Buddhists Do It Better
By Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel
Lately Buddhists have received a great deal of Western press. They even made the cover of Time Magazine. Buddhists have truly arrived and have been validated! What’s all this buzz about Buddhists? Apparently, they hold the Zen keys to health and happiness. It’s not that they do not experience stress. It’s just that they know how to de-compress quickly like a reflex action. How can we quantify whether Buddhists are indeed happier and healthier than for example, New Yorkers? The latest brain scanning techniques during twenty-four hour periods reveal increased left side prefrontal activity in Buddhists which is associated with positivism and enhanced immunological activation of natural killer cells and other immune markers. The good news is that you don’t need to convert, only adapt the mindset. Here are three tools to help the Buddhist in you emerge.
Focus Your Attention Inward
Lately we have been reading about adult ADD on the rise. Apparently most of us are easily distracted, daydreaming, or otherwise nonproductive. Is this really ADD or the inability to find the still point within because we are unhappy? Unhappiness seeks distraction. In other words, let’s keep on dancing. However, eventually we feel fatigued or the music stops. Alone with our thoughts, we are truly frightened.
So here is where we turn to the Buddhists who are alone with themselves and silent -regularly. They practice focused attention. They focus on a single object and release their thoughts. They think about nothing at all, watching their thoughts float by like a cloud or a leaf on a flowing river: No judgment. They find the still point within. They release the fluff, the distractions and the negativities. They do not retreat to an external silent place, but remain aware of their surroundings as they find the silent place within. Should they be interrupted - they breathe consciously, returning to their breath helps them to relax their hearts and turn inward to the self without judgment.
To increase your focused attention try a candle light meditation. Stare at a lit candle for a minute freeing your mind from extraneous concerns and then close your eyes. Should you be disturbed, open your eyes and stare at the candle. This will help you literally and metaphorically get in touch with your inner light.
Open Your Presence
One of the reasons we are fatigued, especially when we come home from work, is that we do not just do our work. We carry our elderly parents and children to work and get distracted by co-worker and supervisor issues. If we just did our work, we would not be so tired. Buddhists have learned to live in the moment using their five senses. While they participate in life, they observe themselves participating in life. Their senses are on high alert. While a Buddhist is contemplating the spirit world, he is still aware of the crack in the sidewalk. Buddhists are rooted in earth practicality while they are trying to be spiritual and at ease.
Create an open presence in your life. Become acutely aware by living in the moment. That means letting go of the past, not worrying about the future. Practice this little by little. You must be motivated to release the past; otherwise, you won’t do it. Heighten your senses by indulging them. Taste the texture of your food by eating slowly, seated and in style. Look at beautiful things. Listen to music that pleases you. Inhale aromas like vanilla, lavender or fragrances from childhood that please and comfort you. Feel what you touch and what touches you. Shift your language from “I think,” to “I feel,” to get in touch with your secret emotional life. When you feed your senses, you learn to live more intensely and sense your inner voice, the intuition that propels you into good decisions and warns you of harm.
In order to release the past, expectations and experiences, particularly resentment, we need to learn from Buddhists how to rediscover the truth. Buddhists are not just flexible, physically, but they are also flexible mentally. They have learned to cultivate compassion by transforming negative situations or images into positives. Buddhists know how to re-interpret a scenario. We all know that there are no absolute truths. If we all look out the window and see the same accident, we will still have many different interpretations. Do you think Buddhists are saints? Of course not, however, they do practice re-interpreting.
To achieve equanimity and let go the negativity do the following. Conjure up images, situations, or conversations that make you angry. Then re-interpret with love and compassion. Take the sting out of it. Cut the other person some slack and most importantly take your own ego out of it. Buddhists will be the first to tell you that everyone has an ego and everyone wants to be right. So let him! The more you practice this exercise, the more proficient you will become and soon like a Buddhist, the response will be automatic, a reflex action. You will have more energy and you will be much happier. Fewer people and situations will annoy you.
Buddhism is not a dogmatic religion. Rather it involves seeking the truth with your mind and heart without a time limit or in a particular space. That’s why the three tools presented depend on your personal perception, commitment and of course, enlightenment.
There is a famous Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood” which compresses the essence of Buddhism. What has changed? Everything. Buddhism reinforces the power of perception to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary as well as to render the extraordinary, ordinary. Which way do you want to live your life - as though everything is a miracle, or as though nothing is a miracle? In Buddhism both are true! Inside every individual exists a potential “Buddhist”. Cherish that which is within you…
Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer at Brooklyn College. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WLIE 540 AM in New York City and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com