We all approach the New Year with plans, dreams, desires, resolutions or goals of some sort.
It seems impossible to arrive on this doorstep, this milestone in the passing of time, without any thought of what we want our year ahead to look like.
As humans we strive to improve, to change, to better, or somehow achieve that which we perceive ourselves as lacking or not having. Our society provides us with a barrage of evidence that screams of our lack—we aren’t pretty enough, rich enough, skinny enough or happy enough—or we’re too skinny, too fat, too happy, too ambitious, too lazy, too driven, too sad. The list goes on and on.
What if for once we made it our goal to instead accept ourselves as we currently are on the outside, choosing to place our focus inward to our mind—the source of all discontent, suffering, inferiority and fear?
This is where the wisdom of Buddhism can assist us. The beautiful thing about Buddhism is that we do not have to “convert” to a new religion in order for the practices to enrich our lives. We don’t have to “become Buddhist” and turn our backs on everything we’ve ever known or practiced. Instead we can use Buddhism to enhance all the aspects of our lives, including other religious and spiritual practices we choose to work with.
We get so fixated on the belief that if we just change that one outside thing—the car, job, relationship, hair, wardrobe, residence or diet, that we will be happy and content. This is false. The change has to come from within. It is our mind and perception which must shift. When we shift who we are inside, to someone who aligns with our true nature, everything else falls in place.
The trick of course is to realize that we can change on the inside.
I used to believed I was a fixed identity, one who was incapable of change, and that I was on my own in life. When I found Buddhism, I related so strongly to the teachings about “identity” being a need of the ego, and I was tired of my identity. This teaching felt like music to my ears, as it meant I was free to change at any time.
Our attachments to people, places, items, jobs, and things often drive us in today’s society, and these are rooted in our ego. We tell ourselves we need these outside objects and people in order to be okay. We falsely differentiate between ourselves and them. We cling to them after we’ve long outgrown them, or vice versa. We stay in jobs we hate because we fear change and the unknown. We identify with the status of girlfriend, husband, wife, sister, mother, teacher, CEO, writer, boss, student, leader—and we don’t know how to exist without that identity.
But accepting impermanence frees us from this. It opens us up to embrace change, which naturally empowers us to be the masters of our own realities.
Here are some of my favorite Buddhist words. I hope they inspire you to embark on a personal path of meditation, because this is where peace and happiness begins:
“…we look for happiness in all the wrong places. The Buddha called this habit ‘mistaking suffering for happiness,’ like a moth flying into a flame.” ~ Pema Chödrön
There is no happiness to be found outside. Everything we seek is within and it awaits our pleasure. We just have to sit still long enough to wade through the chaos the mind creates in order to find it. Is it easy? No. If it was, everyone would do it. But if we want peace and empowerment bad enough, we will find a way. I did. The moment I turned within and opened myself up to a power bigger than my intellect, I began to feel a sense of strength and peace. This feeling has now been with me for over three years, and it grows with every conscious and mindful breath I take.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” ~ Buddha
We attract what we carry inside. If we nourish our anger, negativity and bitterness, this is what we will see and attract in the world. If we nourish love, compassion and kindness, this is what will come to us. I have found this to be true. I live in the same world I’ve always lived in, which was once filled with fear, anger, pain and hate. The world hasn’t changed, only my perception has.
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” ~ Buddha
Our ideas and dreams will never manifest if we don’t take action towards them. When we sit still in fear, we create nothing. What’s worse—trying and failing or never knowing? Only we can take action for ourselves, so take one small step today and the rest will unfold in response to your action. I sat for years dreaming away my life, being bitter that I wasn’t getting what I wanted. But was I doing anything to achieve it? Absolutely not. It was when I took action that I started seeing results.
“Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.” ~ Buddha
As long as we approach life with the view that someone else has it all and we are getting screwed, we will never be at peace. When we clear the noise of the mind we can see things as they are. We appreciate what we have for what it is and we celebrate others for what they are. It’s so simple, yet we struggle to understand. These words resonate so strongly with me because I haven’t forgotten what it was like to live under the perpetual bitterness of envy toward everyone who I perceived as having it all together while I was miserable and strung out. The funny thing is that none of those people actually had it together, and they now ask me what my secret for happiness is. I only perceived them as having something I didn’t (happiness), which was something I wanted but didn’t know I had to work for (meditation).
“The ego’s root feeling is that if I do not hold myself together there will be a falling apart into something chaotic and difficult. So there is anxiety, an energetic anxiety which is located in the body, in the whole energetic system of the body and interpersonal turbulence reminds us again and again ‘If I don’t keep it together, I will get in trouble’.” ~ Dalai Lama
Once again, every time I read these words, I am overcome with the feeling of deep connection. I felt as though His Holiness was reading my mind the first time I read this—as though he was peering inside me, into the deepest parts of me, where I was constantly telling myself I must keep it together, or else. My upbringing perpetuated this false belief in that crying and meltdowns were not really tolerated in our house—keep it together, or else. There wasn’t a ton of emotional expression either. So my ego ran wild with the thought that “I must keep it together, or I will not be loved. I must have all the answers. I must not look weak.“ If you need to fall apart then do it. Great things arise from destruction, like a phoenix from the ashes.
I hope these words find their way to those who need them, as they found their way to me when I needed them most. I hope this new year you are able to tap into the inherent river of strength and empowerment that flows within you.
Wherever you are, whatever you are dealing with, fear not. Take solace in the truth that you are never alone. The collective nature of all living beings is waiting for you to uncover your own inherent connection with all. It might be buried just under your ego, over there in the corner where the little voice in your mind is saying, “don’t look here.”
That’s exactly where you should look. And the time to start is now!
What are you waiting for?
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Image: Cherry Laithang/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron