Various methods for dealing with our crazy roommates

Jun 2, 2022


The essential job of being a Buddhist is to distinguish between the deluded, neurotic, unhappy thoughts in our head and the positive, virtuous, appropriate ones. That’s it! Buddha’s unique approach to the mind is that we can rid our mind utterly of the voices of ego – attachment, anger, jealousy, depression and the rest – and to develop to perfection the positive ones. 


This means that we have to start paying attention to what’s going on in our mind, and that is not our habit. Let’s face it, from the time we wake up until we go to bed, all our attention is on the outside world. Naturally! Because that’s where we think happiness and suffering come from, so we spend our lives trying to manipulate the people and things and events of the world to fit with what my attachment wants and trying to avoid and push away the people and things and events that attachment doesn’t want.


Buddha has found that, actually, the main cause of our suffering and happiness is our mind: our attitudes, our opinions, our viewpoints about the people and things and events, not these external things themselves.


A pretty shocking idea, as simple as it is. And because we’re so unfamiliar with it, we need immense effort to change our view: it’s like reversing the energy of a bomb.


Right now, we have about a thousand thoughts a second so it’s impossible to hear each one clearly until we’ve accomplished pretty advanced levels of single-pointed concentration. 


The only time we notice what’s going on in our head is when the thoughts become intensely emotional and we feel their impact in our body. We only notice we’re angry when the words are vomiting out the mouth. We only notice we’re depressed when we’re inert in bed. And that’s way too late.


There are various approaches to dealing with our minds, and we can employ them all, depending on the situation. The first step, though, is to want to hear the thoughts, to begin to have confidence in this approach. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “We can mold our mind into any shape we like.”


1. First you need to not push the thoughts away. We need to have the courage to not suppress the painful thoughts. Try to face them.


2. Then let the thoughts come and go. Simply hear the thoughts and let them come and go. Initially, this is almost impossible. Our default mode is to totally buy into the thoughts, to be absorbed in them, to be totally involved in the story, the hurt, the anger, the resentment, the depression. 


Try to get distance, like they’re some strangers that you’re overhearing on the street. Just let them come and go. 


So learn to just listen, just watch. Let the crazy roommates say what they want, and try to let them be. This is a miracle if we can do it. Keep remembering: they’re merely thoughts, opinions, viewpoints.


3. Try not to believe the thoughts. What’s shocking is that we truly believe what these thoughts are saying. And we don’t even realize they’re merely thoughts! They’re like monsters in our head, who are speaking the total truth! And we totally believe them! We are magnetized by them. 


Sometimes when the emotional thoughts, the delusions, the paranoia, the anger, the hurt, the anxiety are so strong, it feels impossible to step back, to not be immersed in them. So now, hear the crazy stories, the opinions, but try not to believe them. 


Like those strangers saying crazy angry things on the street, simply don’t believe them, don’t buy into them. 


You try just to stay steady, stay stable, and a tiny part of your mind, one of your reasonable roommates, says, “It’s all happening, I know that, Robina, but don’t believe this story. It’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t believe these crazy roommates, Robina. It’s okay. It’ll pass.”


This is incredibly powerful, incredibly necessary. They’re shouting so loud! When you’re in the midst of those paranoid thoughts, and you’re convinced that someone doesn’t like you. You’re convinced of what she said, and that she’s rejected you. You’re writing this novel, isn’t it? And it’s an unstoppable novel, isn’t it? We know this. Unstoppable. You’re so involved in this story. You’re in the very center of it.


You’re believing the story. You’re convinced that he doesn’t like you. You’re convinced he’s thinking this and that. You’re convinced she did this and that. And eventually we just can’t distinguish between facts and fiction. And then within a week you’ve gone mad; you’ve lost the plot completely. 


But if you allow them to come and go, and you try not to believe the stories, you’ll be surprised: you’ll have a good sleep, and then tomorrow morning you’re okay. It’s because you didn’t buy into them. This is huge. 


4. Have your sensible roommates argue with the crazies. This is really hard work, but the best, the most intelligent. You bring out your sensible roommates, your common sense, your kindness, your self-respect, your wisdom – because when the deluded thoughts run the show the sensible ones can’t even be heard. So consciously bring them up. 


Because the delusions are distorted opinions, negative ones, they have no basis in reality, so your wise thoughts can present a better picture. Argue with them, calm them down. Eventually, the wise thoughts, the self-respectful thoughts, the patient thoughts will prevail. 


Thoughts are not set in stone.


5. Say mantras on top of the crazy thoughts! Sometimes just say mantras on top of the all the unhappy thoughts. They’re still chatting away, but the power of the mantra will help subdue your mind, help you not focus on them. 


It’s a full-on job, this “being our own therapist,” as Lama Yeshe puts it. Like with all jobs, it’s exhausting in the beginning, but like with all jobs, you get better at it. We say, “Practice makes perfect,” but Tibetans have a lovely way of putting it, “Nothing ever gets more difficult with practice.” 


It’s encouraging, optimistic.

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