Training Our Attitudes in Daily Life: Nothing Special
Kiev, Ukraine, November 2012
Session One: Nothing Special about Ourselves or Our Feelings
Thank you very much. I’m really very delighted to be back here in Kiev. This evening we’re going to start a series of talks on what’s called attitude training in daily life, which is actually a very broad topic. It’s dealing with how we experience our life. Because, as I think we all know, life is not terribly easy. Many things happen to us all the time, and they come about from a very broad spectrum of causes and conditions.
For instance, if you think in terms of coming here this evening, what is it that brought you here? There’s traffic, there’s transportation – so the whole physical side – and there’s also the fact that you live in this city, whatever interests you might have, and perhaps what was going on in your family or at work today. So as a result of an enormous amount of causes and conditions, we’re here together, everybody coming from a different background and a different set of causes and conditions that brought us all together.
As we sit here, we are experiencing being here and listening to a lecture and seeing me and the translator. So the question is, what’s the difference between you looking at us and listening to us and the video camera looking at us and listening? Is there any difference? Well, probably the camera has a better memory than we have. And the camera comes here also from various causes and conditions – it was manufactured, somebody bought it, somebody set it up, etc. So if we examine what the difference is, the difference is that we’re taking in information, but we have a certain level of feeling about it, a level of happiness or unhappiness. And that actually is the difference between us and the video camera or us and a computer. The computer and camera don’t actually experience the information that they take in. We experience it. We experience it by feeling some level on this broad spectrum of happy or unhappy.
The basic principle of life seems to be that we all want to be happy and not to be unhappy, and that of course inspires us to think of the question “Well, what is happiness? What is it that we want?” And happiness from the Buddhist point of view is defined as when we experience something, we would like not to be parted from it.
So it’s like when you’re looking at something, the level of happiness might be very, very low, but if we’re still looking at it, we don’t want to be parted from it. If we were unhappy about it – that is defined as the experience of something which you do want to be parted from – we would look away. And sometimes we experience a neutral feeling, where we want neither to be parted nor not parted from it – it’s sort of okay the way it is.
Sometimes when we think of happy and unhappy, we think in terms of extremes – a big smile on our face or really sad and depressed. It’s not that these feelings have to be dramatic, because in fact we are experiencing every moment of our life. Every moment, all sorts of things are happening, and as I started out, they’re happening for just millions of causes and conditions coming together. Like the traffic that is going on outside. Everybody in that traffic is in that traffic for a reason. They want to get somewhere, and they all have their own individual story, don’t they? And we have our own story. So this is the information that is coming in, and whether we like it, we don’t like it, that’s how we experience it. Well, in a way, if you look at it in a larger context, we could describe it as the mood that we’re in, a good mood or a bad mood.
The nature of life is that this goes up and down, up and down, all the time, doesn’t it? And the mood that we’re in doesn’t always correspond to the information that’s coming in, what’s going on, what we’re doing. We’re doing something that normally we like, but we’re in a bad mood, and we’re not very happy. Or we could be doing something that is not particularly fun, we don’t particularly like it – like doing some difficult exercise in some training – but we’re happy to do it; we want to continue. So it really is quite funny, isn’t it, how our mood doesn’t always correspond to what actually we’re doing.
And as we are experiencing each moment, we have a certain attitude toward it (and this is our topic here, attitude). So what are we talking about when we talk about an attitude? An attitude is how we regard something. There can be many, many different types of attitudes that we have, and depending on that attitude, it affects very much the mood that we’re in. And often that attitude is directed, the attitude that we have about the mood that we’re in. Now, in normal circumstances there’s not much that we can do really to change this up and down that we experience all the time in life. Even if we take some sort of medication or something like that to make us feel good, still it’s going to go up and down, isn’t it, if we look in the long term. So if our moods are going to be going up and down all the time and that’s not something that we can really change at this level that we’re at, what we can work with is our attitude about the moods that we’re in.
When we talk about training our attitude, actually there’s two aspects to that. One aspect is to try to cleanse away or stop having a destructive attitude toward things. Destructive is maybe too heavy a word, so let’s say nonproductive. In a sense, it’s self-destructive (in other words, an attitude that will just make us feel worse). And the other aspect of attitude training is to then train ourselves to have a more productive way of looking at things.
