A Matter of Perspective

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.

Finding Happiness For Others: Choosing Joy Over Jealousy

Jealousy is an emotion we have all encountered in our lives, both experiencing the repercussions from someone else who feels jealous, or living with the uncomfortable feeling ourselves.  If someone were to ask you ‘how many times have you felt jealous?’ it would be an impossible question to answer.  Even if as adults we don’t suffer with strong jealousy, there are countless times we experienced it in the past and there are always future opportunities for this mind to arise, even in the most subtle of ways.  So why is it so shameful to admit our jealousy and begin the simple journey to relieving ourselves of its poisonous burden?

I have pondered over this blog post for an exceptionally long time.  Jealousy is everywhere in our human world, and of course this includes the emotional minefield of the baby loss world.  My intention here is not to alienate anyone or judge someone’s personal grief journey and all the deeply painful trauma that comes with the death of your child.  But I also know – having naturally experienced it myself – that jealousy is hugely painful and of great burden to us as humans, and having received Buddhist teachings on ways to ease it I feel like I would like to post this for anyone suffering and wanting to find ways to escape the suffocating clutches of the green-eyed monster.

Firstly, I want to make a few things clear.  My life is not devoid of jealousy, I am a human, one who has suffered the loss of her child shortly after he was born and has lived with the subsequent sting of pregnancy and birth announcements.  I’m not pointing the finger and rolling my eyes at you, or anyone, and I believe wholeheartedly that some level of jealous feelings are entirely natural when your baby dies and others live.  There is inevitably the feeling that after so much raw pain we have to at times protect our own heart and I am not suggesting anyone denies themselves that privilege, but rather I want to pass on some helpful relief.  To begin I would like to share with you a personal moment when I felt the rages of jealousy.  I had just suffered my second miscarriage following the sudden death of my newborn son and we were in the run up to his first birthday and angelversay.  I was heartbroken and losing hope when a close friend of mine announced – quite out of the blue – that she was expecting a baby.  She sent me a beautiful and well-considered text and I’ve no doubt she was aware that the news would bring with it a level of pain for me.  But despite knowing all that, I read the message and my chest burned, I felt angry, I went straight to bed and cried a river, my mind said ‘why can she have a baby so easily but I can’t?!’ and it took me until later that day to reply to her message.  After some crying and resting, to help regain my perspective I looked through my teaching notes and meditated with a mind focused on eliminating my jealousy.  I did not suppress the feeling, I did not beat myself up for it, I simply challenged why I felt that way and used practical reasoning to slowly overcome it.  It isn’t magic, it’s just changing your thinking.

Firstly, if we know someone is feeling jealous then we should also know that this requires great compassion.  Jealousy is so often hurled as an insult, and with it comes a huge amount of personal attack and negative insinuation.  But if we all think about a moment when we have felt jealous, then we can easily realise just how ugly it feels.  When we are jealous we are angry, ashamed and most likely comparing our personal value to the value of others.  It is such a consuming emotion that it is quickly out of our control, and many crimes of passion have been committed by someone who feels jealous.  Whilst it doesn’t always mean we are going to turn into a murderer… it can lead us to cut contact with friends and family and say and do tremendously hurtful and regretful things.  There is never any good that comes from a feeling of jealousy, and it feels painful and poisonous.  No one has ever said ‘I love feeling jealous, it’s so wonderful!’ and those around us who feel jealous are suffering great mental pain.  When we do retaliate in jealousy, it feels good for a short time but it is quickly chased by feelings of shame and guilt.  If we know how this feels, then we can realise that those around us suffering from jealousy do not require shaming and mocking, but actually they require great compassion to relieve them of such a terrible feeling.  And not in a patronising and sarcastic way with an underlying intent to embarrass or shame them, but in a way that truly comes from a compassionate intention – that is the most important point.

