Peaceful Places: The art of finding peace in reality

“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

Dōgen Zenji

‘Truth’, the cornerstone of Buddhism. If people ask me: “What is Buddhism all about?”, I tell them: “It’s about seeing the truth, about seeing the ultimate reality of things as they are: everything is change, everything is perishable and everything is interconnected.” Buddhism is about reality. The collective teachings of the Buddha are known as the dharma, which means ‘reality’ in Sanskrit. Facing reality is thus the main objective of the Buddhist. Escaping from reality is often the objective of the Borderliner. Those are conflicting ideas, oppositions and Buddhism teaches us that binary oppositions do not truly exist. There is a balance in everything, a middle way, a true way. No evil exists without good and no good without evil. Everything is unbiased, nothing exists independently, that is reality.

I grew up in a village, a quiet and peaceful place. I grew up in a hunting family as well, learning to respect nature and everything in it from an early age on. I spent a large part of my life outdoors in the woods. My grandfather always used to say that he didn’t need to go to church to pray or find peace, the woods were his cathedral.  If you walk among the tall trees with the sunlight falling through the fall-coloured canopy, the resemblance to a cathedral is often striking. Whenever I see the (roe)deer walking solemnly through the misty morning meadows in autumn, when I smell the fresh winter leeks when watching the pheasants and hear the creaking soil of first frost underfoot or when I hear the cuckoo call through the spring woods I feel a spiritual connection to the world around me. These moments, these small moments of extreme mindfulness and the feeling of interconnectedness are what Sogyal Rinpoche calls ‘glimpses of the nature of the mind.’Thich Nhat Hanh calls them ‘bells of mindfulness.’ They are moments when you are fully aware of being alive in this world. You can encounter these bells of mindfulness everywhere, be it in quiet places or in the middle of a busy street. Buddhism and many animist traditions taught me that all animals and sentient beings are like brothers and sisters, a feeling I have shared through my entire life. I therefore consciously refrain from taking a life. I even try not to kill mosquitos or wasps, only when they are really trying to sting me. But I’m  drifting off now.

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When I started my archeology and anthropology studies I moved to an agglomeration of big cities to start my student life. Remarkably, I didnt find it hard to adapt to ‘living in the city. There was so much to see, learn and experience there as well and I often found peace in walking through the streets and enjoying life around me. I wanted to be conscious of all things that happened around me, especially because I knew that I would not live here for ever. I deliberately went to lectures and classes on foot, simply to  be more aware of the city around me. Without knowing it, I was practicing mindfulness though seeing the finality of things! I also learned that there are many peaceful places in busy cities as well. Think of parks, graveyards or religious buildings for example (then again, I am also an archaeologist and art historian, so I love being in old buidlings). I’ve spent many hours in churches for example. One time, I was in London and I found peace by attending the evening vespers in a French church. You can always find peace amongst the singing birds in a park or the whispers and burning candles in a chapel for example. It is easier to find peace of mind in peaceful places.

The trick however, is to find peace in every situation. You cannot alway run to a peaceful place. You can not lock yourself away in a safe spot. You will eventually have to go out and face the world, you will have to face reality. Believe me, that shouldn’t be a problem. When I became a Buddhist, I read the book ‘Buddhism plain and simple’ by Steve Hagen. I read it in Dutch and on the cover it said ‘Ontwaak en ontdek wat nooit verandert‘: ‘Awaken and discover that which never changes.” I first thought of the peace of Buddhist temples and I dreamt of meditating somewhere in the Himalaya’s (which I am surely going to do!). I thought that Buddhism was about finding peace physically and I hoped that meditation was about finding a peaceful place in your head. But Hagen refers to the one thing that is constantly changeing, but which never changes: the truth. Meditation is about being mindful and perfectly awake, about totally being present in the present, in the here and now, about seeing the absolute truth in reality and the nature of all things. It’s all about reality and being present in reality.

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Buddhism has taught me to re-connect with reality. By studying the dharma I learned that I needed to confront myself with life directly. It taught me there is no safe place to hide, especially not inside your own head. There is no comfort zone, something I already learned through martial arts. I always thought I could only find peace away from other people, away from reality. In the book ‘Being Dharma’ Ajahn Chah Going says that going to a peaceful place doesn’t bring peace by itself. You can only find peace in your own mind. Through applying the teachings of the dharma, through reflection and meditation (which can perfectly done during daily activities by being mindful of your current thoughts and actions) you will eventually break through your habitus and you will see the ignorance in your own life patterns. You will learn to accept that everything is the way it is, you will learn to let go of pre-defined ideas and concepts of how things should be. I have always disliked modern society because of its hectic ways, its ignorant character, it’s rules and decorum that we should follow in order to ‘be someone.’ Buddhism has learned me to see past it. I see it, I accept it and finally I let it go and stop wasting my energy on being angry or frustrated with modern society. Whenever I get frustrated, I go back to my own mind and I focus on the here and now, on the positive things around me, on reality. There is no problem, as long as I accept reality and don’t turn something into a problem which isn’t a problem to begin with!

When you feel depressed or anxious and when you suffer from agoraphobia, it is often hard to get up and go out there. You want to be alone, but not lonely. But once you do go outside, once you are ready to go out and confront reality, you will come to see that life is truly beautiful and that the world has everything to offer, as long as you can see the reality of things! In the end, the only thing that truly exists is reality and the way you perceive it through your mind. The better you train your mind to be present in reality, the more you will understand reality and the easier you will find peace, not by finding a peaceful place way from reality, but by being present in your own mind. You can be tired of modern society. I am, at lkeast. But society and its ways is just a collection of ignorant self-grasping concepts. If you are truly awake, you will look past those ideas and concepts and you will let them go. That makes life not only bearable, it makes life beautiful.

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The true art is finding peace in the middle of chaos

By applying Buddhism to my life, I have thus learned to find peace inside my own mind. It truly remains an art to find peace among the sounds, sights, noises and images that enter your mind when you’re outside. It’s hard, but it can be done. I did it, although I thought I would never be able to. If you have any questions, as this matter is quite confusing and complex, feel free to ask. Finally, I will tell you, dear reader, how I find peace through my own mind. I find peace through:

– Focusing on possessions through honest effortt. Think of doing honest work which is good for the world and yourself, think of gaining a stronger body  though hiking and training, think of insight through learning, studying and reflection, think of earning love and friendship through being a good person etcetera).
– Joy through sincere compassion and contributing to a better world.
– Tryiong to have no monetary obligations and living within the boundaries of your resources in satisfaction. Only pay for the things which you need to pay, but don’t go create ties to unhealthy instances or people.
– Freedom of guilt through just actions in body, word and mind.

Walking, hiking, trekking and walking meditation are great ways of confronting yourself with reality as well. When I walk, I am constantly mindful of the world around me, as well as of my own thoughts. When I venture out alone, I automatically turn to my thoughts while being awake and consciuously present in the world around me. I am aware of the so-called ‘bells of mindfulness’ around me all the time. It may seem scary to go out alone, take a long walk with no-one but your own self. But once again, being alone doesn’t make you lonely. Give it a try!  I hope you, dear reader, will try to find peace in reality as well. Remember, there is no true safe haven, but your own mind.