Now, we’re not talking about what is normally called the power of positive thinking, which is to be very optimistic – “Everything is wonderful and everything is great,” this type of thing. That can help, but perhaps it’s a little bit simplistic. So in order to have some sort of effective method for dealing with our attitude about how we’re experiencing our life, we need to look a little bit more deeply.
So the thing that I want to focus on this evening is our attitude about what we’re feeling, about this level of happy and unhappy. And the big problem that we have, and I think most of us have this, is that we exaggerate the importance of what we’re feeling. We make a big, big thing out of what we’re feeling and a big, big thing about ourselves – me – and how we’re feeling, and then we experience it in what’s known as a dualistic way. So, for example, we have this view of me on one side and the unhappiness on the other side, and I have to shield myself from this unhappiness – I’m afraid of it; I have to get rid of it. And how does that make us feel when we have this attitude? It makes us feel worse, doesn’t it?
So think about that for a moment. What is your attitude about when you’re in a bad mood and you’re unhappy? And it’s not that you’re crying and sad and all of that; it’s just… I mean, this happens all the time. You’re sitting and you’re doing your work, or you’re watching television, or whatever, and just: “Ugh. I don’t feel well.” And do we think in terms of “Well, here I am over here, and now this bad mood has come like a dark cloud,” and then we want to put our shields up – “I don’t want this!” – and we’re very insecure, and we’re worried about it? Do you feel that? Is that part of your experience? Think about it for a moment. It’s like: “Oh no, I have a bad mood again,” isn’t it? And “That’s not what I want.” And the more we focus on it, how horrible this is and so on, it just gets worse, doesn’t it? The problem here is that we’re exaggerating what’s going on and making two things out of it – me on this side and the bad mood on the other.
So what about happiness? Again we tend to have this dualistic way of experiencing it – me on the one side and the happiness on the other side – and then we’re afraid of losing it, and so we cling on to it; we try to hold on to it. We feel insecure because we’re afraid it’s going to pass – we’re going to lose it; we’re going to stop feeling good. We can’t just relax and enjoy feeling happy. And so our insecurity actually destroys the happiness, doesn’t it? Think about that. When you’re feeling well, do you feel a bit insecure about that? Of course, there can be all sorts of complications – “I don’t deserve to feel good,” and all of that. That’s a further complication.
It’s funny, isn’t it, if you start to think about it, how sometimes we’re a little bit like an animal. You know how an animal, like a dog, is eating, and it’s supposedly enjoying what it’s eating, but it’s always looking around, and it’s a little bit tense that somebody’s going to take it away. Do you ever have that feeling? You’re feeling okay, you’re feeling happy, but you’re afraid that somebody’s going to come and take it away or discover you, or something like that. And then “I don’t deserve to be happy. I shouldn’t be happy. Somebody’s going to take it away from me.” It’s really weird, isn’t it, how sometimes we really are like that dog eating a bone?
And what about neutral feeling? With a neutral feeling, again we have this dualistic thing of me on the one side and the neutral feeling on the other side, and again we exaggerate the importance of this neutral feeling. So how do we exaggerate it? We exaggerated the unhappy feeling into this horrible thing that I don’t want and this happy feeling as something that I want to hold on to but I’m afraid of losing, as if it were so precious. And this neutral feeling, we exaggerate it into feeling nothing, no feeling. That often happens, doesn’t it? We feel as though we’re feeling nothing, it’s a big Nothing, and it makes us feel as though we’re not really alive. And how does that make you feel? Think about that. When we think that we’re feeling nothing, we’re actually feeling unhappy about that, aren’t we? We don’t really like feeling nothing.
In fact with each of these three possibilities of unhappy, happy, and neutral, when we exaggerate it and make it into a big thing, it leads to being unhappy, even more unhappy than we were to start with. So our attitude about what we’re feeling is very, very crucial for affecting our experience. What we do is we tend to view the happiness or unhappiness or neutral feeling that we experience with an attitude of “This is something special.” We make a big thing out of what we’re feeling. And we tend to view ourselves as separate – there’s a “me” that’s separate from the feelings.
