I went to a Buddhist meditation center on Sunday morning in Lambertville, New Jersey for a meditation and workshop on the topic of samsara and transforming negativity into positive. No matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs may be, I found the instructor’s teachings to be quite beneficial for any life situation, and so I am using this blog to share some of what I learned with you.
Diane, our meditation instructor, led us first on a calming of the mind meditation. Basically, we sat together, and as in most Buddhist meditations, we scanned the body for any tension, released that tension, and then focused on the breath. The breath is considered the basic focal point for staying present.
To be honest, I was calm for a good part of the meditation, as I’ve been practicing meditation for a number of years, but it is only natural for a person’s mind to wander. And yes, my mind did stray at times. I couldn’t help but sing “So What” by Pink over and over again in my head. Diane knows that the straying mind is true of everyone, and so she would occasionally bring us back and ask us gently to focus on our breath once again.
After Diane so wisely helped us calm our minds, she introduced the Sanskrit term, samsara, which she defined as the cyclical nature of life. Diane continued to say that samsara can also be thought of as a repetitive circumstance that aggravates us and arouses a negative reaction. She used the example of how we react when someone says or does something that totally aggravates us, and our minds spin in anger, jealousy, fear or any negative emotion. Believe it or not, the person who aggravates us isn’t the issue; a similar reaction could result if another person or event triggered the same feeling within us.
And so, Diane suggested, “Look at each challenge, each aggravation, as an opportunity rather than as a problem. This whole process is about training the mind to stay present and not attach judgments, feelings, or emotions to things in the outside world.”
I could definitely relate to what Diane was saying. We all go through cyclical patterns in our lives such as waking up in the morning, brushing our teeth, and drinking a cup of coffee. And we all go through emotional cycles as well. Meaning, how we react to certain emotional triggers. I know that I get aggravated any time someone tells me what to eat or what I should, could, shouldn’t, or cannot eat. This is samsara – a circumstance or situation that arouses a cyclical negative reaction. I typically get defensive and annoyed and then think for hours afterward about how someone else said or did something wrong in relation to me and food. But the person who said it isn’t the problem; it’s actually an opportunity to stay present and respond with a calm mind.
Then, Diane touched a nerve and said, “This doesn’t only apply to when people aggravate you. The same is true for illness or disease. The illness isn’t what’s bad. The illness is just that – an illness. It’s our reactions, feelings, thoughts around the illness that are thought of as bad. For example, pain can sometimes be considered a good thing. The Olympic athletes practicing for hours…They’re in pain; they’re pushing past pain. And in this case, the pain is considered good.”
I pondered: The diabetes is neither good nor bad. It is simply diabetes. It’s my emotions or feelings around the diabetes – my frustration with blood sugar fluctuations, getting annoyed by what I can or can’t eat, or feeling restricted by what I should or shouldn’t do to stay healthy. Those feelings are what make the disease good or bad. On the good feelings side, diabetes has allowed me to become more aware of my body and take better care of myself.
As I told you, I’ve been meditating for some time, and have been introduced to these concepts before (although it is very helpful to hear them again and again). BUT, where I have the real issue is applying all of these teachings to real life. When I’m in the midst of living, minding my own business, going with the flow, and suddenly something comes out of nowhere and just aggravates me.
In those moments, I am not thinking about samsara and the cyclical patterns of life. I am not thinking about Zen and the Art of Food Relationships. I am not able to undergo a calming of the mind meditation for ten or fifteen minutes in a quiet atmosphere before each daily event.
So I asked Diane after the workshop, “How do I apply this to real life when I’m just living life and the moment is happening?”
She said, “Start training the mind with something small, something that only mildly triggers aggravation.” Train the mind to see each moment as an opportunity to stay present and respond with a calm mind.
Diane could tell that she touched a nerve and she repeated herself, “Don’t start with the big things.” She continued, “And then, in meditation later, ask yourself, ‘Why is this event or situation causing me to become aggravated?’ Chances are that it’s always the same thing causing the aggravation.” She smiled, "And then you will find yourself enjoying life, living peacefully, with a calm mind."
And only I can know the answer to those questions as they pertain to me. We all have our own cycles, our own samsara, to learn from, to transform from the negative to the positive. And as Diane said, it’s an opportunity. So I’m grabbing it!
So what really aggravates you?