The Fluidity of Reality

The Buddhist concept of emptiness refers to the idea that all things lack intrinsic or inherent existence. It is a way of understanding the nature of reality and the way in which things come into being. By recognising the emptiness of all things, we can let go of our attachment to fixed identities and concepts, leading to greater freedom and compassion.

The concept of emptiness is probably the most difficult to understand in Buddhism. It is also one of the most misunderstood, and so in this article I will explore the concept of emptiness and its practical implications for our lives.

What is emptiness?

The concept of emptiness is a central Buddhist teaching. At its core, emptiness refers to the idea that all things lack intrinsic or inherent existence. This means that everything in the world, and that includes ourselves, is empty of any unchanging, permanent essence. If things had their own inherent nature, it would mean they are permanent and have an unchanging nature. It would also mean they arose without a cause and are completely indestructible.

It is often misunderstood as nihilistic or negative. However, emptiness does not mean that things do not exist or that the world is meaningless. Rather, it is a way of understanding the nature of reality and the way in which things come into being.

If we are trying to understand emptiness, it is helpful to first reflect on the concept of dependent origination. According to this concept, everything in the world arises in dependence upon other things. Nothing exists independently or in isolation. All things are interconnected and interdependent. This concept is a fundamental teaching in Buddhism that explains the nature of existence and the causes of suffering.

Buddha taught that all things are conditioned by other things, and nothing exists independently or in isolation. Every phenomenon arises due to a complex web of causes and conditions, which themselves arise due to other causes and conditions. This chain of causation is known as the “twelve links of dependent origination.”

The twelve links begin with ignorance, which leads to actions and choices, which in turn lead to consciousness, and so on through birth, old age, and death. Each link in the chain is dependent on the previous link, and the entire chain perpetuates the cycle of existence.

The Buddha taught that being delusional about the way life really is causes us to suffer, and that by understanding the chain of dependent origination, one can break free from the cycle of suffering and attain liberation or freedom from a deluded mind. By understanding the causes and conditions that lead to suffering, one can begin to uproot the underlying delusion and cultivate wisdom, which leads to the alleviation of suffering.

In a nutshell, dependent origination teaches that everything is impermanent, constantly changing, and interconnected. It invites us to investigate the nature of reality and to see things as they truly are, rather than as we imagine them to be. Investigating dependent origination helps us to develop an awareness of the causes and conditions that lead to suffering, and cultivate the wisdom necessary to attain ultimate freedom, which is not an external freedom but a freedom from the delusional projections of the mind.

(You can read more about this topic here –

So, emptiness is the recognition that this interconnectedness and interdependence means that everything lacks inherent existence. All things are dependent upon other things for their existence and identity. This means that everything is impermanent, constantly changing, and ultimately insubstantial.

Emptiness can also lead to greater compassion and interconnectedness. When we recognise the emptiness of all things, we can see that everything is interconnected and interdependent. This can lead to a greater sense of compassion for others, as we recognise that their experiences are also impermanent and constantly changing.

Practical examples of emptiness

Understanding emptiness is not just an intellectual exercise, so let’s consider some practical examples. Take a table, for instance. We might think of a table as a solid, stable object with a fixed identity. However, when we examine the table more closely, we see that it is made up of various parts, such as legs, a top, and screws or nails. These parts are themselves made up of smaller parts, and so on.

Furthermore, the table is dependent upon other things for its existence. It is made from wood, which comes from trees that rely on sunlight, water, and soil for their growth. The table was also created by a carpenter, who used tools and materials that were themselves created by other people and processes.

In other words, the table is not a fixed, permanent object. It is a temporary arrangement of parts that is dependent upon other things for its existence. The table is empty of intrinsic nature.

Emptiness can also be applied to a car by recognising that it is composed of many different parts, such as the engine, wheels, and body. These parts are not inherently a car in and of themselves, but rather they come together to create the appearance of a car. In other words, the car is empty of car-ness, or a self-nature that makes it inherently a car.

Furthermore, the car is also impermanent and subject to change. It is constantly undergoing wear and tear, and eventually, it will break down and cease to exist as a car.

By recognising the emptiness of a car, we can begin to see it as simply a temporary phenomenon that arises due to various causes and conditions.

So, understanding that all phenomena are empty, or have no intrinsic nature, can help us let go of our attachment to material possessions and develop a greater sense of equanimity. 

Benefits of understanding emptiness

Understanding the Buddhist concept of emptiness can offer a range of benefits in our lives, both on a personal and social level. Here are some of the main benefits:

1. Freedom from suffering: According to Buddhist teachings, the root of suffering is attachment to things that are impermanent and constantly changing. By recognising the emptiness of all things, we can let go of our attachment to fixed identities and concepts. This can lead to greater freedom and a reduction in our suffering.

2. Compassion and interconnectedness: When we recognise the emptiness of all things, we can see that everything is interconnected and interdependent. This can lead to a greater sense of compassion for others, as we recognise that their experiences are also impermanent and constantly changing.

3. Wisdom and insight: The recognition of emptiness can lead to greater wisdom and insight into the nature of reality. It can help us to see things as they really are, rather than being caught up in our own limited perceptions and concepts.

4. Reduced conflict: Many of the conflicts in our world arise from a sense of fixed identities and concepts, such as nationalistic or religious identities. By recognising the emptiness of these identities, we can reduce our attachment to them and become more open to others.

5. Environmental awareness: The recognition of emptiness can also lead to greater awareness of our interconnectedness with the natural world. By identifying that everything is interdependent and impermanent, we can become more mindful of our impact on the environment and work towards greater sustainability.

So, understanding the concept of emptiness can offer a range of benefits in our lives, including greater freedom from suffering, compassion for others, wisdom and insight, reduced conflict, and environmental awareness. It can help us to see things as they really are and become more mindful and compassionate beings.

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Mangala Sutra – Part Two

In part two of this series on the Mangala sutra, we will look at the supporting principles. The first principle is:

Have good learning skills

For us to be able to follow a path in life, we must first learn about it. If we do not put our full effort into learning, we may misunderstand the path, which in turn may take us off in the wrong direction, and that could cause us to suffer even more.

If you are reading a spiritual book, or at a teaching, and you are not giving it your full attention, you will not be taking anything in. It will be like pouring water into an upturned glass. No matter how much water you pour, nothing is going to go inside.

If you read a spiritual book or hear a teaching and within a few minutes have totally forgotten it, it would be like pouring water into a glass with a hole in it. No matter how much water you pour in, nothing stays inside the glass.

If you are reading or listening to a teaching and you have the wrong attitude—such as feeling you know better than the teacher, you don’t believe what is being said or you think it will never be able to help you—it would be like pouring water into a glass with poison inside.

So, you should take the teachings on board with an open mind. Now, I am not saying you should suspend your critical thinking, but at least take in the teachings and reflect on them later. Do not dismiss every word as soon as it has been said just because it does not fit in with your current state of mind.

To have good learning skills and get the best out of the teachings, you should be like a glass that is upright, unbroken, and clean. This way whatever you hear or read will stay inside and you will be able to understand, reflect and implement the teaching.

Have good practical skills

Once you have learned a new skill you have to be able to implement it, or what is the point of learning the skill? This is where practical skills come in useful.

If you have started learning these thirty-eight principles, or any other path, the next step would be how you can fully understand them. For this you need a calm and steady mind—so you will need meditation skills. If our mind is not calm and steady it will be agitated, and our thoughts will be blown all over the place like a discarded bag in the wind. This is where the skill of calm-abiding meditation comes in. Once we have calmed our mind, we can become more focused, and our thoughts are more likely to stay on the task at hand.

After that you need to give much thought to what you are being taught—this needs reflection skills. This is where we can focus our thoughts on one particular aspect of the path. If we are not looking deeply into what we are being taught, we could end up just blindly believing things. This is not a sound basis on which to travel down any path.

Once you fully understand the teaching or principle and have implemented it, you will need to check your progress—this needs daily review skills, such as sitting quietly and examining your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is good to set yourself goals so you can see if you are reaching them or falling short. The review session is a time for you to reassess your goals and make changes if needed.

