What can we offer our loved ones for the holiday season? Hopefully some warming good cheer. As the holidays approach in the midst of the health crisis with all its disturbing side effects it's easy to be morose. How can we cheer ourselves up and hopefully spread some cheer around?
Of course it might be a wonderful holiday gift to offer Imagine Clarity
to a friend or someone in your family who you feel could really be able to make use of it but it's also a gift to make use of it yourself, and share the benefits just by your way of being. Simply not being the victim of your own inner conflicts and disturbing emotions is a gift to yourself and to those around you.
Starting the day mindfully with even a short meditation can help set the day on the right track. When we take time each day for meditation, taking a break from the news cycle, taking a break from the media, and taking the time to let our inner conversation wind down, we come to understand how our mind works. Our experience becomes more spacious and we find some freedom from the tyranny of taking everything as fixed and concrete.
From that moment of inner silence we can express our basic kindness, based on a sense of inner completeness.
We don't have to adopt the conventional model of trying to be an ideal person, anxious to always do the right thing. It’s more a question of allowing ourselves to be aware of our connectedness. Just as we want to be happy everyone wants to be happy. Just as we have difficulties everyone has difficulties. Cultivating a kind and spacious heart is a source of joy in itself. It's as if we already had the biggest gift to share that anyone could imagine. We sometimes talk about certain people being gifted but in fact we are all gifted. We all have this gift of our basic humanity. It’s simply a question of knowing how to use it.
Even when we have cooled our mind down and found some inner peace in meditation, using the benefits we experience to interact meaningfully with the outer world is still a challenge. Perhaps the secret of knowing how to share is knowing how to listen.
First of all, you can listen to what is happening from moment to moment in your mind. With that ongoing mindfulness you become aware of the undercurrents of thoughts and emotions. If you can notice when you are stressed, annoyed, anxious or fearful, before you get taken over by the emotion, you have a much better chance of dealing with your feelings in a coherent way. It takes time to make peace with our own anxieties and old wounds, but that self-acceptance is part of our journey to inner freedom and compassion.
Secondly you can listen with mindfulness to the constantly changing situations you find yourself in. You may have planned something beautiful with excellent intentions and then things don’t work out in that way at all. This happens all the time, and often people become upset when their plans don’t happen as they intended. If we have some basis of inner freedom we are less attached to our ideas and concepts. We can listen to situations as they unfold. Our plans need to have lots of space for the unexpected, and for people’s unexpected reactions. Sometimes it’s better to just adapt to the situation with intelligence and kindness, with no preconceived agenda at all.
Thirdly, you can learn to listen to the person you are engaging with. This may sound obvious, but it is surprisingly difficult. What that person is trying to tell us may be getting drowned out by our own inner conversation, and their needs may be obscured by our preconceived notions of what their needs might, or should, be.
Of course, the words that are spoken may be just the surface of their underlying deep-seated emotions and needs. The capacity to understand the meta-level of implied messages requires deep insight. That insight can be developed gradually by learning to listen with more openness and less background noise from our own thoughts and emotions.
The seeds of sanity
As Matthieu Ricard often says, training the mind is a skill, like learning to play a musical instrument. Anyone who has learned to play the violin will know that for quite a while the noises produced are pretty strange! Although we may be doing our best to bring happiness to our loved ones and perhaps engage in some altruistic activity for the wider good, it is inevitable that things will not be perfect. Sometimes we may feel frustrated that we are working on our mind and those around us are still running uncontrollably after their habitual emotions! If we accept that we are training, and accept successes and failures as part of that process things get a lot simpler. We can be confident that if we patiently cultivate the seeds of kindness and basic sanity they will definitely sprout and grow.
We wish you all the best for the approaching holidays: happiness, health, serenity and love.
Photo: Michel Stockman.