In uncertain times, how we cope becomes very important. The choices we make can literally make or break us. Beneath those choices lies a mindset. How we think creates a great deal of our reality. Not all to be sure, but how we think is the factor that decides whether we choose yoga and breathing to manage our stress, or alcohol & other drugs. Our mindset makes all of the difference between seeing defeat and opportunity.
I recently listened to a dharma talk given on tricycle.com by one Jon Aaron. The talk is divided into four videos, about one hour total, and discusses dealing with uncertainty from a Buddhist perspective. My purpose in this article is to summarize some of the points he made, as I believe these points to be useful in a daily application for many perspectives. I do not say that Buddhism is superior to any other philosophy. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if other philosophies contain similar concepts.
How well do you know yourself?
Mr. Aaron opens his talk by discussing meditation, a very Buddhist but not exclusive to that philosophy thing. While I don’t formally meditate, I do many things that are meditative, such as gardening, yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These practices help us not only clear the mind, but study the mind. How our minds move and respond to stress, for example.
By understanding these things, however we achieve them, we come to know ourselves. We better understand ourselves. To some philosophies, knowing ourselves is the highest endeavor. I learned a great deal about how my mind responds to stress through aikido and competitive pistol as well. Many are the paths to knowledge. Granted some paths are healthier than others. The point is to know oneself and one’s mind.
As the talk progresses, Mr. Aaron makes some interesting points
For one thing, he points out how the world falling apart is hardly new. He mentions what Buddha called the Five Remembrances, which are:
- I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape old age.
- I am of the nature to get sick. I cannot escape sickness.
- I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death.
- All that is dear to me and all that I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
- My actions are my continuation. The echo of the mountains is my life.
It’s said that there are two things we can count on in this life: death and taxes
The Five Remembrances teach us that we can further count on aging, sickness, and change. In fact, I was taught in college biology that change is the one true constant. Everything changes, and that’s certainly very true of current circumstances. Our very social fabric is changing. Everything from the nature of work to the real estate market and public education is changing. But was it really any different when the Gutenberg press made books available to the masses for the first time? Prior to 1440, books were the nearly exclusive possession of the wealthy and the Church. Then along comes Gutenberg, and life changes dramatically. Check out the history here.
So everything changes. Everything has always changed. No living thing remains static. How we deal with that depends entirely upon our mindset, which Mr. Aaron discusses in a very subtle way in the last portion of the talk. Granted, there are many things happening that are beyond our control. If we remember Selco and his circles of control, we know that we can’t control government policy, the stock market, our job being downsized, or a number of other things. We can, however, control our responses to those things.
What helps us choose between yoga and alcohol? Our mindset.
Falling apart, the world is always falling apart, that’s the way it is.
Mr. Aaron discusses an interesting way to translate the Prajna Paramita, aka the Heart Sutra, which may be the single most revered sutra in Buddhism. The sutra goes like this: gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi svaha! If you wish to hear it sung, there are many versions available on YouTube.
The sutra is generally translated as “gone, gone beyond, gone ‘way beyond, how wonderful!” There is a stack of books written about it, but generally, this means that we’ve moved beyond the false reality and into true perception. Mr. Aaron gives a different translation, however, from a monk whose name I didn’t properly catch.
This translation is: “Falling apart, the world is always falling apart, that’s the way it is. Hallelujah!”
I find this a very interesting translation.
Indeed, since when hasn’t the world been falling apart?
Was it falling apart during the Black Death, WWI, WWII, the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Rwandan genocide? Of course, those who lived through these things felt that their world was falling apart, just as we do now.
But there is the point of the Hallelujah. Mr. Aaron points this out as being extremely important to mindset. If we simply stopped at “that’s the way it is” we would be left with fear and depression. Because the monk included Hallelujah, we are left with acceptance of the reality of change. This single word also opens our minds to possibility, which allows us to see opportunity.
By seeing opportunities, we can choose healthy ways to cope and improve our situation. For example, choosing tai chi or starting a new business rather than drugs or alcohol. We learn to say “I can” rather than “I can’t”. Rather than all of the reasons something cannot be done, we see what CAN be done. By accepting the reality of change, we are uplifted and able to better cope with current circumstances.
Our mindset makes all of the difference
Our minds create a great deal of our reality. The decisions we make every day shape our lives. Do we choose learned helplessness and defeatism, or do we choose to acknowledge what we cannot change and open our minds to possibility? What are your thoughts on this philosophy? Can you see how it relates to preparedness? Let’s talk about it in the comments.