A Monk, Philosopher and Psychiatrist on What Matters Most

A Monk, Philosopher and Psychiatrist on What Matters Most

By Matthieu Ricard, Christophe Andre, and Alexandre Jollien on Saturday November 17th, 2018 Upliftconnect.com

Image: Sounds True

Practice Makes Perfect

We all have a mixture of shadow and light within us, but that doesn’t mean that we are doomed to stay that way forever. Our habits only remain the same if we do nothing to change them. Saying, “I am the way I am, take it or leave it” is quitting the race before reaching the starting line. That approach comes from considerably underestimating the transforming power of our mind. Our ability to control the external world is, to be sure, very limited, but the same is not at all true of our inner world. What always amazes me is the incredible effort people make in everyday life pursuing goals that are as vain as they are exhausting, but they make no effort at all to find that which brings happiness.

Training Your Brain with Meditation

Many people think that it’s too long and difficult a project to train the mind. But by the same token, it takes years to learn to read, to write, to teach, to get an education, to learn a profession or to master an art or a sport. For what mysterious reason should training the mind be an exception to that? If we want to become more open, more altruistic, less confused, and find inner peace, we have to show some perseverance.

On the physical level, athletic endeavors rapidly encounter unsurpassable limits. Through training, some people learn to run faster and faster and to jump higher and higher. But, in fact, they gain no more than a few hundredths of a second or a few centimeters. It is completely out of the question for a human being to run a hundred meters in four seconds, or jump higher than four meters. On the other hand, I don’t see how there could be any limit to love and inner peace. Once our love for beings has reached a certain level, there is nothing to prevent it from becoming still more vast and profound. The natural limitations that are applicable to the quantitative are in no way applicable to the qualitative.

A daily practice
There is no other way to transform ourselves than persevering in daily practice.

The Importance of Daily Practice

There is no other way to transform ourselves than persevering in daily practice. That might sound tiresome, but as Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche used to say, if you get bored in meditation, it’s not meditation’s fault. It’s just simply that we have to deal with our old habits, our distraction, and our resistance to change. Buddhism puts the accent on repetition and regularity, on the analogy of water falling drop by drop that finally fills a big vase. It’s better to do short but frequent meditation sessions than to do long sessions quite far apart. The neurosciences show clearly that regular training brings about change in the very functioning of our brains. This is what’s called neuroplasticity.

So now, how can we maintain our meditation practice in the midst of life’s daily activities? First, it’s important to set aside some time every day, even if it’s only a half hour. If we meditate early in the morning, that imparts a certain ‘fragrance’ to our day, a fragrance that pervades our attitudes, our actions, and our interactions with others. We can also refer back at any moment to this first experience of our day. Any time we have a free moment, we can reimmerse ourselves in it and prolong the continuity of its beneficial effects. These moments help us situate the events of daily life within a vaster perspective and experience them with greater serenity. Little by little, by the force of habit, our manner of being will evolve. We will also be able to act more effectively in the world around us and contribute toward building a wiser and more altruistic society.

Excerpted from In Search of Wisdom, by Matthieu Ricard, Christophe Andre, and Alexandre Jollien. Sounds True, June 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About Stanley Siegel

Stanley Siegel, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, author, lecturer, and former Director of Education and Senior Faculty member of New York's Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy. After creating and writing the "Families" column for Newsday he went on to co-author two popular books: The Patient Who Cured His Therapist and Other Unconventional Stories Of Therapy(Penguin/Dutton 1992; Penguin/Plume, 1993; Marlowe and company, 1999) and Uncharted Lives: Understanding The Life Passages Of Gay Men (Penguin/Dutton, 1994; Penguin/Plume 1995) which have been translated into 5 languages. With nearly 45 years of experience in the field of psychology, Siegel has developed an unconventional and tradition-challenging approach to psychotherapy[4][5][6] that has led to his book Your Brain on Sex: How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life[7] which was released in October 2011. He was a sex columnist for Psychology Today and the author of How Sex Heals and The Secret Wisdom of Ancient Parables. Siegel founded Psychology Tomorrow Magazine and Wellness Providers Network. Siegel has taught at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Adelphi University, and the University of California, Berkeley; was the founding Director of the Family Studies Center in Huntington, New York, and has served as a consultant to hospitals and mental health centers throughout the country. Regularly quoted in the media, he has appeared on ABC's Good Morning America several times,[8] as well as many other television and radio programs, and has acted as a consultant for film and television. Siegel was invited on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss "How Healers Heal Themselves." He served as the Dance Editor of Show Business magazine, writing weekly dance reviews and reporting on the contemporary dance scene. His daughter, Alyssa Siegel, LPC lives in Portland, Oregon and is a contributor to Your Brain on Sex. After a lifetime in NYC, he moved to Los Angeles in 2016