So why do we feel jealous?  From a Buddhist perspective, jealousy is a negative mind that arises when we feel like our own needs are not met.  This mind comes from our deep-rooted self cherishing, the mind that all humans possess that puts themselves as their number one priority and most important person.  We don’t need to be ashamed to admit that we have this mindset, we all do, it is our greatest flaw as humans, and it leads to all our minds of anger, attachment, jealousy etc, and is the mind that subsequently leads humans into division, war and other disastrous situations.  To give an example of this mind, we can use an analogy; Imagine you are walking down your street and you notice that all the houses have smashed windows.  Our mind instantly thinks ‘Oh wow, I hope my house hasn’t had its windows smashed’.  Whilst of course we may feel natural compassion for our friends and neighbours, we are ultimately relieved that our house is ok.  Now imagine that you are told that only one house on your street has been broken into, our mind of self cherishing leaps in again and says ‘I hope it’s not my house!’.  Self cherishing is the mind that values my things greater than it values others, whether that be my house, my car, my family, my idea, my religion or my country.  It is not to be confused with selfishness, but is rather a natural arising mind that promotes strong attachment to ‘me, my, our’.  As Buddhists we are always working to eliminate this mind – with wisdom from other practical teachings.  It is the mind that is the root of all our daily problems and our one true enemy.  Jealousy arises from our self cherishing mind.  When my friend announced her pregnancy, it was my self cherishing mind that instantly screamed ‘what about me?  Why couldn’t my baby live?  Why can’t I get pregnant?’.  Before I thought of my friends happiness, I thought of my own sadness, and jealousy tightened its grip.

There have been many times on this infant loss path that I have wished I had a greater skill at reducing my jealous feelings, and luckily for me (and anyone else who is hoping to reduce this suffering) Buddha provided us with some wonderful and practical advice.  I don’t think it is an instant cure without great practice – and devoted bodhisattvas and monks are training their minds tirelessly for many years to eliminate their mind of self cherishing, the root cause of all our problems and suffering.  But with some simple perspective and contemplation, we can at least begin to ease our jealousy and relieve our personal suffering whilst rejoicing in the happiness of others.

The first thing I always consider is this – jealousy is a wasted and pointless mind.  By feeling jealous of someone else’s happiness or success, it doesn’t make me feel better and it doesn’t stop them feeling happy or being successful.  In that sense it is a double loss; I feel worse, they are still happy.  If our jealous mind is hoping for the other person to stop feeling happy (which is sadly what this mindset promotes) then we will never be successful in that.  Our jealousy simply leaves us feeling even more miserable, whilst the other person continues in their happiness.  As we realise how empty and worthless the mental pain of jealousy is, we can make a rational and firm commitment to dispose of it.

The next thing I do is I remember what jealousy is.  It is just a mind that says ‘my wish not to suffer is more important than your happiness’.  To put it brutally, when I read the announcement I was thinking about my pain rather than my friends happiness.  I put my pain first, it was more important than the fact that my friend had just discovered that she was about to become a mother and was overjoyed at such a life changing moment.  I instantly thought ‘I want that’ rather than ‘she deserves that happiness’.  Grief is complicated and we must allow ourselves to engage in self-care and be gentle on our hearts, but we must also remember that we are just one single person whilst others are countless, and everyone around us deserves happiness.  It doesn’t mean we don’t find these situations painful and want to crawl into a corner and lick our wounds, but it also means that we can accept that the happiness of others is as important as our expectations of respect for our own grief.  I realised ultimately that I didn’t want my friend – or anyone – to feel guilty for her happiness, I didn’t want her pregnancy and motherhood to be tainted by my personal pain, she was happy and why shouldn’t she be, I remembered the feeling from my first carefree pregnancy and what a wonderful gift it was for her to experience and celebrate that.

Another point to contemplate – at the risk of sounding like a total hippie – is that we are all on our own journeys.  But really, we are… if my friend falls pregnant, has that robbed me of my own chance?  Absolutely not.  Her – and anyone else’s happiness – is not related to mine in that sense.  And so, does it really make any sense to not feel happy for her?  Actually, another healthy baby has an opportunity at life, and that doesn’t make or break my own chance at motherhood.  The same goes for any situation, our lives are all dependent upon circumstances arising, and so we can celebrate the happiness of others as if it were a success of our own.  We can remember that another person feeling happy doesn’t mean that we can’t, nobody is capable of stealing your happiness simply by adding to their own.  Often when we feel jealous we discover that this feeling vanishes when we achieve our own happiness, if this is the case then we can see that jealousy is simply dependent upon our own mind in that moment and therefore we have the ability to make it vanish ourselves, with some guided training and effort.  Just because we feel jealous in that moment, doesn’t mean we will always feel this way, our mind shifts and changes constantly and we can make the decision as to which direction we point it, after all it is our mind, we own it.

There are other countless things to consider.  For example, a stranger who sees me pass by with my now 6 month baby bump, may look at me and feel jealous that they do not have a baby.  But of course, they don’t know my journey to this point.  The fact is that we rarely know a persons full background and history.  Nine months ago as I stood in the shop queue, empty womb and heartbroken, behind a heavily pregnant lady, I looked at her as if she had the whole world.  I thought ‘I want that’.  But of course, everyone suffers in life, mentally, physically, emotionally.  Was the woman in front of me happy?  Who knows.  Perhaps she faces redundancy from her job, no longer loves her partner, or suffers from anxiety.  It’s easy to compare suffering and feel as though ours is worse, and of course I can agree that child loss is severely cruel, but suffering is suffering, and no one escapes it for a lifetime, no one.  When I looked at her as if she had the whole world, there are others looking at me and thinking the same.  We only have to turn on the news and witness the devastation that exists alongside us in this world to see that we – in our safe-roofed, cosy-warm, war-free, full-bellied worlds – are objects of jealousy too.

It took several hours for me to overcome my instant and writhing jealousy in my own situation, but after contemplating Buddha’s teachings and giving myself a little time to breathe and regain perspective, I felt relaxed and confident enough to send a heartfelt congratulations.  And the greatest things happen from those moments, I relieved myself of the added and wasted suffering of jealousy at a time when I already feel the relentless grip of grief, and I celebrated my friends happiness.  It’s not always easy, and I’m certainly far, far from a pure enlightened being, but as long as we have a mind it is possible to enhance our positive virtues and reduce our negative minds that bring with them so much destruction and pain, jealousy included.

I want to end by sending lots of love to all my fellow angel mother friends who walk this cruel path so courageously and with the greatest of grace, even during our messiest, most confused and vulnerable moments.

If anyone is interested in reading further about Buddhism or visiting a centre close to you where anyone is welcome for teachings, meditation or a friendly cup of tea, then please visit Tharpa.com

A Special Day To Thank Our Kind Mothers

Today is Mothering Sunday, a day where gratitude and love is lavished upon mums up and down the country, and on other dates, across our entire globe.  If we put aside the commercial drive of the day, it is quite incredible to think that we have collectively decided as a species to dedicate an entire day just to celebrate our mothers.  It speaks volumes about the importance we bestow on our mothers and just how deep and powerful that connection is.

I wanted to take some time on my own Mothering Sunday to write about the kindness of mothers from a Buddhist perspective, and how that love and connection can positively touch our lives and inspire our spiritual practice of compassion.

The first thing I would like to contemplate is just how kind our mothers are.  Can we imagine a life without our mothers?  Absolutely not, because without our mothers our very own existence is extinguished.  Our mothers (alongside our fathers) created us and without them we wouldn’t be alive in this world, we would simply not be here.  Even those amongst us who have difficult relationships with their mothers, can be thankful for their own existence.  Not only that, but our mothers were kind enough to allow us to live and grow inside their own bodies for nine months, they showered us with nutrients that enabled us to grow.  Can we imagine loving a person we have never before met?  This is what mothers do, they care and provide for the unknown, a mother loves her child long before they have ever even set eyes on them.  Our mothers endure huge amounts of pain and physical discomfort to grow us and bring us into this world, and this is only the beginning.  As tiny babies we leave our mothers sleep deprived and exhausted, as toddlers we test their patience with broken ornaments and monumental tantrums, as teenagers we purposely hurt them with words filled with anger and selfishness.  And yet through all this, our mother loves us, unwavered. At times our mothers may even hurt themselves to provide for us and protect us, out of pure untainted kindness they may put their own wishes and hopes on hold to ensure we have all our own personal and material needs met.  If there were to be a house fire, the fierceness of a mothers love is powerful enough to send them into the building to rescue their baby, an act of strength and bravery spurred on by a love deep enough they would risk their own life to save the life of another human.  And so we can see that throughout our lives our mothers are extraordinarily kind, and our first example of someone who not only views another living being as more important than themselves, but also someone who puts the happiness of another person before their own.