 

Anger: My way to the eightfold path

Like fine dust thrown against the wind, evil falls back upon that fool who offends an inoffensive, pure and guiltless man

– Dhammapada 125

It has been a while since I posted on my blog. I have been visiting dear friends and I have been doing a lot of positive things over the past couple of weeks and months, often leading to beautiful insights and insipring conversations which have all contributed to an enormous wave of positivity which is currently fuelling my daily life. I am very grateful and very thankful for all of this. Because of this positivity I am feeling a lot stronger. I have been confronted with my borderline personality disorder and I feel like I have made a lot of progress again. I now finally feel confident to write about the theme ‘anger’, something I have been waiting to do since I started blogging.

The first clear indication of psychological problems in my life has been an extreme anger-attack, which I haven’t consciously experienced. I just blacked out and came to surrounded by police officers, a traumatising experience. I had been living with a lot of repressed feelings and problems back then, going back to bullying in elementary and high school. From that point onward, whenever I was confronted with powerlessness or impotence I erupted into a state of uncontrollable anger, pure aggression which always led to destruction. I have tried to explain a bit about these anger-attacks before. They were very vicious attacks of extreme anger over which I had no mental nor physical control. I did see myself, kind of like a bystander, floating outside of my body, screaming at myself to stop at the top of my lungs. Still, I could not respond, only watch and feel guilty later, fuelling a guilt-complex and an idea of utter failure in life. This in turn was the beginning of a negative spiral, leading me to the conclusion that life had become worthless and there was no point of living on like this. I believed that whatever I would do, in the end it would always bring about something negative.

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A partially patched up hole I punched in a solid door. A silent witness to my anger

The anger attacks became more intense and frequent over time and I asked for professional help. They were then ascribed to a psychological disorder with many symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. As you may have noticed, I am writing in the past tense. This means that I have  learned to (largely) control my anger. Insight gained from the Buddhist Dharma has been a keystone in the process. It took many months of therapy, meditation and individual Dharma study in order to overcome mental obstacles, so the teachings of the Buddha were able to seep into my mind and lead to change. The Noble Eightfold Path was the answer, just like the Buddha said, but sound therapy was the tool I needed to clear my mind. I’ll try to explain how.

My anger attacks started shortly after my mother had been admitted to the pshychiatric ward in the local hospital, suffering from severe depressions and a bi-polar disorder. At first I partially  overcame my aggression by attending psychotherapy and soon I found my way to martial arts. I joined a krav maga class where I met other people suffering from similar conditions and I forged new friendships there. Krav maga changed my way of life and I will be forever grateful toward my teacher(s) and the inspiring people I have met at my gym. Martial arts provided me with a better physical health, self-confidence and many other insights which would prove to be crucial later on in life. Slowly, I started to understand that I was only able to help myself through insight, so I turned to the Buddhist Dharma.

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Eventually, in 2014, I ran into a break-up in a relationship that somehow completely broke me again. Deep in my heart I loved this girl too much (if loving too much is possible). Thich Nhat Hanh has written that falling in love is literally a kind of falling, you fall and lose your freedom if you let the internal formations and emotions run unchecked. That way, it becomes an ultimate expression of attachment and thus suffering. Immediately after the break-up the anger attacks started to return in full force, more violent than ever. I fell. Hard. I did my utmost best not to turn them against living beings, so I turned on the furniture and everything I could get my hands on, including myself. It was pure, unbridled destructive hatred which I unleashed, which becomes a volatile cocktail when mixed with self-destructive tendencies. I have sustained many injuries in the process by hitting objects full force, punching through glass or sueezing breakable objects. In a sudden panic attack I stabbed myself with a piece of glass. I confronted the authorities and fought those who love me. I instilled fear in my loved ones and those who witnessed me. My closest friends and family feared for my life. I shunned society and the outside world in order not to create chaos and to prevent ending up in fights. I felt like a monster. It is still very confronting and hard to write about these things. I want to share them. This is the right time.

Four years after I had started martial arts I had to abandon them temporarily, as they somehow taught my unconscious mind that aggression in some cases will be rewarded. Furthermore, I was able to use my training to keep myself in check, but when I lost control my training turned me into a weapon. Without the proper mental constraint, I was not able to master my anger physically and thus I became very dangerous. The strange thing is that I have always held a certain respect for firearms. I grew up in a hunting family and I have always been taught to have respect for a firearm. I would never, not even subconsciously, use a firearm in anger. Some subconscious mental constructions lingered in my mind, giving me a slight degree of control. I struggled on for about a year and then I learned I was suffering from a Borderline Personality Disorder. Finally I could name my physical vulnerability. Finally I was able to find the proper kind of therapy and the first problem at hand was tackling these vicious anger-attacks.

He who checks rising anger as a charioteer checks a rolling chariot, him I call a true charioteer. Others only hold the reins

– Dhammapada 222

Buddhism contains a lot of insights about the futility of anger. In Buddhism, anger is one of the main causes of suffering, the so-called five hindrances. Many Buddhist scholars have written about the subject including Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Anger: Buddhist Wisdom for dousing the Flames,’ a book that provided me with simple and clear insights. I tried to apply the lessons I have learned from the Buddha’s teachings, but there was a lot of chaos and confusion in my head and I often failed to apply the lessons learnt. The important thing here, which has been stressed by Buddhist scholars and the Buddha himself is to understand that the dharma is a journey, not a goal. Every time you fall, acknowledge it. Stand back up again and try again. That applies to many things in life. Eventually, by beaing mindful of your actions and trying to apply the lessons again, you will gain more insight and you will refine your mind. The teachings by then will come to you naturally. Just don’t give up and never think that you have failed. There is no thing as failure or success if you stay mindful. You can only learn or you and grow by your actions and gain more insight, as long as you are willing to do so. The only way to truly fail is to give up life. Life is the most precious gift there is, since only through your life can you access your mind and your mind is the only way to experience and understand the world.

Before I could learn to understand my mind and love myself again, I first needed professional help. I couldn’t do it alone. There were a lot of deformed mental constructions in my head, which gave me a false view of myself and my place in the world, obscuring reality and truth. You can compare it to Plato’s cave, seeing only the shadows of the real world, but never truly understanding them (Plato’s philosophical thought often overlaps with that of the Buddha). Another comparison is being caught in a mirror-maze in which some mirrors are glass panes from which you can see the outside world, though most of the time, you will just see a distorted image of yourself. Therapy was a guideline to reach the exit of the cave or the mirror-maze.

Platos CaveCat in Mirror Maze

My therapy is still ongoing. I attend one-on-one psychotherapy sessions with my psychologist. Through therapy I have learned to understand the workings of my conscious mind and the mental constructions I had formed unknowingly in my head. My therapist helped me identify my thought-patterns and the obstacles they created. We analysed my habits and he made me walk into a lot of glass walls, confronting me head-on with my inner demons and repressed ideas. It is always very tireing, but it shows me how I think, or rather thought. Buddhism helps me to gain insight into my subconscious mind through studying the dharma and reflecting upon it while meditating. It brings me back to the teachings of the dharma and the way in which I apply them to my life. By practicing and just keep practicing, the dharma is slowly becoming second nature. Somehow, somewhere, a few weeks ago a switch was flipped in my head during therapy, shortly after my last relationship failed this year. I was totally mindful of my actions and thoughts. I felt freed from my mental (de)formations, freed from anger! The mist on my personal eightfold path cleared and the path was clear again. I have never felt better!

I have let go of a pre-defined image of who I should be or the concept of what life should look like. There is no envy or jealousy, nor is there a feeling of failure or incompetence. I don’t mirror myself on others too much and I have learned not to adhere to titles, fame or  anything like that. I am who I am and I can only understand myself through my own mind.Buddhist scholar Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa who lived in the 5th century said that anger is like grasping onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone (or something) else. In the end, it is you who gets burned. I have always taken this allegory to heart. How did I master my anger? By letting the dharma seep into my mind. By practicing, again and again and again.Anger has been my way to better understanding the dharma and the Noble Eightfold Path.

On the way I learned a few invaluable lessons from Buddhism that somehow have helped me immensely to overcome my anger, which I want to share with you before wrapping this entry up:

  • I always thought I was pretty fearless. Since I have leraned to understand that death is the only certainty in life, what else is there to fear? Fear however is one of the roots of ignorance (the ability to not see things fro what they truly are). It is a main cause of panic and anger. Learn to acknowledge your fears and learn how to face them. Therapy, sports, associations and true friends may all be able to help you here.
  • Anger is never a solution. Thich Nhat Hanh compares anger to a fire in a burning house. The angrier you become, the more you fuel the flames. If you run away however, the flames will consume the house. The only way to douse the flames is by confronting yourself and finding the root of your anger in order to calm yourself. Otherwise, anger will only lead to destruction.
  • In the words of Star Wars’master Yoda: Fear leads to anger, anger leats to hate, hate leads to suffering.
  • Anger is just an emotion and like all other emotions and things it is perishable and will go away.
  • Don’t feel too guilty in life. If you break something, turn it into compost in your mind and use it to grow something new.
  • Venting anger through hitting objects, shouting or ‘getting it out of your system’ is giving in to anger, it is rehearsing anger and training aggression. Instead, you need to train body and mind through peaceful activities. I is possible to combine mastering aggression and the mind through through sports like traditional martial arts, bowmanship, shooting, running, climbing, paintball/airsoft, bodyweight fitness etcetera.
  • Go outside and take a walk. Confront yourself with the world. Walking or running will create dopamine, a hormone that makes you feel better. My therapist told me that vitamin D, which we create as a reaction on sunlight, is the best anti-depressant.
  • Animals are a good indicator of anger and they may try to help you calm down by giving you a feeling of love and understanding. Think of service-dogs helping people with mental and physical problems or cuddling a cat (a non-aggressice one that is!).

This blog entry is just a version of how I overcame anger. It may not be perfectly clear, but if you have questions I will gladly answer them for you. Dear reader, that you may never become a victim of anger. Learn to defend yourself against it physically and mentally. Thank you for reading my story. I hope I have inspired you in some way and once again: if you have any questions or remarks, share them or ask me about them. Reflection is always a way forward. Stay strong and stay mindful!

 

 

 

 

Teachers, lessons, truth

One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached.

One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed, is self-control.

– Dhammapada 158-159

I have had several relationships in my life, all of which have eventually ended. Everything in life is perishable, so are relationships, and when they do not function anymore it is time to move on or let go, even if it may seem selfish or wrong in the beginning. When my last relationship recently ended, I did feel pain in my heart, which is perfectly normal, but in the end I am very grateful for the lessons it taught me. Making such decisions is never pleasant, but in a relationship, both persons which are committed to it are teachers for each other, even if things go wrong there are lessons to be learnt. I felt bad when it happened, so I decided to head out into town to be among the people (which is also a form of learning actually). I ended up in one of my favourite book-stores, housed in an old Dominican church, where I often like to sit high up in the quiet rafters of the building, where the second hand books on Buddhism and spirituality are housed. In my current emotional state, my eye was drawn to a book by Sharon Salzberg  titled “Loving Kindness, the Revolutionary art of happiness.” I started pageing through it and saw some interesting things, but then I stumbled upon a quote that supposedly was ascribed to the Buddha. It said: “In a battle, the winners and the losers both lose.” I think this is a free translation of some part of the Dharma. I checked Fakebuddhaquotes.com but I didn’t find a similar entry anywhere. wp-1461055071934.jpg

I am educated as a scientist and therefore I am fairly secptical and I read critically. I also encountered a chapter in which Salzberg referred to the Dalai Lama, who has stated that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder does not exist among the Tibetan people, since they see things from a Buddhist perspective. They don’t acknowledge traumatising experiences, since they show compassion for those who torture them. So basically, he says that PTSD cannot exist because the people suffering from it do not accept it. That one just hit me square in the face. You do not choose to acknowledge PTSD, it is a mental illness that is sparked by traumatising factors. No matter how you try to deal with them, it is not a choice to have PTSD or not. If it was a choice, I would gladly choose not to acknowledge my own PTSD and many others with me,. If that truly was the magical cure, we would all be healed instantly.

Too bad, this was one of the many quotes and actions of the Dalai Lama I do not agree with.  Many people think that as a Buddhist, you should follow the Dalai Lama. They believe he is some kind of Buddhist Pope/ God on earth and the leader of all Buddhists. He is not, he is the God-King of Tibet, a worldly and religious leader. Those are aspects which are quite a-buddhist. Therefore, I have refrained from the Dalai Lama and his words a long time ago, although I do still heed his lessons which are compatible with Buddhism in my own experience, there is always a middle way! In that respect, he was and is a teacher for me. He taught me to be critical, he taught me what I should not do, but he also provides me with valuable lessons from his own insight at the same time. Let me explain further about Buddhism an religion first.

Buddhism in essence is not a religion, it is a philosophical way of life. In their book ‘Boeddhisme voor denkers (Buddhism for thinkers), the authors call Buddhism a ‘life-art.’In many countries, Buddhism has developed on the basis of and longside with local religious traditions. In those countries, Buddhism has become a religion with a monastic tradition and the reverence of the Buddha. Yet, Buddhism is non-theïst. There is no God that is worshipped. The Buddha was no god, but a mere man who reached spiritual freedom (Nirwana) through insight from experience. I will not elaborate on the subject of God or religion here at this time.  Let’s just keep it at the fact that Buddhism acknowledges the Universe and an all-present life-force and accepts the freedom of the concept of God, but it does not focus on the existence of God. Instead, Buddhism focuses on the individual, who just like the Buddha can learn through his own experiences and insights.In the Dhammapada, the Dharma clearly states that  “By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another“(Dhammapada 165).

