which the Dalai Lama will use to transmit his teaching.

In and around these halls hordes of people sit, in hallways, on staircases leading to toilets, by a room full of ever-burning candles and by the cellar kitchens where butter tea is being boiled. As we look for a small space to squeeze into, a child’s voice crackles an adorable, stilted chant through the loudspeaker system; his voice rings with the crystalline innocence of youth. Others, like us, are navigating the crowds searching for an empty spot. Ropes have cordoned sections off, and security is still ramping up for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

We jostle our way into small opening by a large column that faces the large hallway the Dalai Lama will soon walk down. Not too far ahead are a couple of stairs leading to the antechamber he’ll enter to reach his chair in the prayer hall. We arrived twenty minutes early, and the teaching is evidently going to start late, so we have time to stand among the sea of visitors, to observe the goings on that lead up to an event of this magnitude.

The smart ones who arrived early spread out mats and sit on cushions, many quietly munching on snacks.

Tibetans and foreigners are chitchatting, smiling and laughing side by side. Two of the security guards near the antechamber entrance, Indians, are rail thin, mustached, ever-smiling and holding long, austere-looking rifles. At intervals, various monks inhabit the holding area leading to the antechamber, and I keep expecting each one to be the official greeting party for the Dalai Lama. But then they leave and others take their place. Time seems to be lackadaisically seeping outward rather than moving forward in chronological sequence.

At a minute to nine, an older Tibetan man in a royal blue apron who’s been standing by the stairs the whole time, disappears into the antechamber and scurries back out with a bright yellow ribbon. He painstakingly goes about wrapping it around the stair rail that the Dalai Lama will use as a support on his way up. He corrects it, flattens and presses it again and again until it is absolutely perfect and he’s satisfied.

This tiny gesture, almost lost in the tide of brewing excitement, deeply moves me as emblematic of the purity of honest work and holy servitude.

This bright yellow ribbon that forms a vibrant part of our view on a very special day, strikes me as a beacon of far more. Sometimes we wonder about arguably overwrought rituals in spiritual tradition, and in our cynicism, declare all the pomp and circumstance excessively elaborate, meaningless and unnecessary. We find infinite things to feel sour about as we get lost in the details and distractions of our lives and lose sight of the small marvels happening around us at every turn.

I couldn’t argue with any degree of certainty about role of ritual in our lives or spiritual practice. My own views keep changing with time as the rest of me evolves and adapts to the life I find myself living.

But what I feel deeply, looking at the man with the yellow ribbon, is that every single action affects the universe.

Every act of true devotion brings out the light in the one who is devoted and that light reaches all of humanity. Everything we do that is in service of something greater than us builds into a momentum of positive energy that will only expand with our combined efforts. Before the teachings have even began – before the deliciously strange butter tea is served to thousands! – lessons arrive right in our laps. I can’t help but feel these lessons were meant for us to discover.

One yellow ribbon taken in isolation is a shiny and slightly garish curiosity. A yellow ribbon lovingly handled to mark a great occasion by a man who, just like the rest of us, has good days and bad, depends on others and has dependents of his own, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, is a beautiful manifestation of connectivity at work.

The care that emanated from those aging hands arranging one yellow ribbon one the first day of the Dalai Lama’s public teachings, those inordinately generous offerings, is also the care and love that feeds the world.

*This article was published on The Tattooed Buddha.

 

In Compassion’s Arms: Hearing the Dalai Lama Laugh.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Tales of India

 

There are three lines: one for monks, one for Tibetans and one for foreigners.

We’re at Dharamsala’s Kalachackra Temple on the first morning of the Dalai Lama’s three-day Introduction to Buddhism teaching. Dusty roads and smaller alleyways wind down the hilly mountains at the foothills of the Himalayas, converging past cafes, kiosks and prayer flags, taking thousands of people to the temple.

Men and women must separate at security check; it takes the women 10 times longer to get through, with the exception of the Tibetan nuns. There are far fewer of them than monks, and they fly right in, a flurry of burgundy and comfortable shoes.

There are no cellphones or cameras allowed.

Most people seem to know this in advance, but a few have to leave the line to leave them with security. Up front, there’s a thorough bag check, followed by a body check—and we’re in.

The temple’s sprawling courtyards and prayer halls are spilling over with people from all over the world. We walk among the throngs looking for a seat; there always seems to be that tiny bit of extra room, the intent of generosity and kind spirit translating without effort into miraculous spaces for new bodies.

It’s still early, and we stroll around, walking past a flat screen TV with the Dalai Lama on it, and it takes a moment to realize he’s just a few meters away from us in the hall. Right now. We have the telecast view and the actual view available to us simultaneously.

We look up—there he is, visible through a few open windows, sitting in his large chair mounted on a platform, chatting jovially with a few people nearby.

There’s security everywhere, but everyone inside had been checked, and now it’s deemed safe to allow people to wander around in his immediate vicinity.

This would never happen in the West, if say, Brad Pitt was making a personal appearance somewhere. And that’s Brad Pitt.

This is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Every day it becomes easier to see how strangely skewed things are.

We eventually settle on a very pleasant courtyard outside and one level down, and fish for our newly-bought little FM radio, two sets of earphones and a splitter. We’re able to locate a faint Japanese translation—and a Korean one—but no English.