Follow a code of discipline

code of disciple
follow the code of disciple

As we do not live in a vacuum, we have to adhere to rules and regulations, or else society would just break down into anarchy. We all must have a set of morals or a code of ethical conduct to which we choose to adhere. I use the word choose because I believe we must personally buy into a code of ethics. If they are imposed on us, we may not follow them wholeheartedly.

Buddha taught the five precepts as a way to keep ourselves in check. They are not a list of ‘thou shalt not’ commandments, but five things we should try to refrain from doing—not because we have been told not to do these things, or if we do them, we will burn in hell, but because we want to do them; we see the benefit of doing them. The beauty of this code of ethics is that it is willingly undertaken by practitioners so they can work towards achieving a certain goal. The goal here is a reduction in their own suffering and in the suffering of others.

The precepts provide a skillful foundation for personal and social growth. Buddha was not being moralistic here; instead, he was showing us that if we want to be a responsible person within society, we have to ensure we are not harming anyone or anything. The precepts are as follows:

1.      To refrain from harming or killing other beings.

2.      To refrain from taking what has not been given.

3.      To refrain from sexual misconduct.

4.      To refrain from telling lies.

5.      To refrain from the abusive use of intoxicating drinks and illegal drugs.

Refrain from killing or harming other beings—this precept does not just cover killing humans; it also covers animals, big or small. I have added harming other beings as well because I believe if we harm or kill, we will have similar mental torment. I should make it clear here that I am talking about intentional and/or unnecessary killing. It is very difficult to go through life without unintentionally killing things. When we wash vegetables, we are more than likely killing small insects, but this is not our intention. Our intention is to prepare the vegetables for eating, so this is not what the precept is about. Having said that, we should check the vegetables beforehand to ensure there are no insects on them.

What this precept is about is refraining from intentionally killing. We have to understand that all beings have the equal right to live and be free from suffering, so that is why we have to refrain from doing them any harm.

The way to prevent ourselves from killing/harming is to understand that all beings are the same as us. They want to be happy and not suffer. So, if we know this, a feeling of compassion will rise in us and it will become much harder to kill/harm.

Refrain from taking what has not been given—if we take something that has not been given or belongs to someone else, this is stealing. It may be a pen from work, sweets from a shop, or, when you were a child, taking money from your mother’s purse. No matter how big or small, it is still stealing.

The first time we steal we may feel guilty and scared of being caught. However, the more you steal the less guilty and scared you are. In the end you steal just because you can and not because you need to. This is when stealing has become a habit.

We don’t like people stealing from us, so we should refrain from stealing from them. Once we get the reputation of being a thief, it will be very hard for people to trust us. So, by stealing we are hurting both ourselves and others.

Refrain from sexual misconduct—this is causing harm to someone using the sexual act, such as rape, sex with someone underage or sex with a married person—here the victim being the person’s partner. If we physically, emotionally, or mentally force someone into sex, this is causing him or her harm and is absolutely wrong. There are many people today still carrying the scars of sexual misconduct. So, this precept should not be taken lightly.

I personally believe that Buddha taught the precept on sexual misconduct to help us refrain from harming someone through sex. He did not teach it to be moralistic or make people feel guilty for their sexual orientation.

He wanted us to reflect on our acts and see if they bring harm. So, in this context, I believe if we want to know if an act constitutes sexual misconduct or not, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Does the act cause harm or does it bring joy?
  • Is the act motivated by love and understanding?
  • Would you like it if someone did it to you?
  • Is there mutual consent?

If there is mutual consent between two adults, it is not abusive. If it is an expression of love, respect, and loyalty, I believe it cannot be classified as sexual misconduct, irrespective of whether it is between a man and a woman, two men or two women.

Refrain from telling lies—once we have lied to someone, we invariably have to tell another lie to cover the first one, and then another, and another, until we have created a web of lies. It truly harms someone when they realise they have been lied to, and it will harm us when we are branded a liar.

I get very upset when I have been lied to, as most people do, and so I keep this fact in mind when I am talking to others.

Refrain from the abusive use of intoxicating drinks and drugs—here I have deliberately put ‘abusive use’ because I believe drinking in moderation is not a problem. Nobody is saying you cannot have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work. What is being said is that when we are completely inebriated, either by drink or drugs, we lose control of our body, speech, and mind. This precept is quite often the cause of the previous four precepts, so is very important to adhere to.

