Monday, March 8, 2010

The ups and downs of transforming negativity into positive stuff

I am in training – ‘calming the mind’ training – and am practicing taking delight in its ups and downs.

You may remember from my last post that I am on a goal driven, applied Buddhism kick lately. I am in fact putting into practice last week’s lessons on calming the mind and transforming negative into positive, while also listening to more Buddhist teachings. Now I’m listening to teachings by Pema Chodron during my commute where she talks about how calming the mind has its ups and downs.

Pema Chodron is the first female, Western Tibetan Buddhist monk and is just really great at applying Buddhist philosophies for Western audiences. In her teachings, Pema says that there will constantly be ups and downs with everything in life. She continues to say that by being mindful and then taking delight during the ups and the downs, you can live life more fully. So in other words, when a down occurs, be present, feel whatever feeling arises, and you can take delight by being thankful that you have the wisdom to do that. This method is easier when an up occurs, but it's still important to be mindful when good things happen. Be sure to rejoice during the ups and be thankful for those uplifting moments!

So as I wrote last week after my visit to the Buddhist meditation center in Lambertville, I am trying to apply all of these teachings to real life. I am starting by training my mind to stay calm with something relatively small that I know triggers samsara, a repetitive circumstance that triggers aggravation or disharmony.

I chose all things traffic-related. Merging onto highways really stresses me out because I lost some of my peripheral vision when I was 19 years-old as a result of diabetic retinopathy. Although I do have some vision in my right eye, it is very limited and fuzzy. Although I manage, I do get nervous while driving. I am scared of killing myself or getting into a car accident or hurting someone else.

The thing is: Our minds are able to think about and do many things at the same time. Yes, I can drive AND listen to music AND sing AND think endlessly about whatever mind chatter exists at the moment AND be nervous AND scared AND trigger samsara AND merge. What I'm not doing is being present.

So on my first day of ‘calming the mind’ training, I shut off the car radio at around 8:55 am. I approached the highway entrance and turned the wheel with the course of the ramp. I inhaled and exhaled a couple of times. I turned my head to the left to see if any cars were approaching. I saw a car driving quickly and realized that I would have to merge after he passed. I assessed where the lanes begin and end. I sped up and merged after the first car and before a car that was following after him.

I’ve merged well before (or else I wouldn’t be here, right?), but this time I was fully present while doing so and only a little nervous. I was present while merging and so the nervousness didn’t have the space or the room to implode.

There are ups and down to this process though. Samsara is a repetitive circumstance that triggers aggravation, right? That night, on the way home, I was nervous and didn’t merge so smoothly. I cursed the short ramp and the heavy traffic, and then I noticed that my mind was filled with clutter. I began to inhale and exhale frantically, but by then it was too late, and I was sitting on the ramp at full stop praying for an opening. And then it came; a car moved to the middle lane providing me with space to move.

So I’m not transforming overnight; it’s a process. Amazingly enough, I listened to Pema Chodron immediately after that experience, and it put it all into perspective. The ups and the downs are totally natural and are there as a lesson - to be mindful and take delight in our wisdom.

Some days I am able to merge with calm mind and rejoice with a “YAY!” in my car. And yes, I go back to cluttered mind two seconds later. But I’m aware of it, and I am grateful that I have the wisdom to notice both. So, I shall try again tomorrow. I’m in training, after all.

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