The more we get caught up in negative patterns of behaviour and mental states, the more they become engrained. This means they become stored in our subconscious, and we act in certain ways without consciously thinking and we become overwhelmed by our mental states, such as anger, jealousy, pride, without noticing it.
It is said that most people spend 70% of their lives living in the survival mode, the fight or flight mode, which means they are living in stress. They are always anticipating the worst-case scenario, based on a past experience, selecting the worst possible outcome and beginning to emotionally embrace it with fear and conditioning their mind into a state of fear.
This conditioning becomes a pattern of behaviour, a habit, which is a set of automatic unconscious thoughts, behaviours and emotions that’s acquired through repetition. A habit is when you’ve done something so many times your mind now knows how to do it unconsciously.
If these habits, behaviours, and mental states are positive and helpful, there’s no problem. But if they are negative and counterproductive, they can cause us untold problems. We need to be aware of our actions and mental states, so we can make changes, and become the best version of ourselves. It will also ensure we have a peaceful state of mind and find true inner happiness.
We can start to change by following the process I have called ‘Eliminate what is holding you back.’ This consists of seven steps, which are realisation, study, conviction, determination, action, effort, and time.
Realisation: we first need to realise our actions and mental states are causing us, and others, to suffer. This is a key point because if we don’t know we are sick, we won’t go to the doctor. So, if we are unaware of negative behaviours and mental states, we will not try to find a solution.
Buddha’s very first teaching was the four noble truths, and the first truth is life brings about suffering. He then talked about the causes and the path out of suffering. So, to be able to make changes in our life we need to first understand that things do not have to be like they are. There is a better way to live our lives. That is the realisation we are looking for here.
We have to become aware if we are living in the survival mode or the creation mode. The survival mode is the fight or flight mode, and the creation mode is the rest and digest mode.
Living in stress is living in survival. Now, all of us can tolerate short term stress but when we turn on the stress response and we can’t turn it off, we are headed for disease because no organism in nature can live in emergency mode for an extended period of time.
living in creation is when we are conscious of our actions, behaviours, and mental states. It is when we can make changes and become the best possible version of ourselves. We begin to utilise our huge frontal lobe, which is 40% of our entire brain and it’s where we plan, organise, become productive and creative. So, living in creation means using our frontal lobe to make conscious choices to change.
Firstly, we need to understand when we are in survival and when we are in creation mode. Once we understand the damage we are doing to ourselves and people around us by following old patterns of behaviour, we can start the process of change.
To bring awareness to our lives it is important we remain with a calm mind. Here are 10 ways we can easily do that.
Study: now we need to learn about how we can change, such as learning about impermanence to stop our attachment to people and things or learn antidotes to our anger. Studying is going to show us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is going to help us move on to the next stage of this process. It will also help us to keep our goals and aspirations realistic. So, I would suggest you study Buddha’s foundation teachings, especially the four noble truths.
Do not over study, as that will make the process of change an intellectual one, which it certainly is not. We need to study so we can practice and not just to make ourselves more intelligent. So, we need to strike the right balance between study and practice.
Conviction: we then need to be convinced that what we have studied will work. This will give us hope that the change will help us become the best possible version of ourselves. If we have doubt, it will stop our conviction. So, doubt needs to be cleared up during the study stage. There is nothing wrong with doubt but left unattended it will sit in our minds like a poison. It will hold us back. So, clearing up any doubts will give us the conviction to move on.
It is at this stage we have some type of expectations. We need to be careful here. If our expectations are too high, we are going to set ourselves up to fail, and none of us like failure. If our expectations are too low, we will not be challenged and will not work hard to achieve our true potential.
Determination: we need to be determined to carry on no matter what obstacles appear. We will probably come up against these five at sometime during our journey on the path.
Sensory desire: seeking pleasures through our five senses. This
means we would become distracted, and our focus will be disturbed.
Resentment: feelings of hatred and bitterness.
Laziness: our actions will be half-hearted and lack focus.
Worry: our energy will not be focused, and our minds will not be calm.
Doubt: if we didn’t clear up our doubts at an earlier stage or new doubts appear, we will lack conviction.
This is why we require determination, as that will motivate us.
