This is life…

Buddhism teaches us that life is suffering and sets out a path we can choose to follow that eases the suffering, somewhat. One of the fundamental teachings is simply; it is what it is. That isn’t to mean we become passive and accept whatever comes our way without any emotion – we are human and truly that’s what causes the suffering. What it means is that life is what it is – we can’t control everything that comes into our lives day by day. We are surrounded by billions of other humans and on a daily basis, hundreds and thousands of others who come and go around us. Each with their own thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions. In addition, nature does its thing and in every second billions of tiny things happen. It would be an absolute impossibility to even comprehend how we could control all of that. Not to mention exhausting!

What we can control is our response to it. Buddhism teaches us to remain centred whatever the weather, so to speak. For a long time I always thought of this more in times of trouble – so when there’s a storm and life is flinging you about and blowing you this way and that. What I’ve come to realise, experientially, is that being centred is just as important when life is up as it is when it is down.

Life doesn’t differentiate between good and bad. It is the meaning we place upon things that make it so – that make our experience what it is. If we are always striving for the highs, the lows become unwanted and harder to manage. That isn’t to say we can’t be happy or content – it is more about accepting that life is not intended to be that way all of the time. When you can truly accept that deep within, you begin to see that when bumps in the road occur – or back to my weather analogy, when we get blown about a little or experience full on storms, they’re easier to deal with. They’ll come and they’ll go.

This week I was quite hard on myself about something I did – not involving anyone else, just an experience I had that I deemed not good for me. A friend said to me that a couple of days before I was on a high and just to remember that. Suddenly it was as though I was transported somewhere high above and given a different perspective. One where I could see my experience on both occasions – both what I had deemed high and then low were simply experiences – they were not good or bad, they just were. My perspective or the meaning I had placed to each experience is what made it so – what made it good or bad to me.

I’ve got several situations going on in my life right now that are challenging – as we all have at points in our lives. This is life and if we can remain centred – whatever that is for each of us, we can weather the storms without immense suffering. Experiencing emotions is normal – but being overcome and dragged along by them daily is what creates suffering. There are varying degrees to suffering – losing someone and grieving is suffering we often must endure and go through. However, suffering to life’s ups and downs is a choice. For example, worrying creates suffering that is most often totally unnecessary. We worry about things don’t even happen, yet in our minds the worries have become very real. There are times when this incessant worrying actually brings about what we are most worried about!

So what is being centred?

It isn’t so much about being in the middle because what is your middle may be different to mine or the next persons. It is about finding that ‘centre’ within, that place of peace or knowing, belonging where you feel centred. In my experience most people have to practice at this because to know that place is to know yourself. Finding time to be quiet, still and look within.

Meditation and mindfulness is a tool you can use for raising your level of self awareness, allowing you to create space to see the way you think, behave and act in a way that is objective. Meditation connects you with your ‘true self’ that can only be found within and truly the place of centredness. Seek and you will find – start a regular daily meditation practice. Over time as your self awareness grows and you create space, being able to bring yourself back to centre becomes something you do naturally.  It becomes a sanctuary and a place of peace where you can rest and restore from whatever life brings your way.

[Thank you for this beautiful image…Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash]

Where is this middle path?

The middle has always seemed to resonate with me in some way and when I discovered Buddhism 11 years ago it was as though I had found my way home.

Buddhist philosophy teaches us the Eightfold Path, which is described as the ‘middle way’ and explains why it is often termed the ‘middle path’. It is a way of living in moderation; between the extremes of self gratification on one hand and self mortification on the other. In a subtler sense it reflects the paradox of the universe and can be thought of as finding a way of finding balance between spirituality and materialism.

Following the middle path can help your life whatever your struggles. For me I always tended to live in opposite extremes. When things in my life were bad, they were extremely bad and when I finally turned my life around things went to the other end of the scale and I lived like a saint. Although the latter was very necessary, it wasn’t sustainable. To be in the world but not of the world is the middle way.

When you truly understand the enormity of the middle path and you begin to embody it into your life, you can find inner peace and balance. The middle path becomes a place to rest between the opposites life throws our way. It helps decision making and it becomes a guide like an illuminated path before you.

A few years ago my daughter became very ill and the conventional method of therapy offered was one that required a parent, child hierarchy. We soon realised that it did not exist within our family unit. Due to my own family dynamics, I had raised my children rather unconventionally and when I tried to apply the kind of parenting that was required for the methodology to work, it failed. In finding a solution I naturally sought the answers in Buddhism. I explained to the doctors and therapists the notion of the middle path. In applying ancient Buddhist principles we were able to develop our own way of working, that whilst harnessed the basics of the therapy they knew to work with her particular disease, largely centred around finding the middle way.

Balance is about finding the point in the centre of something where you are equal on both sides. There is a completeness to this and when you find that point within, it brings about rest and peace. Having said that, in my experience following the middle path doesn’t always mean being physically exactly in the middle, but it reflects the point where you feel the balance. How do you know where that is? You will feel it – you will feel the peace within, the resting place.

When you practise this,  you will come to know that place well. It is this middle path that you return to when you sit to meditate. The place you connect with when you are mindful throughout your day. It is the path you seek when you need rest and solace. It is the place of truth, joy and happiness. The middle path is the way, you just have to seek, to find and to follow it.

I love Jack Kornfield’s explanation of finding the middle way that you might like to read.

[This image is of beautiful Buddhist prayer flags that can be found along the Land of Medicine Buddha Hike, within the quiet redwood forest in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains.]

The power of faith and trusting what is

A long time ago, when I was became interested in Buddhism, it took me some time to fully grasp the concept of letting go and acceptance. For a while it meant being walked all over or not having a voice, about shirking all responsibility, but over the years I have learnt the true meaning of letting go and acceptance.

Letting go actually allows more to come into your life and as the Buddha said,

by the absence of grasping, one is set free

When you can begin to accept the impermanence of life, that we can only ever truly control our own thoughts, behaviours and actions and not those of others, life begins to open up a whole world of new possibilities and opportunities.

Letting go and acceptance also mean the allowing of something else too.

Trust.

Not everyone finds it easy to trust. Not just in trusting others but in trusting yourself and trusting what is.

When you have faith, let go and accept what is, you will find that you start to ‘see’ and trust what comes your way is meant to be. When you live your life consciously, i.e. practising mindfulness and living in the present moment, you will notice that you trust more in what comes your way. That isn’t to say that every situation, person or scenario you experience will lead you to something positive, but what it does mean is that you trust that whatever you are faced with is meant to be there. Whether it be a hard lesson or something more enjoyable.

There is power in trusting what is – you lose expectations and you become less focused on outcomes, spending more time simply enjoying the journey. When you  trust in what is, you live your life more in flow. What used to feel difficult will become easier, what used to feel ‘stuck’ will become unstuck. Your life will meander along much more smoothly than it did before.

I use faith and trust interchangeably and indeed, one is a synonym for the other, but they actually mean different things. Faith is what you hold within you and having the ability to believe in something you don’t have proof or evidence of, whereas trust is more certain and says it IS so.

So you are having faith, that when you let go and practice acceptance everything will be ok. The more you do that, the more you trust what is, because you are experiencing it for real. When your live your life based on these simple principles you will find your life experience is elevated to a whole different level. One where your unshakeable faith and trust create true power, fuelling your ability to change your life and achieve more of what your heart desires than ever before…

 

 

[This photograph of a beautiful Buddha statue was taken along the serene Land of Medicine Buddha Hike in Santa Cruz, California.]