Mothering Sunday is our way of thanking our mothers for all they do for us, and in this way we are practicing compassion without realising just how profound it is.  We dedicate the whole day to the happiness of another person, we recognise that our mothers happiness is important and we go above and beyond to provide that happiness for her.  Not only are we fulfilling another persons wishes, but we feel good about it.  This is a perfect example of realising that other peoples happiness matters, that we alone are not the only ones deserving of happiness.  As humans we have a (possibly natural, possibly spurred on by society) tendancy to spontaneously believe that our own wishes are more important than the wishes of others.  We shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit this, in fact realising this and recognising it is a wonderful practice to begin, and when paired with a little wisdom it works wonders for our mind of jealousy.  As we treat our mothers on this special day, we can keep hold of the feeling it brings us and remember that the happiness of others is important.

The love of mothers is clear to see even in the animal realm.  We can watch nature programmes and see a baby monkey clinging to its mother as she carries them away from predators, and giraffes nudging their calves as they encourage them to stand.  Even animals such as snakes that birth their eggs and appear to abandon them, have kindly grown them in their womb, endured painful birth and found a safe place for their babies to hatch.  The difference with animals is that they lack the wisdom of humans, they are unable to consciously develop compassion.  They have little or no knowledge of the importance of their existence, they are unable to practice on a wider spiritual level and they are therefore limited to the basic, natural compassion gifted to them.  It is when contemplating this that we can realise just how meaningful our human lives are, how lucky we are to not only be able to thank and care for our mothers as they have cared for and nurtured us, but also to have the opportunity to cultivate our compassion on a wider scale.

Buddhist theory around life after death – in a quick simplified nutshell – is that our mind and body are separate; our body is material and deteriotates like a water bubble, whereas our mind is a clear, formless continuum with no beginning and no end.  After death come results of passed lives karma, and we are once again reborn into another body.  As a result, we have lived countless lives and we will live countless more, until we achieve a pure Buddha mind free from ‘delusions’ of jealousy, anger, hatred and attachment when we will be reborn as a Buddha in the pure land.  Whatever our initial thoughts on this belief (which of course is no stranger logically than the belief that we grow wings and sit on a cloud) we can explore the idea and contemplate it.  This notion of rebirth and countless previous lives means that we have all at some point, from beginningless time, been ants, birds, cats, koalas, previous humans… and we have all at one moment in time been each others mothers.  Therefore in Buddhism, we refer to other humans as ‘all our kind mothers’ (mentally of course, not literally to a stranger in a supermarket…)  Whether or not we choose to agree that this is the ultimate truth in the life after death mystery, we can all agree that if we viewed every person we met as our kind and loving mother, then we would care for each other and all living beings with greater compassion and patience than we witness currently in this world.  It is both a logical and peaceful view to hold.

Our mothers also teach us that we have limitless pockets of love.  When a mother has one child they love them endlessly, yet if they have ten more children, the love for each one never diminishes, it simply grows.  Love never wears thin no matter how far it is stretched, it is the fabric of life that comes on an endless roll.  We can take our mothers kind example on board and realise that there is always room in our lives to love more and more people… Buddha himself set the ultimate example by loving all living beings without exception.

This is my third mothers day as a mother.  The first I was growing my little snowflake baby in my womb, loving him long before we met.  The second I was empty in both arms and womb, heartbroken by my loss and spending my days trying desperately to feel like a mother.  Today I have empty arms still, and a little life blossoming inside me once more.  Today I have cried a flood, my wish to kiss my son is the greatest wish I have on this special day, but it is out of reach and an opportunity I will sadly never be gifted again.  Although I can’t see him or hold him, I can feel him and honour him, and I am lucky enough to be able to physically thank my own mother for her love.  Today there are many mothers without their children, and their are many children without their mothers.  We are living proof that love doesn’t cease after death, and a gentle reminder to not only hold close those who you love, but to take example from our own mothers and grow the kindness and compassion they planted in us from the very day our existence began.

