More from Ajahn Viradhammo, from the Buddhadharma quarterly (Spring 2015):
We don’t always realise when we make mistakes, so the trick is to make as few mistakes as possible and not to make the same mistakes again and again. Yet sometimes we have this blindness, and we don’t see why we have suffering in our lives. Ignorance blinds us. What can we do? Wherever there is suffering or confusion, we can begin to look at that pattern in our lives. If we look at this whole pattern, we can discover the causes of suffering and generate the intention not to allow those causes to repeat.
Let’s say I’m a person who is always making wisecracks. Maybe I watch people cringe and begin to notice that no one likes me, so I end up hating myself. Then I reflect on how this kind of speech brings me remorse and regret and brings other people suffering. Finally, I see that’s the result. So what can I do?
What can we do then? Well, we can use skill-ful thinking rather than guilty thinking. We can say, “From now on, I’m going to try not to speak in those ways.” We can make that intention. And establishing that intention helps us to be more mindful.
Wherever there is suffering or confusion, we can look for a pattern in that place or activity. This is a key to understanding where our unhappiness originates; our findings will be unique to each of us. We have to look inward instead of automatically blaming outside causes. While there may be stimuli from the outside that seem to create our problems, the actual cause is somewhere within our own hearts.
Sometimes life gives us major challenges: a child or parent with special needs, a trait in ourselves that we don’t like (and perhaps deny), a chronic illness (physical or mental), or seemingly impossible obstacles to our success and well-being. Even if we’ve been blessed with physical and financial security, life can seem unbearable. What to do?
If we are serious about freeing ourselves from our own clinging (and the suffering that results from it), we can look deeply into the patterns of our lives. What are we doing, or what assumptions are we making, that create or aggravate a problem? What might we do differently to see the situation from a new perspective? Can we turn the question upside-down and ask what we are doing to annoy the world? Can we let go of feeling bad about ourselves or aggravated by our situation and look at the broader picture as if we were an outside observer? An observer who had our best interests at heart? Who actually loved us?