Buddhism, in essence, exists without religious tradition. Therefore, it may seem contradictory that in some countries, especially in Asia, Buddhism follows the line of religious tradition, in which the Buddha, aspects of Buddha or even Buddhist teachers are almost deified. The cause of this is that Buddhism has developed alongside ancient religions that already existed in those countries. Buddhism is perfectly compatible with religions, since it is only a philosophical way of life that encompasses compassion, acceptance and loving kindness, the latter being a universal aspect of all religions. Allright, that is quite an explanation and believe me, I could go into more detail. But let’s keep it at this point: “Buddhism does not focus on God or a concept of a higher and omnipotent being, the Buddha being a mere man who has reached Enlightenment.”

Three Jewels

One of the central concepts in Buddhism are the ‘Three Jewels‘, the three key elements of Buddhist tradition: The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

The Buddha here refers to the Buddha himself, Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni. It also refers to the ideal of becoming like Buddha, by reaching enlightenment through insight and mastery of the mind, drawn from experience. Enlightenment can be understood as the ability to see the true nature of life and all things in it, free of concepts or universalia (the idea of what things are and how they should be collectively called). In order to do so, the Dharma is the main tool. The Dharma is the entire collective of the Buddha’s teachings, guidelines which help you to understand your own ability to use and understand the mind. Then there is the sangha, the people.

We cannot learn from the Dharma alone, since it is only a body of text and teachings. The Dharma becomes valuable only when it is practiced, when it is embodied into the minds and actions of people. The Buddha states that “Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others”(Dhammapada 19). Without sharing the Dharma with others, testing its validity and reflecting upon its lessons, it is useless. The Sangha refers to all people with whom you share spiritual experiences, all people who teach you along the way.

When I took my first steps on the Noble Eightfold Path as a Buddhist, I immediately embraced the Theravada tradition and the Pali-canon texts, the texts and tradition that stand closest to the historical Buddha oral tradition passed down by his followers. I take lessons from all others Buddhist traditions, as well as religious and spiritual movements that fit in with my experiences, there are many lessons to be learned from all aspects of life, never forget that. I grew up as a Catholic and when I started my archaeology studies, I also dove into the world of religion studies and theology. I came to accept my Christian roots even more, but I was also fascinated by nature-based religious systems, Norse mythology, Iron Age rituals traditions, demonology etcetera. During my studies I encountered other faiths in depth, I lived in the Middle East for a while for internships and encountered Islam and Judaism there, but also the Coptic and other Christian traditions as well as the religions of Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, the Hittites and prehistoric communities. Later, during a trip with a dear friend, who was seeking the tradition that was most compatible to his views, introduced me to the Bahá’i traditions. The Baháí ultimately believe that we all share the same vision or concept of God and follow the path of universal compassion and peace.

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In 2013, I found my way to Buddhism, on the 22nd of October of that year I decided that Buddhism was a tradition that connected with me as a person, after a few weeks of in depth-reasding. I went to visit a Buddhist temple not too far from my house, which follows the New Kadampa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. I use the temple for meditation and reflection by talking to other Buddhists. I learnt quite a lot there and I was able to share insights and ask questions, which further affirmed my choice. However, there is a whole lot of controversy going on between the Dalai Lama and followers of this New Kadampa tradition and both sides  throw dirt at each other. I was no big fan of the Dalai Lama, as I have made clear before and this certainly didn’t help. I never felt the urge to follow one teacher or one specific tradition and this event taught me to steer clear from leadership and religious authoritarianism. I follow my own mind, no one else’s.

Members of the Western Shugden Society p
(Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images)

There are many lama’s and other spiritual teachers in Buddhism. They are often called  ‘leaders’. ‘Teachers’ is a bit more valid, but this term still breathes authority. Just like ‘Grand Masters’ in martial arts. Thich Nhat Hanh once said that they should be regarded as ‘spiritual friends,’ people who help you reflect along the path by providing you with insights from their own experience.  Thich Nhat Hanh is one fo those people himself. He writes books beautifully, very clear dn simple in style, his words honeyed with loving kindness and universal wisdom. But even Thich Nhat Hanh sometimes says things that do not agree with my experience. Since I do not see him as a leader of some sort, he is just another spiritual friend, teaching me lessons about life, also by saying things I don’t agree with (since I learn not to agree and overthink and reflect upon why I don’t agree!). Thich Nhat Hanh stresses the importance of the sangha in his books and therefore also refers to reflection by reflection.

I turned to the world wide web in search of a sangha near me and I was astonished to see that a sangha-group devoted to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh regularly met only six kilometres from my house! I went there one evening and found myself surrounded by all kinds of older people (I am 28 years old when writing this). There was a very positive atmosphere, not really ‘floaty’ or ‘lofty’ as I had expected. We meditated in silence together for a long time, a really strong experience. But eventually we got to a reflection and discussion round and although there was a small Buddha statue standing in the middle of our circle, I felt that those gathered here were focused on a sort of ‘cult of the individual.’ They were only focused on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh himself, but they had no remarkable experience with the wider aspects of Buddhism. They did not understand some of its basics principles. This saddened me and I henceforth decided to not visit these meetings again.

There is no spoon

Ajahn Chah, who is sees as another Buddhist spiritual teacher says in the book ‘Being Dharma’ that Buddhist spiritual teachers belong to a  long line of teachers who are trained by experience and who pass down their collective wisdom onto the next generation of teachers. But he also warns us to be wary, since these are personal experiences and personal flaws and faulty insights may also be passed down along those lines. Therefore it is important to remain critical and to examine everything out of your own experience while examining if these teachings apply to you. He also tells us to not follow people who think that age equals experience, since some young people have already gained more insights in life than others may have gathered in a lifetime. Keep in mind, I am a spiritual friend myself, I do not claim to be a teacher and I do not have a full insight of the inner workings of Buddhism, I am merely a travelling companion on the eightfold path. I only seek to share my experiences and the lessons I have learned!

I can greatly elaborate on this theme, but I’ll save it for another time. Buddhism can be a tool for you to understand life better, but even when certain parts of the Dharma do not apply to you or you cannot fit them into your life, you should let them go.Being a Buddhist is not about following teachers, rules or dogma. It is about following your mind throughout your life, trying to see everything for what it is without conceptual thinking. Reflection through living and living through reflection. The teaching I want to share with you is that your own experiences and your mind are your greatest teachers, the only ones you should truly follow. Life, in all its colours and aspects is your greatest lesson, an ever ongoing journey to which there is no end or goal.The key to understanding is actually quite simple: live and learn! Keep that in mind: I am my own teacher, I learn from trying to see the truth: everything is inteconnected and without conceptual label, or as the little boy in the Matrix says: “Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realise the truth. There is no spoon.”

