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Autopilot behaviour – what keeps you trapped in old patterns?

We all know the feeling – we are on our way home from work, following a familiar route, as we get near we suddenly realise the thing we had intended doing on the way:  the place we meant to stop off at or even the person we were supposed to meet! Autopilot can be as extreme as this or simply be the automatic routines we have created in our days: our morning routine, our route to work. It can also show up in our patterns of thinking and responding to situations.

Some autopilots serve us, but others can be based on old messages and scripts that have become our distorted truth. Perhaps we have a limiting belief about ourselves or our abilities. Perhaps we hold back from certain things thinking it is not for us. We limit the flow of our spontaneity.

Learning to notice these autopilot behaviours and thoughts is the first stage in letting them go. As we meditate we become better able to be present to our thoughts and feelings, and there’s a natural process of recognising these. As you sit in meditation, simply notice the unedited flow of thoughts and responses to thoughts. Notice if any of these seem to fall into patterns of belief about yourself. It can be really helpful to then discuss this with people who are open to exploring deeper self-awareness – with a therapist if you have one, or close friends, or in a group.

The first week of the 8 week mindfulness course explores autopilots in more detail, and it then forms the basis of the whole course, bringing awareness to our patterns of thought and behaviour. Seeing how we can let go of those that do not serve us. If you are interested in exploring this more, there are still places available eon the Spring course.


“This course was very powerful and has been life changing. It has really helped me to focus on the ‘Here and now’ rather than getting caught up in ruminative thinking. I have a tendency to worry about the future and about events that have not yet occurred and this was making me feel very stressed. Applying the techniques and mindfulness strategies I learnt on the course I feel better able to cope and although I still feel anxious this tends to diminish more quickly.”

Kensington Council 8 week course participant, 2016


Thursday evenings

May: 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st

June: 7th, 14th, 21st

Silent practice day. Date to be confirmed.

Time: 7.00 – 9.40 pm


Chadswell Healthy Living Centre

Lower Ground Floor, Chadswell
Harrison Street


Nearst tube: Kings Cross

£295 (£200 concessions for unwaged, students and those in need)

Booking confirmed on receipt of full payment.

To book email:

Call: 07910 224 560

For more details of the course click here

The Fear of Inadequacy

Going from a belief “I am not good enough”….to “I am enough”

Yesterday I went a networking event at Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall. As I approached the building I noticed a sense of fear and an urge to run away. It is a familiar feeling, one that comes up whenever I approach a social situation. I remember as a teenager going to eat lunch on my first day at sixth form. I bought soup and bread and found a table, sitting down alone. As I sat surrounded by people chatting to each other the trembling started. I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. Try as I did to get the soup to my mouth it just fell back into the bowl, my arm was shaking so much. The more this happened the more anxious I became that people would see and laugh. That was my last lunch in the canteen. I told myself that I wanted to study and it would make more sense to eat at my desk in the library. A Mars Bar became my lunch. For the following two years I hid in the library every lunch time.

I thought that was just an unhappy memory. But today I woke feeling sad with a sense of panic sweeping over me. As the day progressed this feeling hung over me like a fog. I started to be curious about why I was feeling this way and let my attention turn towards it.  As I did this I suddenly thought of how scared I felt as a teenager of going to school, how I feared being laughed at as inadequate by the other boys, how the days with sport would be preceded by a night crying myself to sleep at the thought of having to play football – not so much playing football, but the pain of once more going through the ignominy of being the last boy to be chosen for the team, seen as a hindrance and unwanted.

This fear of school, the desire to retreat to the safety of home, to be with mum where I could chat and talk at ease, this was the back drop to my teenage years. Today as I walked into my bedroom after doing a work out in the sitting room, returning to the computer to start some work, it struck me that as an adult I have made all my choices based on being able to live self-contained or to retreat from the world and to stay in a safe familiar place: home or the monastery, or a commune. Even as a teenager at school I used to hang out with a few friends in the school green house. It was our base, and meant I never had to go into the school canteen, or mix with the other boys during break times.

Now I’ve chosen to work as a mindfulness teacher, going out to organisations and venues, and this has certain challenges. Each time I approach a place to teach I notice the fear of being with people again and the desire to run away. The root of it is a fear that I will be inadequate in some way, that I will fail. I know from experience now that once I am in and teaching this limiting belief that I will fail falls away. In it’s place is a feeling of joy, ease and competence. But I have to walk through this invisible barrier to get to that experience.


When I think of going out to teach what I feel is not a confidence that I will be competent and at ease, but a fear of failure. This is important, for as one of the speakers at yesterdays event said, the brain’s job is to keep us safe and out of danger. If there is a belief that going out into the world is dangerous, that I risk failure and ridicule then what is the brain going to do? It is not going to engage with imaginative ways to promote my services and put me in front of audiences, instead it will procrastinate, delay and practice avoidance strategies to ensure I get no effective work done. As one teacher put it, the brain is a “don’t get killed mechanism”, that’s its job. It is not a face your fear and learn from it mechanism. If there was knowledge that a sabre tooth tiger lived in a certain area the ancient human’s brain did not think “it will help me in my personal growth to face this fear and go to where the tiger is”. Instead the brain would find all means of taking you away from where the tiger was.

Now we live with psychological fears as much as real threats. But the brain works in the same way. Going to a networking event = danger. Socialising = fear. Appropriate action = withdraw from these interactions. Even after 12 years of going to the Friday 5 Rhythms dance group, I have to make myself go. The thought of going fills me with dread. But I know once I am there and start moving I will feel amazing. | have to tell my self it will be OK, and remind myself how good I’ve felt after other sessions. Mainly I just have to put on my coat and go out, telling myself to go rather than listen to the urge to stay safely withdrawn at home.

Earlier today I chatted about this with a friend, and it was very revealing that he has the same pattern. I wonder how many of us who grew up as gay boys and teenagers perhaps share some of this sense of fear, shame, feeling of inadequacy? And the compensating behaviour of thinking I have to be perfect to be liked or of value, as I feel I am of no value myself. With both of us we see how we hold ourselves back from succeeding in work due to a belief that we are not OK. We procrastinate, the brain holding us back from going out into work that we fear will show our inadequacy. But this procrastination feeds our sense of inadequacy as we see others thriving and succeeding.

I first thought to work as a corporate mindfulness coach in 2012. I might have been in the early phase of bringing mindfulness into organisations. But I sat in my room, dreaming of finding ways to teach in banks, law firms, corporates, offices. But taking no real action to make this happen. In the meantime others started to see the opportunity of mindfulness, acted on the experience they had and took action. I felt like the boy sitting at the side wanting to dance but fearing everyone would laugh. Then feeling frustrated as some got all the applause for their dancing!  I did set up the Monday group, but that took a friend three years of challenging and an intensive immersion in a self development programme to finally take the first step.

Talking with my friend today made me wonder how many of us there are who show our social face, saying we are fine, when behind our mask we are feeling inadequate, feeling fear, doubting our ability to succeed?

Today has not given me any solutions, so I am not able not offer that in this email. But it has shone a light on a habit pattern of thought that keeps me from acting on my intention to find new clients and be effective as a mindfulness teacher, or go out and socialise and meet people. Perhaps the simple phrase “I am enough” is one to ponder as I meditate. How would it feel to really believe that and act from a place of feeling ‘good enough’, rather than fearing “I am not perfect”?

The Fifth hindrance to meditation: doubt

The Five Hindrances

The mind states that disturb the natural clarity of our heart-mind have been described as the five hindrances. Each hindrance has its own flavour and over this set of five emails I’ll explore each hindrance. But first, to give an overview here are all five:

1. Sensual desire
2. Ill-will
3. Lethargy and drowsiness
4. Restlessness and remorse
5. Doubt

Each hindrance is compared to the natural clarity of the still heart-mind, which is said to be like clear water. Doubt is said to be like a pot full of muddy water.

