When you experience frustration or anger, the first thing you must do is stop. Without stopping you cannot apply your spirituality to the situation. Center yourself by watching your breathing.
To determine whether the activity is just an ego trip or otherwise unhealthy, first ask yourself whether the activity is consistent with the Five Precepts. If it is, then ask, “Could this effort realistically make a difference?” The more macro the effort, the more likely that the answer to this question may be a painful, no. If it is either inconsistent with the Five Precepts or just an extension of your ego, then it is not an example of Right Action and you need to drop the project to regain your sense of peace and contentment.
But if your effort really could make a difference, whether in one person’s life or many, but the problem is that you are approaching it from a lack of equanimity, then … assuming that you have not yet reached the state of practice where you are able to practice nonattachment … you need to find a way to approach the activity in a healthy, non-craving way.
For most types of efforts you will help yourself stay grounded by limiting your time exposure to the activity. Keep your commitment appropriate with your focus on the things that bring you joy, that give you strength, and thus limit any potential negative impact.
You can’t do that with your job, of course. Especially in today’s work environment when there is often pressure to work almost 24/7. But even here, you must not only carve out time for your family and other things that bring you joy … those things must psychologically be the center of your life, not your work. It is a sad statement of our culture that for many people work has become their life; they live to work, not work to live.
A helpful compliment to maintaining the right focus in your life is to remember the teaching … it’s just the way it is … and meditate on that truth. Whatever is bothering you about the effort you are making, it’s just the way it is.
It’s also helpful to remember that we have no control over the future and can have no idea what is going to transpire … therefore why obsess about what will happen? It’s a no-win situation that robs you of your peace in the present, which is where you really need it. Instead, have faith that if you live each day well, in keeping with the five Precepts, the future will take care of itself.
Another tool that helps keep things in perspective is to engage in activities that relax you, calm you (beyond meditation or other Buddhist practices). As adults, most of us have a real deficit in this area. Even activities that we supposedly do to relax us, to get away from things … like playing golf, playing an instrument, shopping, whatever … do not relax us because our ego is involved in those activities. They may be a distraction, but they are not calming.
What you need to do is some activity that puts you in touch with your inner child, that innocent being who was and is still free from the burdens of life and most learned experience. Most adults in our culture are closed off to their inner child; somehow it’s not felt appropriate for adults to engage in childlike behavior or activities. And yet those activities, and the simple laughter that often accompanies them, give one access to the well of innocent joy that only a child experiences. Whether you used to love coloring books, climbing trees, playing with your dog (this is not to be confused with what adults do with their dogs in a dog park), or whatever, allow yourself the simple joy of immersing yourself in such activities with some regularity.
There is a deeper answer, however, to the question of how to stay grounded. There is a line in the classic Chinese poem, Affirming Faith in Mind, that says, “When the mind rests undisturbed then nothing in the world offends. And when no thing can give offense, then all obstructions cease to be.”
We are frustrated in these situations because our ego takes offense when we are not stroked. And the ego takes offense because these situations disturb our mind.
Why do these situations disturb our mind? Because we do not experience them free of labels, free of our past. For most of us these situations touch the deepest insecurities from our childhood about who we are, how we are valued, and whether we are liked or loved. Whenever we put ourselves, our talent, our credibility on the line, this ego insecurity is awakened.
And so the deeper, more fundamental, solution to such frustration is to meditate on the truth that fear, guilt, and shame are learned. We must free ourselves from the past. Whatever made us feel insecure as children, that emotional reaction was a learned experience and does not reflect who we really were or are; it was a cultural or family judgment. And those judgments do not speak the truth; they are labels that reflect cultural biases. So for example, we weren’t “bad,” we just didn’t do as told; we weren’t a “failure,” we just didn’t score well on an exam or make that final basket to win the game; we weren’t “weird” or “sick,” we just had a different sexual orientation.
And so our cultural obsession with “improving” ourselves is not founded on a skillful desire to learn more or do other things, it is based instead on a perception that we are inadequate in some way, that we are failures, and that that needs to be fixed. But we are not inadequate; we are not failures. These perceptions of ours have no intrinsic existence; they are all of dependent origination.
And so we meditate on being at one with ourselves, experiencing ourselves without the intervention of thought. And we meditate yet once again on loving ourselves unconditionally, finding peace and hope in the present.
Another lesson in practical Buddhism.