 

Noble Friends

One should not associate with bad friends, nor with the vile. One should associate with good friends, and with those who are noble

– Dhammapada 78

If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone

– Dhammapada 329

 Dear reader, I haven’t written an entry in a while, but I will try to update my blog more regularly. I have been busy with my work at the animal ambulance and I have spent a good many weekends hiking. Here I am, back again with an entry on the theme of friendship, something which is very important in my own life and probably in many others as well. I am not only referring to the presence of friendship here, but also to its absence. As you can see in the quotes above, the teachings of the Buddha learn us that we should associate with ‘wise’ and ‘noble’ friends and if we can not find them, we are better off alone, untill we meet friends which hold these positive qualities. What is friendship nowadays? Are friends the people you share your time with? Are your colleagues your friends? Is it a link to another person on Facebook that makes you a friend? Which qualities should someone have in order to make them a friend? Should they just be wise or noble?

One thing is clear, according to the Buddha everybody needs a friend in his or her life. The Buddha himself also had a best friend, his first cousin Ānanda. In the Samyutta Nikaya, part of the Sutta Pitaka, the Buddha says to Ānanda: “Having good friends and advancing together with them is not half the Buddhist way but all the Buddhist way” (freely translated). According to the dictionary friendship is a “mutual state of being friends; friends are persons with which mutual affection arises from mutual esteem and good will, making the relationship both likeable and very enjoyable.” In the Dhammapada the Buddha stated:

The disciple should associate with a wise friend, who detects and censures his faults, and who points out virtues as a guide tells of buried treasures. There is happiness, not woe, to him who associates with such an intelligent friend” (Dhammapada 76)

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In tibetan Buddhism there is a popular and recurring story about the ‘four harmonious friends.‘ It is a tale about  four animals which are quarreling about which of them is the oldest. An elephant, a monkey, a hare and a bird. The elephant said that the tree was already fully grown when he was young, but the monkey said that the tree was small when he was young and the hare said that he saw the tree as a sapling when he was young. The bird finally claimed that he had carried the seed from which the tree had grown. This made the animals agree that the bird was the oldest. They ceased their quarrel and from then one lived together in compassionate harmony, helping each other to pick fruits from the tree while living in the shade of its leaves.

These stories and quotes all contain some truths about friendship. Friendship is a social relationship and there are different kinds of friendship. Bear in mind that the teachings of the Buddha mention the three marks of existence: suffering/dissatisfaction (dukkha), interconnectedness (anatta) and the impermanent nature and perishableness of all things (anicca). They apply to all aspects of life, so also to friendship. Friends, like you yourself, are in connection with everything else in the world. This makes it possible for you to connect after all and through mutual interests, situation or ideas you will meet each other eventually. Friendship then blooms and it helps gaining insight, repressing feelings of suffering and discontentedness by sharing your suffering and joy together. But friendships, like everything in the world, are perishable. Sometimes a friendship lasts for a lifetime, other friends come and go and some friends may even grow to be enemies. Friendships are subject to the change in both persons in the mutual relationship.

  • Friendship is dual and mutually acknowledged.
  • A friend is there for you, unconditionally.
  • A friend is a mirror for you.
  • Affection, loyalty, love, respect, and trust are the main building blocks of friendship.
  • Friendships exist ot of mutual esteem and good will.

There are different kinds of friendship.First of all, there are the all-time friends, as I like to call them. They are people you met when you were still a young child, the kind of friends you stuck together with throughout your childhood, adolescence and further life. Some of these friendships may have worn out, some may even have been disbanded, but many people stick with these all-time friends. Often, but not always, they may be people you would not directly associate with in your present life, since these friends may have developed into individuals that completely differ from yourself.  I have a few all-time friends who are very dear to me and they all grew up to be very different individuals. Still, they are my friends. We tolerate each other’s differences, we completely accept them. This exemplifies how interconnectedness and compassion are strong factors within the relationship we call ‘friendship.’ Justin Witaker, a MA and Ph.D. student in Buddhist Ethics wrote an interesting piece about theArt of Friendship on the Wildmind blog.

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There is also the kind of friendship from necessity. Some friends you meet when you go to school or university. They may be random people which whom you band together in a ‘us against the world’ idea. You share some mutual ideas and interests at the least. Lasting friendship may bloom from such relationships, but these kind of friendships may also be permanent. A more intense kind of friendship is friendship forged by trial, which may also be a friendship originating from necessity. By physicaly and mentally suffering exztremely together with others may create a kind of friendship which is more like brotherhood. It is a kind of friendship experienced  by soldiers, firemen, law enforcement personell, life brigades or other people who survived together during a war or another traumatising experience. It develops into a unique bond, a kind of brother (or sister-)hood. In the end, people in this kind of relationship would sacrifice their own life to save that of their friends, a value which is beautifully expressed in the Bible:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
– John 15:3

Then there are best friends. They are the friends that stick with you through thick and thin, they are the ones who are always there for you, no matter what. They are the friends you share the closest bond with. .One of my best friends is someone I met on the mat of the gym. We were both novices in krav maga and martial arts in general. That was almost five years ago. We have been best buddies ever since. My other best friends I met during my studies and at school. They are all-time friends and friends which I met out of neccessity. Some I grew up with, others I grew with through the challenges we faced. Some future friends I met through my own friends. In the end I have a good deal of friends, people which I truly call friends and they are very dear to me.

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Friendship is not related solely to human beings. You can also be friends with other feeling entities which you feel compassion for. My dog for example is my very best friend. He supports me, I support him. He needs me and I need him. He will always be loyal and see me as a leader, as well as a brother in his pack and that makes him very special. This relationship for me truly is a form of friendship. I often jonkingly refer to my dog as my smr waty, which was an Ancient Egyptian title meaning ‘unique friend’ ( I studied Archaeology and Egyptology). This title was bestowed upon close acquanintances of the Pharaoh. I think it is a very fitting title to apply to a close friend.

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Unique Friend

Let’s switch to the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderliners are not always the easiest people, so friendships may be really challenging for them, but maybe even more for their friends. Yet, without my friends, i would not have been here to wirte this article today. I was diagnosed with BPD rather late in life, so I already had many friends who saw me suffer.They have all been there for me, each of them in their own way. The only thing I had to do was to be honest and open toward them. I told them what I felt and what I thought was wrong with me. I asked them for help, I asked them for advice, but most of them were simply there, without me asking for help. Many friends visited me often to talk or they took me along on trips, asked me to join them for dinner or they invited me over, just to have a good time together. I traveled with some of them, others I shared wisdom with. Some friends literally were there for me when I needed to go to hospital after stabbing myself for example. Some of them suffered from mental illness themselves, makin them invaluable as conversational parners. I often still thank friends for what they have done for me and often they say: “I didn’t even do anything special.” I then answer: “You were there and you are still here, my friend. That’s more than enough.”

I lost some friends along the way, not due to my BPD, but I also gained some good friends since I am suffering from BPD. Some of them are borderliners as well. I also met up with some old friends and those friendships were re-kindled into very strong bonds. There are even people I would have eventually met in life, no matter which choice I had made. There is a lot that can be said about friendship, but in the end friendship is truly magic. A friend is something everyone needs. No one can exist completely on their own. We are all inteconnected. We all need each other.

