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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 76 into a negative whirlwind. It almost appears as if the more good energy you put into a relationship, the more bad feeling can come howling out the other side. In my case, I was sorely tempted to blame my wife for our problems. After all, I had gone into marriage with the understanding that it would inevitably entail struggling through some hard times; she was the one who had refused to put in the hard work that any relation- ship requires. I thought she was making me feel angry—and heartbroken, and betrayed, and all that other fun stuff. I mean, I knew my anger was an internal feeling, but it felt as if it was coming to me from her, as if it could leap from one person to the other. I didn’t see my an- ger as a sign of my own irrationality; I thought it made perfect sense. My wife had behaved unreasonably—of course I was getting upset. As I mentioned, though, that Bud- dhist talk rocked my view. It took place in a yoga studio. The teacher held up a book. “How many of you think this exists independently of your mind?” Everyone in the audience raised their hand. As the teacher led us to see, though, our only way of knowing the book was there was by filtering our perception of it through our own minds. And that’s true of every single thing in our lives: the ob- jects around us, the people, our concepts, everything. Our entire experience of life is shaped by how we perceive and how we think. Normally, we believe that we need to reshape our external circumstances to improve how we feel (more money, a better job, a more accommodating spouse), but that’s a huge, never-ending, continually frustrating quest. Buddhism recommends a much more feasible, achievable goal: we can transform our lives by changing how we think about them. As the eighth- century sage Shantideva put it, if we want to avoid step- ping on thorns, we can’t possibly cover the whole world with leather—but we can cover our own feet. Somehow, I realized early on that being pissed off at my ex was not making me feel better. I needed to find a more positive way out of my suffering. The fact that my emotions only existed inside my own head was great news; it meant that they were not dependent on my ex-wife, or how the legal proceedings developed, or on any other ex- ternal factors. I could improve my experience of divorce by taking responsibility for my feelings, and by learning how to train my mind. And so—like millions of Buddhist practitioners before me—I set out on a journey of internal exploration, observing my thoughts like a scientist peer- ing at electrons buzzing around inside a cloud chamber. I made some fundamental discoveries. I found that I was not “an angry person”—I was simply a person experiencing angry thoughts. Like all thoughts, I thought my wife was making me feel angry. I knew my anger was an internal feeling, but SEPT 74-79.indd 76 SEPT 74-79.indd 76 7/3/08 1:34:04 PM 7/3/08 1:34:04 PM