ON RETREAT I FEEL IT IS EASIER TO MEDITATE BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT EVERYONE HAS COME TO DO. YET RETURNING HOME TO BUSY, MODERN LIFE, IT IS HARD TO MAINTAIN MINDFULNESS AND CALM AWARENESS. HOW CAN WE BRING THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION INTO OUR DAILY LIVES?
Slowing down is a way to nourish the roots of mindfulness. We can do this wherever we are, in a monastery but also at home and in the workplace. We talk about creating world peace, but people must also be concerned with creating mental peace—making their minds healthy and calm. And a healthy mind comes from mindfulness.
When you’re at work or when you are unable to sit for a longer period in a quiet place, you can also enjoy a few moments of mindfulness. I recommend that everyone take one minute every hour during the day to do this. Work hard for fifty-nine minutes, then take a one-minute break and totally focus your mind on your breathing.
Close your eyes, if you can. Or if you’re at your desk in a busy office, keep your eyes open at a point in front of you. Quietly, peacefully, count out fifteen breaths—that’s about a minute. Don’t think about the future, don’t think about anything during that one minute. Just keep your mind totally free from all those things.
When that minute is over, you have added some clarity to your mind. You have added some strength to continue on for the other fifty-nine minutes in the hour. Then vow to yourself that when another hour has passed, you’ll give yourself another one-minute mindfulness break.
You can do this at your kitchen table or office desk. You can do this after you’ve parked your car and turned off the engine. You can do this during a restroom break. If you do this kind of one-minute meditation the whole day, then at the end of an eight-hour work period you’ll have spent eight minutes in meditation. You’ll be less nervous, less tense, and less exhausted at the end of the day. Plus, you’ll have a more productive and healthier day, both psychologically and physically.
It is up to each person to take charge of their own mind. Each one of us must learn how to slow down. You know, unmindful people are always in the majority! You can easily lead yourself down that same path if you let yourself. Don’t get caught in this trap!
Wherever you are—at home, at a retreat center, in your car, in line at the grocery store—mindfulness can rescue you from stressful, painful mental states. I like to call mindfulness one’s emergency kit. It’s like when you cut or burn yourself—you immediately reach for a first-aid kit to treat the wound. The same is true for the mind. When the mind is pained, when it is agitated and distracted, when you are suffering mentally, you really need some first aid to come back to mental health.
But if you don’t take care of painful mental states, they can grow worse, just like a wound. At their worst, we slip into a depression or nervous breakdown. And our mental suffering can manifest itself in all kinds of illnesses, from stomach problems to heart disease. So many things are going on in your mind! Only when something triggers a breakdown or serious illness do you begin to look back at all the time you’ve spent making your life chaotic.
You must bring yourself back to mindfulness wherever you are, all the time. Along with your regular meditation practice, add practices such as this one-minute meditation into your daily life. Train yourself in this way—as soon as some psychic irritation arises, stop and take care of it before you proceed with other activities in your day.
"It is up to each person to take charge of their own mind. Each one of us must learn how to slow down."
IS IT OK FOR PARENTS TO TELL A WHITE LIE TO THEIR CHILDREN? SUCH AS, IF A SMALL CHILD ASKS WHERE BABIES COME FROM?
I think parents always must train themselves to tell the truth—not even white lies. Children are like a sponge and absorb everything. “Mom said it was like this!” They always quote their parents as the authority. Therefore, the parents are the ones who should follow the principle or precept of telling the truth.
One time an eight-year-old girl came with her parents and grandparents to our monastery. We were sitting on the porch in West Virginia. In front of all these people, the girl said, “Venerable Bhante, we children don’t kill, steal, commit sensual misconduct; we don’t lie; we don’t drink. But our parents don’t observe any of these things.” The parents blushed. The grandparents blushed. They were so embarrassed. See the way children observe?
Don’t underestimate children. They’re always observing. Therefore, parents must learn to tell the truth to children.
So, what should you do if a small child asks you where babies come from? You tell her, “Darling, you are too young to understand this. I will tell you when you are a little older.”
This is better than telling white lies such as, “Oh, my dear, I went to the hospital and came back with you.” You will just make her even more confused. When you tell her, “I’ll tell you when you are ready. You are too young to understand,” then you are telling the truth.
"Don’t underestimate children. They’re always observing."
HOW DO WE MASTER THE TASK OF GENERATING HAPPINESS WITHIN OURSELVES INSTEAD OF SEARCHING FOR IT IN OTHER PEOPLE AND DEPENDING ON THEM?
When you want to practice anything, you have to do it by yourself. When you are hungry, if you think of other people eating and let others eat for you, can you satisfy your hunger? When you are sleepy, you go to sleep. When you are thirsty, you drink.
Similarly, if you really want to find happiness, you’ve got to look to yourself. Not even your mother, your father, or any other relative or friend can do so much good for you as your own well-directed mind can do for you.
Happiness for yourself comes from your own personal, diligent, independent practice. Keep thinking about it: “I must practice in order to make myself happy.” Others can help to some extent. A kalyana mitta, a good spiritual friend, can give some tips that encourage you to practice. But we have to do it by ourselves.
"If you really want to find happiness, you’ve got to look to yourself."
This article was an excerpt from Bhante G.’s new book
What, Why, How.
How can I fit meditation into my busy life?
How should I understand karma and rebirth?
Is enlightenment even possible for me?
Sound familiar? If you’ve ever meditated or studied Buddhism, you may have found yourself asking these questions—and many more! Here’s the good news: there are answers, and you’ll find them all in this book. Imagine that you could sit down with one of Buddhism’s most accomplished and plainspoken teachers—and imagine that he patiently agreed to answer any question you had about meditation, living mindfully, and key Buddhist concepts—even the myriad brilliant questions you’ve never thought to ask! What, Why, How condenses into one volume a half-century of Bhante G.’s wise answers to common questions about the Buddha’s core teachings on meditation and spiritual practice. With his kind and clear guidance, you’ll gain simple yet powerful insights and practices to end unhealthy patterns and habits so that you can transform your experience of the world—from your own mind to your relationships, your job, and beyond.
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