Friendship knot

What it comes down to is that true friends accept you for who you are and that they are there for you when it matters. When they don’t, they are no true friends. But beware, friends also act as mirrors. They may criticise you and disagree with you, but that doesn’t always mean they are not there for you! If they criticise you, the act as a mirror and try to show you what you are doing wrong in their eyes. True friends may do this in order to protect you, to keep you safe from harm. Therefore it is always very important to be ope toward each other and communication, like in every other social relationship, is the key to understanding! Do not abandon a friendship just because a friend doesn’t agree with you, sometimes a friend is only helping or trying to help! This is one of the aspects that makes a friend ‘wise’ or ‘noble.’ it is what makes a friend a friend. So cherish your friends and you will cherish yourself.

In all religious and philosophical traditions friendship is to be cherished, also in Buddhism, as was already stated at the beginning of this entry. Friendship is a social relationship, a form of compassion, even a form of meditation! Friends are there to show you who you are, they help you in practicing compassion and forgiveness, they provide you with the joys of mutual acknowledgement and they share your joys and pains, just like you share theirs with them. In the Upaddha Sutra the Buddha elaborates that, through friendships, one develops each of the factors mentioned in the eightfold path through seclusion, dispassion and cessation. He says: “When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.’ Friends with these qualities are referred to as “good friend,” “virtuous friend,” “noble friend” or “admirable friend” (through their actions as a friend) or kalyāṇa-mitra. They are friends that do not only touch your heart, but also your spirit. Through every lesson we learn in life, we will learn that friendship is valuable and indispensible. Cartoons already teach us the value of friendship early on in life. So be a good friend and true friends will be good to you. I hope I can be a bit of a  kalyāṇa-mitra to you as well, dear reader.

Be a hero: dare to ask for help

Here he rejoices, hereafter he rejoices….He rejoices and greatly rejoices when he sees the purity of his own deeds.

– Dhammapada 16

My parents have always taught me that helping others and being there when the needy are in need of help is one of the most beneficial and satisfying things there are in life. The saying “help yourself by helping others” is no illusion, it is one of the core values of Buddhism as I will explain further down the page.  Helping others is the way forward in life, but you have to be mindful of some pitfalls along the way

The causes of my PTSD and BPD can be found in my urge to help others. That may sound strange, but I’ll try to explain. I developed something which my psychologist calls a ‘saviour complex’. When my parents walked a path of physical and mental illness, I had to be there for them. These dark days in life even further nurtured my helper’s instinct. From then on I have always sought to help others in life and I always wanted to work as a soldier or a firefighter, helping others who are in extreme need, untill that calling was smashed by poor eyesight, leaving me depressed. In past friendships and relationships I always found people who were looking for help, I have singled out people who were struggling or who were in mental distress. Seeing it as my task to give them happiness and a new purpose. That led to me clinging on to these people, not wanting to give up and passing myself by in the process. That is , of course, never a healthy basis for a relationship.

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I still have that helper’s instinct however, it is part of who I am. Last week I stopped along the road at night to help a woman who was stranded with her car and who had been waving at people for help for over thirty minutes. For me, helping her is something obvious, but in modern times, helping others does not seem to be self-evident anymore. Helping is not part of our culture anymore. People are afraid to be robbed by muggers who pretend to need help. They don’t want to get caught up in fights, they are afraid to become victims themselves. People always have something to say about anything, but they rarely find the courage to act and help out. Asking for help at work is also not encouraged in our current competition-based and financially-driven society. Asking a colleague for help may imply that you don’t know what you are doing, it may seem unprofessional, it exposes a flaw in your working-personality which in turn may lead to you being rebuked and in the end even fired. I have talked to many friends and dear ones who are coping with this problem. We are becoming afraid to ask for help!

When I was in the car crash I blogged about, it took almost twenty minutes before anyone came to my aid, while hundreds of cars were passing by my wrecked car! Even when I had placed a warning triangle on the road, another car just ran it over. When I was bullied in high school, many saw it happen yet no one intervened! I always told myself: I will not be that person, I will help. Unconsciously you start becoming a kind of hero in your head, you become the person that wants to make a change too much. You have probably read stories or you’ve seen movies about this kind of people. They usually don’t end well. Ever since I was trained in Krav Maga and realistic self-defense, I developed a new side to this helper’s/ saviour-complex: I don’t run away from screaming or fights, I run toward them in order to help. It is not just behaviour anymore, it has become part of my instincts. Evidently you run into trouble this way. Therapy is helping me to channel my emotions better, since it is not always my task to help. I have learned that help is only useful to others only when those people accept your help. But still, when people need me, I am not afraid to help!

Sometimes people are too haughty or stubborn to ask for help. I have been too stubborn, I admit. When everything went downhill in my life in 2007 I cried for help many times, but no one came to my aid directly. I developed an image in my head in which I have to help others and in which I don’t need help from anyone, me being some kind of hero, a pinnacle in the dark clouds. I did call for professional help when everything collapsed in 2014, but I felt like it was already too late. I had to wait six months until I was taken in for therapy and it took three more months until I was at the right branch of mental healthcare. This enforced the fact that I didn’t ask for help anymore, I only had the misanthropic thought that no one either would or could help me. I thought that I was the only one who could help myself. It only happened recently that I dare to really ask my therapist for help immediately when the need arises. I kept him out at the times I needed him most. But now I send him an e-mail as soon as things go wrong and he will contact me as soon as possible. I regard it as a major breakthrough. I ask friends for help, I ask my parents for help and I try to help myself and others where I can. I have some dear friends who will always be there to help me, no matter what, as I will also be there for them.

helping-others

Through experience, I have learned that I am not alone. There are still many people out there who are prepared to help If you need help and you want help, just ask! You can help by doing little things, by being good to others. It will make you feel better. In the Sedaka Sutra the Buddha mentions this: “Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself.” With ‘others’ the Buddha aims for all living beings. That explains why I find joy at working at the animal ambulance, where I can help people and other animals alike! The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula (from “Old path white clouds” by Thich Nhat Hahn):

Rahula, practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return.
Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return
.”

The path of the Buddhist is mainly characterised by two qualities: wisdom through the dharma and through insight on the one hand and loving compassion on the other. Compassion here is not just a moral value, it is an affirmation of the impermanency of all things and therefore it should come naturally to you. If you see that everything in life is subject to constant change, you will stop grasping and clinging on to the perishable. You will see how others are suffering through ignorance, hatred, intolerance and greed and from that insight you will feel compassion: the inspiration to help others to overcome these obstacles. Through helping others without expecting anything in return, you will gain more insight and you will learn to love yourself. That’s what today’s story is all about.

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But what about the saviour-complex? What about being a hero toward others? Can you still be the hero of your own story?! If you look up ‘hero’ in the dictionary you will find something like: “One who is admired for his brave achievements and noble qualities.” Bravery for me is having the courage to face my own demons and to fix the problems caused by my mental illness. It is the quality that keeps you going when all lights begin to fade. It is the quality to help people where others don’t, but it is also the courage to dare and ask for help yourself. Noble qualities for me are acts of virtue and selflessness, qualities which are all defined in the Dharma and the Noble (!) Eightfold path, the teachings of the Buddha, of which compassion is the chief one.

