I often find holidays challenging, it can be difficult to relax after being so busy at work before I leave and this time was no different. With so many beautiful temples to visit I felt inspired to restart my meditation practice which I admit had really slipped lately! In the centre of Yangon, there is a temple, set within a roundabout in a busy road intersection – a seemingly crazy place to try and meditate!
But as I sat, although I could hear the noises of the cars, birds and people coming and going, popping in for a quick meditation during their busy days it was in fact a really calming and reflective space.
Within this busy city centre temple after 30 mins I felt reconnected to myself, much calmer and with a powerful sense of oneness with the universe. My anxiety faded and I let go of the worries and busy thoughts which had filled my mind.
Curious I read more about Buddhism throughout the holiday and found many of the principles of it very interesting and potentially helpful in our busy modern life.
The concept is that all people have the same basic wish to be happy and avoid suffering, but very few of us understand the real causes of happiness and suffering.
We commonly believe that external conditions such as friends, relationships or money are the real causes of happiness, and as a result, devote nearly all our time and energy to acquiring these. Superficially it seems that these things can make us happy, but if we look more deeply, we see that they also bring us a lot of suffering and problems. In particularly our attachment to them and our difficulty when losing them or facing the inevitable changes that occur in life can bring great pain and suffering.
Why is this? Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind. The real source of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, we shall be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions, but if it is disturbed or troubled in any way, we shall never be happy, no matter how good our external conditions may be. External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. We can understand this through our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace.
We can see from this that if we want true, lasting happiness we need to develop and maintain the experience of inner peace. The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual or meditative practice – gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states. We need to work on letting go of our attachments to desires, people and particular outcomes; and our anger and resentments in order to achieve this.
Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we shall experience permanent inner peace, and this will provide a deeper sense of happiness than any external factors. As humans we need intimate connections, we are hard-wired for this and are social creatures, so it is achieving the balance of being vulnerable and intimate and being able to connect with others while also being flexible enough to allow change and transition to happen and letting go of desire and attachment which really brings inner happiness and contentment.
There is such wisdom in this, and it reminds me of the concept of balance, and how important balance in thoughts, actions and deeds are in creating a healthy mind and body. Mindfulness practice is adapted from Buddhist meditation practice and has much scientific evidence for aiding anxiety and depression, I often recommend Apps such as Headspace, CDs and books on mindfulness for my patients, and find it very effective.
It was really wonderful to be in a country where this practice is part of everyday life and although perhaps a cliché, I certainly noticed a welcoming, friendly and calm attitude wherever I went. It has certainly inspired me to practice my meditation more regularly and learn more about Buddhism, and to being committed to keeping some of that serenity now I am back in the hurly-burly of modern life!
Dr. Sally Moorcroft