5. Sceptical Doubt

The Buddha encouraged his followers to question his teaching. He even spoke of the belief that things are true just because tradition tells us they are as a hindrance to real awakening, as it leads to a tendency to hold on to beliefs and opinions that have simply arisen over time as part of a tradition, rather than seeing wisdom for ourself. He encouraged his followers to question all of his teachings and not take them on blind faith. Only after exploring them in their lives and seeing for themselves if they held true were they to believe in them.

This last hindrende then does not mean we are to take all we hear from a teacher on blind faith. But as we meditate, a certain attitude can sometimes arise where we stop testing the efficacy of mindfulness or the teachings we have heard, and instead we loose any belief that change is possible, that it is worth meditating or that things can be other than how they are.

It is this skeptical doubt that this hindrance refers to, which can be enough to make us stop meditating or drop away from our path of practice. This state of mind is strongly linked to the sense of inertia that keeps us locked in our habit patterns, it is the way of thinking that does not want to make any effort. Thoughts such as “what’s the point of meditation, it seems too hard”, “meditation may be good for people who can go away to a retreat or live in a monastery but how will I be able to get any benefit from it”, “does it really matter what I do”.

With all of these we can either sink into the muddy state of inertia these thoughts encourage, or we can look at our experience and reflect on how we have benefited from the meditation we have done. We may remember how a session of meditation helped us shift a mood, or embrace something we had wanted to push away – and how this changed our relationship to it. We may remember that our actions have led to feeling happier or to sorrow depending on if they were rooted in skilful wishes or unskillful intentions. If you have started to explore Buddhist teachings you might reflect on how “actions have consequences” and look back in you life and see if this is the case or not. In this way we use conscious reflection on the teachings we know to bring about a clear understanding of how meditation is of help to us, or not.


Doubt may play out in other ways in our life as well. For me it has been doubt about my skills or abilities. It took a friend’s persistent encouragement over three years before I set up the Monday class, as my inner doubt told me I would fail. As it is the group has now been going since April 2009 and next year will be our 10 year anniversary!! Then over the last few years as I’ve explored working as a mindfulness teacher in the corporate world it is this same doubt that holds me back – feeling I’m not yet ready, that I have more to learn, that I have nothing of value yet to bring to a workplace mindfulness teaching until I have read one more book on workplace mindfulness, or attended another seminar. 

I was lucky to have a call two years ago from the head of learning and development at Kensington and Chelsea council. He was looking for a mindfulness provider to run courses for council staff. After a year and half of running these sessions I could see that people enjoyed and benefited from the sessions – the thought I still needed to perfect my skills in teaching in the workplace was just a way for my doubting mind to hold me back from taking action. Of course, I have had more to learn, but that is what life is – a place for learning, and standing on the side lines waiting to know all the intricacies of the game just means one never plays the game at all – which is the only place to learn!

This year I have resolved to finally step forward into working more in the corporate world, in companies and organisations and with mindfulness initiatives such as teaching mindfulness in schools. It is part of me feeling into “following my bliss”, the saying of Joseph Campbell’s that always inspires me. Rather than seeing getting work as a mindfulness teacher as a chore to be got through, if I see it as an expression of living my bliss, and sharing my joy of living a life informed by presence, awareness and self-compassion, then it is not work but play. 

Where does your doubting mind hold you back? Where do you hesitate to step in? How does the habitual mind try to keep you small and stop you realising your potential?

The fourth hindrance: restlessness and remorse

Last week we looked at the hindrance of lethargy and drowsiness. This week the list of hindrances comes to its opposite: the state of the mind being unable to settle due to being busy and active. The analogy with water for this hindrance is a lake being ruffled by the wind – the still surface is constantly disrupted and agitated. One metaphor for meditation is that the calm mind reflects wisdom in the way a still lake reflects the moon. When the mind is agitated it cannot rest into this calm state.

The second element of remorse refers to memories of things one has done which cause upset or disappointment. These would be any unskilful activities that have resulted in causing harm to oneself or others. It is for this reason that ethical conduct is emphasised as being one of the three elements of the Buddhist path of practice: morality, meditation and wisdom are said to be all needed. Meditation grows out of living an ethical life in which we do not have anything to cause us remorse. Wisdom grows out of meditation. Buddhist morality is similar to that of many other religions, except there is no concept of a judging external force as there is no god in Buddhism. Instead an impersonal process called karma. The basic description of this process is that “actions have consequences”.

Karma is like a wind that is constantly blowing back at us, picking up whatever we have thrown out into the world and returning it to us. Act in a way that is skilful – kind, generous, concerned for the welfare of others – and what will blow back is rose petals and a pleasing scent. Act in a way that is unskilful – cruel, selfish and with no regard for the welfare of others –  and what blows back is sand and grit. Obviously we do not get rose petals or sand in our actual life, generally, but as a poetic image it suggests the quality of the events that will return to us as a consequence of our actions and mental states. It also helps before any action to consider, how will it feel to have this blow back in my face?

As we meditate if we have been cruel, vindictive or acted in ways that are unskilful it will be much harder to experience a peaceful and joyful mind. An extreme example of this is given in the Buddhist texts in the story of a prince who murdered his father in order to gain the throne. One day after the regicide the new King came to listen to the Buddha teach. The 500 monks were all siting in silence and the young King had a mind so full of anxiety that he was worried that there might be an ambush about to happen as he could not believe so many men could sit so quietly. As a result he hardly heard any of what the Buddha said. After the King left, the Buddha told the monks that had the young man not killed his father he would have gained insight that day listening to the teaching, but as it was his mind was now too troubled for him to hear. 

A more mundane example might be my experience before Christmas, when I allowed myself to be taken in by a story in my mind about a friend who was not replying to texts. The story was one of being abandoned and not appreciated. In hindsight and after writhing about the attachment types I can see that what followed was a classic example of anxious attachment triggering. I went into protest behaviour, where I tried to get my friend’s attention by becoming annoyed and trying to get a response by acting out on that annoyance. I wrote an angry text to him asking what was going on with this nonsense of not replying…. but in more harsh words than that! His reply showed that he was hurt by this and that he decided to have a little distance for a while before we would talk again.

As a result of this I sat with a feeling of remorse in my meditation, a sense of disappointment for not having lived true to my ideals of kindly speech. It also created the very thing I had been wanting to avoid – distance and lack of contact. When we did speak recently it transpired he had been going through a hard time with some difficult circumstances and my text came at at time when he couldn’t take on any other difficulty. It was a classic example of “actions have consequences”. Luckily we have a strong enough friendship that it has been talked about and is being resolved. But other actions are not so easy to simply say sorry for or let go of. Also my practice is strong enough now that I can let go of any recriminations against myself. I can see that I was suffering in my own way and that my actions grew out of that. I acted as I did, and that place of fear and loneliness needs to be held with kindness. I can also reflect that in a future situation sending the first text that comes into my head may not be the most skilful act!! 



To avoid remorse one can seek to live as kind a life as is possible. As the Dali Lama once said “my religion is kindness”. To support this one may choose to follow a set of precepts. Although these are from the Buddhist tradition, they are similar to other religions and also form a set of principles one could follow as a humanist or atheist following no religion.

The five precepts are:
1. Avoiding killing any living creature.
2. Avoiding taking anything that is not given (stealing, but can also be more subtle – such as taking someone’s time when it is not willingly given)
3. Avoiding sexual misconduct (rape, adultery – anything that causes another harm through pursuing our sexual gratification)
4. Avoiding false speech – saying anything we know not to be true with the intent to deceive the other or benefit in some way from the untruth
5. Avoiding intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to a loss of mindfulness and the possibility of breaking one of the previous four precepts. 