My ex-girlfriend wrote me a loving and inspiring card when I was feeling down in which she said to me: “Never forget that you will always be my hero and don’t you forget it!”, followed by this quote of Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), the actor who played Superman:

I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles

In the end, if you feel worthless and you are waiting for someone to save you, try to be your own hero instead. Show goodness through the small things, even if they go unnoticed and you cannot gain any credit for them. You can learn to accept yourself through helping others, you will find this even more rewarding than sincere gratitude!
And never forget, almost every hero has a sidekick who acts as his or hers conscience, on which the hero can always fall back! Heroes should also never forget to band together in order to combine their powers! You can help yourself by helping others and others help you in the process. In the meantime, I hope I can help or inspire you by the words contained in these pages! Be a hero: dare to ask for help!

Keep on going, hero! Be victorious!

 

Mindfulness: escaping by staying in the same place

“This is the path, no other’s there
for purity of insight”

– Dhammapada 274

One of my best friends and I had a nice talk last week about why people in Western society suffer so much. We drove across town and saw people trudging onward like machines, seemingly doing things that they were not really conscious of doing. They weren’t mindful. We philosophised for a while and my friend came up with the following basic idea of modern Western society, a life consisting of work, Netflix and Basic Fit.

People live to work in order to provide for all kinds of material gain they hardly use because they lack time,
They spend more time with colleagues than with their loved ones,
Maintain the rest of their social relationships in social media,
Order food instead of cooking it when they get home,
Get bored easily and have no time for their hobbies since they are tired of working all day, so they watch Netflix,
They spend their money shopping online, avoiding social contact in stores and in the city,
Try desperately to stay in shape at a fitness concern like Basic Fit
and they use all these brands and commercial instances to create a false sense of individual identity, while they keep working in order to maintain this commercially minded management-induced society.
Then they come to the point where they wonder why life is so short and meanigless, although life is the longest thing they will ever consciously experience.

The featured image in the header of this blog entry by Steve Cutts visualises this idea. Life nowadays seems to be an inescapable rat-race to Nowhere. There has to be a way to escape, right?

Present

Buddhism has taught me that the key to escaping from Dukkha/suffering caused by discontent with modern life is mindfulness. If you live more mindfully you, live more consciously and you are fully aware that you are alive in the present moment! Every moment you are mindful can last a lifetime on its own. A few weeks ago I encountered the sign up here under an old city-gate in Gorinchem, The Netherlands. It perfectly illustrates what mindfulness is all about. When you are mindful you will understand that everything you experience, yet the only thing you will experience is your own life as understood by your own mind! No moment of your life can exist without your presence!

Buddhism teaches us that there is only one path to insight: seeing the truth and the true nature of the things, seeing how everything in this world is interconnected through using your own experiences. I have blogged about the subject of Interbeing and Interconnectedness in previous entries (you can find more information about the topic here). The reason for this is simple: ‘interconnectedness ‘is one of the key terms in Buddhism, it is one of the most principal concepts of Buddhist philosophy. Nothing can exist independently, everything is connected. The entire idea of karma, the teaching of cause and effect, relates to this idea. We often think of karma as something like “What goes around comes around” or “Do good and good will come to you.” But what it basically means can better be expressed as “Every action you undertake will have a consequence.” Action => reaction. it’s that simple. It doesn’t mean that every good action will lead to a good reaction and vice versa. Remember that in the long term even ‘wrong’ actions can lead to positive insights and lessons of life later on. Likewise, positive actions may lead to negative reactions as well.

With that being said, let’s look into mindfulness itself. One of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path, the path leading away from suffering, is the ‘right mindfulness.’ Mindfulness in esence is the ability to be aware. Being aware of your own body, your feelings, your mental states and of general ideas and concepts and the way in which all of this is connected to everything else in the world. This is usually done by focusing on breathing, something that people may recognise from relaxation exercises. You start focusing on your in-breath and on your out-breath. You can think ‘in’ when breathing in and ‘out’when breathing out. That way you are focusing your mind and body on the same thing: they are in total harmony. This mindfulness exercise is the basis of meditation as well.

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By being mindful, you slow down your life and you reach a higer level of awareness in which you are fully present in the present moment. Your normal level of consciousness falls away and you enter a state of focused consciousness. Suddenly your senses will change. Sounds that the mind normally blots out in order to function in daily life (like the singing of birds, the wind rushing through trees, the ticking of a clock in the room), the  air brushing past your skin, the temperature of the space around you will all come to your attention. Mindfulness teaches you to be fully conscious of yourself and everything around you in the present moment, noticing that everything is changeing at every moment. If you do this often enough you will be more present in the wrold and in your own life! You will gain more insight into what is happening around yo. You will see that every second that passes you are closer to death, without being afraid to die (since death is both inevitable and you are focused on the present moment in which you are actually alive). You will become aware of the karma of things, the actiond and reactions of life around you!

Mindfulness teaches you to reflect about things and to look deeply into them and into their nature. Of course it is not possible to be mindful every moment of the day. If you are totally mindful of all things, you will have reached the state of Nirvana or total Enlightedness according to the Buddha. The ideal moment of being mindful is meditation. Sit down comfortably and close your eyes for a moment. Now focus on your breathing for a few breaths and then open your eyes a little bit, so you will not fall asleep! Now start focusing on your breathing. In and out, in and out. You will notice that it is hard to escape from the thoughts arising in your head. You will be distracted by them, they pull your focus away from your breathing. The more you focus on your breathing, the more waves of ideas will come up from your subconsious! Don’t attach yourself to them, just let them float away. You are a mountain, immovable and still and the thoughts are clouds  flowing around you.

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Keep on going, for eventually the thoughts will stop arising and you will reach a state of non-thinking. Your subconsious ideas will cease to arise and your mind will be at peace. All this time you have been mindful of what was going on in your mind. You have seen thoughts come and go, like leaves that flow by in a river, never being in the same place. You have seen that they are perishable. You have been aware of the present moment and when the thoughts have ebbed away, you will have entered a state of full awareness in which you are fully present in the present! From there on, pick a subject or idea to contemplate and look into it deeply! You have escaped from suffering by staying in the same place!

Meditation is not the only place for awareness. You can build little moments of mindfulness into the day.I first encountered this idea in the book ‘Present moment, wonderful moment’by Thich Nhat Hanh. It describes many Gatha’s, small verser and poems about mindfulness in daily life. There are small verses about brushing your teeth, washing your hands, eating your food, hearing a bell , doing dishes, driving your car and so on. Every Gatha is a small lesson about mindfulness related to that action. They teach you to be aware of what you are doing when you are undertaking an action. If you eat for example, don’t just shove down your food. taste it, think about where it came from and what it is in essence. Think about how it feeds you. Be thankul and realise that others are hungry.