We may be driving home under the influence and have an accident and kill someone; steal money to cover our drink or drug addiction; come out with a pack of lies because we have no control over our mouths; or have unsafe sex with someone we met in a bar, not even considering that we or they may be married or underage.

Once we have become addicted to alcohol and drugs it is extremely hard to break the habit. So, it seems sensible not to put yourself in that position in the first place. We should remember the adage, ‘Everything in moderation’.

Practice appropriate speech

Practice appropriate speech

Buddha stated that appropriate speech is divided into four parts:

‘Refraining from lying, refraining from divisive speech, refraining from harsh speech, refraining from idle talk: This is called appropriate speech’.

Refrain from divisive speech—when people use divisive speech they are hell-bent on causing a severance between a person or a group of people. Divisive speech is never positive or productive. It is used only to harm.

This type of speech mainly stems from jealousy, pride, or hatred. I have come across it several times in the workplace. A colleague has been promoted and some people are jealous, so they try to split the workforce. This is divisive speech.

You are jealous of your sibling, so you tell divisive stories to your parents in the hope they will favour you over your sibling. This is divisive speech.

These are just two examples, but what is clear is that we must refrain from this type of speech because it will harm others and eventually harm ourselves. You will get a reputation for being someone who is always trying to cause trouble, and people will disassociate themselves from you.

Refrain from harsh words—these are swear words, bad language or words that are said only to cause harm. They are never useful or kind, and usually stem from anger or impatience.

If someone upsets us, we can lose control and say things we do not really mean. The words are meant to hurt the other person, but usually, after we have calmed down, we regret them, and the words come back to hurt us also. We must stay mindful of our speech and not allow this to happen.

Sometimes we get impatient with people when they are not doing what we want, they are doing it wrong or just differently, they are not being open and truthful, or they are not doing anything wrong, and it is just us who is irritable. At these times we tend to get angry and start saying harsh words. Obviously, the way around this is to be more patient and have respect for other people’s viewpoints and feelings.

Every time you raise your voice or say harsh words, you have lost the argument. When your voice goes up, your credibility comes down.

Refrain from idle talk—this type of speech stems from jealousy, hatred, aversion, ignorance or just having nothing better to do with your time. It is very destructive, cruel and can never be classed as helpful. At the time we may enjoy spreading some rumour or other, but just think how you would feel if people were saying the same things about you.

Idle talk or gossip is both harmful and a waste of time. I do believe that social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, encourage such unhelpful and wasteful gossip. I am not saying these sites are not of any use—I use them every day—but they can be used wrongly and end up ruining someone’s reputation or career.

So, the antidote to these four wrong ways of talking is: speak only truthful words, words that spread harmony and not discord, words that are kind and compassionate, words that help and not harm others.

If we keep these in mind and follow them, we will always be in the realm of appropriate speech. We shouldn’t take these four ways of inappropriate speech lightly, as words have the power to ruin lives. If you hit someone (which I am not encouraging you to do, I am speaking hypothetically), it will hurt for a short time and then disappear; but if you say harmful or cruel words to someone, the words can mentally scar and stay with them for years.

Support your parents or guardians

Whether your parents live alone, live with you, or live in an old people’s home, we still have to care for them as well as we can. When you came into the world you were totally helpless. It was your parents or guardians that provided for you, kept you safe and ensured you had an education. I believe that in itself deserves our heartfelt respect.

We can show our gratitude emotionally, physically, materially, and financially when it is required. Sometimes they may just want to have a chat, so make time for them. This is helping them emotionally. They may need help in and out of the bath or with some chores around the house. This is helping them physically. If there is something that will make their lives a little easier, you can buy it for them. This is helping materially. People don’t usually have lots of money in old age, so you can support them, as this is helping them out financially.

Don’t think you are too busy building your own life to worry about theirs. Remember what I said about life being like an echo? The way you treat your parents may be the way you will be treated by your children in the future.

Take care of your spouse and children

There are people who do not fulfil their basic duties to their spouse and children. Marriage is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I am not saying that all marriages should last forever; that would be unreasonable seeing that everything is impermanent and subject to change. However, whilst you are in the marriage you should be in tune with your spouse’s needs and opinions. It is not just a game of love and respect, but also of compromise and forgiveness.

