I just finished listening to the audio book “Making Friends With Your Mind” by Pema Chodron. Pema is an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition. I find Buddhist psychology helpful. We all suffer, and there ways to suffer less. I like the thought of coming to terms with my cognitive impairment by becoming friends with my mind (or brain in my case). I get frustrated when I can’t find the right words during a conversation, and I get frantic and scattered. The harder I am on myself the worse things turn out. In Pema’s book, which is really a series of talks at a meditation weekend, she talks about opening ourselves. She says, “Open yourself to whatever is there.” Accept whatever circumstances you’re in, but not in a pathetic I’m doomed and there’s nothing I can do about what’s wrong, but instead this is the way it is.
She recommends looking for warmth in uncomfortable situations. Open your heart and look for connections when you feel emptiness. I know that when I can open myself to people around me I’m spending less time feeling uncomfortable and awkward. I can be more forgiving of my lapses when I know that I’m concentrating on someone else and how I can connect to them, rather than how bad a communicator I am.
Pema goes on to talk about open awareness or seeking insight. I don’t feel like I’m there yet, but perhaps I’m getting closer. Over the years I’ve taken small injuries or conditions and made them big by worrying over them. I tighten up and pay attention to every twinge, and end up giving myself more twinges. I’m trying not to make everything a big deal. I think that’s a pretty big insight.
Another point Pema makes is about opening yourself to warmth. Look for warmth in uncomfortable situations. That’s a tough one for me. I’d rather go it alone when I’m having an especially bad day. I think I can take care of my own problems, but that closes me off to people who could help me.
Pema also talks about getting your nervous system used to unpleasantness. She calls it building up discomfort resilience. That’s a new idea for me, that when I’m uncomfortable I should just let it be. I don’t need to always try to fix the situation, nor do I need to wallow in unhappiness. I can just say, it is what it is. She says that the more you get yourself used to unpleasant situations, the less those situations will bother you. Another useful idea is is to look at things freshly, without old preconceptions. Experience each moment as completely new and fresh. This is another idea I need to think about.
And the last helpful insight I gleaned from this book is that gradual is good. I have a tendency to jump into everything feet first, and if things don’t work out for me immediately I give up. Maybe it’s a good idea to instead start gradually, and build up slowly. Perhaps I can start with ten minutes of meditation instead of thirty. Or, meditate every other day instead of every day.
Meditating helps me step away from my obsessive cycle of self pity. It’s a chance to turn off my critical mind for a while. I’ve found the easiest way for me to meditate is to use a timer app, and right now my favorite is the Insight Timer, https://insighttimer.com/. I set a timer for at least 10 minutes, pop in ear buds, choose an ambient sound for the background, close my eyes, and concentrate on my breathing. When my mind drifts there are a few techniques I like to use to clear my mind. One is that I imagine my thoughts drifting up into the sky, like a spark from a campfire. Or, Pema recommends thinking of intrusive thoughts as feathers.
Pema Chodron explains things in a simple way that works for me, even on bad days. I’m going to work my way through some more of her books. I feel like I don’t have the brain power anymore to learn anything new, but perhaps I can learn more about myself. Buddhist psychology may help me make friends with my brain, and I think that will be a good thing.
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