Why We Get Ourselves So Worked Up

This article continues our #Bodhicaryavatara series on Shantideva’s ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ translated by Stephen Batchelor (ISBN: 8185102597). This text is frequently quoted by HH Dalai Lama as a source to develop universal compassion and loving kindness for both ourselves and all others.

Chapter VI Patience – 10

Shantideva’s often-quoted verse 10 is worthy of an article by itself because of it’s simplicity and significance:

Why be unhappy about something
If it can be remedied?
And what is the use of being unhappy
If it cannot be remedied?

Most of the frustration that arises in our mind is completely fruitless – a complete waste of time.

  • Replaying events from our past, such as a difficult confrontation with a friend or family member. Some lessons can be learned from the past, and finding these lessons can be a worthwhile use of our time. For example: being determined to show more loving kindness in the next difficult confrontation. The past cannot be changed. Replaying events over and over again in our mind, only serves to break our internal calm and happiness.
  • Planning for future events that will most likely never occur, such as a romantic future that is unrealistic, a chance to set the record straight with an ex-boss, or winning the lottery. Planning for the future is necessary for a financially stable future, a structured career, and to develop caring relationships. These things do not just spontaneously materialize. But most of our planning is for future events that surely will not happen. The future is unknown. If any of these events actually happen, they surely will not unfold as neatly as we had planned. Again, such planning for these future events will only serve to break our internal calm and happiness.

By fixating on a past that can not be changed or a future that is not known we mostly create a sense of frustration for ourselves. This frustration will eventually lead to anger arising within us. To avoid creating a sense of frustration, we should determine to stop replaying events from our past or planning for future events that will most likely never occur by:

  • Something practical, such as going for a walk, or having a nice conversation with friends or family.
  • Perform a mindfulness / concentration meditation to bring yourself back to the present moment. The object of meditation might be the breathe or a visualization on a deity / other significant image.
  • Perform the ‘Meditation on Love’ from ‘How To Meditate’ by Kathleen McDonald on the people in the difficult confrontation or the ex-boss.
  • Perform the ‘Body of Light’ visualization from ‘How To Meditate’ by Kathleen McDonald.

These meditations and others can help to move past our fixation on past events that cannot be changed and future events that most likely will not occur.

Love, @happyops