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Little moments of mindfulness during the day can teach you to be more content with life, because you look at life while being alive and you will realise what is actually happening!
When I get caught in a traffic jam I try to be mindful for example. I can become angry and frustrated, but the fact is that i cannot go anywhere. Everyone around me is trying to get somewhere, probably home. I also want to go there. Being angry will not solve anyhting. I will just have to wait it out, just like anyone else. I can spend my time better by focusing on what is going on at that moment. Another example: at the supermarket I sometimes choose to stand in a longer line at the cash-desk on purpose. It is an ideal moment to slow down for a bit and be present. While standing in line, I focus on my breating and become aware of myself and my place in the world in the present moment. I am aware that I am alive.

I took the picture when I saw the sun reflecting in my Chinese tea and I started to wonder about how the sun touches the world around me, the persons and the things and the animals and the other planets. I was aware of how the sun had fed the tea leaves from which the tea was made when they were still a plant, how they were picked by people sweating in the sun, how the sun gives life to everything. I saw the interconnectedness  of things, I was aware of my place then and there. I was only sunken in thoughts for a short moment when my best friend called me to attention and said: “Hey, what are you staring at?” And I replied:  I just beheld life in a cup of tea.

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MMXV and the rise and fall of things…

Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things

– Dhammapada 113

Buddhism teaches us that life is a continuous stream, it is only available in the present moment. Tomorrow is 2016 for those using the Gregorian calendar system, but it will be a ‘normal’ day like any other day in 2015 or 2016. The sun will rise and the sun will set. Still, people are obsessed with good resolutions for the new year, as if they can start over again because a new year starts. You can start again and should start again every day fresh when you wake up and open your eyes. I try to meditate every morning, focusing on that present moment and being thankful that I live and breathe. I have no good resolutions for the end of the year, I have good resolutions every morning again! But truth be told,  we need some sort of structure. I need it too. Everyone does. In order to properly function in society we have to accept the calendar, but we also should the truth in mind. Nothing will change and everything can change.  Here. In the present moment.

Since I suffer from light PTSD, tonight will be a small struggle for me with its sudden burst of fireworks and loud blasts. But I’ll make it a good evening with familyand friend close by! So, going back to the calendar, what did 2015 mean for me? Well, I started the year depressed,  feeling like I was lost in the Dark Forest from Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ I was afraid for what this year would bring. I had spent almost a year in anxious depression, not knowing what was wrong with me, other than that I was suffering from PTSD.  But there had to be something else dwelling inside my head, something bigger. I had spent two months in autism spectrum research, I found out that I was mentally gifted and that my verbal and performal IQ were locked in an unequal battle with each other. A dear friend of mine who suffers from Borderline personality disorder already told me that she thought I had BPD.

Dark Forest

In January I was, as expected, diagnosed with BPD and I would start psychotherapy in June of 2015. In February I started working at the animal ambulance as occupational therapy, a choice I have no regrets about since. My financial income decreased since I was in the second year of the health insurance act. There were ups and downs, both socially and mentally. It wasn’t untill I had an anger attack in which I kicked the police out of my house (I admit, but it was in self defense since they did not follow proper procedures) that things changed more rapidly. It enabled me to  immediately start therapy. I was thankful. Finally, something would change and I would gain more insight into what was happening in my head. From something negative, my suffering became a big pile of compost (due to the negative clash with the police) and flower of insight bloomed on the remains of the wicked past.

I later met another girl with BPD with whom I impulsively started a relationship (which was doomed from the beginning of course). We thought we understood each other, but we were only dragging each other down hopelessly. I came to the point where I stabbed myself in the arm in total despair, aiming for the main artery, which I luckily missed by a hair! Eventually the girl I was together with went abroad and the relationship violently bled to death. Since my BPD was triggered by the break in my previous relationship, my parents were afraid I would do ‘something stupid’ and preventively called the police in despair, while my psychologist had taught them to trust in me and my therapy. Bad move, since I had done nothing wrong and in fact, nothing was going  wrong inside my head untill the police arrived with a large force to drag an unsuspecting me from my house and locked me up. Another trauma was created that night. I didn’t trust the authorities and even worse, my parents, any more!

Not friends

But Buddhism has taught me that the law of karma, the teaching of cause and effect, works in every life. For all the bad things that happen, good things will also equally happen. So  I kept on going and from then on life became brighter, be it with ups and downs, as I already knew. I really started to understand why things happened the way they did in my head.
I then spent a week hiking in the Schwarzwald/ Black Forest with a dear friend from Belgium, who I met 8 years ago during our archaeology internship in Syria. He was also travelling through the same dark forest I was going through and we talked about it in Leuven and Brussels, before we actually went into the physical Black Forest in Germany.  We shared great talks and moments of mindfulness there and I returned home feeling refreshed.

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I spent weekends with friends, found solace in the dharma and therapy sessions and I worked at the animal ambulance with joy. I ran into many new obstacles, but I learned how to overcome them every time. Eventually I met my girlfriend, who provided me with huge positive energy and love of life. She made life interesting again and up to today, she is the light in my life, a kindred and independent spirit who loves hiking and reading and who stands with me whenever I feel bad and vice versa. It is because of her encouragement that I started blogging in order to understand myself, write about it and inspire others in the process.

I also learned that this is only the beginning of my journey as a borderliner. Every time something goes right in life I  tend to ride that positive wave way too long and forget about my mental issues. Untill the wave crashes on that all too familiar beachfront of suffering and I find myself covered in the muddy quagmire of ignorance again. I run ahead of myself and that doesn’t work. I have to be mindful and understand that I am a borderliner, I suffer from a  complex jumble of psycoligical problems and I have to tackle my problems one by one when the time is right. It now understand that I cannot force anything, I have to slow it down and be patient and keep on working on my problems and I have to keep walking the Noble Eightfold Path. Step by step by step. I will run into problems as well, but with mindfulness, insight and the power of the mind I will overcome them. I will try to make no problems where there are no problems.

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I am not going through a dark forest anymore now. I have seen the light of Yule/ Christmas, the light mindfulness, of the mind. I have found love. I cherish my friendships. I have gained a lot in a year. I know what is going on in my head, I learn to understand it better every day. I have gained more insight, more patience, I have more control over my anger attacks, I am less frightened in large crowds, I appreciate Buddha’s teachings on an even deeper level. I have been in a car crash which has re-ignited my will to live. I dare to say ‘no’, I act more decisively, I notice when my failure or guilt-complexes try to pull me down, I avoid getting into negative spirals.
I understand that I am far from better, but that I’m walking the right path. I have learned that change is the only way toward progress, since everything will perish sooner or later. I am thinking of leaving the bagpipe band and instead I started to play the banjo, which brings me a lot of comfort and inspiration.

I can go on for hours, but I am going to leave it at this and I’ll blog again soon about new interesting topics! Dear ones, I want to thank you for your support, your love and inspiration. I wish you all a good continuity into the ‘new’ year and that joy, health and kindness may fill your heart and that of those you hold dear every coming day.