Life Practices

Have you ever heard the story of Siddhartha?

Siddhartha was a prince. He had all the wealth and privilege in the world and was sheltered from much of the suffering outside of his palace gates. One day, he sneaked away from the palace and found people outside the palace gates suffering from old age, sickness, depression, starvation, and death. He realized no amount of privilege could protect him from this suffering. Wealth couldn’t prevent it, nor could pleasure prevent it. Despite living a life of a prince, he found himself dissatisfied and suffering. He was born with everything, but it never felt like enough.

Siddhartha began to see that pain was an unavoidable part of life and became determined to find a way to put an end to it. He tried living a life of the extreme opposite. He sat in uncomfortable postures, meditated and fasted. He thought since material comforts didn’t bring an end to his suffering maybe the opposite would. But it didn’t.

He then began to realize that the extremes of both pleasure and denial had gotten him nowhere closer to relief from his suffering and restlessness. After meditating deeply, he found what he called the “truth”.

  1. There will always be pain and suffering.

We will always have separation, loss and negative circumstances or experiences in life, but suffering only occurs when we want things to be different than they are. We must understand that life experiences and emotions are temporary. We all get old, we all experience loss, we all experience hardship. The world is dynamic and constantly changing. We suffer because we try to steer clear of experiences or emotions to avoid pain. But these experiences and their associated emotions are temporary and will pass. We will always have low points, but even when situations are out of our control, what we do have control over are our reactions and responses to what we experience.

  1. There is a cause of suffering.

Our refusal to surrender to the way things are in the moment, and the belief we need our situation or our emotional state to be different, is what creates suffering. We cling to the idea that we can hold onto experiences, material things or feelings. But we must recognize that experiences, things and feelings are impermanent and in the long run are not at the core of our ability to experience joy and happiness. This clinging to the past, people, or material objects can result in a consistent unsatisfied longing and can become a driving force in our lives. It can change from a simple want or desire, to an obsession, addiction, fixation or delusional belief that we can’t be happy without what we think we want.

  1. There is an end to suffering.

When we embrace the understanding that experiences and emotions are temporary, we don’t need to be torn apart by our feelings. When we stop trying to control our situation and rid ourselves of the associated emotions, then the desperate need to do whatever it takes to shift away from the feelings actually helps us accept them and ultimately release them. What we do have control over are our actions and the energy we give to our thoughts and feelings. If our thoughts, words and actions are driven by greed, resentment, or confusion, we create our own suffering. Virtuous actions result in happiness – un-virtuous result in suffering. This is the source of true power over our lives.

  1. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering.

We must take a moment to pause and sit with whatever it is we’re experiencing – identify our situation – allow it to be there – with compassion and without judgement. The path below provides a guide in this process of looking inward and moving forward:

Pay attention to your actions – change your choices – act in ways that have positive results. What we experience in life is determined by our intentions and actions – we are responsible for our own happiness or misery. That is not to say we have control of everything that happens to us in this lifetime; but regardless of what the world throws at us, we are responsible for how we react and respond to it. At the end of the day, we have a choice to act wisely and compassionately. How we choose to respond when confronted with pain or discomfort is what determines our experiences in life.

Hope & Choice
Watch this example of overcoming difficulties – So inspirational! I cannot say it better than it’s said in this video. Sometimes we just need to shift our perspective or perception of a situation; turn walls into doors. Spread loving kindness and compassion rather than negativity and judgement. We have a choice as to our actions and reactions to the experiences and situations we encounter in life.

If our thoughts are based in revenge, confusion, fear or greed our actions will bring negative results. If our thoughts are based in generosity, compassion and we avoid clinging to circumstances, people and material objects, then our actions will bring positive results. Selfishness creates toxic behavior. Generosity teaches us to let go of our ego and self-centeredness. The result of looking at the world through the lens of “me” and what “I want” leads to loneliness, separation and dissatisfaction. We can begin to let go of the ego driven desire of what temporarily brings self-centered pleasure. Letting go of the need to cling to people, places, experiences and things will provide relief from suffering.