For instance, imagine that there’s me sitting here or you sitting there – it doesn’t matter – and there are three types of food in front of us. One is terrible tasting, one is very delicious, and one is completely bland and has no flavor at all. These are like the feelings of unhappy, happy, and neutral, and when we feel these things, it’s like we’re taking that into us – we’re eating it. And in a sense, it is as if we could choose not to eat. You can’t really do that, can you, with feelings – “I wish I didn’t have any feelings” – and then you wouldn’t feel alive either, so that’s unsatisfactory. So again think about that. Do we have this dualistic thing of me over here and this feeling, this mood, over there?
So the first thing that we need to do in terms of changing our attitude, improving our attitude, is to train ourselves in this attitude of “nothing special.” This is actually very profound. “There’s nothing special about what I’m feeling now.” Life goes up and down. Sometimes we’re in a good mood, sometimes a bad mood, sometimes nothing dramatic going on. Nothing surprising about it. Nothing special. And nothing special about me that: “Ooh, now I have to feel this” or “I’m not feeling that.” The main thing is to just get on with our life regardless of how we feel.
If you have to take care of your children, for example, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a good mood or bad mood; you just do it. You’re driving your car, or whatever you’re doing – you’re going to work whether you feel good or you don’t feel good; you just do it. And the more that we focus on ourselves and how we feel, actually the more unhappy that we become. It doesn’t mean that we want to stop feeling anything. That’s not the point. We’re aware of what we’re feeling, but we don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not that we’re afraid of feeling something.
There are some people who are afraid of feeling unhappy because they’re afraid that: “Oh, it’s going to totally overwhelm me.” Like when you lose a loved one or something really terrible happens in your life, and then: “Well, I want to protect myself from feeling unhappy about it because it will be too much.” That can actually be unconscious; it doesn’t have to be a conscious blocking of the feeling. We want to protect ourselves from the feeling again, as if the feeling were something external coming in. Or “I don’t deserve to be happy. Things are going well, but I shouldn’t be happy about it, because I’m basically no good.” Or what’s an interesting one is that: “I can’t just feel neutral. I have to be entertained all the time.” You know, this whole phenomenon of people who constantly have their iPod in their ears. They have to constantly be listening to music because, in a sense, “Well, this is going to make me happy. This will entertain me,” and so they are afraid of just a neutral feeling of silence. So, in a sense, often we’re afraid of feelings. Why are we afraid of them? Because we make a big deal out of them; we exaggerate their importance. They’re just a natural part of life. It’s how we experience every moment. It’s what makes us different from the video camera. So nothing special. It sounds simple, but it’s not so simple. Well, think about that.
So we need a delicate balance actually. We prefer to be happy of course, but there can still come a feeling of not wanting to destroy whatever happiness we have, and so we cling to it and feel insecure about it. From our experience, we know that the happiness we have now is going to pass. It’s not going to last, because the nature of life is that it goes up and down. So if we know that it’s not going to last and will pass, why worry about it? Just enjoy it for what it is for as long as it lasts.
There’s a very lovely example that sometimes I use for that. Imagine that a wild bird, a very beautiful wild bird, comes to our window and stays there for a little while. Now, we could enjoy the beauty of that bird there, but we know it’s a wild bird; it’s going to fly away. If we try to catch it and put it in a cage, that bird’s going to be very, very unhappy. And if we try to catch that bird and put it in that cage, in the process of trying to catch it we’re going to scare the bird, and the bird is going to fly off and not come back. But if we’re very relaxed about it and enjoy the beauty of the bird while it’s there, when it goes away then perhaps it will come back.
So happiness is very much like that, isn’t it? It’s not only happiness but also being with people that we like. When somebody comes to visit, we often have this attitude of: “Why don’t you stay longer?” even before they’ve taken off their coat. “Why can’t you stay longer? When are you coming again?” This type of thing. I think that’s very typical of this way in which we destroy our happiness.
So nothing special. A bird comes to our window; a friend comes to visit us; our friend calls – nothing special. Just enjoy it while it lasts. And of course it will end, so what? What do you expect? And of course we prefer not to be unhappy. But when we are unhappy, the thing that we have to do is just accept that this is what we’re experiencing now. There’s nothing special, nothing surprising about it. It’ll pass. So try not to make it worse by being afraid of it, making it into a monster and trying to push it away. Think about that.
