23 Jun It takes a long time to develop (DALAI LAMA and HOWARD CUTLER)
If we think of suffering as something unnatural,something that we shouldn’t be experiencing,then it’s not much ofa leap to begin to look for someone to blame for our suffering. If I’m unhappy, then I must be the “victim” of someone or something—an idea that’s all to common in the West. The victimizer may be the government, the educational system, abusive parents, a “dysfunctional family,” the other gender, or our uncaring mate. Or we may turn blame inward: there’s something wrong with me, I’mthe victim of disease, of defective genes perhaps. But the risk ofcontinuing to focus on assigning blameand maintaining a victimstance, is the perpetuation of our suffering—with persistent feelings of anger, frustration,and resentment.
So often, for instance, we cause our own suffering by refusing to relinquish the past. If we define our self-image in terms ofwhat we used to look like or in terms of what we used to beableto do and can’t do now, it is a pretty safe bet that we won’t grow happier as we grow older.
The ability to look at events from different perspectives can be very helpful. Then, practicing this, one can use certain experiences, certain tragedies to develop a calmness of mind. One must realize that every phenomena, every event, has different aspects. It seems that often when problems arise, our outlook becomes narrow. All of our attention may be focused on worrying about the problem, and we may haveasensethat we’rethe only one that is going through such difficulties. This can lead to a kind of self-absorption that can make the problem seem very intense.
If you can learn to develop patience and tolerance towards your enemies, then everything else becomes much easier—your compassion towards all others begins to flow naturally. There is no fortitude similar to patience, just as there is no affliction worse than hatred. Therefore, one must exert one’s best efforts not to harbor hatred towards the enemy, but rather use the encounter as an opportunity to enhance one’s practice of patience and tolerance.
During times of comparative ease, periods before or after acute experiences of suffering, we can reflect on suffering, seeking to develop an understanding of its meaning. And the time and effort wespend searching for meaning in suffering will pay great rewards when bad things begin to strike.
We convert pain into suffering in the mind. To lessen the suffering of pain, we need to make a crucial distinction between the pain of pain and the pain we create by our thoughts about the pain. Fear, anger, guilt, loneliness, and helplessness are all mental and emotional responses that can intensify pain.
It takes a long time to develop the behavior and habits ofmind that contribute to our problems. It takes an equally long time to establish the new habits that bring happiness. There is no getting around these essential ingredients: determination, effort, and time. These are the real secrets to happiness.
Excerpts from the book of Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler,
The Art of Happiness
Image: ‘Folliage Girl” by Agata Wierzbicka