When life gets you down… what can a Buddhist do? The Sun keeps shining behind the storm clouds

Beautiful blue sky background

Firstly, it’s important to realize that it’s okay to feel down sometimes.  Because life isn’t always happy and exciting and fun – and that’s okay.

Sometimes, you do hear advice to fake happiness – pretend to be happy.  You get this a lot in the self help/motivation industry.  The theory behind it is to change your physiology to act like you’re happy and then the mind will follow.

Maybe it’ll work superficially sometimes – but personally, I find that it doesn’t work.  Because you’re just putting a bandaid over it – you’re not getting in there to clean out the wound to really clear out the infection – because if you do this, eventually, you won’t need the bandaid anymore.  You won’t need to fake laughter anymore.

I’ve find that if you fake laughter – it’s not genuine.  You’re just lying to yourself – at least that’s how it feels to me – and so it adds another layer of unease on top of the original problem.

It’s like fake smiles – I used to know a guy at school who kept on doing fake smiles all the time.  I thought I was the only one who noticed it, but one day, my friend said, “Oh such and such – fake smile!”  You question whether they have some ulterior motive or not.  They are all smiles in front of you with niceties – but you can fake it for only so long – before what they are really like shows itself.

Back to the main point – sometimes life just isn’t so bright!  That’s dukkha!  There is dukkha – the 1st Noble Truth – so recognize it.  It’s just dukkha.

See, what we do is we constantly use our 5 skandhas (our body and mind) to seek peak moments in experience – excite us, to make us feel happy.  Nothing wrong with that.  The drawback of this sensory world that we live in, is that these peak moments only last briefly – before they pass.

Consider how we slave away at our jobs for months or a year – just to save enough money to go on a holiday.  So we spend most of the 365 days of the year just so that we can go on holiday for 2 weeks!  So that’s the drawback that the Buddha saw about the happiness in this sensory world that we live in.  And then we travel by plane to get to our destination – maybe most of the day is spent travelling by bus or train to get to our destination – and then we get to experience the enjoyment of our destination – how long does this enjoyment last?  5 minutes! lol

So if you factor all that up, what is more?

  • The time enjoying our peak experiences?
  • Or the time to work to get enough money to go there and the travel time to get there?

It’s probably 100:1 ratio of mundane life to peak experiences of life.

If you analyze it – life is perhaps 90-95% bland moments – neither here nor there, neither good nor bad (just mediocre), interspersed with brief peak moments (the good bits in life) and sometimes short or long troughs (the bad parts of life).

Not saying that you shouldn’t go on holidays as it’s great to experience new cultures, get a new perspective and to recharge from school and work.  And sometimes, the trips that you go on can change you as a person deep inside – it’s these transformational experiences that you want (not transactional experiences).  It’s just that sometimes, those trips are too short!  Because not long after we just started our holiday – we have to go back to work and school again!  So this is the drawback of the happiness that we find in this life.

Now when you’re feeling sad or feeling down – sadness is just sadness and is not self.  Sadness is just an emotional feeling that comes in to your mind – stays for a while and then goes away by itself.  So you don’t really need to try to get rid of it – all you need to do is give it no more negative energy – so don’t feed it (like how you don’t feed the trolls!) and then once it uses up it’s negative emotional energy – it dissipates and it loses power all of its own accord.

And because you recognize that sad feeling – it’s not you (anatta) – it’s NOT “your” sadness – it’s just sadness – a feeling that comes and goes – so you can let it go.  Because you realize that it’s anicca – uncertain – even as you observe the feeling of sadness intently – you see that it’s not a static feeling – it changes even as you are watching it and experiencing it – it’s in constant flux.  So you realize that it’s unstable – it’s not a constant thing – and so, sooner or later, it’s going to end – so you let go of it and focus back on your meditation object.

The other thing is that when you are wallowing in your own sadness, it feels like the pits and it feels as if you will be wallowing in your own sadness forever – that it’s going to last forever.  But it doesn’t, does it?  Sad feelings will pass and brighter days will eventually come – often many brighter days.

Storms pass.  It can be frightening whilst you’re stuck in the middle of the storm with gale force winds, heavy rain and loud thunder and cracking away.  And you think – how long is this storm going to go on for?!  Am I going to get through this?!  Hope I get through this unscathed or with as little damage as possible!  And yet, despite the severity of the storms – the sun is always there behind those storm clouds and the earth – shining brightly.  

Your Buddha Nature is like this too – your radiant nature is always there behind the clouds of depression and anxiety – always there shining brightly – remember your nature is like this at it’s core – radiant and beautiful, bright and full of joy.  Storm clouds can only obscure it temporarily – and sometimes, the change clouds may disappear swiftly too.

I shall end this with a passage that a friend shared with me today as we were discussing a mutual friend, who had been through some dark periods in his life:

“I always try to tell people who are depressed that they must never forget that even when things seem totally hopeless and dark, life can suddenly change and give openings and opportunities and light that were never foreseen.

“Here the Buddhist Law of Change is very helpful to teach:  nothing [created] stays the same – so even if we find ourselves in a truly dreadful situation – it will NOT last forever – it will move on, and better times will come.

“I myself have been through a lot of suffering… and yet I NEVER lost my conviction that at the heart of the universe is GOODNESS (Buddha) and that whatever problems I may have been going through would only be temporary.  And that has proven to be very, very true.  I am sure you too, have had to face difficult times in your life, but your love of and faith in the Dharma-Buddha saw you through?”

It certainly has – on top of doing whatever I could to rectify the situation as much as I could.

As well as calming the mind down so that it doesn’t get caught up in the storm – so that there is a still base that you can always return to and rest in – like the eye of the storm – that’s your refuge.

So you centre yourself – when all chaos is swirling all around you – you do are not the chaos.  You do not swirl.  Chaos is just chaos – it’s got nothing to do with you – let it swirl.  You can try to bring order to that chaos – but the chaos is not you – so you let it keep swirling however it wants to swirl – you don’t fight it – otherwise, you can get distracted and it can easily tire you out, taking up too much of your time and energy.

And how do you centre yourself?  How do you find the still point within yourself?  The Eye of the Storm?  Take a deep breath and then let it all go as you exhale and notice the stillness inside your own mind – it is unperturbed, unmoving, silent, at ease.  And repeat as many times as you want.  This is one practice that you can do.  Some of you might not understand this – so you need to try it out and most importantly practice until you get it.