Happy Mother Day to all my kind mothers x

More dharma, less drama; A brief intro to Buddhism

The word ‘Buddhism’ conjours up many images and feelings in our mind.  In this modern world we often associate it with orange robed monks sat in Tibetan caves, heads shaved, feet bare, sat in deep meditation.  We can picture giant Buddhist temples in the far flung lands of Thailand and China.  Its feels like a floaty word, perhaps a bit hippie and daydreamish.  It is a word that we relate with wisdom and peace, so much so that we can head into any home mega store and pick up a small Buddhist statue for our mantelpiece or garden, without even mildly associating ourselves with the teachings of Buddha.  Buddhism feels like something we would like to invite into our homes, into our lives, but it seems too complicated and out of our reach to ever fully invest in and understand.  Or so we may think.  But in fact, Modern Buddhism is not only a growing faith within the western world, but it is also becoming more and more accessible, mainly thanks to a Tibetan monk named Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who has, with supreme kindness, translated Buddhas teachings and made them relative to our modern daily lives without polluting them or altering them from their original lineage that dates right back to Buddha himself.  This tradition of Buddhism that I follow is Kadampa Buddhism, with centres rising around the UK, meditation classes, open talks, book study classes, and the opportunity for westerners to meet pure Buddha dharma.  There’s no mountainside caves to be retreated to, no foreign scrolls to decipher, and certainly no need to shave your head.

Buddha himself gave around 80,000 teachings and so this brief blog post aims to be just a  quick toe dip into the vast and deep ocean of Buddhism, a little taste of the nectar. The general basis of Buddhism is that our experience of the world depends upon our mind.  To give a simple example, let’s say that you and a friend go to the cinema to watch a film, and one of you enjoys the film and other person dislikes it.  What is the difference here?  The film is the same, the cinema setting is the same, but the two minds that viewed the film have a different experience.  The same can be said for our day to day lives.  Two people living the exact same lives, same jobs, same relationship status, same living arrangements, could record very different experiences based on their individual mind.

Imagine our mind is like a cup of pure water.  That is our pure Buddha mind. It is peaceful and calm.  It is full only of ‘good’ virtuous minds such as patience and compassion.  Now we add in the minds that pollute the water, ‘negative’ non-virtuous minds such as anger, jealousy, greed, self importance and aversion.  This is the current state of our mind.  As long as our mind is contaminated by these non virtuous minds, our life will never be peaceful and happy.  Buddhism incorporates ancient teachings and meditations to slowly reduce and eventually eliminate these minds, so we can have a mind like a fresh and crispy clean glass of water, rather than a cloudy and polluted bog.

So why is it so important for us to eliminate these minds?  It seems a little selfish doesn’t it, to just spend time working on our own minds? How is sitting meditating going to create positive change in he world?

Well first, lets have a think about the bigger picture, our world.  It is full of problems, we can all agree on that.  There certainly is no such thing currently as world peace.  When we examine the reasons for war, poverty and crime, we can easily realise that non-virtuous minds have all played a huge part in the destruction and suffering.  Greed for oil, land, money, and material possessions, anger for those who do not conform to a religion and aversion for opposing faiths, a self important need for power, a dismissive mind of those who are in need of compassion.  World leaders, governments, citizens, me and you, anyone who is in possession of a non virtuous mind is capable of causing harm and suffering, whether it is a hurtful comment made to a co-worker out of jealousy, or a man with funny hair ruling a whole country.  Can we imagine a world where Hitler had a pure and peaceful mind free from anger, jealousy, greed and a thirst for power? Now imagine a world where no one possess these minds. The world will never know peace until every human has a pure Buddha mind free from these non virtuous minds. It seems like a big task, how can we encourage everyone – of any religion, race and background – to work on creating a peaceful mind?  Because of course, whilst Buddhism is a religion in itself with belief systems, prayers and rituals, we don’t all need to convert to Buddhism to work on our mind, it can be a practice that works alongside other beliefs.  The answer is to simply learn and understand the teachings, put them into practice in our daily life, see the positive changes it brings, set an example, be an ambassador.  Buddha himself encouraged people to not just believe what he taught, but to try it and see for themselves.

If we have a pure and peaceful mind, we will have pure and peaceful intentions, and with pure and peaceful intentions we will inevitably have pure and peaceful speech and actions.  In this way we are promoting a pure and peaceful world.  We cannot expect world peace if we cannot live peacefully with our neighbours, family and work collegues, so we have to make a start somewhere.

