I was reading a book about the research done here at the University of Wisconsin in partnership with Tibetan monks and the Dalai Lama. The main focus of the initial research were 2 aspects of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice. The first is to focus, to be able to control the mind and choose it's focus and stay there. The second is to create emotions from internal space rather than allowing emotions to be controlled by external stimuli. I guess I knew this in a way, but to see it so succinctly written in a research paper really hit me. Yes, I want that! Yes, this is why I meditate! Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I just do it, because, well, I should, or it's important, or it's good for me..... But, what I really want is to train my brain toward states of focus I control and toward states of emotion that internally come from joy and peace, no matter what goes on externally.
This seems poignant as I see people around me here in Wisconsin get so emotional and so focused on a state election. This election, yes, is a big deal with big consequences. I keep thinking about how much emotion people are putting into this and wishing that it would happen for other things as well - like outrage over water quality on our planet, or the plastics seeping into every aspect of our lives and our bodies, the killing of innocent people that seems to occur every single day somewhere on the planet for what seems to me to be no reason, the slavery of children and adults all over the world.......I could really spiral down into a pit of despair here and often I do, if I let my mind go there.
The point is, horrible things are happening all around us and we could fall into despair or as a friend posted to me on FaceBook, "I want to quit. Just quit." I get that feeling. I think we all do. So, the answer is, in my mind, to do what Gandhi said, "Be the change you'd like to see in the world." He didn't say DO the change, although that may be the result somewhere down the road, but BE it. In order to BE the change, we must create it within us. How can we do this with so many rotten things going on around us? Well, there are many wonderful and amazing things going on around us as well! This isn't about a Pollyanna mentality of unaware and uninformed, this is about where I focus and how I regulate my emotions. When I see the wonderful, create the joy, I am then being what I want to see in the world and then I am able to do what needs to be done.
If you agree with this thinking and I know some of you won't and that's OK, then keep reading. This is not for everyone, but I know that it works, because the research at the UW is proving it and because my own practice is changing me, each and every day. I once was irritated, outraged and expressive in a way that I thought was necessary for the changes I wanted to see. But you know what? Nobody wanted to hear me from that state of anger and despair (except those just as angry and desparate). Plus, I was miserable and I didn't want that! So, what to do now?
Begin! Create a routine: Every day find a time that works and set aside an amount of time that works. There's no prescription for this in my opinion. Do what works for you! Breathe: Focus on the breath. Always focus on the breath first. This can change. You can later begin to focus on a thought, on a mantra, on a visual, but start with the breath. Why? Because the breath focuses your mind and calms your body. Use the breath for focus and to turn on the relaxation response. That's it?: Yup, you can stop right there, if you want. Do this every day for the rest of your life. Or, when you feel ready, start to experiment with other routines. Create a sense of joy by thinking of joyful things, people, events and then cultivate that just by being it through meditation. Create loving-kindness by practicing metta meditation (google it, there's lots out there). Create a mantra of love and warmth and meaning and focus on that. So many things! Take classes, read books, follow audio books, podcasts,.....Find what works and stay with it - yes, for the rest of your life!
Seems daunting now, I know, but once you feel the wondrous effects, you won't have to talk yourself into it. Yes, you'll miss some days, just like you do with your flossing, you'll notice and you'll come back to it, someday when you realize that you are sick of being angry, frustrated and depressed about the state of our world. You'll decide to change the world within and then you'll find the world without can begin to change bit by wonderful bit.