November 26

Equanimity and the end of slavery – a dialogue

 November 26

Question: How do I overcome anger and resentment? I have been depressed most of my life, have been on medications and in therapy for decades, but nothing has really helped.

Response: Can you describe your feelings a bit more? What are you angry about?

Questioner (Agitated and with raised voice): I hate my health problems. I hate myself and hate it when I become a monster around my family. (And in a softer, kinder tone): My wife of sixty odd years is an angel and the kindest person I know. She does not deserve a monster like me.

Response: When you were talking about your wife just now, where was the thought about being a monster?

Question: (Puzzled) Don’t know. Where was it?

Response: When the thought “I am a monster” arises, you become angry, resentful and sad. When the thought “My wife is the kindest person I know” arises, you become kinder yourself. Do you see this?

Question: Yes. You are right. But how do I stop the first thought from arising? It is a running thought all the time in my mind.

Response: Not all the time. You just demonstrated that when you spoke about your family.

Question: True. So how do I stop it?

Response: Let us first examine this – when the thought of being a monster arises, you latch on to it and become its slave. You do what it wants you to do, by becoming angry, resentful and unhappy. What if you did not latch on to it and simply waited for it to pass? As we saw a few minutes ago, the thought always passes (even if it will arise again). Do you agree?

Questioner: Yes, I agree. But how do I stop it?

Response: You cannot force a thought from arising. Think of your mind as a train station. No train stops permanently in a station. Trains come, stay until passengers get on or off, and leave. Thoughts are exactly like trains – they arise, stay a while and leave. If we get onto the train/thought, it will take us places. These are familiar places of heaven (good feelings – happiness, satisfaction) or hell (bad feelings – anger, anxiety, resentment). The fact of it is that any time go to heaven, we will eventually have to go to hell. That is how these trains work – in a “both or none” fashion. Thoughts quickly make us their slaves and force us to do their bidding. The only reason specific trains/thoughts keep stopping at specific stations is because there is a passenger willing to hop on. If we stayed on the platform and never got on the train, it might keep stopping at this station out of habit for a while. But due to the lack of a passenger, it would stop less frequently and eventually stop coming this way altogether.

We break out of the chains of slavery by the practice of equanimity (a.k.a., staying on the platform). The key to this is to stop believing every thought that arises and to see how temporary it is. Belief in a thought (hopping on to it because it is glittery or alluring) is to become it’s slave.

When we break free of this mental slavery, we become astute station-masters and are able to command thoughts to do our bidding and go where we order them to go. In this reversal of roles, the station and the trains arise only to serve us (and not the other way around).

Question: What you say makes total sense. How do I stay on the platform?

Response: There are many things you can do. The breath is the most immediate experience in the body. Bring your attention to your breath and just observe it. Go for a walk. Take up a mantra to repeat – this can be as simple as “stay on the platform”. Watch the impulse to jump on the train out of habit. Merely watching it causes the impulse to lose its power over you. (Note: an advanced practice is to abide as awareness or self-abidance).

Question: If I don’t get on the train to heaven, would my life not become dull and joyless?

Response: No. All trains get you to temporary heavens. Your time there is always short and by the very design of things, you will get on the train to hell by and by. However, staying on the platform reveals another hidden dimension that leads to peace, joy and bliss not found at any train-driven destination called heaven. The only way to discover this is to practice staying there long enough.

The Bhagavad Gita describes this predicament beautifully: “The enjoyments that are born of contacts (with sense-organs/mind/thought, or hopping on the train in this example) are only generators of pain, for they have a beginning and an end. O son of Kunti, the wise do not rejoice in them” (5:22)

Questioner (with a smile): I have never heard anyone talk about this. It makes perfect sense and I see it happen all the time in my mind. I jump on to the thought and am led to anger and frustration by believing it. I feel hopeful already and I am willing to try to stay on the platform. I will report back in a while for some more advice. Thank you.

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