So why meditate?  This is another often misunderstood practice.  It is quite often believed that meditation involves completely emptying the mind or imagining yourself relaxing on a beach.  Whist the latter is a fantastic way to relax and help with falling asleep, the former is pretty much impossible, and neither are related to traditional meditation.  The Buddhist practice of training the mind incorporates our own imagination to improve our viruous minds.  Now, I know its easy to scoff at that, imagination is for children, right?  But as adults we constantly use our imagination.  The computer you are reading this on, the clothes you are wearing, the house you are sat in, they all began in one persons imagination.  With effort, their imagination became reality.  How many times have we imagined a work meeting or a doctors appointment going terribly wrong before they even began?  Or imagined our future family with the first positive pregnancy test?  Our imagination outgrows our physical lives.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a jungle, on a mountain, on the moon!  It’s possible because our imagination is so powerful it surpasses time and place.  Briefly and simply put, Buddhist practice harnesses that power, by taking the time to soley focus our imagination on compassion, patience, the suffering of others etc, with the aim to enhance our virtuous minds.  It’s not easy, our mind is pulled continuously out of our control – what shall I make for dinner, did I leave the oven on, I must remember to send that email tomorrow – and that is why it takes continued practice. But we mustn’t be discouraged. Remember the Tibetan monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso?  Well his advice is simple ‘Just try!’, and we can all do that.

One thing I often consider – and this is kind of off topic a little – is if people will read about Buddhism and wonder if it means you have to become boring?  I mean, practising being pure and peaceful all the time sounds a little dull doesn’t it?  But I hear the teachings, I study the books, I attend classes, I make huge efforts to put them into practice in my daily life, and guess what?  I’m not boring!  I enjoy a drink with friends, I colour my hair, I travel the world, I swear, I’m a normal human being doing normal human being things.  The teachings are incredibly life transforming, very scientific and really quite interesting to learn, training my mind and becoming a Buddhist has improved my quality of life immeasurably, and it has certainly not dulled it.  My life has simply become less complicated and more meaningful. ‘Dharma’ is a word used to describe Buddha’s teachings, and the light hearted saying goes ‘More dharma, less drama!’. We refer to the teachings as having an inner protection, a dharma shield.  I’m more able to process my own painful moments and suffering because my mind of compassion has grown and my non virtuous minds are gradually (not always, we are all just learners) becoming less like the untamed wild elephants that they can be.  My suggestion would be to just be aware of your mind over the next few hours / days / weeks and see just how little control we actually have.  No judgement, simply noticing.

I will continue blogging about Buddhism – it is a huge subject that I love to write about.  In the meantime if anyone has any desire to look further into Buddhism then I can happily guide you to  http://www.tharpa.com  where there is a wealth of books and meditations for your enjoyment.

Love from Pea x

Life Before Death

Winters brief life gave me the gift of an immeasurable love, but Winters sudden death gave me a gift even greater than that.  He taught me the delicacy of life, the fragility of something we take for granted every second of everyday, he opened my eyes to the uncertainty of this path we walk.

Death isn’t generally a topic of conversation in western society, it is considered inappropriate, depressing and awkward.  It’s as if it is less likely to happen if we just don’t bring it up.  But there is only one thing in this life that is absolutely certain, and that is death.

In Buddhism, death is a huge subject discussed daily, in fact many of our 21 daily meditations relate to death, and the first practice in our New Kadampa Meditation Handbook is based entirely on the contemplation of death itself.  And if realised sincerely, rather than bring with it doom and gloom, death instead invites a meaningful intention to your life, for many reasons and in many different ways.

To begin with, if we ask ourselves honestly, do we believe that death will surely come?  Aside from a fleeting comment about ‘life’s too short’ and ‘you only live once’, do we truly and sincerely believe that our life is brief, extinguishable at any time and entirely out of our control?  Just consider this for a moment.  As you look around, try to grasp the notion that one day everything that appears to you now will one day no longer exist.  The very thought of it feels almost out of our human understanding, as though we are teaching a cat about the stars.  It is a thought which flickers but never truly seems to sink in because it is so abstract to imagine ourselves no longer existing.  But it is true and we can all agree, one day we will die.  Whatever our personal beliefs about life after death, we can mostly agree that life before death is impermanent, and if we contemplate this further, we will realise that whilst death is certain, the timing is unknown and the causes are countless.  Winter reminded me what Buddha had already taught, that we do not have to be sick to lose our life, we do not have to be old to die.  Before we lost our son, I had become complacent in my practice, distracted by the colourful mirage of this life, forgetful that we control nothing and believing that death was saved for the elderly.

