Since Winter died I have trudged daily through grief, I miss him endlessly and it hurts. To help me survive the mass of emotions and pain, I have taken many rich elements of Buddhist teachings and put them into practice. One of these practices has been acknowledging my perspective and looking at ways I can alter it to bring relief and joy amongst the heartbreak. Shifting perspective is not about painting on a happy face and pretending that I only ever feel thankful for his existence. No, I have many moments where I feel cheated and angry at this world and the life and death divides we are ruled by. Grief is essential, it a normal emotion. But holding onto a mind that promotes gratitude and seeks to find the roses amongst the thorns is also helpful and a simple choice to make. After all, he taught me that life is here and then gone, and whilst I have my moments of heartbreak and raw emotions, there is no time to fester in bitterness.
Buddha taught that the world we live in is a reflection of our own mind. That might sound a bit hippie hocus pocus but studying Buddhism has taught me that this is entirely true and really quite simple to put into daily practise. If we are looking to improve our daily state of mind then shifting our perspective is a virtuous and meaningful act that only requires ourself and our mind. I feel the need to add with every one of these Buddhist blog posts that these are small practices that we can implement in our day to day lives with great positive effect, but also of course that I am a human being and riddled with faults. I’m not preaching as a pure enlightened being, I am simply sharing teachings that have been shared with me, many of which have helped me continue when I found myself in the depths of grief as my baby son died. I’ll never forget very shortly after his death, flipping his meagre lifespan on it’s head: Winter died after one day – no, Winter LIVED for one day. A small adjustment to detail that has forever stayed with me. I can dwell on the fact that he was born alive and therefore suffered greatly until his death, or I can feel gratitude for the gift of being able to see his eyes open and know he had deep brown eyes, and the privilege we had to hold him close to us in our arms as he peacefully died. Whether we are grieving a loved one or just feeling a bit flat on the treadmill of life, it is small thoughts like this that can entirely transform our lives from heavy, chore ridden and monotonous days into an ongoing positive spiritual practice.
We can begin our day with a virtuous perspective the very moment we wake up. One of Buddha’s greatest teachings is ‘Everywhere we look we find only the kindness of others’. Now, I know what you’re thinking… what about ‘nasty’ people? Naturally as sceptics we instantly look for the loophole, I would do the very same and Buddha always encouraged his students to question and look to prove him wrong. Of course they never could and the questioning and analysing only ever improved their spiritual practice. To begin with, we will consider our day to day. We wake up in the morning, in our bed. Where did that bed come from? Somebody designed it, somebody gathered the materials required, somebody cut the pieces or operated the machinery, somebody loaded it onto a lorry, somebody drove the lorry, somebody placed it in a warehouse, somebody served you in a shop or handled your online order. The mattress, somebody made it. The bed sheets, somebody printed the pattern. The pillows, somebody stuffed. Without these ‘somebody’s’ you would have no bed. And so we can see that even in the morning as we lie in bed, we are already basking in the kindness of so many people. Even if the people who created your bed were grumpy and ill mannered, you lay there comfortable and benefitting from their work, and so it remains a kind act. Even within our first hour of waking, we have benefited from the kindness of so many strangers it is impossible to list each one. The cup of tea, with hand picked tea leaves, hot water from the kettle, the mug designed and manufactured, the shower with warm running water fitted by a plumber, our breakfast of cereal and fruit, picked, packed, transported, displayed, beeped though the till. Everything that we come into contact with that has benefitted our life has all come from a web of kindness that extends beyond cities, continents, language and religion. Without the kindness of others, where would be? Homeless, starving, naked, in fact not even born without the kindness of our mothers. We can use this perspective when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, such as a long traffic jam delayed by roadworks. Rather than sitting in our car and cursing the road and other drivers, we can mentally thank the workmen for improving our roads, keeping them safe, providing for their families and loved ones whilst kindly improving our driving network. Of course this is often easier said than done when we find ourselves late and stressed, but really when we consider that feeling neither angry and frustrated or thankful and calm will have any real effect on the actual situation, we can realise that we may as well sit in that traffic reflecting on kindness and how lucky we are, rather than with a disturbed and restless mind. Either way, we are stuck in traffic and that is out of our control, but our mind is always ours to control (with practise…).
Ok, so now the question of people who are ‘mean’ to us or say and do things that are outside of our own personal wishes. How is that kind? Perhaps this requires a little more contemplation and an open mind, maybe a little more understanding of Buddhist practices and beliefs of karma and rebirth… but to keep it simple and light we can realise that anything and everything can be used as a tool to improve our own spiritual practice. To give an example, since my son died I have had some negative reactions online to sharing his story and photographs (pictures of a ‘dead baby’ aren’t going to suit everyone. Read here about why I choose to share his story regardless) but it is the perspective with which we respond to these situations that matter. I could retaliate, send an aggressive reply and see no virtuous outcome whatsoever. Or I could mentally thank the person for offering an opportunity to gently educate, helping me to realise that there is still work to be done in the infant loss taboo, putting a little fire in my belly to continue spreading awareness and shouting about baby loss with an even bigger voice, and of course, thank them for reminding me about how to not behave and the importance of being kind even anonymously behind a computer screen. They have provided me an opportunity to practice patience and to develop a peaceful mind even when potentially disturbed by anger. And so, in finding ways that this person has helped me and benefitted my spiritual practice, I can see that even though unintentional, they have been kind to me.
Keeping a virtuous perspective during our daily lives can also extend to our actions as well as our surroundings and interactions. Chores… housework… cleaning… Even something as simple as cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming can transform into beneficial spiritual practice simply by changing our view. When we are hot and tired and changing the bedsheets, we can think ‘I am providing my loved ones with a safe and comfortable place to rest’ and when we are washing the dishes we can think ‘I am providing my family with clean plates so they are able to eat and grow healthily’. I get it, it sounds a bit airy fairy, and do I walk around dusting and singing Disney songs everyday? Nope. But really it is just our thoughts and it can make even simple chores feel more meaningful.
Finally, we all need to stop the constant comparison of our lives. Easier said than done especially in the world of Instagram where everyone else’s little squares always seem brighter than our own, but it is really a meaningless wasted act to spend time deciding who is winning at life and who is not. I could write endlessly about this, but I won’t. We are all here, in life, that has got to be enough. We all know people that have everything and are miserable (just check the celebrity section in the tabloids), and others with less than us that are happy. So more or less, neither matters, it is only our mind that we can rely on to keep us happy. As the saying goes ‘The only time you should look in your neighbours bowl is to check they have enough’.
If anyone is interested in learning anymore about Modern Buddhism then visit Tharpa.com to find a Buddhist centre near to you and a wealth of books and Cd’s etc.