Is it possible to just relax, to feel calm about what we’re feeling? And don’t think that feeling neutral means that we don’t feel anything and that we’re incapable of feeling anything. It’s like being afraid of the quiet, that somehow I’ll be lost in it or whatever. That’s a very strange attitude, isn’t it? And again we’re making too big a thing out of what we feel and out of me – it’s so important what I feel. So again we need to really examine ourselves in terms of: “What is it I’m afraid of? Am I afraid of feeling unhappy? Am I afraid of feeling happy because I don’t deserve it? Am I afraid of feeling neutral because then there’s just nothing?” What are we afraid of?
I have developed something called sensitivity training, and one of the exercises in it is to help people to overcome fear of feelings. So what I ask people to do – you can try it – is to tickle your hand, and then pinch your hand, and then just hold your hand. Is there any big deal about it? One’s a nice feeling, one’s not a very nice feeling, and the other is neutral, isn’t it? There’s nothing special about it, is there? It’s just a feeling, so what? And that’s the type of attitude that we need to develop: “So what?” “I’m not in a good mood. So what? Nothing special.” We acknowledge that we’re in a bad mood. And if there’s something that we can do to improve it, okay; and if not, well, we just deal with it. In fact, you don’t even have to deal with it; you just go ahead with whatever you’re doing. But if we want to somehow change the way in which we are experiencing that feeling, then we have to look at other ways of changing our attitude about it.
So as I said, the first level is “Nothing special. There’s nothing special about what I feel,” right? And it’s not that there’s a “me” that’s separate from all of it and that I have to shield myself from it. It’s just that this is the way that life goes.
But now the other side of “There’s nothing special about the feeling” is “There’s nothing special about me and what I’m feeling now.” So this gets into the whole topic of what’s called self-cherishing. We experience what we’re feeling – happy, unhappy, and so on – in terms of self-cherishing. So what does self-cherishing mean? It means being completely concerned only about ourselves. We’re only focused on ourselves and what we’re feeling now, and we ignore everybody else: “It doesn’t matter what they feel. I’m unhappy.”
So again the trick here is “There’s nothing special about me and what I’m feeling.” The more narrow our mind is in terms of clinging to “me,” clinging to the feeling, actually the more unhappy we become. Just think about it. It’s like a muscle being very tight and being very tense. So it’s our mind being very tight and very tense – just “Me, me, me, what I’m feeling.” If we open up and think that there are seven billion humans and countless animals on this planet, what I’m feeling now is nothing special. Everybody is feeling something now. Some people and animals are feeling happy, some are feeling unhappy, some are feeling neutral (they’re asleep, for example), and with each individual being, it’s changing all the time. So what’s so special about me and what I’m feeling at this moment?
Like this terrible traffic jam that was going on outside when we were coming here. Do you think that everybody else in that traffic jam was having a wonderful time and really happy? But the more that we think, “Me, me, me. I’m here and I’m stuck and I can’t get out. How horrible this is,” the more unhappy we become, don’t we? But when you start to think about everybody in the traffic jam, then our mind becomes much more open, much more relaxed.
Remember when we were coming here, the traffic was not moving at all, and there was this side street in which all these cars wanted to join this line of traffic on the street? These cars wanted to get across our lane and into the lane going in the other direction, which was also not moving, and somehow get through the various lanes in our direction and get to the other side. Of course, people don’t let them through, and you think, “My god, how are they going to get through?” And they start to inch their way and stick the nose of the car in, and so on, and it starts to become really very interesting. And then the guy in front of us, even when he could move ahead, was speaking on his cell phone and wasn’t paying attention. So he wasn’t moving, and then the cars behind were getting very uptight about that.
And then, all of a sudden, you’re not thinking about: “Poor me, I’m stuck in this traffic.” It becomes like a whole drama that you’re watching. And you think, “How are they going to weave their way through? How are they going to find their way?” And then you’re not thinking just of yourself. You’ve changed your attitude. You’re not making such a big deal out of me. And when we stop making this big deal out of me – “I’m so special. I’m the special one in this traffic” – then the whole way that we experience the situation changes. Think about that.