The positive counterparts to these are
1. Respect for life
2. Generosity
3. Contentment
4. Truthful speech
5. Clarity of mind. 

Restlessness in the body may be a result of growing up with the sense of needing to be active. There can be a belief that ‘naval gazing’ is unproductive and may even make us weak or inactive. As we sit in meditation if our conditioning is a belief “I need to be active to be validated/good”, it will be very hard to allow ourselves to simply be for the period of the meditation. Instead the body will twitch, we will shuffle our feet and there will be an urge to get up and get active. 

It is said that restlessness is only fully resolved at the moment of full awakening. So we can give ourselves some slack the it arises if we are not yet fully Enlightened! That feeling in a meditation of wanting to get up, move, stop the meditation and do something. All we can do is sit with this agitation and allow it to be, noting that it passes if we continue to sit and that what seemed like an urgent need to get up and be active soon fades and can in turn be replaced with a feeling of relaxed ease as we sit. 

The third hindrance to meditation: lethargy and drowsiness

Last week’s essay addressed the hindrance of sensual desire, which is said to be like boiling water – the mind is stired up in a fury of excitement, bubbling and burning hot. This week the analogy with water is of a pot of water that is stagnant, slimy and full of algae. When the resistance to resting in the mind’s clear state does not turn to desire, it can go to its energetic opposite, a state of sluggish lack of focus where we feel sleepy and dull. Trying to watch one more breath just feels like too much effort, and it seems as if it would be easier to stop meditating and have a good sleep instead.

As we rest attention on the breath it shifts our nervous system from the active fight or flight mode to the calming rest and digest mode. This can be felt to be very soothing but may lead to feeling sleepy. What is needed is the ability to rest in this calm state whilst staying alert and focused on the experiences of the present moment. When we do this it is felt as a state that is both calm and full of a subtle joy of heart and vibrancy in our body.

What then if we find ourselves feeling sleepy as we meditate? In  Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, the author, Bhante Gunaratana, gives 9 suggestions:

1. Mindful reflection—Conduct a silent monologue to rouse yourself, giving yourself encouragement and motivation. You may reflect on the benefit of this time of mindful sitting and how getting up now will impact on your day, or that mind states are fluid and that by staying with this feeling of sleepiness it may pass and in turn a state of alertness may arise.

2. Open your eyes—Open your eyes and roll your eyeballs around for a few seconds. Close them and go back to your sitting mindfulness exercise. Or you may open your eyes and focus on an object for a short time  – a candle flame is ideal as it is bright and energising.

3. Visualize a bright light—Visualize a very bright light and focus your mind on it for a few seconds. As you are visualizing bright light, the sleepiness often fades away. You may simply imagine you are looking at a bright light, or for a more Tantric energy approach you can imagine a yellow light at your solar plexus (naval, number 3 in the diagram below), the light intensifying and slowly expanding to fill your body. Or you can imagine a root going down into the core of the earth from the base chakra (number 1). Visualise yourself drawing this red energy up form the core of the earth into your body. You can combine this with doing pelvic floor muscle contractions, tensing as you breathe in, relaxing as you breath out. To locate this muscle feel how you need to clench to stop yourself form peeing. The aim is not to tighten the anus but only this muscle.

4.  Hold your breath—Take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can. Then slowly breathe out. Repeat this several times until your body warms up and perspires. Then return to your sitting practice.

5. Pinch your earlobes—Pinch your earlobes hard with thumbs and index fingers. Really feel the pinch. Surprisingly, this can help.

6. Standing—Stand up very slowly and very quietly. Try to do it so that even a person sitting next to you will not know. Do standing meditation for a few minutes until the sleepiness goes away. Once it is gone, return quietly to your sitting mindfulness practice.