Understanding that death is real is not depressing, quite the opposite, it is altogether enlightening.  Realising that our time in our lucky human bodies is only temporary instead drives us to lead meaningful lives.  If you knew for sure that you could die today, what would you do with your time?  Would you spend an hour worrying about a problem which can or cannot be solved or would you desire a peaceful mind?  Would you open your curtains and curse the grey clouds or feel thankful to feel the rain on your skin one last time?  Would you crave expensive threads or cars or would you realise that once you die wealth and objects mean nothing, not even your clothes are yours anymore?  We would suddenly see that fame, money, beauty, talent, popularity, personality, confidence… nothing could stop our lives eventually ending.  We would lead very different lives if we thought we could die at any moment.  But if we think about this carefully, we can see that unless we have a signed godly certificate that says ‘you will not die today’ then this is the reality.  Many people who die today will have woken up believing they will go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow, their belief is no different from our own.

So we can check for ourselves, which of these statements is true?

I will definitely not die today.

I may die today.

If we wake up every morning and contemplate this truth, slowly over time we gain a deeper realisation of death and the preciousness of our lives.

Of course, we also have to use our wisdom.  For example, it would not be wise to say ‘I may die today so I will not pay my rent, I will quit my job, I will not take care of myself’ because with life comes a responsibility to provide food to nourish our bodies and a safe, warm home for our family.  But we would notice that with each day we realise this truth, we will become less attached to material objects, less disillusioned with chasing followers and likes on our social media, less time wasted on idle gossip and negative minds, and a happier, more thankful life emerges.  I am alive, tomorrow I may not be, I will accept any problems that arise and face them with patience, I will use my energy for love not hate because when I am gone all that I leave behind is the results of my actions.  Whilst my life has ended, for everyone else their life continues.

Today my mama -Winters Great Grandma – said to me whilst looking through his photographs, that she never expected that he would die because he was just a baby.  And she is absolutely right, whilst I was pregnant we never even considered it.  We decorated his nursery one year to the day, we spent months preparing for a life that lasted just one day, and whilst I would do it all again and preparing for a baby’s arrival is vital and meaningful in itself, Winter reminded me that death is rarely expected.  We prepared for a life but we never prepared for a death, we forgot that life, no matter how short, is a gift and not a certainty.  Winter taught me that every morning we are born again, each day of life is a blessing, and death ends all except love.

Thank you Winter, you know that I love you x

 

A Bigger Taboo – Facing Other Babies When You Have Lost Your Own

In the nine months that have passed since our son lived and died, entire pregnancies have evolved from the meeting of egg and sperm, to live and kicking out-of-the-womb babies.  During that time, I have held more babies more times than I will ever hold my own, and each Facebook log in brings with it a flood of pregnancy announcements, bump shots, birth details and first milestones.

If infant loss is considered a taboo subject, and surprisingly to me, it is, then the feelings that arise from grieving mothers when faced with other babies, has to be the biggest taboo of them all.

It is one of those subjects that we would rather avoid and my stomach knots as I imagine people reading this with anxious trepidation.  But with a little gentle honesty and understanding from both sides of the coin, no knots need be involved.

Since losing Winter I have become part of the online infant loss community, a place thanks to the ever growing world of social media that probably didn’t exist even five years ago.  On there I have discovered a sea of other humans in the exact same situation as myself, childless mothers, desperately trying to make sense of the emotions that they battle continuously in this thick swamp of grief, all whilst they mourn their loss and try to maintain their everyday lives.  I know from talking with these newfound friends, that the feelings I experience are commonly shared and natural, and through my Buddhist practices I am working hard to make sense of them and, more importantly, ease them.

