Teen Buddha

an open discussion, extending old methods for modern problems

The Urge to Run Away

Often times when we find ourselves in unpleasant situations our first reaction is to flee. Family houses can be loud, uncomfortable and hectic places, and sometimes I find myself wishing to disappear. Though some might call this a healthy conclusion that may help me grow and move away one day, there is something else to be gained from this experience besides motivation.

Going beyond the initial thought of “let’s get out of here! retreat, retreat!” we can sit a bit longer in the situation. Simply observing the chaos, and noticing our aversion, our distaste with the situation.

You might feel this need to escape from family and home, from loud and crowded places or from difficult people. And it is okay to step away for a time, to collect yourself quietly and take space. But it is also wise to realize that situations like these will always be around. As we step into the world we experience many overstimulating and uncomfortable instances. It is a fact of life.

By stopping and noticing our predicament we create a little bit of space for inquiry. To view the scene ahead of you with a sense of light inquiry, with a non judging view, can shift the reactions you are strongly feeling. What happens when we swim against an ocean current? We end up fighting the waves, exhausting ourselves in the process. Sure, we can simply remove ourselves from the water at times, but other times we cannot. That is why it is helpful to learn to swim with the current.

We can swim with the current by accepting things as they are, by realizing the fleetingness of the situation and by choosing to respond with love. Sometimes my family members are loud when I am trying to do something quietly, or interrupt me when I am concentrating, or reprimand me when I am having a hard day. But it is my choice how I react.

Sometimes I think of it this way: we are living in an after image. Everyone around us, everything we react to is already gone. The way we respond and the feelings we reply with are with us forever. When the mirage of the problems we face go away, we are only left with our strong unhappiness, our anger, our resentment.

I do not want to hold onto these ways of feeling, so I let them go before they are fully triggered. I try to choose how I want to feel about the situation, I realize I’m holding everything. It is my choice what I choose to hold. 

 

 

 

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What Is Compassion?

A pink lotus flower and lily pads with saturated color

When asked by his attendant Ananda”Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?” The Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.”

~

We might consider compassion an emotion we have not felt enough. We are certainly not saints and we are very caught up in our own narratives. Yet still we all feel compassion, in ways small and large. Whether we might feel the urge to lessen an animals pain, or a comfort a weeping child, loving kindness is a quality we have experienced before.

The Dalai Lama says that compassion is inherent in our nature. It begins with birth, and our mother. Compassion comes with a sense of selflessness, the sort a mother feels for her baby. At such a young age we experience a great amount of love. We start life with this sort of relationship. We are small and helpless, and someone cares for us when we cannot use words or walk, or hold up our heads.

But what about the idea of self love?

Self compassion is a radical thought. Why worry about “loving” ourselves? Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that what ego is all about? No. I would argue that self loathing is just another form of self obsession and that in accepting ourselves we disrupt this pattern. This pattern of: “Why can’t I be more ___? Why can’t I stop these habitual thoughts? Why can’t I be less full of ego? Why can’t I be good?” Instead of fighting to get over ourselves or putting ourselves down- we forgive ourselves.

A sort of healing takes place when we stop and say, “Its okay.” “You are still worthy of love and happiness, regardless of your negative qualities” Besides, we know ourselves best, and that means we judge ourselves very harshly. By creating a wave of love for ourselves, and beginning where we are – we find that all of this rubbish, this “baggage” is compost for growth.

It is what makes us beautiful.

How could we ever begin to love someone else unconditionally unless we offer this acceptance to the one we know best? It begins with compassion for ourselves. Right now.

Not when we are successful, or when we break our bad habits, or when we achieve something in the future. But now, when we think we deserve it the very least. Now, when we are hurting and judging and afraid.

If we can begin to appreciate the good qualities about ourselves, and view the difficult ones as compost- we are finally at peace with ourselves. Instead of falsely holding up things we think define us like our jobs or social standing; instead of thinking these external labels are what make us good, we instead draw attention to the inherent beauties we have. Our patience, our kindness, our sense of justice, our ability to constantly rise from depression and sadness.

When we appreciate our inherent goodness, we are celebrating the inherent goodness of all beings. When we are experiencing our own suffering, we are sharing in the suffering of all beings. When we feel compassion for ourselves, we feel compassion for all beings. In this way, it is all of our practice.