7. Walking—Do walking meditation for a few minutes until sleepiness disappears. Then return to your sitting practice.

8. Splash water—Go and wash your face with cold water.

9. And finally…..if the sleepiness persists, go and take a nap for a few minutes. Sometimes sleepiness actually is a sign we may need sleep. I find there is a natural rhythm to my energy during the day and in the afternoon I need to have 20 minutes laying down to rest. After this I feel alert again and ready to continue, but without it the whole afternoon can feel lethargic.  Even in the monastery where we were encouraged to have little sleep, waking at 4am to goto the morning meditation, it was part of the days routine to go and rest for a short while in the afternoon.

If you find you feel sleepy a lot when you meditate it may be a sign of sleep deprivation. In the time of the Buddha and until about 200 years ago sleep was largely determined by the setting of the sun. Once dark poor families would not have access to candles and people would follow their bodies natural rhythm, sleeping early and waking with the dawn. There is a lot of evidence that our current habit of sleeping 8 hours is not a natural rhythm for us but something brought in with the industrial age when it became necessary to get people in to work in factories.

In the pre-industrial era it was common for people to have two phases of sleep, waking for a few hours in the night between these two phases. People would get up and pray, do some simple work, have sex, and there are even example from the 18th century of dream discussion groups in London where people would go and discuss the dreams they had just had before returning to their second phase of sleep.

With the invention of artificial light – first gas, but then even more so with electric lighting, it became easier to push the darkness away and stay awake. Now that we have computers, tablets, ‘phones, laptops and televisions which all emit a blue light that stimulates the brain into thinking it is still day light the tendency is to stay awake long beyond the point our bodies would naturally drift into sleep. The light from these devices prevents the production melatonin, the hormone that tells our body to sleep. It’s a bit like when you hear a bird singing at night – the street lamps have confused their brains and they think it is dawn. Add to that consumption of coffee to get us through our tiredness and the fact stress impacts on sleep and it is little wonder we live in a society that runs on sleep deficit.

If you do find yourself feeling sleepy every time you meditate you may want to reflect on your sleep patterns. How much sleep do you get each night? What time do you go to bed? Do you find yourself falling asleep when ever you stop: watching a film, sitting in a quiet warm room, listening to relaxing music? All of this can indicate sleep deficit. We all vary in how much sleep we need, but we all need a certain amount to feel fully charged. If you are constantly getting one or more hours too little, then like a bank account that does not receive enough funds you will go into deficit. The only way to rectify this is to sleep! Hence the tendency to  lie in at weekends or find that we sleep for hours when we go on holiday.

Ill-will, the second hindrance








The Buddha taught that ill-will is a cause of ongoing unhappiness.  The Dhammapada which I quoted form last week goes on to say this about ill-will:

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 12.58.30

The Buddha was always consistent on this point, that hatred will only lead to more hatred. The way to peace is to learn to forgive and let go of the thoughts of having been wronged.

In one teaching the Buddha is speaking with a man who has just insulted him. As he walked though a village collecting food for his midday meal the young man shouted at him the equivalent of: “lazy beggar, go and get a proper job instead of expecting us to feed you”. Instead of becoming irate or indigent the Buddha stoped and replied calmly. If he were still consumed with pride and ego he might have replied with something like “do you know who I am,”, or have tried to justify himself and his lifestyle. Instead he simply asked the man a question:

“Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

In this way the Buddha illustrated his principle of non-reactivity. The anger belongs to the person who gives it, if I choose not to pick it up it is left with the other person.

As non-enlightened beings we can not always leave the unwanted gift with the one who is seeking to give it to us. Thus in meditation we may come across the second hindrance, that of ill-will. Whilst it may feel pleasant to feel indignant and right, if we really feel into the experience of ill-will as we meditate we understand why it is compared to boiling water. There is a feeling of the mind bubbling, hot, agitated. It is hard to experience any sense of peace. We are consumed with wanting to see the other suffer, or be put right.

The antidote to anger is loving kindness. Never an easy practice, when it is extended to include the difficult person it can become a real challenge, and also provide real freedom. I remember I first taught loving kindness 27 years ago at the student group I ran at Hull. A teacher who lived in Hull had somehow heard of the group and came along. She was in her 40s and taught art at a local school. When we talked of the difficult person she had plenty of students who could easily go in that category.

At first she struggled with this. It felt she was justified to be angry at their rudeness and disrespect. But she kept holding them with the wish “may you be well, may you be happy”. Simply seeing them as human beings who like her wanted to be safe and well. The first stage of the practice gave her an opportunity to hold her own pain around the experience. She was not denying that she felt upset, but she was also looking at what happened in her mind if she dwelt on such thoughts. Once another has said or done something to harm us it is over as an event. We give it energy by either dwelling on it, or suppressing it and trying to forget it.

In the loving kindness practice we look at what happens when we pick up the unwanted gift and take it in: how we allow the other to continue to cause us upset and distress even when they are not there. By then seeing them as a struggling human being with their own karma, weakness and fears we can instead feel some compassion for them. To speak with anger or hatred shows a heart that is not at peace after all.

After some months this teacher reported back to me that she had started to feel more relaxed around the pupils she had previously been reactive to. She no longer let them annoy her. Simply thinking to herself “may yo use well” when they did something annoying. As a result she noticed her teaching style changed. She became a little softer and less confrontational herself. Then, to her surprise, the pupils she had had so much difficulty with changed. They softened. They started to engage with the class. They were no longer so confrontational.

She thanked me after a little while. She said she had never realised it, but it was how she was being with the children that was part of creating the tension and confrontation she had then blamed on them. Her whole experience of teaching changed and she started to enjoy it again.

The next time you meditate and notice you mind going to anger or ill will notice how it feels. Notice the burning in your chest or belly. Notice the churning of thoughts. Ask yourself: is this a gift I really want to pick up? Reflect on how you feel as a result of picking it up and consider “do I really want to give this other person the power to make me unhappy when they are not even here?”. You may even want to explore how to connect with seeing them a a fellow human being, who just like me sometimes acts in inappropriate ways, who lashes out when frightened or lost in ignorance. Feeling this, one may then have a feeling from the heart of wishing them to be free of whatever suffering is making them act as they do.

This does not mean one denies that someone’s actions were unskilful and wrong. When I was mugged I never thought it was my fault, that I deserved it, or that the man who mugged me was somehow free of any blame. From my belief in karma, I was able to reflect that I did not know why it was that I had this experience – perhaps it was mischance and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps it was pay off for some past misdeed. What I was sure of was that he would have karma for his act. As the passage I quoted last week said:

“If you act with hatred in your heart suffering will follow you as the cart wheel follows the track of the ox that pulls it”

So, it follows that if I then allow another’s unskillful act to cause me to feel hatred, that in turn will give rise to suffering for me.

Instead I spent some months wishing the man well in my Loving Kindness practice. Reflecting on how his actions were his choice and no longer impact on me unless I chose to hold on to them. I considered that what I had lost was a ‘phone and wallet. What he had lost was the ability to empathise and see suffering in another. I also considered what desperate place he must be with addiction or life circumstances that all he could think to do was go out and attack people. I also felt sad as my belief is he will have all of that return to him at some point. As the popular saying goes, “those who live by the sword die by the sword”

It took some months. Over that time I also had to give myself a lot of self-care. Walking home from the station at night I would feel fear every time I heard someone’s footsteps behind me. My heart would race, I would sweat, I would feel the urge to run. For many weeks I took the bus rather than walk, then I started the slow process of making peace with this fear – I was determined the attacker was not going to still control me for weeks and months after the incident, making me change my habit of walking from the station home. I did this with a sense of caring for myself. Noticing if anger at him arose, and reminding myself I was angry at the idea of someone I did not even know. My anger might in a sense be justified, but it only burnt me. As the Buddha once said, holding onto anger is like holding a burning coal. When you see this, the natural thing to do is to open your hand at once and let it drop. Anger burns our heart, so why hold on to it any more than we would hold on to a burning coal?

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