I can’t go back to yesterday, for I was a different person then
I often forget how much self-development work I’ve done over the last couple of years and how much I’ve progressed. It takes a question or a comment from somebody else for me to stop still, look back and shake my head in astonishment at how much things have changed.
The me that I am now is unrecognisable compared to the me that I was then.
And one of the biggest influences in all of this has been my dabblings in Buddhism.
It was four years ago that I first dipped my toes into this ancient Eastern philosophy by attending a talk called “The Art Of Happiness”.
It was the title that intrigued me – who doesn’t want to master the art of happiness? – plus I’m a big fan of extra-curricular activities that involve expanding the cranium. So I went along with an open-ish mind and did my best to leave my lifelong rebellion against religion and spirituality at the door.
Everything the monk said that day made so much sense. He said that every single human on this planet has one thing in common; we all just want to be happy.
And yet the vast majority of us don’t achieve it. Why? Because the way we go about achieving happiness, is setting us up for failure.
We take loans out to buy houses, we lease flashy cars and we buy our must-have dresses on store cards. We make pilgrimages to Insta-Meccas around the world and call them a holiday. We drink, we eat, we pamper and we indulge.
We’re chasing dopamine highs and our hit is only ever momentary. Once we have had one thing, we’re off hunting for the next. Our appetites for these surface level pleasures are utterly insatiable.
Every single word he said made sense. You could feel the subtle blanket of guilt fall gently over the silent audience as we sat there almost nodding our heads in agreement.
We waited attentively for his words of wisdom that came in the form of a simple statement; one that carries more truth and more power than you would ever think at first glance.
The true source of happiness is inner peace.
I left the seminar feeling pensive, reflective and curious for more.
This was nothing like the Christian religion I’d had forced down my neck at school and nothing near as draconian as those we’d learned about. It wasn’t preachy, it wasn’t forceful and it didn’t have me feeling suspicious of sinister ministers and paedo priests.
It was just words of pure, unarguable wisdom. It was stating fact upon fact upon fact. A metaphorical mirror held up against humanity; it was reasoning, acceptance and truth.
So I started attending more seminars, more workshops and more group meditations. I took myself off to the Kadampa HQ for a weekend at the Manjushri Centre near Ulverston in the Lake District.
And more or less instantly, my world was beginning to change through the power of my mind.
I began seeing the world differently and starting to have these intense feelings of compassion towards others. My own troubles remained, but everyone else’s came up to meet them.
I could see the hurt that was hiding behind false smiles and I was starting to see so clearly the reasoning of behaviours. I understood people and I began to feel their pain over my own.
I was realising more and more every day that we really are all the same; all suffering in our own unique ways and all just hoping to be happy.
As I carried on letting Buddhism in, my heart and mind were opening.
These teachings in happiness and compassion led to my understanding that suffering is universal and my analytical brain began asking my favourite question.
Well, according to Budhdism, every problem on earth is caused by attachment – and attachment comes from the ego.
For years I thought that the ego was just me, myself and I – the mind and the character that inhabit my human body. But through Buddhist teachings I was seeing it differently and realising it’s so much more complex than that.
The ego is the polluted mind that clings to people and things and situations. It creates attachment and craving and desire. It’s our poisoned, clouded view of the world around us.
It makes us physically distance ourselves from everything and everyone, yet makes us think that it’s all in our possession – things and people belong to us.
We have expectations and ideals. We want situations to go a certain way. We have memories we keep tight hold of because they’re ours. And when the world works against these mental attachments, when things don’t go our way, we feel disappointment and fear and pain.
Letting go of attachment is the ultimate destruction of our ego and over the past few years I’ve been giving it ago. It really is a way of walking down that path towards inner peace and it’s so hard to articulate how incredible it actually feels.
I started to realise that everything and nothing matters. I see the magic and the complexities in everything around me but I don’t cling to them with hope they’ll never change, because I accept that they will.
Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they have