"To be or not to be...that is the question."
Ever since I came back from the Mindfulness retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in August I have been asking myself, How, when we all have so much in our society, we continue to feel unhappy and dissatisfied with our lot in life? Of course, most of us have an ideal life plan in mind; mine was to have an art career and be a successful designer in London and by the time I was 25...needless to say, it never happened, though looking back, it was all for the best in the end!
Going on the retreat with Thay (teacher as he is called), he taught that there is 'no coming and no going'- nothing that needs to be achieved or strived for. This was quite an alien concept for me, being brought up like most people believing that if I worked hard enough and persevered in life, then I could achieve my dreams and then be happy. The philosophy of The Community of Interbeing is based on TNH's teachings which accepts that there are enough conditions for happiness so why create more? In fact, what we may think is essential to our wellbeing and happiness, in reality is what blocks us from achieving a deep sense of joy and peace; namely, attachments to outcomes, people, desires which create what we might call in the west 'The Satisfaction Gap'- a term now coined by psychologists who describe it as an increasing issue amongst women in particular who feel this sense of lack or unfulfilment in their lives. Sound familiar?
I admit myself feeling a sense of unhappiness and staleness in my life prior to going on the retreat, despite the fact that I was near enough living 'my dreams' and doing what I loved. Don't get me wrong, there had been difficulties as well, though I felt I needed to end the sense of struggle and regain my balance again. I had also seen client's with similar dilemmas of feeling unhappy with their lives and relationships and I wanted to explore a new perspective to offer them also.
Through Thay's Dharma talks (the teachings of the Buddha) I learned a lot about the tools of Mindfulness, and was forced to confront some of these difficult feelings head on, without my usual distractions at home. To begin with, my natural inclination was to fight or analyse these feelings. With nowhere to run, I just sat, breathed, and allowed any feelings and thoughts to come up and just watched them. After the first day of doing this (which was frankly like doing a boxing match, me vs my mind!) , I began to experience more peace and ease in myself. By the fourth day I felt some of what Thay described as being "..deeply in touch with the present moment,...and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love." By the fifth, I felt completely blissed out and felt like I had discovered the answer to life, the universe and everything, or near enough...
I also learned that emotions such as Fear and Anger are 'Mental Formations' that are like seeds in the garden of our conciousness that we water each time we choose to be in these states of mind. We have a choice which thoughts we choose to nurture and grow more of; this includes thoughts of desire or dissatisfaction about our lives, our relationships or ourselves. " If you suffer and make your loved ones suffer, there is nothing that can justify your desire." Alternatively, we can choose to water the good seeds in our conciousness such as love and joy. Each time we smile or practice being mindful, we are strengthening these positive states within ourselves and protecting ourselves against more negative states of mind. Living with acceptance with what we have in our lives is something like smiling- it needs to be practiced each day in order for our joy to bloom and grow like a beautiful flower.
Since going on the retreat, I have experienced this for myself. I wouldn't say I live with mindfulness and joy at all times though I do feel my perceptions have shifted and I now step back when I start to feel angry or fearful, rather than going straight into reacting to situations. I also feel more peaceful and content with my life, having gained a deeper understanding of myself and others. The greatest lesson I have learned however, is quite simply that to accept life and what happens, is to be free.