When children come along, it is a whole different ball game. If you bring children into the world, you have a moral duty to care for them. You must give them parental support, nurture them into a good person, educate them and teach them the difference between right and wrong. The way you treat your children will have a lasting effect on them, so be sure it is a positive one. Scientists believe that a large proportion of the concepts we carry throughout our lives are created between birth and five years old. So, you can see what an extremely important role you have in your children’s upbringing.

Children mimic their parents. If they live in an abusive household where the spouse or children are mistreated, they may behave that way in the future, as these are the imprints that have been lodged in their consciousness and they may look upon them as normal.

You may not be able to shower your spouse and children with material gifts, but you can ensure them a safe and caring life, full of love and respect—that will last longer than any material object.

This blog is based on my book ‘Life’s Meandering Path’- available from Amazon and Kindle.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

Wheel of Life – Dharmachakra

A central teaching in traditional Buddhism is the principle of dependent arising, which states that all things happen through cause and conditions and that they are interdependent. No phenomenon, whether outer or inner, occurs except as a reaction to a previous cause, and all phenomenon will, in turn, condition the following results. So, in a nutshell, because of one thing something else arises. Nothing in this world arises from its own power. Everything comes through causes and conditions.

By looking at things in this way it avoids the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Here, eternalism is the view that there is an external god that shapes our fate. Nihilism is the view that there is no relation between action and result, therefore our fate is predetermined.

The Buddhist view asserts that while there is no godlike figure that controls our fate, there are causes and conditions that effect our lives. We are able to change our lives because these causes and conditions can be known and changed.

There are twelve links that constitute the cycle of existence that makes up samsara. This is the endless circle of dissatisfaction that constitutes an unawakened life. We can escape this cycle of birth, old age, sickness, and death by breaking these links. 

The links are not regarded as a linear path, but a cyclical one in which all links are connected to all other links.

Being able to escape from samsara can be initiated at any link in the chain, once any link is broken, the chain is forever broken.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the twelve links are depicted in the wheel of life (called the Dharmachakra) which represents the cycle of birth, rebirth, and existence in samsara.

Link One – Unawareness

Being unaware is the basis of all the other links. It is a lack of awareness of how things really are. Our belief in a true ‘self’ and thinking phenomena are permanent leads us to project things which do not exist. We become deluded and confused. It is also about not understanding and implementing the four noble truths. The first truth states that life brings about suffering. When we misunderstand this truth, we fail to realise the true nature of our lives. We believe we are seeing the world as it is, but in reality, we are mistaken. This is where our first sense of a self is starting to form. In the wheel of life this link is depicted by a blind person.

Link Two – Action

When we misunderstand the way life is it causes our minds to become poisoned by greed, anger, and delusion, known as the three poisons. These cause us to act in certain unskilful and negative ways. It is not just because of the three poisons we perform unhelpful acts. There are numerous causes, but these are three of the main ones. We need to remember here that any act we carry out through our body, speech or mind will have consequences. This is depicted by a potter making a pot.

Link Three – Experience

Because of our unawareness, the first link, we perform an action, which is the second link, and this plants a seed in our mind. This seed is just a potential at this point and may or may not come to fruition. That will depend on if we do the same action again. In the future, because of the seed we planted, we will have an experience. This is depicted by a monkey because that is how our minds operate. We jump from one thing to another, just like the monkey jumps from tree to tree.

Link Four – Name and Form

Name and form mean the five aggregates. Name refers to the last four aggregates – feelings, perception, actions, and consciousness. Form refers to the first aggregate. The way we experience the world is through the five aggregates. Firstly, there is a form, this can be an object, sound, taste, etc. and this is picked up by your consciousness. At this point the form has not been labelled, it is just an awareness. It gets labelled by your perceptions and conceptions. Once it is labelled it causes a feeling to arise. This feeling can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. We then act on that feeling. You can read more about the aggregates by clicking on this link. This link is depicted by five people in a boat. The people represent the aggregates.