Psychologists talk about three types of motivation, namely biological needs that must be met for survival; stimulation and information; need for success, power, and status. But I am talking about a spiritual motivation, which is not based on worldly pursuits but in pursuit of higher goals, such as compassion, inner happiness, peace of mind, kindness, and spiritual development.
Action: Before we can learn new patterns of behaviour, we must unlearn the old patterns, which means, before we relearn, we have to break the habit of the old self, so we can reinvent the new self.
The best way to start this process is during meditation. We need to sit down, close our eyes, focus on the breath, and disconnect from our outer environment. This means we will be having less sensory information going to the brain, so there’s less stimulation. We have to inform the brain that we will answer the emails, post on social media, eat lunch, watch Netflix after the meditation, but for now, we are just sitting.
During this time our mind will want to go back to its emotional past, it’s old way of thinking, and we will become aware that our attention is on those emotions and thoughts. Our minds are taking us out of the present moment and back into the past. Every time we become aware that we’re doing that, and our minds are craving those thoughts and emotions, we bring our awareness back to the breath and settle it back down into the present moment.
If we keep doing this repeatedly, just like we are training a dog to sit, the mind will eventually surrender and just sit.
We can then mentally isolate different aspects of our negative behaviour or mental states and engage in a dialogue between the person you are and the person you wish to be. The negative behaviour is rooted in our subconscious mind, so actually the dialogue is between our conscience and subconscious mind. The more we bring our subconscious into the conscious, the more we will change.
For example, we may be a person that becomes angry very easily. So, during meditation, we look at what triggers our anger, what it feels like when we are angry, imagine what others feel like when we are angry towards them and so on. That is our old pattern of behaviour. Now, look at the person we want to become. A person that does not react to the triggers, that feels good because they are not constantly angry and a person that does not harm others with their anger. This will, after some time, become our new way of acting and feeling.
Our lives are not going to change very much if we keep having the same thought process, as that just leads to the same choice, the same choice leads to the same behaviour, the same behaviour creates the same experience, and the same experience produces the same results. So, the act of becoming more aware of how we think, how we act, and how we feel is called metacognition. That is important because the more conscious we become of those unconscious states of mind, the less likely we’re going to go unconscious during the day and those old thought patterns are not going to slip by our awareness unchecked.
So, the more we become familiar with the thoughts, the behaviours, and the emotions of the old self we’re retiring, the more we wire new thoughts and condition the mind into a new emotional state.
Effort: we need effort and commitment to keep moving forward, no matter how difficult or frustrating the process becomes. We all know change is not easy.
Once we start to make a different choice, we don’t feel the same way. Our mind is telling us we have been doing this for so many years and it’s going into the unknown, and that’s scary. It will try it’s hardest to return to familiar territory. It starts to try and influence us by telling us we can start tomorrow. If we give in and listen to the mind we will never change, as the same thought will lead to the same choice, and we slip back into old patterns of behaviour.
This is why we need to put in great effort, so we can override the old way of being and build a new, more beneficial way of being.
Time: this is an extremely slow process, and we shouldn’t expect quick results. Change is never going to come easy, so we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are in this for the long-haul.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and our patterns of behaviour and mental states will not miraculously change overnight.
So, in a nutshell, if we want to change, we first need to realise there is a better way to live our lives. This will then encourage us to study and find out what that change looks like and how we can make that change a realisation. We then need to have conviction and determination, so we do not get side-tracked. After that, we need to put what we have learned into action, and we do this through meditation. Finally, we need to put in an enormous amount of effort and time, so we get the results we desire.
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final aspect of the eightfold path is staying focused, which is achieved by
effort, mindfulness and concentration.
applying effort, we are not going to reach any of the goals we set ourselves.
Here I wish to highlight the effort required to avoid harmful acts and develop
are split into four parts, namely the effort to avoid, the effort to overcome,
the effort to develop and the effort to maintain.
is a list of the harmful acts we need to avoid and overcome.
have to put in a great effort in order to avoid these ten harmful actions. This
is achieved by setting ourselves boundaries and ensuring we stay within them.
