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Lessons of Buddhism: Transforming Life's Difficulties

When I moved to London eight years ago, for various reasons my vision of the future had shattered and picking bits and pieces of my identity turned into the hurdle that held me back from thriving. Sadly, the attempt to pull myself together resembled desperate groping in the dark. The darkness prevailed and at some point I began to fear this was how the real grown-up life was supposed feel... Silly me. If only I had gone to one of the Buddhists’ classes, maybe I would have instantly learnt the dawn was yet to come, maybe I would have been more hopeful. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen into the mud of anxiety and would be painting only beautiful lotus flowers today.

Well, lotus isn’t all about beautiful petals as a Buddhist monk Gen Kelsang Gomchen explained during his session held at the Kadampa Meditation Centre in Kensington a few days ago. “The more difficult the situation, the more room for transformation”, he noted and shared an analogy: “Lotus is born from mud but eventually blossoms above the surface of the water unstained by the mud it has grown from. Without that mud we wouldn’t have the lotus.” The teacher endeavoured to inspire us to use the difficult situation to train our minds. But what situations are we talking about? Before I specify, let’s rewind back to Adam and Eve.

Last month I spent a week living at the Buddhist community’s Airbnb. Not looking for any spiritual healing but still remembering the incredible peacefulness of the Japanese Peace Pagoda in Sri Lanka, I checked out their leaflets that were available in the house. One class suddenly stole my attention. Called "Staying Calm When Things Go Wrong", it offered to look at the ancient mind training and learn how to transform the difficulties of the daily lives into opportunities for personal growth and transformation. “I could certainly use the knowledge”, I thought to myself and Whatsapp’ed my friend who took me on the adventure in Sri Lanka earlier this year.

And so our spiritual curiosity led us to the mediation centre. To my surprise, we weren’t the only ones eager to learn how to change human mind: all the seats got taken within minutes whilst I was checking where the dwarfs live. Last row would be ideal – I wasn’t planning on being exposed as a newbie without any idea how to meditate anyway.

"We'll use an ancient skill called listening," the monk began. Here’s what I heard that evening… Allow me to share a few quotes.

The world of difficulties: it will get worse before it gets better

“We live in spiritually degenerate time, when a lot of it is spent distracting ourselves from difficulties we face.”

“We’re affected by the impurity of the environment – the planet, verbal communication, water, food... Natural food is branded as a luxury item nowadays.”

“Impurity of our bodies – chemical medicine doesn’t always heal but evokes new diseases.”

“Impurity of our mind – delusions are getting stronger, ways of thinking distort reality, anger stops us from discovering effective solutions. Just think about the craving we develop for our delusional bodies, dream holidays, etc… But when we move, our minds moves with us.”

“The anxiety will come with you to Dubai, France, Hawaii or anywhere you go.”

Excuse me! 🙋‍♀️ Let me interrupt here: it certainly didn’t travel with me to Bali! I’m a strong believer that whilst you can’t escape your problems, you can certainly consider travelling as a gift which enables you to see your inner world from a different perspective, to enrich your understanding of life through unknown cultures. Your mind might be trapped in your everyday environment, but freed at the Little Adam’s peak…

Sorrow, 2013 (acrylic on canvas 76 x 61 cm)

“Human desire to obtain happiness from external things is getting stronger.“

“Reputation is the most expensive currency.”

“Wealthy countries with high suicide rates are examples of degenerate times.”

“The reason our mood is so up and down is because we’re to closely involved in external situations.”

“If we check our minds, we’ll see we live with constant anxiety which we try to escape by wanting external things.”

“We have relatively little inner peace. As soon as one worry disappears, another one emerges. It seems all the problems come from outside but in reality it's our own worry from within.”

“We obsess about things that in short term seem so important but do not matter long term.”

“Our attention span is decreasing all the time and minds are becoming uncontrolled.”

Transformation: how to train the mind in order to live happily in this impure world?

“Allow teaching to go deep into your mind through concentration, without any distractions.”

I think here was the moment we started guided meditation session and it occurred to me painting is the one thing that allows me to forget the outer world and concentrate on the moment. It’s my kind of meditation which enables me to clear my mind and keep balance... After the meditation session the monk suggested we should follow three steps in order to overcome the difficulties:

1. Identify what precisely are our problems in order to apply correct solutions. We mix unpleasant feeling in our minds towards internal problems with the feeling towards external problems (for example, broken washing machine or imperfect figure). We blame others and we look for an external solution to fix our feelings. We never deal with our mind but we jump to external solutions and respond with anger. But anger solves nothing. It’s necessary to identify the real reasons of it. Both external and internal solutions need to be applied in order not to respond from a place of anger. 2. Remember – anger solves nothing. Look for constructive ways to solve the situation, don't blame others, accept the situation which you can’t change and let it go. 3. Decide to accept the difficulty and feelings without clinging to them, don’t try to escape, respond differently, again – without anger. The patience that you develop will benefit throughout life. Opportunities to get angry arise many times a day so do the opportunities to practice patience. Also, don’t repress anger within. We all need to deal with it. Meditation will help to train our minds.

“Watch your mind, identify the feelings and deal with them. Its hard work but it’s harder to live an unhappy life,” concluded Gen Kelsang Gomchen.

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