It’s easy to get wound up sometimes and put on our anti-rose colored glasses seeing the world as bitter and oppressive. You may be walking outside one day and say “what is up with this lousy weather, it’s too cold, what’s wrong with this world, and why doesn’t the newspaper person ever put the paper in the right place?” The day continues and you go to the post office only for the person in front of you to have 5 boxes, “why does this always happen to me,” you say. Later, you go to a sold-out movie and someone sits in front of you, “she’s too tall and I hate that perfume.” For many of us this may happen more often than we’d care to admit. The quick-fix might be to try and get rid of all the things that bother us. In other words maybe we can avoid all the annoying or anxiety provoking things in life in order to placate that part of us that gets so easily frustrated or anxious. In an extreme sense, this is how panic attacks are exacerbated and how agoraphobia is conditioned. Unfortunately, more often than not when I ask people, “how is that working for you,” they often say that it really isn’t.
An old sage Shantideva has a wonderful story that is a great analogy (I’ll embellish it a bit). There was a man who was barefoot and had to walk across a seemingly endless ground of blazing hot sands, cut grass, and fields of thorns. When he walked it hurt him. He would curse these pains when they came. One day he had a brilliant idea. He thought, “I will cover up the whole of the earth with leather and then I will no longer feel pain and I will be happy.” Soon he became exhausted and realized that this wasn’t going to work. However, in his exhaustion, he realized, if he could wrap the leather around his foot (e.g., shoes), he could walk freely.
What does this mean? This is a story that tells us it doesn’t work as well to try to change or control our environments to support us and make us happy. We can’t get rid of the guy with 5 boxes in front of us, or banish the perfume the woman in front of us is wearing. Next time you find yourself in a situation cursing the world or the situation around you, notice how it is affecting you physically, emotionally, and mentally. Notice if the state of mind you are in is going to support you in the next moment. This is an important exercise to do because it supports us in being aware of how we operate.
It is a more effective strategy to work with the internal environment of the mind to support us in daily living. We can learn to identify the habitual patterns of negative, judging or ruminative thinking that don’t support us, acknowledging their presence, and gently bringing our attention to what we’re wanting to pay attention to in that moment. This isn’t to say, “just think positive”, it’s more about cultivating an awareness of how our minds work and how it affects us day in and day out. With this awareness, we can approach and connect with our selves which can support a sense of balance, while disconnection supports imbalance.
Over time we all get caught in habits and it’s helpful to become curious about what habits are keeping us stuck in routines that aren’t working for us anymore. While there may be good reasons our minds have for staying stuck in these habits, they simply aren’t effective in living the life we want. Working with our minds can help us regulate our emotions, handle our distress, and cultivate more compassion and kindness toward ourselves and others which promote a greater sense of peace within.
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Last reviewed: 18 Mar 2009