Dealing with Comparisons

Comparisons are the way we gauge  where we are, and where we are supposed to be. Our peers act as markers of progress- where we should be, what we should be doing. Age can seem a big factor. I have a friend was considered a child prodigy; she was invited to Mensa, scored very well on an IQ test, went to college early and is now interning in government. We are the same age, and what have I done?

I automatically want to respond with “Nothing. You have done nothing in comparison”

The online world is a breeding ground for comparisons. It is easy to forget that we put our best appearance there, and we share only what is good and admirable about our lives. We share a small portion of us as people online, and yet I find myself viewing profiles of acquaintances and feeling inadequate. What am I doing with my life? Why can’t I have friends like so-and-so?

And how does this way of thinking benefit me- it does not. When I shut the laptop, I am comforted with nothing but failure, sadness and lack of motivation. Where can we go from here? It takes a lot of practice and a lot of patience to break these patterns. They come as second nature, an impulse, to look at the people around us and contrast their virtues with ours. Though this contrasting is nearly always skewed and we get nothing from the practice.

Sometimes the people in our lives try to motivate us using comparisons. By stating, “He really did something for his future, and he started out worse than you.” or “I wish you would be more like so-and-so” I think others say such things in a faulty attempt to motivate us. This rarely happens, and instead we become even less likely to change or grow.

There are ways of finding hope and motivation. I will share a few steps that have helped me break away from habitual patterns.

1) Unplug. This is the simplest, and often most difficult step. Does being online fuel your feelings of inadequacy? Take a week off. Only go on the computer to check emails or do research. Keep things practical. You can disable Facebook for a short while, or set up parental locks for yourself if you have trouble staying away.

2) Use this opportunity to reevaluate your situation. Major goals aside- what do you want to do. What would make your feel content. Write these aspirations down and let them sit for awhile. Make plans to change your patterns, make plans to do something out of your routine.

3) Let the people you compare yourself to become your teachers. It is said any situation has the potential of being an outlet for growth or an outlet for unchaining habits. We don’t have to aspire to be exactly like these people, but we can learn from both their their good traits and their bad.

4) Lastly: forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for comparing, forgive yourself for not being where you want to be, forgive yourself for your perceived failure. Accept things as they are, but remember that nothing stays the same. For once, do not aim to change anything. It is okay to be late, it is okay to take your time, it is okay to make mistakes. Sitting with things the way they are, sitting with your lack of direction, sitting with your perceived lack of success, just sitting with these feelings is okay too.

At times I feel like I am wasting my life. I am not out meeting fascinating people, or traveling the world, I am not doing anything noteworthy- and thats okay. I start here, where I am. I try to use these negative feelings to connect with the people around me. I go back to myself, block out the distractions, and ask: “What do I want to do next?” Be happy. There is no becoming or giving up. Just uncovering.

Not Good Enough and Feeling a Failure – a Practice in Tonglen

I recently received my practice SAT score at the end of the online test. It was embarrassingly low in the math section. It can seem a small thing to be concerned with, but it strikes me down hard. Comparisons find their way into my mind, I will not go to the university I want to, I will stay in this small town, I will never do anything with my life, I will have an uneventful, isolated life. They progress. Writing them down here, they seem ridiculous. But to me, at the time, they are very concrete.

I feel like I’ve been dropped in a deep hole somewhere, the soil eroding all above. I am, in this moment, a complete failure in my mind . I am not good enough. In this world, we are told unless we stand we will be trodden over. Thoughts such as these surface:

“There is not enough room for everyone in this over populated planet. Some people must be stepped on. In the “real” world, people do not care about your success, they do not care about your happiness. ”

The dreaded words, Not Good Enough. Not attractive enough, not smart enough, not creative enough, not wealthy enough, not driven enough…. Just give up now, some small voice tells me. You don’t contribute anything, anyway.

After some time, I ask, “What Now?” Okay, accepting this theory I am worthless and useless, what now? This way of thinking takes me no where but to a dark bedroom, crying.

And in these despairing moments, I sometimes have instants of light. Total release of my depression for about five seconds. Then its back again, but somehow not so bad. How can this be? This is where Tonglen comes in, this is where compassion comes in too. Through a crack in the monotony, in the “okayness” of everyday.