Link Five – Six Perceptual Entrances

All types of form – objects, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind – are pick up by our six sense faculties – eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, and mind (in Buddhism, the mind is also classed as a sense organ). These are all developed in the womb and will soon become our only means of perception of this world. Hence, they are called the six perceptual entrances. This link is depicted by a house with six windows.

Link Six – Contact

Link four is concerned with subject and link five is the object. This link is the contact between these two. It is the contact between the sense organs and the form, through the consciousness. Three things are happening here: the form, the faculties, and the linking consciousness. For example, an object, the eye faculty, and eye consciousness. There is a form, which is picked up by the faculty (eye, ear, nose, etc) and then linked to the corresponding consciousness, such as eye consciousness and so on. This is happening simultaneously. This link is depicted by a man and a woman embracing.

Link Seven – Feeling

When the sense organs encounter a form, they bring up feelings. These feelings can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. One of these feelings will be present in every experience we have. This is depicted by a man with an arrow in his eye.

Link Eight – Desire

Contact, link six, leads to feelings, link seven, which in turn leads to link eight, desire. So, first, we make contact with a form. This leads to feelings, and these lead us to have desires. These can be desiring for good feelings to last, which they obviously won’t, or bad ones to end, which, because of impermanence, they will. This is depicted by a drunken man.

Link Nine – Grasping

In the last link, we craved and desired for things. In this link, we hold onto them. We get attached and grasp at the things we like and want. This attachment to things brings us untold mental suffering. It must be noted that at this stage the process is still only mental. A man picking fruit is how this is depicted in the wheel of life.

Link Ten – Becoming

This is where patterns of behaviour are formed. Up to now the things we have craved for were just on a mental level. At this point, the actions now become physical and verbal, and so it is known as ‘becoming.’ This is depicted by a pregnant lady.

Link Eleven – Birth

Because of the imprints from your patterns of behaviour created in the last link, you have a certain rebirth. This is depicted by someone giving birth.

Link Twelve – Decay and Death

Once we are born it is inevitable that we will age, get sick and finally die. This link contains all the physical and mental suffering of the human existence. It is depicted by a dying man.

Let’s try to break this down. Because of our unawareness or ignorance of how the world really works, we act in negative and unhelpful ways. This leads us to have experiences. These experiences can be broken down into the five aggregates, form, feelings, perception, actions, and consciousness. Form is picked up by our six sense organs, eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, and mind. This contact leads us to have feelings and desires, which lead us to start grasping and becoming attached. This in turn leads us to act, and the imprints of these actions are what cause us to take rebirth. Because we are reborn, we start the cycle of old age, sickness, and death all over again.   

By understanding the 12 links, we can begin to appreciate that things do not happen on their own. There are always going to be causes and conditions. One thing is inevitably going to lead to another.  

One of the best ways to break this cycle of an unsatisfactory life is to truly understand the way the world is. Not how we want it to be or wish it was, but how it actually is. To do this we really need to imbibe Buddha’s key teachings. These are:

  • Understand and implement the four noble truths
  • Understand impermanence, and not just at an intellectual level
  • Understand the dangers of attachment and believing in a permanent and autonomous self
  • Understand that things happen through causes and conditions

If we can understand and implement these teachings, we will be able to break the first link in the chain, which in turn will break the whole chain forever.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Building Your Emotional Strength

When we are faced with challenging obstacles, we all cope in different ways, some face them head on, whereas others buckle under the pressure. It’s important for us to find ways to build up our emotional strength. We spend a lot of time focusing on getting our bodies into shape or practicing healthy habits, but very little time working on improving our mental wellbeing. Building emotional strength requires daily exercise, just like building physical strength.

It’s perfectly normal for us to have moments of stress, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, but if you regularly feel like you’re drowning in your emotions, you need to improve your mental wellbeing.

What is emotional strength? It’s a type of response when reacting to emotional events in an open and vulnerable way, which allows us to find ways of dealing with the emotion and not getting all tangled up in it.

Do you have emotional strength? Here are four indicators:

  • You can respond in an open and vulnerable way.
  • You are emotionally responsive.
  • You use vulnerable language when describing your situation.
  • You engage in action and don’t shy away from it.

