I attended a lecture recently in a hotel by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. It was a public talk with the heading of ‘mind, emotion and freedom’. I went along as I have an interest in both Buddhism and its teachings and indeed whatever happiness or contentment it can bring into our lives. I was out to dinner with my wife and some friends before the talk in a restaurant nearby and when it came time for me to leave I excused myself and headed for the hotel. When I arrived I asked the receptionist where the talk was on and hurried toward the room. I opened the door and walked in whilst looking around with a little bit of bafflement. Inside was a theatre style room set up with about 60 chairs all facing the front of the room which had a table with a chair beside it donned in a Buddhist cloth. There was a microphone with the accompanying speakers set up with water out for our guest. Surprisingly though there was no one in the seats! Just to the right inside the door was a man sitting at a small table where the donations where to be collected and I quickly realised he was the organiser of the event and one other lady who seemed to be a customer like myself talking to him. The organiser was naturally a little troubled by the lack of people showing up for the event and still in hope that some more would come “if we gave it say 10 more minutes”.
Another couple arrived and again the same questions, “is this all that is here?” “Did we get the time wrong”. They left to take a walk around for 10 minute for everyone else to show up and maybe five minutes later the lady came back making excuses for the man who it was clear that sitting in a room with three other people for mindful talk that may go on for hours, was not really for him and he would wait for her in the bar. The original lady seemed to have a keen interest and we talked for a while settling ourselves at the top of the 60 seater theatre room.
Our guest speaker for the night arrived and like the organiser, seemed a little bemused if not shocked that he faced the inevitable scenario of doing a complete talk, having travelled from his base in Luxembourg, to 3 people! Then a 4th person arrived, although by the way he was helping around the room and topping up waters, I feel he may have been part of the organising committee. Regardless four seats were filled, 56 empty, and the class began.
For the next maybe 2 1/2 hours, we had a wonderful intimate teaching from a very spiritual and wise man. On reflection I considered ourselves very fortunate to be nearly having a one to one with this wise teacher. His donations from his cause may have been down, but that was to our benefit. Our teacher talked to us about mindfulness, compassion, meditation, all the tools we might need to live a more contented life.
He called our minds the ‘crazy monkey mind’. A mind that can be uncontrollable with thoughts running in and out of it constantly, thoughts about past events, future events, make-believe events and how if through practice we can control this ‘crazy monkey mind’ to be in the present moment, to disregard thoughts of past and future and focus on the here and now. How daily meditation is key to focusing our minds and staying present, not just sitting down on our cushions for 20 minutes each day but using meditation and mindfulness behaviour throughout the day in all situations. How compassion and forgiveness can be great tools in letting go of fear, of anxiety, of pain. He sat there a happy content mindful man and gave his instruction and teaching on how we could attain such accomplishments in our own lives.
When I think about the wonderful things he was teaching us, I mean, how to be happier! Such a central issue today with so many mental health issues in our society. And there we were, four of us in the room, and outside that room, a bustling hotel bar full of punters and revellers and outside that hotel, a bustling town, pubs full, the restaurant where I came from full, streets full, eating, drinking, singing, talking, shouting. And I thought what if everyone in the pub were in here and only four people were sitting in the pub! We live now in a world where so many issues are coming to the fore, from depression to anxiety and panic attacks, to loneliness, to suicide, self harming and paranoia. And here in this room, with advertisements all over town for it, was a man who was certainly not able to magically cure all ills but who was giving out advice and help on how to find peace and harmony and compassion in our lives and nobody was there to hear him. Instead do we go to the therapists and counsellors and psychologists, doctors for pills and pay out maybe big money while this guy was relatively free and the continuous life learnings he teaches are relatively free. Not to undo or degenerate the magnificent and necessary work our mental health practitioners, wonderful carers and doctors are doing in our society but still, four people in a town of thousands!
I am cognisant of the unfair advantage(or indeed fortunate advantage) our Buddhist teacher had over us in regards to being a whole lot mindfully content then most of us. From a very early age he and many students like him were thought meditation. He had a great master teaching him topics on exploring the mind and his subjects were not centred around gain and success and achievement like we are sometimes thought here. Their diets were natural and not like the ‘poisons’ as he calls them that we intake into our body and minds here in regards to unhealthy foods and drinks into our body and negative ruminative thoughts into our minds.
So I get some of the reasons why most people were in a different room to me, they are indeed legitimate and the cultural differences are huge. We have what we are used to, our culture, our routines and they indeed may make some of us happy and content and that’s fine.
But I think the mental health issues we are facing now, that are thankfully more and more becoming mainstream headline topics of conversations, that maybe we need to change some of our ideas of who we are culturally and the traditions of what an Irish woman or man should or should not be doing. It is okay to say, “I’m not going to the pub tonight because I’m going to a talk by a Tibetan teacher on mind, emotion and freedom, maybe I’ll see you later”. It’s okay to say, “I’m going to meditate now, I’ll talk to you later”. It’s okay to say, “I think I’d like to do that mindfulness course, I think I could be interested in that” or “can I just talk to you about how I am feeling right now if you don’t mind”.
These things are not easy to say in our society but they need to start being easier and excepted, better than waiting until the depths of despair are about to take over or indeed someone who never got the chance. It was actually a little difficult for me to get up from the restaurant table and tell everyone where I was going but I wanted to and it felt scary and good and surprisingly excepting, the main fear mostly being in our own minds.
The recommended donation was €10 for the night, I thought about how much I possibly could have spent if I stayed in the restaurant and then moved over to the pub for the night. I put in €20, thinking it was a small price to pay for advice on how to live a mindful life and rid ourselves of that ‘crazy monkey mind’