We begin to practice compassion by holding ourselves accountable for our actions. We can acknowledge if we have hurt someone without blame, defensiveness, shame or justification. In turn, this compassion and kindness create forgiveness which rests on the understanding and caring about the pain and confusion that may have led to actions that hurt another. We forgive when we focus on the person rather than the action. It comes from the understanding that the person that caused us harm did so from a place of pain and confusion. Forgiveness also allows us to let go of the guilt and shame of our own harmful actions. We can begin to let go of our disappointment in ourselves and others; in other words, we let go of the attachment to what could have been a different past. We accept the past with a willingness to move forward in life. We don’t need to have an expectation of getting something in return, or the expectation of being forgiven. You and only you are responsible for the way your past actions impact your current state of mind. We begin to change habitual patterns of behavior with full acceptance of both our self and others. This forgiveness, acceptance and letting go of the past is how we restore balance in our relationships. Past behaviors create current patterns that shape our future. This process does not stop until we change our relationship with these patterns. When we come to understand and face the reality of our impact on others, we begin to understand forgiveness. At the end of the day, we can accept that there are things we cannot change, but we have the power over how we react and respond in the present and future.

We should always speak with the intention of not causing harm and of fostering safety and security with another. Always ask what’s your intention when talking to another. Is it to cause blame, shame, exclusion or make ourselves look better? Or is the intention kindness, generosity and compassion. We also must learn to truly listen with compassion, understanding and receptivity.

What is the intention behind your actions? Avoid actions that cause harm to yourself or others. Do your actions bring you and others true joy?

Practice your daily tasks mindfully with compassion and the intention of easing suffering. Develop an attitude beyond just making money. Develop an approach of service and caring about the effects of our actions on others.

Avoid situations and states of mind that lead to harmful esponses. When we operate out of greed or confusion, we think we can get what we want, but we need to move away from these responses. If we find ourselves reacting with anger rather than compassion, fear rather than generosity, blame rather than forgiveness; ask, “In this moment how can I be kind and gentle with myself or another”. Remember when experiencing uneasy emotions that they will pass. Recognizing this makes it easier stay present and not react.

Be present to what is going on in your mind, body, heart and world. Be aware without grasping for control. Notice what’s happening without reacting or denying. Attempting to avoid pain often creates more suffering. A new choice is to sit with the discomfort rather than push it away or numb it. You can notice the fear as a body sensation or you can say to yourself, “I feel fear, but I don’t have to let it control me”. Responding with mindful compassion and trusting it will pass reminds us there’s another way to respond. Watch how your mind creates a story around what you are or have experienced. This will lead you away from a true understanding of the experience itself.

How to practice mindfulness:
1. Be mindful of your breath and body sensations.
2. Be mindful of your emotions – notice the pleasure or displeasure with each sensation or thought
3. Be mindful of your mind and notice when attachment, greed, and desire come up and be aware that this arises in the mind.
4. Be mindful of your mental state. Notice when a thought arises and become aware of it without judgement or evaluation. Allow it to pass without holding onto it and creating a story around it.

Ask yourself if whatever story or message you are telling yourself about your experience or circumstance is actually true. How are you sure? How do you feel when you believe the thought? Does it lead to fear? anger? desire? Who would you be without the thought? How would you feel if you weren’t caught up in the story you are creating?

Practice in becoming clear and centered begins with concentrating on the breath, body and emotional tone of the moment as well as becoming aware of the processes of the mind itself. The purpose of concentration is to train the mind to focus and be undistracted. Distraction is caused by worries, judgements, boredom, thoughts and plans that lead to unease and restlessness. Meet this habit by distracting yourself with kindness and patience rather than resistance. Concentration is a practice. It takes adaptation to learn to focus. We must trust whatever situation we are encountering or emotion that’s coming up is temporary and refocus our attention on acting wisely. Sometimes when situations or emotions are extremely strong, moving the body can be the best way to refocus the energy and find relief. If powerful emotions continue to arise, back off from the practice and do whatever is needed and be sure to find supportive professional resources. Most of all be compassionate and gentle with yourself. These habitual adaptations take time and practice, but there’s no better time to begin than the present.

Lisa Decker

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