Most of our problems are related to the mind, so we have to work to reduce our destructive emotions. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
This quote attempts to take aim at the most easily understood difficulty humans have, the mind. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the easiest thing to understand, much less fix. However, it is the root cause of so many of our failings that it must be addressed at some point.
Humans, for all of our engineering and logic, are still emotional creatures at heart. These emotions are often our reaction to something that has happened which we don’t like. Because of what we think, we place a value on that which has happened, and we call it good or bad, and act accordingly.
We use our minds to determine how we should react, and that is a big part of why we have the emotional reactions we have. I’m not talking using our minds logically, but how we have conditioned our minds to respond to situations.
That conditioning can be changed, and in the case of our destructive emotions, must be changed. And to me, that is what this quote is all about.
Why is adapting important?
When we were very little, many of us were afraid of fire. Why? Probably because we were burned, and associated the flame with the pain. See flame, feel pain, or at least anticipate it. This is a conditioned response which was useful at the time. The question I would ask is “Is it still useful?”
Adapting is what we do when we find a behavior that is no longer useful and change it to something that is. It is nearly impossible to simply stop doing something. A stimulus will produce a reaction. If we try to leave a hole, something will fill it. Usually it will be the behavior of which we just rid ourselves, right?
But the world changes, and we change. Adaptation is required if we are to continue to thrive, and even survive. Can you imagine what it is like for someone to live with just a land line and no internet? That’s what a failure to adapt looks like. Can you imagine what an angry child looks like as an adult, if they never adapted?
Where can I apply this in my life?
As the world around us changes, and as we ourselves change, we need to adapt. When I was growing up, physical punishment was common in schools. Pretty much every teacher in my Junior High (6th-8th grade) had a paddle and was ready to use it on unruly students. Since then, society has changed, and schools have adapted.
Now, it is common for schools to have ‘no-touch’ rules and an appalling lack of discipline (at least from my view point). That change in societal (and sometimes legal) values on punishment has left many older folks, starting families late in life, in an odd position. When they were young, spankings and paddling were both common and considered appropriate. Now they could land you in jail. We must adapt.
That wasn’t a value judgement on this particular change, but an example of how quickly values can change. Yes, that was over 30 years, but it was still within one person’s life time. What other things have changed in our lives and in society in that time? Have you ever stopped to consider that?
Now let’s go back to the quote, where it is focused on adapting our minds to reduce our destructive emotions. That would start with a list of destructive emotions. That usually starts with the standard group of hate, anger, rage, and the like. What is on you list? Have you made one lately?
With a list of what you consider to be your destructive emotions, take a moment and consider how they are triggered in you. Take a moment and write down what triggered the last few times you felt those negative emotions. Do you see a common thread within any of them?
What we are looking for is the root of the pattern. If you had a belief that everything you laid eyes on was yours (much like a young toddler), you could find yourself becoming angry very often. This is because in your mind, they are taking what is yours.
By adjusting that one belief, by altering our mind set, we can reduce the negative emotion of anger. But we can’t just stop being angry, we have to work on the belief. And we can’t just stop believing that stuff is ours, we have to replace it with something more appropriate, lest the old belief return.
If we can believe that we only own ourselves, and have temporary possession of that which we have earned or purchased, we can better change our minds. However, it will stick better if we can come up with a few examples of how the old belief is wrong and many more examples of how the new belief is correct.
In this manner, we have made a change in our mind which should cause a very significant reduction in the negative emotion of anger within us. While that was a fairly obvious and trivial example, I hope it is a useful starting point for you to examine your destructive emotions, and come up with ideas on how to reduce them.
Are you waiting for an invitation? Ok, I do hereby formally invite you to begin working on your mind, with the desired result being a reduction of at least one of your destructive emotions in at least one situation. Get busy!