She was angry for years at her husband for how he treated her. The loss of his father caused him to remain in deep grief for years. The job that he hated but had to work at caused him so much daily rage and negativity. She was so angry at the world. His parents really upset him.
From a mindfulness perspective the problem is not the husband, the deceased father, the unpleasant job, the world, the parents. It is not the things outside of ourselves that cause us unhappiness and suffering. The real cause of suffering is the anger, the grief, the rage, the negativity that we are so identified with. When we are focusing all of our attention outside of ourselves, when we believe that the reasons for our suffering are because of the “things out there,” we are like someone who is bleeding to death and not addressing the wound. We have become the cause of our own suffering.
Mindfulness is an emotional, behavioral and mental state of mind. Like all other mental states (anger, anxiety, joy, depression, excitement, dread, rage, etc..), the mindful state arises and passes away depending upon the kind of thoughts and feelings a person becomes identified with. The more negative the thoughts and feelings are, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a mindful mental state.
The Zen teacher and writer Shunryu Suzuki, in his classic book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind writes:
Nothing comes from outside your mind. Usually we think of our mind as receiving impressions and experiences from outside, but that is not the true understanding of our mind. The true understanding is that the mind includes everything; when you think something comes from outside it means only that something appears in your mind. Nothing outside yourself can cause any trouble. You yourself make the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm. This mind is called big mind.
In mindfulness practice, awareness is the same as what is referred to as “big mind” in Zen practice. Through focusing our attention on the present moment (breathing, sensation, sounds, thoughts- the here and right now) we are cultivating a big mind. When we become aware and accepting of what is happening within us right now, we begin to cultivate a mindful state.
To have a good day today, does not imply that we feel happy and relaxed. No, quite the opposite is true. Happiness just means the presence of positive thoughts and feelings. It is a transitory emotional state just like all other emotional states. Having a good day today has nothing to do with feeling happy or free of anxiety. It means that we are able to become aware of and fully accept whatever is happening within us right now. We stop fighting. We stop resisting. We stop beating ourselves up. We stop wanting things to change or be different than what they are right now. We notice when we are judging others and let it be. As a result of doing this we drop into our lives exactly as they are right now. We become present with what is. We are taking responsibility for the quality of our lives right now. Things become more manageable. We feel a greater degree of what it means to be free.
Acceptance is the opposite of attachment. When we are attached to our anger, our pain, our hurt, our stress, our anxiety, our unhappiness, our greed, our indignation- we are causing our own suffering. When we are able to become aware of the emotional and mental states that are present in us right now and accept them as they are- we create a “big mind,” a mindful mental state. A mindful state is a peaceful state. Even someone who is dying right now, may not feel happy, but they can choose to be in a very peaceful state.
Using acceptance and awareness to return to this mindful mental state when we recognize that we are not fully accepting our lives as they are (“what is”), when we are resisting, wanting things to be different, blaming or fighting back- is how we can stop suffering and have a good day today. Right now. Ultimately, the ball is in our court from moment to moment to moment.