New Moon Day: How many times have you been run over today?

January 7, 2008

– I imagine quite a few. You probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Well, our minds are a bit like motorways. The thoughts, feelings, emotions, moods, views and opinions that we experience are the traffic. And unfortunately we tend to get run over by it all. By ‘run over’ I mean that we get consumed; we get carried away; we get lost in the thoughts and moods. These various mental states arise and we get run over. And so through the seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years, and, if we’re not careful, lifetimes, we live on this motorway of mind and get hit by every darned thing that comes our way. And what’s it like to be hit? – painful!

So what does it mean to be ‘hit’ by thoughts, to be ‘run over’ by feelings and moods and all these things that we experience? Say, for instance, some man in the street yells out at you: “You’re an idiot!”. Then you feel anger or fear. When mindfulness isn’t present we have no perspective on that emotion. Anger arises and it quickly takes over our mind. We get ‘run over’ by anger; we are consumed by it.

Negative thoughts are something else that we get run over by. Very quickly negative thought patterns strengthen and grow, entwining us in their merciless tentacles. We can become thoroughly tangled in these thought processes. By not being able to distance ourselves from thoughts, by being ‘run over’ by them, they dominate and enslave us. It is important that we don’t let this go too far.

Or, (a true story) if I’ve been spending the day at the monastery making a large concrete foundation, spending hours digging and then filling the hole with broken bricks, and then pouring concrete on top of that, and then being told at 8 pm (when it’s dark), that this huge lump of concrete, that we’ve spent most of the day making, needs to be dug up! It’s in the wrong place! And we need to do it now! Because it’s setting! And then we are up until 1 am in the morning, digging out the concrete that is setting beneath us with pick-axes in torch light, concrete that we spent hours putting down, and then wheel-barrowing the remains of all our efforts down narrow paths lined with night-lights, to empty it in a distant corner of the monastery – then you may forgive me for getting ‘run over’ by the odd unskillful state. (I was run over many times that day…)

Or if someone you look up to tells you you’re useless. Dejection, self-doubt and feelings of inferiority invade your mind and you are consumed. You have no perspective. You suffer terribly.

And don’t forget the good moods! They run us over too. We get consumed by them. Now these are much more difficult to be mindful of because the suffering they cause isn’t so apparent at first. But we should still be aware of them and ‘step back’. After all they aren’t permanent; we can’t rely on them. Some people get thrown around by their moods as if they were a rag doll in the jaws of a raging tiger. Whooooshh! – they’re on cloud nine. Then Wooompf! – they’re flat on the ground. Up and down, up and down. Stop getting run over!

And so the list go’s on and on.

But there is another way. We don’t have to suffer like this: we can be mindful. We can step off the motorway of mind and watch the moods and feelings pass without getting hit. Mindfulness enables us to step out of the way of the mental traffic and to watch it all go by without being hit. Using meditation and mindfulness we train ourselves to be aware of whatever feeling there is in the mind. We then don’t feed it; we don’t encourage it. This is an important point: we don’t feed it. We have a choice. When we can step back in this way then the emotion will fizzle out. You take its power away and it dies. We don’t feed the emotion or mood and then it quietly passes away. And if we’re really mindful, we will never see it again.

Mindfulness makes us less impulsive. It ‘cools’ us down. We will be able to deal comfortably and serenely with anything that happens when mindfulness is fully developed. There is a very special photograph of Ajahn Chah at the Hermitage. It’s probably my favourite photo of him. It’s his facial expression; and mainly his eyes. He looks so at ease; but also so unshakable. He looks a though he could handle anything. And I mean anything. Ajahn Chah once asked a young monk who he often took the mickey out of, whether this monk ever got angry at him. The young monk replied that there would be no point. It would be like getting angry at a mountain.

I’ve just had to go and attend to a little disturbance at the monastery gate. Undisciplined youths like to drive their cars past and bang their horns. It’s happened sporadically ever since the monastery has been here. Thankfully my mindfulness is a lot stronger than it used to be. I know this because I have so much more perspective on the various thoughts and feelings that arise in my mind. I don’t get run over so much by the emotions of fear and anger. I mentally step back out of the way and watch that desire (to throw a brick at the blinkin’ idiot’s car) and that fantasy (that a hundred foot tall rottweiler with glowing red eyes and teeth dripping with blood would appear from a flaming chasm in the ground in front of them, pick their car up in his mouth, and deliver them home – telling them not to come back) fizzle out. There isn’t so much emotion now. I feel quite cool. Of course there is a lot more going on in the mind beneath the surface, and I’m still suffering. But the suffering has been reduced, thanks to mindfulness; mindfulness that is supported by good moral conduct, a consistent meditation practice and the other factors of the Eightfold Path.

Just as the Buddha said that by practising the Dhamma, by practising morality, meditation and wisdom, we create for ourselves ‘an island that no flood can overwhelm’. What else is there for us to do other than to create this island, where we will no longer experience suffering in any form. Mindfulness enables us to create this island.

But this is a skill which doesn’t come overnight; it takes training. And we will still keep getting run over as we develop it. But that’s all part of the training. It takes effort, but it’s worth it. Because we will reach the state of happiness that doesn’t come and go: Nibbana.

The Buddha was called the Great Physician. His Dhamma is a medicine that we take to get better. But just as with a course of antibiotics where you have to take the whole course, so we must practise the Noble Eightfold Path fully for it to work. Mindfulness is but a fraction of this Dhamma medicine. We have to practise morality. Concentration has to be developed and effort put forth. With the factors of the path complementing each other mindfulness blossoms. As we begin to experience the unsurpassed freedom of mindfulness we are propelled forward as we see how wonderful it is. And so bit by bit we develop our mindfulness in harmony with the rest of the path.

What we are really talking about here is developing wisdom. That’s what it all boils down to. Real mindfulness produces wisdom. And with wisdom we will end all of our problems.

 

The next teaching will be given on the Half Moon Day, Tuesday 15 January.


 

2 Responses to “New Moon Day: How many times have you been run over today?”

  1. Kris said

    Ven. Manapo,

    I discovered your blog only yesterday and have already found it to be very helpful. Thank you so much for starting it, and also for helping me to reduce the number of collisions!

  2. Dr. Amali Abeysekera said

    Thank you for the Dhammadesana on ‘How many times have you been run over today?’. I must try as much as possible to avoid being run over. I will print the desana and give my friends to read it.
    Thank you once again, Ven. Manapo.
    Amali Abeysekera

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