Last week I was checking in at a Buddhist Group and I found myself wondering aloud, “Just how did I get through everything before Buddhism?”. Before the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha came into my life? Before I knew to go to refuge in these Three Jewels? How did I manage to survive this life before I was introduced to Buddhism? How did I get through the constant struggles that life always presents us with? How did I enjoy the good times which I knew would end? How did I manage to be any way near happy and content through the struggles which seem to have hit over the past couple of years?
I can say how I attempted to do all of that. Some of the ways were good or, at least not dreadful!. I am fortunate that I have some incredibly good friends and we support each other. My girls always helped just by being there just as my lovely Pretzel, JD and Smirnoff did. A walk with Pretzel is always a great mood enhancer. Having a cat or two on my lap is always lovely. I would book holidays and have things to look forward to … this was a good strategy as long as there was always something to look forward to. It did mean that a lot of life wasn’t appreciated as I was always awaiting Friday evening or the holiday in the sun. This strategy involved a lot of living in the future or recalling pleasant memories of the past but helped to get me through. There were other strategies too – alcohol was definitely a big help! Not in large quantities but a few glasses of wine to numb the senses and dim the worry for a while. I got involved in things – running, Power lifting…. exercise is always a good thing to do (unless done to excess which may have been a problem at times). Boxsets were a feature – a way of forgetting about life for a while.
These ways of living life weren’t bad in themselves – unless taken to excess. Friendship, pets and family were always a positive feature in my life. But now, looking back, a lot of my ways of coping seem to be very short-term strategies. They were strategies which took me away from my life, emotions and thoughts. They took me away from me. Life was passing me by because I wasn’t living in it properly! I was always trying to numb it or to be somewhere else!
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I now try to live my life differently. I don’t always succeed in living in the present but I am at least trying to do so. Buddhism has given meaning to my life, a sense of purpose. It also gives me ways of thinking about my life and thoughts on how to live it. Buddhism doesn’t provide me with a step by step plan – I have to work all of that out for myself! But it does provide pointers and methods! All that I have done to change my life in the last year has been down to my new world-view – simplifying my life, putting myself and those I love ahead of convention and the supposedly safer way to live. I still have a fair way to go but I have made a start.
Because I see life differently now, it feels more full of meaning. Life is so precious! It is so short and can end at any moment. So I need to build a life which I love living rather than trying to escape it. I need to live life fully and gratefully rather than craving something else. And everything changes – those things which make us suffer will end at some point, or at least change. And when something happens (the first arrow strikes), I don’t need to make it worse by firing that second arrow of worry and “why me?” at myself. I now try to face it all head on and work my way through it. (I try – doesn’t mean I always succeed!!).
I still use strategies for dealing with life when things aren’t going as well. I still take Pretzel for a walk. I still talk to friends (and my friendship circle has increased so much in the last year). I still look forward to things. I do all of that. I still have the occasional glass of wine or watch a Boxset (NCIS is the current favourite) but I don’t do these to escape my life any more. I do them because I want to do them for a little while. But I have other ways now – meditation! I never thought that I would be that person who has meditated at least once a day for over 130 days. Meditation is so powerful – it calms my mind and provides a sense of peace and stillness. Not always! Sometimes meditation throws up important truths which bring temporary discomfort but lead to me being a better person eventually. Mindfulness – trying to live in the present… living with intention… trying to make each moment count. This has led me back to doing some of the things I used to love to do but haven’t been able to concentrate on or have the energy for (reading, sewing, embroidery….).
Yes – I am grateful to the Three Jewels and to the man who introduced me to them. I definitely have a way to go but I am living my life a little better than I used to do. I feel more. I am living in my life more. I am not just “getting by”.