Meanwhile, the teaching begins and we can hear the Dalai Lama speaking through loudspeakers in Tibetan, and a Hindi version follows. We fall into the rhythms and cadences of these two languages dancing with intermittent periods of silence.

And laughter.

That delicious, life affirming sound of the Dalai Lama’s booming giggle permeates the entire space of the temple, right through our bodies as though we have all become porous beings, ripe for absorbing this infectious laugh.

It almost seems beside the point that we don’t understand a word of what’s going on. Along with most of the foreigners in our area, we cheerily give up the search for the right frequency after a few minutes, as the Dalai Lama’s chanting begins.

Namo Tasa Bhagavato Arahato Sama Sambuddhasa.

(I pay homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Fully Enlightened One)

Then:

Buddham Saranam Gacchami

(I go to the Buddha for refuge)

Sangan Saranam Gacchami

(I go to the Sangha for refuge)

Dhammam Saranam Gacchami

(I go to the Dharma for reguge)

Listening to the melodious sounds, I close my eyes and observe a new feeling of gentility and acceptance permeating my thoughts (obliterating them for the time being) into the bodily level, where I’m accustomed to searching for signs of discomfort and distress.

Warmth washes over me.

I feel so lucky for whatever forces have conspired to bring me here in the genuine name of heart-opening. I’m struck by the truth and beauty that has emerged through an act of communal gathering in the presence of this great leader, teacher and healer, and by the seemingly impossible set of circumstances that have brought me here.

I take myself centuries back in time and wrap my imagination round The Buddha, who in my understanding, wasn’t trying to start a religion or become the object of worship. He wanted everyone to recognize the cycles of craving and aversion that perpetuate suffering, and to learn how to free ourselves the way he had: through self-reflection, awareness and hard work.

The path there allows no shortcuts, but the rewards are numerous and exponential if you have the right intention, persistence and diligence.

These are things I have always instinctively believed in, maybe even known, whether I had the language for it or not; they’ve come to me now cased in a new context, outside the intellectual one that is my comfort zone.

Hindus, Tibetans, and foreigners of all backgrounds sit together today, drinking Tibetan butter tea doled out by monks into our borrowed tin cups, quietly enjoying the presence of someone who palpably epitomizes kindness and compassion.

I feel that together we are not unlike a breezy bamboo forest in late spring, soft, pliable and strong.

Compassion, we soon learn, is the subject of today’s teaching, according to our neighbor and friend, who eventually manages to find the English frequency by sitting just outside the temple complex.

We catch it too, for about 30 seconds, during which time I hear His Holiness say that it is very important to study.

Wisdom, I read later in one of his books, comes from analytical thinking and reflection, and complements compassion on the journey of evolution.

For the time being, I’m still stuck on his laughter, and the powerful freedom it evokes in me.

Studying, maybe for the first time in my life, will have to come later.

 

*This was originally published in The Tattooed Buddha – check them out!

 

 

On Ending Violence with (Inner) Peace: Quotes from the Dalai Lama.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Words are a bridge between us and the world.

Sometimes words help us express ourselves, and then sometimes they fail or desert us completely as we confront something wondrous, inexplicable or, in the face of the events in Paris and so many other parts of the world these days, downright horrifying.

Sometimes it’s okay to be at a loss for words, to not know how to be, or act, or express oneself in the wake of tragedy and the feeling of hopelessness that can follow.

We are struggling to be better humans. We should never forget this. Every single one of us, without exception.

This is how we, and the world, move forward together, in one piece. Even when it looks like that piece is shattering into a million smaller, more jagged ones, and we don’t understand the hows and whys of it all.

Instead of finding my own words (they were definitely in hiding), today I went looking for a bundle of cards bought in Dharamsala, India, a couple of years ago; on each is a quote by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They’re sold all over the place there, colourful, paper jewels lining the hilly streets leading down the mountainside to Kalachakra Temple in this thin-aired, sacred space. They positively emanate peace, goodwill and compassion to visitors and to the rest of the world below.

I needed to read these words today, to have them filter gently and slowly into my being, and hoped they might be of benefit.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Another powerful thing to do when there are no words is meditation.

Let’s take a comfortable, upright seated posture and be silent, and really attend to the moment: the present moment of our thoughts, feelings, fears and bodily sensations (our body is truly the map of our past and ongoing mental processes).

Simply watching the breath and gently guiding ourselves back to the breath when the mind wanders is an astounding tool for grounding, heart-opening and stress-reduction.

Tonglen Meditation, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is also an extremely powerful, cathartic and effective meditation to help us generate compassion and contribute to a state of inner and outer peace. I’ve described this meditation here, and there are many fantastic guides to Tonglen on these pages (for example, here) and elsewhere.

It can be as simple as this (though I encourage you to read more about Tonglen):

Find a place where you can be quiet and still, and then proceed to slowly breathe in the suffering of the world (or any particular people you’d like to imagine, who are suffering), imagine it transforming into a bright white light of peace and goodwill, and breathe that goodness out onto the suffering parties.

In between the words, and in all the dark spaces, are the seeds of promise, and a reminder of the inevitability of—and potential for—change.

Please share this message of peace!