There are many situations that emotionally strong people avoid and actions they never take. Here are just a few:

  • They don’t seek attention or let others get them down.
  • They believe in themselves and don’t hold grudges.
  • They don’t shy away from saying ‘No.’
  • They don’t sit around dreading what may or may not happen in the future.
  • They prefer action, rather than words.

So, looking at these two lists, ask yourself, ‘Are you emotional strong?’

Don’t worry if you’re not because there are things you can do to change that. Here are a few tools that will help you build your emotional strength.

Setting Boundaries – We can start by setting yourself boundaries. Whether it’s with friends, family, your partner, or even your co-workers, boundary setting is extremely important. When you know what is tolerable or not, acceptable or not, reasonable or not, you will have a solid foundation of emotional strength. Boundaries should be based on your values, or the things that are important to you. Remember, they are your boundaries, and yours alone. So, spend some time on setting up your red lines and stick to them.

Many of your boundaries might align with those who are close to you, but others will be unique. It is important to let others know what your boundaries are, so they don’t inadvertently step over them.

Let’s Get Physical – Looking after our bodies is another good way to build emotional strength. The mind and body are inseparable, by taking good care of your body, your mind will reap the benefits. It could be as simple as a brisk walk around the block or going for a jog. It doesn’t have to be a full workout at the gym. What is important is you do it regularly and you get a sweat on.

We Are What We Eat – Eating a healthy diet can help reduce your stress levels, improve your self-confidence, combat depression, and alleviate anxiety.

To have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta, and try to reduce your meat and dairy intake – there are plenty of plant-based alternatives out there these days.

A Helping Hand – Reaching out to others is a great way to help build your emotional strength. Some may see this as a sign of weakness, I see it as a sign of strength. The person who doesn’t share their problems could eventually buckle under the weight of their own struggles or become isolated and resentful. It is well known that the people with quality relationships and strong social support systems show signs of greater happiness.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. People who open themselves up to others learn what real friendship, trust, and sincerity feels like. When your heart is closed, it leads to scepticism and insecurity, but when it is open, you have hope and clarity.

Alone, but not lonely – When you enjoy your own company, you help build your emotional strength. There are times when we inevitably are alone, and we need to be able to make the best of those moments. If you feel some resistance to spending time alone, you really need to work on that. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I hate to be alone, what am I afraid of, what do I think will happen?’ Start off slowly by spending a few minutes alone and then slowly start to build on that. Remember, when you are spending time by yourself, turn off all your devices, so you can limit any distractions. We can’t really claim to be alone if we are chatting on WhatsApp or sending photos on Instagram.

We also need to be careful how we talk to ourselves. Turning negative self-talk into positive thinking can help reduce your risk of depression, lower levels of distress, and improving your coping skills. If you are a person that tends to be critical of yourself, it’s important you change that inner dialogue. Counter your critical inner voice by speaking to yourself in a positive way that is kind, caring and, above all else, supportive, as this is a pillar of emotional strength.

Bring Awareness to Your Day – Practicing mindfulness is another way to build your emotional strength.  Knowing yourself, paying attention to your responses, and practicing settling your body down when feeling overwhelmed is going to make you emotionally stronger. By bringing yourself back into the present moment you will have a full awareness of your thought process, your emotions, body sensations and your immediate environment. When you are armed with this full awareness, you will be able to consciously face up to any challenges you may be facing.

When faced with difficulties, take a moment to watch your breath. No need to change the way you are breathing, just become aware of it. Leave your full awareness of the breath flowing in and out of your nostril. This will give you the space to calm down. Once you are calm, you will be much better placed to deal with your present situation, and you will be strengthening yourself emotionally.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

The Power of the Breath

During the pandemic, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had something that will improve our sleep, digestion, immune and respiratory functions, while reducing our blood pressure and anxiety? The good news is there is something and it is called ‘breathworks.’

These days people seem to be in a constant state of stress and anxiety, and this is caused by an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which puts us into the fight or flight mode. This can be caused by not breathing properly, especially breathing too fast.

When we breathe properly, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest mode, which promotes inner calm and physical relaxation. Proper breathing provides a healthy means of reducing anxiety, restlessness, and stress, and this can be achieved by breathing from the diaphragm.