In my own case some of them came easy to me and others were fairly difficult,
but by putting in the effort and setting myself redlines, I manage to avoid
them for the most part. But none of us are perfect, so we shouldn’t be too hard
next place we apply effortis to
overcome the harmful acts that have already arisen. This one is a little
trickier, particularly if they have already become a habit. The first thing I
suggest you do is to rate the above list of harmful actions from one to ten –
one being the act you do the most and ten being the one you do the least. Be
honest with yourself, even if it is painful, or there will be no point in doing
the exercise. Now, start with number one on your list and each day set an
intention to refrain from doing the act. This exercise will help keep it in the
forefront of your mind. If you do unwittingly perform a harmful deed, don’t get
frustrated, just reaffirm your intention. This is where mindful awareness comes
into its own because you are going to have to be vigilant of your actions.
Slowly work through the list until you feel confident that you have by and
large overcome them.
set of skilful acts we have to develop and maintain are the opposite of the
third effortis to develop skilful
acts that have not yet arisen. The perfect time to think about and cultivate
these helpful deeds is during your daily meditation or reflection session. If
you review each day which actions have been helpful, and which have been
harmful, you will see a pattern emerge. You will then be able to see what you
need to work on.
your reflection session, write down the ten helpful acts on a piece of paper.
Then grade them from one to ten – ten being the act that comes naturally to you
and one being the act that you have to cultivate. Those you grade from one to
five are the ones you should work on. At regular intervals, do the grading
again. Note your progress every time and recommit to developing the helpful
acts you need to work on.
final effortis to maintain the
helpful actions that have already arisen. This follows on from the previous
effort. There, you contemplated which helpful acts you need to work on. Now
focus on the ones that come naturally and need no great work. You should also
remain mindful of these helpful deeds, so they can become an even deeper habit.
It is no good lying sometimes and telling the truth at other times; stealing
sometimes and not stealing other times; getting totally drunk one day and then
saying you don’t drink another day; or being faithful sometimes and cheating on
your partner at other times. These helpful acts must become natural and
spontaneous. It needs a great amount of effort to keep these going, because if
you do not stay watchful, they can easily drift away from you. Perseverance and
vigilance are key here.
we are on the eightfold path or not, we still should try to be mindful, and
maintain an awareness of where our actions are taking us. If we don’t, we are
not going to find the peace of mind we are searching for. So, let’s look at the
different aspects of the path I have laid out in the last three posts and
examine how we can approach them mindfully.
cannot just jump into our practices without first having an appropriate view.
Of course, cultivating positive experience is what our practices are all about,
but if we have no clear picture of where we are going and why, we can quite
easily flounder. We need to know what and why we are doing any practice and see
clearly how it will fit into our lives. We need to study and think to gain a
clear picture in our mind before we dive into our practice. A firm and stable
foundation is required. Mindfully setting our intentions for travelling on this
path and implementing a meditation practice is a wonderful way to become motivated.
It allows us to stay on track. It is therefore important to have well
thought-out intentions and stay mindful of them.
speech can often divide people and make them feel disconnected. In contrast
mindful speech helps us heal rifts and make better connections with each other.
I feel that if we practice mindful listening, which is being totally engaged
with the other person and allowing them to finish their sentences, mindful
speech arises naturally, and we can enjoy genuine dialogue.
need to mindfully check in with ourselves during the day to ensure our actions,
physically, verbally and mentally, are not harmful to ourselves or others. This
strengthens our practice, so we maintain the goal of responsible living.
livelihood equates with survival – earning money so we can live. But when we
are being mindful of our work, we can see that it is also about contributing to
the common good. It is not just about money; it is also about giving back to
society. We have to be mindful of any harm we may be causing ourselves and
course, we need to put effort into whatever we are doing on the path to ensure
success, but there is such a thing as too much effort. We need to be mindful of
the amount of effort we are putting in. If the effort is causing tension, it is
too much. If the effort is not producing any results, it is not enough. Be
mindful of how much effort you are putting into the path and your
we are being mindful, we are fully aware of, but not tangled up in, the various
aspects of our experience – the emotional, the physical, the spiritual as well
as the social. Mindfulness covers our complete engagement with life.
will talk more about mindfulness in my next post.
wish for a mind that is at peace we need to learn how to focus single-mindedly
on an object of meditation. However, what I want to highlight here is a
particular type of one-pointedness. It is a wholesome type of concentration. A
killer about to murder his victim, a soldier on the battlefield or a burglar
about to break into your home all act with a concentrated mind, but they cannot
be classed as a wholesome one-pointedness.
