Strength and Serenity in a Chaotic World

When a reporter asked HH the Dalai Lama how he was able to stay so cheerful and free of resentment towards the Chinese, who stole his homeland and killed thousands of his people, His Holiness said, “They have taken everything from us, should I let them take my mind as well?”

Day by day we now face a similar challenge. So many deaths from Covid-19, the coronavirus, as well as the bad actors using the resulting chaos for personal gain, push us to believe that fear, hopelessness, and resentment are justified, even required. Many of us succumb.

How do we keep our minds strong and serene in the midst of chaos?

To stay serene and humane, to “keep our minds,” we must develop the mental and emotional strength to act with kindness and encouragement. We must do the difficult thing. We must insist on being kind to ourselves and others no matter what negative thoughts or emotional states arise in our mind. 

To succeed in this, for the benefit of ourselves and our world, we need two things: (1) a clear understanding of how our mind works and (2) a commitment to practice doing kind, encouraging actions, both inwardly and outwardly.

The mind and the material world are governed by the same laws of cause and effect. We get into trouble when we follow false laws of cause and effect. Many of these false laws are immature attitudes we haven’t outgrown yet. As a child, our idea of the law of cause and effect often was, “I want it, so I should have it!” 

If we don’t outgrow that false notion and develop a respect for how the mind and the world actually work, we may lie, cheat, steal, and even kill to get what we want. Tragically, such needless violence has been with us from the beginning. People who act in these harmful ways often think this is the only way to be a “winner” in a dog-eat-dog world.

The problem is that the law of cause and effect never takes a vacation. It doesn’t care if we think we’re winning the game. Fearful, hateful thinking and outer acts of violence cause harm to our being. Hatred and me-first actions rob us of our health and happiness and steal our grasp on sanity. 

When we understand this inescapable scientific law of the universe, this law of cause and effect, we are empowered by that understanding. This is knowledge that lifts us up and helps us renounce negativity in thought, word and deed, even as we are strongly tempted by self-centered thinking or lashing out in reactivity. 

We remind ourselves that we can’t grow good fruit from bad seeds. In the presence of the temptation to plant bad seeds, we choose to plant good seeds of kindness and encouragement. We do this not to be morally “good” people. We do this because we have accepted the truth that we can only grow good fruit from good seeds. 

Morality, in fact, is part of the problem. Much of what masquerades as morality or religiosity is often based on hypocrisy (“Do as I say, not as I do”). There are many false or imaginary laws of cause and effect afoot, such as scriptures quoted to justify harming those who hold opinions about God or nature that are different from our own. 

To avoid falling into such “morality traps,” it’s important to look closely at our own thinking to see what’s going on in there! Then we’ll be able to proceed according to our innate wisdom. And we can avoid the problem of the unexamined mind: reacting to situations according to immature, incomplete, or misguided notions that are covering up that wisdom and preventing us from planting good seeds of kindness and encouragement.

How to Cultivate Inner Fortitude and Serenity Without Kidding Yourself

Here are three things to remember that can help you keep your mind strong and calm, regardless of any disturbance going on in your inner world or the outer world.

1) You are not ruled by thoughts and emotions. You can choose to energize beneficial thoughts and kind actions. When a reporter asked the Dalai Lama if he ever felt angry or outraged, he said, “Oh, yes, of course. I’m a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something’s wrong. He’s not right in the brain.” And he laughed! (Time Magazine, May, 2010) You don’t have to fake being a “good” or “holy” person. Just be as you are without guilt or shame. Remember that you have the power to choose to act with kindness and encouragement, no matter what thoughts or emotions seem to be pulling at you from inside or outside.

2) Repeat to yourself, “Following fear and resentment never helps.” Don’t repeat this in a mindless, robotic, or moralistic, “good boy/good girl” way. Repeat it with the awareness that this understanding is in accord with the law of cause and effect. Developing this habitual remembrance will make it easier and easier for you to free yourself from negative thoughts and emotions. In this way, with a clear mind, you can choose beneficial thoughts and actions. Fear, resentment, and anger are not the boss of you! Your wise, kind heart is the boss.

3) Practice pausing to feel your breath and body. Do this frequently, for brief moments, throughout your day –– no need for prolonged attention. Let this become a relaxing habit. As you touch base often with your breath and your physical body and senses, even for brief moments, you will effortlessly develop a habitual link between your mind and your organic being, the source of all your natural wisdom and kindness.

Even though we appear to be living in a time of chaos and negativity, may we choose to plant good seeds for a fruitful future. May we choose to kindle the lights of kindness and love in the darkness.