Firstly, this is taboo because, well, no one wants to admit to having negative feelings towards an innocent baby, and the initial feelings that we experience can be trailed by a huge amount of guilt and shame.  But the truth is not so scary.  We are not experiencing these feelings because we are met with a healthy baby, we are experiencing these feelings because we don’t have ours, and those feelings arise simply at the moment we are confronted with that reality. Most regular people experience heightened emotions of some kind around little babies, creating a new life is a highly charged event.  And when you have had your own baby pulled from your arms so suddenly, those emotions are heightened tenfold.  We are talking about instinctive, animalistic emotions, feelings that are knitted into your DNA, and threaded into every atom. When things go wrong and your baby dies, these intense emotions derail spectacularly and can be terrifyingly difficult to understand and exhausting to manage.

Speaking from my own personal experiences now, being around other babies can be difficult.  Seeing other people share the happiness at bringing their baby home from hospital can be painful. Hearing other people talk about the achievements of their young children can be heart breaking.

Can be.

Not always.

The varying factors shift and change. There have been many, many times when I have successfully held a newborn baby and separated the experience from that of my own, and there have been other times when I’ve had to politely avoid a situation or paint on a brave face.  The feelings that arise in that instance depend mostly upon other unrelated events.  How am I feeling that day, in that moment leading up to meeting the baby?  Has it been a difficult morning, am I feeling particularly low?  Or am I feeling light and positive?  Other factors can be thrown into the mix. Babies tuning one, babies born around the same time as my own, babies who have just been freshly delivered.  Sometimes it’s effortless and sometimes it’s impossible. Each day is different and each baby brings with it its own ties and connections.  A close family friend that has a baby changing right at your very touch, an acquaintance in a shop with a baby whose name you can’t remember or an online face so familiar but far enough out of reach that it’s safe.  As with everything in life, each individual experience is dependent upon the mind in that moment.

Jealousy is an emotion that gets thrashed around feverishly after your baby dies. When someone has something that you want for yourself, it is our self cherishing mind which leads us to jealousy.  If we experience even some low level jealousy when someone gets a promotion we wanted or a wedding we dreamed of, then we can begin to understand the burning jealousy that can be overpowering when something as precious as a child is involved. It is, I believe, completely natural to experience that, but it can be overcome with time.  When I see a birth announcement or a first scan photograph, I can get that first sharp ping of jealousy.  I recognise it, and I face it.  On the one hand, I’m thoroughly relieved for healthy babies being made and born, who wouldn’t be?   On the other hand I am reminded that mine wasn’t. Sometimes it takes just a minute, other times a day or even a week of contemplation, before I feel relaxed and able to sincerely congratulate.  During that time, I am reminded by Buddha’s teachings, that my happiness is not dependent upon others, only myself.  I have a choice to firmly face and avert negative minds.  I remember that whether or not that baby was created and born, my son is not here.  If other babies stopped existing, my son would still not exist.  Other babies being born does not change my situation, I can therefore choose to harbour negative feelings for no purpose other than to poison myself, or to let go of them and rejoice in the good news.  A jealous mind is simply a mind that wishes for someone else to not experience happiness at a time when we feel that we are not experiencing happiness for ourselves and realising that our experiences are entirely unrelated helps us to enjoy the happiness of others.

But of course, it is not easy and it takes great effort.  I am only human with human emotions, I am far far far from a perfect enlightened being.  Feelings arise, they are intense, all consuming, I cannot always gather the reigns and steer my horse with a smile and a jaunty tip of my hat.  Sometimes, I can’t do it.  And honestly, I think that is ok.  And I think it’s even better if the mother who is no doubt looking after their live baby with great love and affection, can understand that sometimes you just can’t do it either.

With every baby I see I am reminded that Winter has a lifetime of missed opportunities.  My heart aches, I struggle to find words to describe the longing I experience to have my son here with me, knowing I will never have that chance.  For the rest of my life I will track his age, I will see children around me that are growing at the same pace, and with every milestone I will miss my boy and wonder how his first steps and first day at school would have played out had he just been given the gift of life.

I’m sure most mothers would understand that after holding your baby as they died, holding theirs will ultimately bring with it some level of pain and I have discovered that with some open conversation and gentle effort from both teams, the experience can one day bring with it some joy amongst the heart ache.