is dependent on the development of all the preceding seven steps of the
‘Now what is appropriate
concentration with its supports and requisite conditions? Any singleness of
mind equipped with these seven factors, appropriate view, intention, speech,
action, livelihood, effort and mindfulness, is called appropriate concentration
with its supports and requisite conditions’.
concentrating on appropriate view, you have to stay focused on cause and
effect. Whatever intentional actions you do—be it with your body, speech or
mind—will create a reaction in the future. You have to be naturally aware of
this fact whenever you perform any intentional action. You also have to stay
focused on the impermanence of everything, or you may find yourself getting
attached to things, which in turn will cause you to suffer. We tend to have a
fixed and solid sense of self, which is not an accurate view. This again is
going to cause us suffering in the long run. I will talk more about these
points in future posts.
you should concentrate on appropriate intentions. Our intentions should be to
help and not harm ourselves and others. To achieve this, we have to remain
centred on what is motivating us. We have to ensure our mind isn’t being driven
by any of the three poisons or is clouded by ill will, because if it is, our
actions of body and speech will reflect that, and we will end up harming
someone. By reflecting on what motivates you, it will ensure you do not
intentionally cause harm.
we come to concentration of appropriate speech. A lot of the time we open our
mouth before engaging the brain, and because we are not focused, what comes out
can be harmful, unkind and unhelpful. We lie, use divisive speech, use harsh
words and gossip with such ease, it is frightening. It is as if our mouth has a
life of its own. To counter this, we have to concentrate on our speech. Lying
is never going to help anyone. When we use divisive speech, we are not making
friends; we are just causing divisions between people. Using harsh words to someone’s
face is going to hurt them, and gossiping is a waste of time. So, we have to
have the appropriate level of concentration towards our speech, and then we
will learn to talk in a way that is both helpful and kind.
of appropriate action is where we direct our attention towards the actions of
our body. This will ensure we refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct
and other harmful actions of the body. Buddha advised his son, Rahula, to
reflect on any deeds he is thinking about carrying out in this way: Is the deed
going to cause harm to himself or others? If so, do not do it, as it is a bad
deed entailing suffering. However, if you reflect on the deed and it is going
to be helpful to yourself or others, or at the very least, not harmful, you
should do it again and again, as this is a good deed entailing happiness. Thus,
we must be sure we are fully in tune with our actions, so that we are aware of
when we are helping or harming.
brings us to concentration of appropriate livelihood. We have to ensure our
work does not bring harm to anybody. We may be doing a dangerous job and if we
do not concentrate on our actions, we may bring harm to someone.
we are doing we have to be sure we put in the appropriate effort and appropriate
mindfulness. If we do not concentrate our effort on all of the steps in the
eightfold path, we could become lazy or distracted, and this could lead to us
harming someone or something. If we do not focus our mind on the present
moment, it may lead our thoughts to drift back to the past or jump forward to
the future. Neither of these are helpful. By concentrating on the present
moment our minds will be calm and our actions kind and helpful.
our mind is not focused it flaps around like a fish on dry land. It simply
cannot stay still and jumps from one idea to another, from one thought to
another, there is absolutely no control. Such a distracted mind is consumed by
worries and concerns about what has happened or may happen in the future. It
doesn’t see the whole picture and distorts reality.
mind that has been trained in concentration can remain focused on its object
without any distractions. This allows the mind to become calm, clear and open.
This calm, openness can then be taken off the cushion and used in the outside
world. This will allow us to stay single-mindedly aware of all stages of this eightfold
Following the eightfold path is not easy because many of the things we have to change or let go of are very dear to us. We are passionate about them and have often invested an awful lot of time cultivating them. Letting these unhelpful things go can disturb us. Therefore, change takes diligence, discipline and mindful awareness. We have to understand each of the eight steps and then implement them. They have to become a part of our lives; only then will our minds be at ease and we will gradually reduce our emotional suffering and start to experience the true peace of mind we have been desperately searching for.
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The seven factors of awakening are qualities that lead us to awakening and also describe the awakened mind. These seven factors are considered the most important qualities in helping us along our spiritual path towards awakening our minds. So, we begin to see things as they actually are, and not as we imagine them to be. (more…)