By breathing properly, you increase the oxygen in your bloodstream, making more oxygen available to your brain. The brain uses up to three times as much oxygen as your other muscles do, and this translates to more physical energy, mental clarity, and greater productivity and creativity.

By learning to direct your attention to your breath, you can condition yourself to shift out of the fight or flight mode and into the rest and digest mode. So, from stress and anxiety and into calm and relaxation.

Do this test a moment, put your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your stomach. Now, breathe normally and notice which hand rises higher when you breath in. If it is your lefthand on the chest that rises more, you are breathing incorrectly or you are stressed.

Now, do this test. Take some slow, deep breathes in through the nose and notice if your shoulders rise up. If they do, then again, you are breathing incorrectly.

You may be thinking that your breath is involuntarily, and you have no control, but breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary function.

Involuntary breathing is an automatic bodily process. Voluntary breathing occurs when you bring your awareness to the process of breathing. Here are a few breathing exercises you can do.

Diaphragm Breathing

The proper way for us to breath is with the diaphragm. There are several diaphragm breathing exercises and techniques that you can do that will help you to use your diaphragm correctly.

The following diaphragm exercise can be a little tiring at first but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Relax your shoulders, head, and neck.
  3. Put your left hand on your upper chest and the right hand on your stomach, so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose for the count of 3 and notice your stomach rise.
  5. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
  6. Hold your breath for the count of 2
  7. Exhale through pursed lips – like you’re blowing a candle out – for the count of 6, keeping your left hand on your chest still.
  8. Continue breathing like this for 5 to 10 minutes and repeat 3 times a day.

Breathing for Relaxation

Alternate Nostril Breathing has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate. It’s a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind and relaxes the body. It is especially helpful to slowdown your racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble sleeping.

  1. Choose a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Gently close your left nostril and breath in slowly and fully through your right nostril.
  3. Hold the breath for a moment.
  4. Close your right nostril and open the left nostril. Exhale slowly and gently through the left nostril.
  5. Keeping your right nostril closed, breathe in through your left nostril.
  6. Pause for a moment.
  7. Release your fingers to open your right nostril and close your left nostril. Exhale through right nostril.
  8. This is one cycle.
  9. Continue this breathing pattern for 3 minutes to begin with and then slowly build it up to 5 minutes.
  10. Finish your session with an exhale on the right side.

Breathing to Increase Energy

The Three Part Breathing focuses first on the diaphragm, then the abdomen, and lastly the chest to increase oxygen in the blood and stimulate the body. Sit up straight and place your feet flat on the ground.

  1. Relax your shoulders, neck, and head.
  2. Place one hand over your stomach and inhale deeply, feeling your stomach rise as it inflates.
  3. Exhale and feel your stomach deflate.
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. Now move your hand higher to your rib cage.
  6. Inhale and feel your rib cage expand. Then exhale, and feel it deflate.
  7. Repeat five times.
  8. Finally place your hand on your chest and inhale feeling it rise.
  9. Exhale and feel your chest lowering.
  10. Repeat five times.

Breathing to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

This four-square breathing exercise is an effective way to reduce stress or anxiety and increase feelings of calm and peacefulness. When you become anxious, your breathing becomes fast and shallow because you start to chest breathe. This can cause you to inhale too much oxygen and may cause you to become light-headed. Instead, you need to breathe slowly and deeply, which turns off your ‘fight or flight response’ and switches on your ‘rest and digest response.’

As you breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly, in and out through your nose, you should naturally feel your stomach rising on the in-breath and falling on the out-breath.

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose and slowly count to four.
  2. Pause and slowly count to four.
  3. Exhale through your nose to a slow count of four.
  4. Pause and again slowly count to four.
  5. Inhale – one, two, three, four
  6. Pause – one, two, three, four
  7. Exhale – one, two, three, four
  8. Pause – one, two, three, four
  9. Repeat this cycle for 3 to 5 minutes.

There are so many different breathing exercises these days, so test them out and find the ones that work for you. But remember, there is only one correct way to breath and that is diaphragm breathing. This needs to be practiced daily, so it becomes your involuntary way of breathing.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

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