It helps to picture someone else, a friends or a complete stranger, lying in bed just as I am -crying. They feel what I feel. Immense depression and failure. I know its odd, but I find it easier to love this person than myself. They don’t deserve this. They are beautiful, complex, worthwhile person. These values we hold up in our world do not really matter. Success is just success. What matters is kindness.

This person, you and I are all closer to love when we are sad. Its a bit of a strange concept, but we are more open to kindness in this state. Because we can empathize. If I was a successful, perfect, (and completely fictional) human, how could i relate to sadness or failure?

I couldn’t.

So I practice Tonglen.

Tonglen means “Taking and Giving” in Tibetan. To practice Tonglen, is to breath in someone else’s sadness. A simple way of using Tonglen is to:

1) Sit upright (or lay down if you need to)

2) Picture a stranger suffering just as you are. Think of the emotion you are having, the situation that spurred the emotion.

3) Realize: I am feeling this emotion already, like it or not. So I will take on this persons sadness too.

4) Breath in their sadness. A specific one you both feel. Touch it to your heart. Release kindness, and happiness to them.

When I am done practicing this, I feel connected. I am not alone in feeling sorrow, I am not alone. Suffering is the face of humanity. It is found everywhere. It is very real, and I am experiencing it along with millions of others.

Typical and habitual thoughts of self doubt and distain will continue to effect us. But slowly, we will respond to them with self love and forgiveness. In doing this we have found a something, and have perhaps given a moment of light to someone lying in the darkness of depression. That someone starts with ourselves and then can spread to others.

Blaming Yourself

It is 3:10 AM and another difficult night. While many of the fears and anxieties I have during the day have been pushed aside by distraction, it is dark and they are waiting for me. Just like they always do. Sometimes the days go by swiftly without a hitch, but that feeling of landing amongst my problems never goes away completely.

I call this feeling many things, uncertainty, anxiety, hopelessness. It is a beast of many names. I’ve carried it along with me for a long time now.

When I was five years old my mother would find me in the bathroom, scratch marks and bite imprints on my arms and legs. I was unable to release the anger and sadness and my young mind could not cope. My parents were separating, my mom had just found her biological family, and I felt unsafe. Of course I was not aware of these causes as I sat there crying; I just felt anger, fear and a deep, confused sorrow.

It was around that time that my mom and I came up with a strategy. We built a safety guard rail to keep my “car” from going off the road.

1.) Yell into a pillow and have a good cry.

2.) Eat a snack.

3.) Talk about it.

4.) Hugs

5.) Repeat

I feel as though these simple steps have carried into my life now, in a slightly modified form. Crying still releases the pain, having a good snack or a cup of soothing tea raises my blood sugar, and I have found talking and writing to be very beneficial. Healthy touch is found with a pet, family member or close friend.

Here’s the thing: the sadness doesn’t just disappear. It can be relentless, patient and unyielding. In the face of these, repetition is important. To respond to this, I try to become unyielding in my coping practices. Unyielding in my self forgiveness.

It can be so easy to internalize our fears and sadnesses. Some of us keep up a happy persona, we study hard, we smile, we keep up appearances. All the while we are hurting inside. Others of us may express unhealthy forms of anger and violence to ourselves or people around us.

All are expressions of our hurt. This self blame is so, so harming.

Being “good” and “kind” was always a goal of mine, and still remains to be, and I saw expressing hurt or anger externally would hurt other people. Thus I avoided expressing anything at all and hurt myself instead.

It is important to show some of your true state to people, while you do not have to explode with anger or sob around strangers; simply saying “I’m having a really rough time” to a friend can relive a load. Be honest.

It is still around 3:00 AM. I am still myself, with the same problems, fears and sadnesses. Still, with all of this, I try to accept myself, where I am. I try and remember that blaming myself for my perceived weaknesses when I am already down is a terrible thing to do. Instead, practice a little self compassion and kindness.

You are deserving of happiness. You are not held by your “weaknesses”, you are not in a permanent place. You need a rest. You need tending.

Sometimes other people cannot tend us, sometimes we have to tend ourselves. And thats okay too.