On a recent experience in the hustling, bustling city of Chiang Mai in Thailand’s North, I had a moment. A penny drop moment. I love these. This moment felt like I had been looking intently at an artwork. Studying each part, trying to understand it in detail. Only to then stand back and get the full effect of the illusion on a larger scale. That moment of acceptance, answer, simplicity and truth.
My moment came about whilst learning from a Monk at the MCU Buddhist University. Yoga and meditation has been a way for me to bring my attention within and cultivate health in my mind and body. But Phra KK our Monk teacher opened up my mind. He showed me how meditation within one self is actually a process which leads to greater happiness with others.
The Simple Stuff
Thich Nhat Hanh is the author of ‘Being Peace’. Through this book he expertly shares the philosophy of Buddhism in a simple way. He creates clear links with Westerners’ ways of life. This is why enjoyed Thich Nhat Hanh’s experiences and teachings. Because I got it. Through his words that I now understand. Buddhism is simple. When we lift the complicated details of life; the how we do, the what we think, the when, the where, the how often… When we lift it away, what is left is us. The true self. This is true life. True being.
“When you grow a tree, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the tree. You look into the reasons it is not doing well” Thich Nhat Hanh.
Blame. Often it seems it is human nature to blame. To shift the blame to other people and other things. Blaming a reason for this or for that. People become attached to things. They want to get rid of or project that attachment elsewhere when it’s negative. Or, when it is something pleasant they go to great lengths to protect it from others. What is a negative experience and what is a pleasant experience is determined by your perception. This is the key to experiencing greater happiness through others. This was a trigger in my penny drop moment. Perception.
Your Truth Or Mine?
“The technique of understanding is to overcome knowledge. The way of nonattachment from views is the basic teaching of Buddhism concerning understanding…In order to understand something, you have to be one with that something” Thich Nhat Hanh.
We all know there are things that are true. The facts. We have faith that these facts. We know they are true. But we know our truth. Perception has the ability to provide many different truths in this world. Perception has the ability to show the two people the same thing, and they come away with two very differing truths.
Say I encountered two people that I had never met in my life. They both would gain information from our interaction. Their brains would collect that data and store it as facts. This is their truth of who I am. Perception is a filter through which our senses pass information for storage. Depending on their likes, their dislike and their subconscious perceptions, these two people could walk away from me with two very different ‘truths’ of who I am.
My yoga and meditation practice has always been to release distraction, let things go and come within. To still the mind, to understand the experience of just being. Phra KK and Thich Nhat Hanh have helped me realise the need to apply my awareness to others. The application of awareness; compassion.
Compassion – Awareness In Action
“In order to help reconcile a conflict, we have to be in touch with both sides…The more we see, the more we understand. The more we understand the easier it is for us to have compassion and love” Thich Nhat Hanh.
Walking down a busy street in Chiang Mai is something else. There is no pathway to speak of. Thousands of motorbikes, tuk-tuks, taxis, buses, cars and bicycles make their way around each other in a chaotic mess. Those on foot bravely attempt to navigate their way along the edges. The noise, the heat… as a foreigner it was conducive to high levels of stress. It felt very overwhelming.
I stuck to a narrow section to the side of the busy road. I walked with an urgent pace, ready to jump out of the way of any suddenly turning vehicles. A taxi pulled over to a group of tourists. As I approached the group they were standing, preparing to get into the seating area at the back of the car. I felt exposed to the open street traffic so I made my way to move through them and out of danger. They didn’t make way, or encourage others to move to allow me to pass safely. As a result I become irritated at their lack of help. They even watched me as I was trying to move away from the dangerous traffic and didn’t do a thing. Without action, they just stared with exasperated looks. Grrr! Anger bubbled inside of me. Move!
What a perfect moment to practice my new found understanding. I finally jostled my way through. As I moved away from the chaotic scene I knew that the only person hurting as a result of that situation was myself. I was putting my health under strain by feeling stress, irritation and anger towards these people. They would not be effected. They didn’t even seem to notice me! Therefore it would only be me that felt the effects. I didn’t want to carry this negative feeling with me to infiltrate my day. So at the next quiet street, I stopped.
“The practice of concentration is like acquiring a lampshade to help us concentrate our mind on something…we develop our own power of concentration. With that power of concentration, we can look deeply into the problem. This is insight meditation” Thich Nhat Hanh.
Letting Go Of A Perceived Truth
Here on this quiet street, I took the time to look into my feelings and why I felt like this. I lifted my perception that was clouding my view and tried to empathise with the group of tourists. I looked past my perception of the truth and tried to see it simply. They too were on the same busy street as I. They would have been flustered, stressed and irritated from the traffic, noise and chaos. I placed myself in their shoes. They too were dealing with a new culture. They were attempting to negotiate in a foreign language and organise a group. The groups was also trying to move around dangerous traffic whilst keeping safe from harm.
I realised that Yes, I too would probably overlook a passer by. I understood that the reason I was neglected was because they were so intent on caring for their group of family and friends. They did not actively go out of their way to cause me trouble. They were solely focused on their goal; to quickly remove their group from harm.
From lifting my perception I could see clearly that there was no intention. They did not go out of their way to fill me with anger. They were dealing with a situation the best way they could. So I relaxed. I let go of my perceived truth and made way for reality. I detached from the false and allowed myself to be unburdened by something that did not even exist. A few deep breaths, and I was on my way.
Practice Makes Perfect-ish
Awareness. Detachment. Compassion. I continue to add to my learning throughout everyday life. The realisation of compassion hit me all in one go and I have been seeing more opportunities to try it out everyday. I feel lucky to currently be experiencing foreign cultures. Meeting new people and having new experience lends itself greatly to learning about yourself and building happiness with others. Phra KK and Thich Nhat Hanh are onto something here, and I’m going to run with it.