There was one great Tibetan lama called Kunu Lama, and he suggested a type of exercise that one can do which is very helpful. What he suggested is to imagine yourself on one side and everybody else on the other side, and then imagine being separate from that as the observer. So you’re looking at this “me” over here and everybody else over there, and the “me” in this picture is unhappy, but so is everybody else. Or you’re stuck in the traffic and so are all these other people stuck in the traffic. And now as the neutral observer looking at this, who’s more important, this one person or everybody actually – this one person pushing to get ahead of everybody or the whole crowd, the whole group? So try that.
Obviously the larger group is more important that this one person, isn’t it? But that doesn’t mean that we’re a nothing. If we care about and are concerned about everyone, we’re included in the “everyone,” aren’t we? It’s just that we’re not more special than everybody else, especially in terms of how we feel – happy, unhappy, etc.
So the problem here is this self-cherishing, being obsessed about “me, me, me” and “I’m so important.” So when I’m unhappy and I think that there’s this unhappiness over there and a “me” separate from it and: “Oh, I don’t want that,” that’s the self-importance of me, isn’t it? “Me, me, me. I don’t want that.” Or the happiness – it’s focused on: “Me, me, me. I don’t want some larger dog to come and take my bone away.” And “Me, me, me. I’m not feeling anything. I’m not being entertained. I have to be entertained.”
The problem is this self-preoccupation, this self-cherishing, focusing in this limited way on “me, me, me” and what I feel. So what we need to do is somehow change this perspective, think in terms of everyone and have our motivation be in terms of everyone: “May everybody get out of this traffic.” If you think about it, how could just we get out of the traffic? The traffic has to be eliminated, and if the traffic is eliminated, everybody gets free from it, don’t they? So if our concern is this much larger scope of everyone, then we’re more relaxed, aren’t we? We’re not so uptight and so devastated by being in the traffic. And if we finally do feel happy – we get out of the traffic – don’t just think, “Oh, I’m so wonderful. I got out,” but think in terms of everybody: “This is wonderful. Everybody got wherever they were going.” So then we’re not clinging to that happiness as if somebody’s going to take the bone away from us.
So it all has to do with what’s called compassion. Compassion is thinking of others’ unhappiness, caring about it in the same way that we care about our own, and taking responsibility and concern to actually help everybody, if we can, to overcome that unhappiness (although that unhappiness is nothing special). Don’t get depressed: “Oh, there’s such horrors going on in the world.” Of course, it’s natural that that will happen, but nevertheless it would be better if everybody were happy, wouldn’t it?
When you voluntarily take some sense of responsibility that: “I’m going to be concerned about everybody and wish everybody to be free of their suffering,” and so on, when we voluntarily take that, we develop a great sense of courage and self-confidence. This is something that the Dalai Lama speaks about very often. If we’re only thinking about me and my unhappiness, and so on, it’s actually that we’re very weak. But if we voluntarily think about and are concerned about everyone, it takes a great deal of strength, doesn’t it? It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength, and so it gives us self-confidence. And this positive attitude about ourselves leads automatically to a feeling of happiness. So it’s not this attitude of: “Poor me. I’m unhappy,” and so on. We’re concerned about everybody stuck in the traffic, and we really wish that everybody could be free of that traffic jam, and by opening ourselves up with that – it’s really courageous to think about everybody in that traffic jam – we have a more positive feeling about ourselves, don’t we? We’re not weak and being oppressed by the traffic. Now we’re very strong actually.
So this is an example of how we can change our attitude, what’s called attitude training, to completely change the quality of how we’re experiencing the natural up and down of life. And it just is a matter of training ourselves to practice doing it, which also takes a bit of courage, I must say, to realize that as life is going up and down, I’m just making it worse by my attitude about it. So there’s nothing special going on by feeling up and down, and there’s nothing special about me, that I feel up and down, so let me try to change the way that I view that so that I can make the best out of the situation.
So that’s the basic overview or introduction to attitude training. So think about that for a moment, and then perhaps you have some questions.
Okay. Do you have any questions?
Participant: I would like to ask a question about this example with the traffic. If I’m trying to think about others, not only myself, am I helping only myself or is the power of my thought also helping others?
Alex: Well, I think that indirectly it helps others if you are not aggressive in the traffic and beeping your horn (which obviously is pointless because nobody can move anyway). If you’re more relaxed, in a sense it indirectly can help others. When that car in the side street is inching in and cutting you off and you don’t open up your window and shout some obscenity and swear at the person, both of you are a little bit more relaxed. But you can’t have too big of an influence.
Participant: I’d like to go back to this example with the traffic jam. When I experience something like that, someone cutting me off on the road, I feel like a flash of anger for a moment, and then I try to think about different causes which might have made this situation happen – like, for example, the person in the car might have sick babies and he might be driving to the hospital – and then of course I feel a lot calmer. But the thing is, these flashes of anger still continue all the time. Is it possible to get rid of them completely or will they continue like that?
Alex: Well, it’s a very, very long process to overcome the tendencies and habits of anger. Changing our attitude, like in the example that you just cited, by thinking that, “Well, this person who is in such a hurry maybe has a very good cause for being in a hurry” is just a provisional way of dealing with the anger. We really have to go much, much deeper to pull out the roots of the anger, which has to do with how we understand ourselves, how we understand other people.
We tend to identify ourselves and identify people with just one little incident which is happening in life. Like for instance viewing this person in the traffic as this horrible person who is trying to cut me off, and that’s all that we think about this person. So we just identify them with this one thing that is happening in their life, particularly something involving ourselves. Then provisionally we’re identifying them with something else, which may or may not be true. It doesn’t really matter that they have a sick baby and they need to get to a hospital quickly – we’re just identifying them with another possible scene; we’re still giving them a solid identity. The same thing with identifying me, the solid “me” who’s now feeling angry, and so I have to do something about that solid “me” who’s angry. So we’re identifying ourselves with this anger.
So we have to somehow loosen that, and I don’t want to go into tremendous detail about that, but it is a very deep process which has to do with not identifying me or them with anything. It’s like taking a still picture of someone or a still picture of ourselves. You have the photograph, but I’m not just that one moment of the photograph, am I, and neither are you that one moment of the still photograph. But we have to stop viewing ourselves and our life and other people in terms of still photographs. Everything’s flowing and changing all the time, isn’t it? And we’re changing all the time. If you look at a photograph of yourself as a baby and a teenager and now, and so on, it’s all changing. But it’s when you view things as a still photograph that then you get stuck in what you’re feeling at that time of the photograph, as if you’re making a frozen picture of the emotion and the feeling and the anger and so on. This all has to be loosened. And even once you’ve loosened it, and loosened it on the deepest level, you have to get used to that because the tendency and the habit is to tighten up again, and that takes quite a lot of familiarity. But eventually it is possible to not get that tightness again or the anger or jealousy, or whatever it might be, because if you look at the nature of the mind, it’s to be relaxed; the nature is not to be tense.
Participant: What’s the point of all these trainings? If a person lives his life trying to be aware of his feelings or not being aware or not making some identities, what’s the real difference? And what is it for?
Alex: On one level, it is for improving the quality of our lives. Basically we all want to be happy. And whether we have this idea that we don’t deserve to be happy or not, still the basic drive is to be happy; it’s almost like a biological thing. So the initial level is to, as I say, improve the quality of our lives by making it more easy to deal with everything. Life doesn’t become such a struggle.
And if you think in terms of a stronger aim, a stronger motivation, it has to do with our dealing with others. If we have children, if we are living in a family, if we have friends, and so on, if I’m always in a bad mood and I’m: “Oh, poor me” and stuff like that, we’re in a very poor position to be able to help them, and in fact it makes them unhappy. So we want to somehow deal with our moods and so on in a more productive type of way because it will affect others, it will affect my family and so on, and I’m concerned about them. So that’s the reason to work on ourselves.
Participant: I’d like to know if I got it right. As I understand it, the main thing from these trainings is not to be obsessed with happiness and not to cling to it. But how do we deal with that basic principle of wanting happiness? Do we need to try to be happy or not? If we see that life is cycles of unhappiness followed with happiness and it’s always changing, do we need to try to attain happiness?
Alex: We do need to try to attain happiness. But when we have it, just enjoy it for what it is, which is that it’ll pass. The more relaxed we are about it, the more frequently we’ll feel happy. But if sometimes we don’t feel happy, well, so what? What do we expect? No big deal. Nothing special.
So the more relaxed we are about it with this attitude of: “Well, there’s nothing special about what’s going on,” then that in itself is a more relaxed way of becoming happier. We’re not worried about it is the point. But it’s not this constant drive, which is quite a neurotic one, that I typify by: “I always have to be entertained. I always have to have music going on because I’m afraid of the silence or I’m afraid of becoming unhappy.” That’s a very unpleasant state of mind actually. Because actually if you think about it, as I said in the beginning, being happy doesn’t actually correspond to what we’re doing – you could be doing the same thing and feel happy or unhappy or neutral – so it’s just a matter of what you focus on.
I’ll give you an example. I really enjoy going to the dentist because my dentist is a great person, I really like him. We have a very friendly relation – we joke and so on – so it’s very pleasant to go to him. So I’m not focusing on: “Oh, I’m so worried because he may have to drill and he may have to do this or that.” I don’t look at the dentist appointment with anxiety. I look at it with happiness: “Wow, great! I get to see my friend again.” This is something that we’ll speak about tomorrow, but what is it in an experience that you’re going to focus on in terms of your attitude? You could focus on the possible pain that you might have in some dental procedure or you could focus on, as I said, seeing the dentist, who I actually like.
Maybe you think I’m a bit weird, but I had root-canal work done once, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really very, very interesting because I had my mouth really wide open, and they kept on putting more and more things in my mouth, and I started to laugh because I couldn’t imagine how much more they could stick into my mouth at the same time. Mind you, I was all completely novocained, so I wasn’t feeling anything. But it was just so hilarious how much was going in – this instrument and that instrument and this hand, and all these things. I just laughed.
So that’s very different from when you’re not feeling anything anyway, but you’re afraid that you might feel something, and then it’s complete torture. Right? Or the pain of getting the injection of the novocaine. Well, sure, that hurts, but so what? Would you prefer not to have it and then have a half hour of pain of the root canal, or is it better to have that few seconds of the pain of the injection? So you’re happy to get that injection even though it’s going to hurt, but it will only hurt for a very short time.
So everything depends on your attitude. That’s attitude training. And it works, and it improves the quality of your life. I mean, if you have to go to the dentist and you need root canal, are you going to have it be a torture or are you going to have it be not so bad? We have to experience it, there’s no way not to experience it, so we might as well try to make it into as okay an experience as possible. That’s the principle behind it.
Participant: When I was a child, I experienced dealing with harsh situations. When I needed to learn something, for example, I would imagine someone who had the qualities to do this hard work, like one of my idols. That was my way of dealing with hard situations. So is it effective or necessary to imagine someone who has all these good qualities and then think how they would behave themselves in these difficult situations?
Alex: That can be quite helpful. I mean, that’s usually what people do with their spiritual teacher; they imagine how they would deal with it in a difficult situation. But you have to be very careful in applying that method because if you apply it with the attitude that: “Well, they can do it, but I can’t because I’m so inferior and I’m not good enough, and so on,” then that’s not very much help at all. But if we use the example of how our teacher or another figure that we find inspiring would deal with something, if we use that to lift ourselves up to give us the courage to try to deal with it in that way ourselves, then this is helpful. It all depends on our attitude toward ourselves. Am I someone who could be uplifted, or am I someone who’s not good enough?
So again it becomes very delicate. Because on the one hand, you don’t want to be too obsessed about: “Me, me, me. I won’t be good enough,” so this is self-cherishing. But on the other hand, you have to evaluate: “Do I in fact have the ability to act the way that my teacher would act?” And maybe we don’t yet, but that is the direction that we can go in, and so we try our best to model ourselves on them, knowing that: “Well, I’m still a child, in a sense.” So there’s this big difference between “Poor me. I’m not good enough” and “I’m aspiring to be like this, and I’ll try my best.”
So I think that’s enough for this evening, and we’ll continue tomorrow. Thank you.
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