Don’t worry about the thoughts that arise in your mind. Don’t try to stop them. You can’t. Just learn to deal with them better.
Yesterday I delivered my “Fall Like A Rose Petal” Talk to a group of 75 Chartered Accountants and finance professionals. One of the young ladies in the audience sought a clarification on a famous quote of the Buddha that I used in my Talk – “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” The lady wanted to know what to do when a suffering-related or suffering-inducing thought arises? “I understand completely that a headache is the one causing the pain, while my wishing there was no headache is what’s causing my suffering. I understand this completely. But what I can’t understand is how do I get rid of the wish that there was no headache in the first place? How do I get rid of the suffering-inducing wish,” she asked.
Well, the truth is you can’t get rid of your thoughts. The human mind thinks – research has proven this – 60,000 thoughts a day. A substantial number of these thoughts are about worry, anxiety, grief, guilt, anger, remorse, hatred, fear, jealousy and some of them are plain wishes that do not want certain realities about your Life to be there just now. So, you can’t avoid thoughts. The human mind is like a tennis-ball spewing machine – the sort that helps players train. It just keeps on generating thoughts. There’s no method. There’s no rationale. There’s no way you can switch off the mind. But what you can do is you can train yourself to ignore the negative or depressing or debilitating or suffering-inducing thoughts that arise. And you can, over time and consistent practice, train your mind to be present in the now. In the present moment. Suffering arises only when you wish that your current reality is not what it is. That’s when the mind revels in making you suffer – wish I did not have this headache, wish I did not have a relationship problem, wish I did not have to keep this job, wish I did not have to lose someone I loved. But when you say I have a headache, and let me live with it, then the mind is in the present moment, with the headache and with all the pain it brings along with it. In the present moment, the mind is powerless. And because there is no wishing, and total acceptance of what is, there is no suffering.
So, you can’t prevent a thought from arising in your mind. You just have to learn to deal with each thought. And learn to avoid those that depress you and cause your suffering. That’s why the Buddha says “suffering is optional”. Which is, you have the choice not to engage with such a thought that will cause your suffering. Exercise that choice. When you do that you will realize you can live with the pain, live with the thought that is intent on causing you to suffer and yet you will not suffer. Because you have chosen not to!