Over the course of the past 10 years I’ve dabbled with the philosophy of Buddhism — without much success I hasten to add. I began my adventure with ludicrously high expectations: that I could find the secret to happiness and spend the rest of my life living in pure bliss. Nirvana was only a few small steps away, or so I thought at the time…
I lost interest in the pursuit of true self-knowledge after a couple of years of not really getting very far, and then my interest kind of fizzled out completely for a while.
When life gives you lemons
However, recent dramatic events in my own personal life led to a renewed interest in understanding the true nature of my existence, if only to help me understand how I’d allowed certain things in my life to fester.
I’m not a spiritual person by any measure. I can’t stand it. I honestly can’t think of a bigger waste of time than endlessly speculating on that which cannot be known, proven, or otherwise dismissed as nonsense.
One of the fundamental rules of the theory of knowledge states that any proposition has to be falsifiable — if you cannot conceive of a way of disproving a hypothesis, then you must assume it is false. That rule doesn’t sit well with spirituality — in case you had any remaining cause to wonder as to my own personal leaning on this matter.
Forgive yourself first
But when I returned to Buddhism with renewed vigour, the realisation that struck me was that it’s okay to be a bad Buddhist. The point of practising Buddhism isn’t to become a perfect human being but among other things, the purpose is to practice forgiveness — not in the hope that others might reciprocate and forgive you for your transgressions — but so that you can forgive yourself.
By learning to forgive yourself, and let go of guilt you come to fully accept yourself for who you are.
All religions preach forgiveness (and I’m not alluding to Buddhism in any religious sense) but through the act of forgiving, first ourselves, and then others, we find true peace. We allow ourselves to let go. And letting go lets us move on. Nobody wants to live a life sentence as a prisoner of their own conscience.
By learning to forgive yourself, and let go of guilt you come to fully accept yourself for who you are. And no matter who you want to be, or where you want to go with your life, every journey starts from where you currently stand. And you have to know where that is to know where to go next.
I originally reached out to Buddhism because I thought there was something wrong with me, something that needed fixing, and Buddhism seemed like the right tool for the job. But as my journey progressed, I came to realise that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me whatsoever. The only problem I had was with how I perceived myself to be.
There’s a tired adage that goes: “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Well in my case I’d agree: I came to realise that I am still the same person I’ve always been. The only thing that’s changed is my perspective.
Whilst I may have changed on the outside, the landscape on the inside is still the same. But now I’m just sitting in a different place, and that has given me a different viewpoint.
I realised the problem was that I didn’t love myself, for the reason that I didn’t know how to love myself. It was simply a skill that I never nurtured.
I was unkind and thoughtless towards others because I didn’t know how to be any other way. That was how I treated myself, after all, and so that was how treated others too. Whilst I may have changed on the outside, the landscape on the inside is still the same. But now I’m just sitting in a different place, and that has given me a different viewpoint.
I’m a meditation n00b. I’ve tried it in the past, but found it wildly frustrating and given up just as fast. I just couldn’t control my mind.
Then recently I downloaded the Headspace app, and gave their free Take10 guided meditation course a go. Just 10 minutes a day for 10 days. I can manage that — you can too, give it a go!
The very first Take10 meditation confirmed the truth in the thoughts I’d been having recently about learning to relax and let go. I don’t need to control my mind. At all. I’ll just happily let it wander and go where it wants. Pleasant thoughts or not, we all have them. And now every time I notice it wandering off I just coax it gently back to a point of neutral focus.
No recriminations; no need to feel like I’ve failed at meditating; no need to feel like a bad person; I’m not perfect, and I never will be. And that’s just fine by me.
Featured image by Vice1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr