Meditation is a great way to find inner peace but even if you meditate regularly you may still find it hard to free your mind of anxieties and problems. Just as mindfulness techniques may help calm your nerves they’re often not enough to cut through the root of your worries.
In the Tapussa Sutta the Buddha explains a way you can move through a problem until you feel free of its control. Most people aren’t really familiar with this writing in Buddhism but hopefully, by reading this simplified step-by-step guide, you can start to feel free of the pain.
1. Pinpoint the problem
First of all figure out exactly what it is you’re worried about. Is there something you want to change or something you’re not satisfied with? It could be you don’t enjoy talking to people or you want to quit smoking.
2. Explore what the problem feels like
Really focus your attention on the emotions. Don’t ask any questions about why you feel a certain way, instead sit down, close your eyes and be with the problem. Explore how it makes you feel bodily, emotionally and mentally. Some questions to consider might be:
How am I experiencing this? How does my body feel when I think of this problem?
What thoughts, feelings and images come up? Don’t make any judgements on those feelings – take note of them
Is there anything you enjoy about it? Or don’t enjoy?
What alternatives come to mind? What’s your immediate response?
As you go through these questions remember to take note of the feelings rather than spiralling into tangents. Don’t just spend five minutes sitting down then move on if and when you think you can’t do it. It’s about practice and returning to those thoughts and repeating them.
3. What are the limitations to your experience?
It’s often not enough to just tell yourself that a certain problem is difficult, try to work out exactly how. Do you experience it as limiting, tense, painful?
What exactly bothers you about it? How do you know? (strain, cyclical thoughts).
Are there any particular stories you repeat in your head?
How does holding onto this problem cause future pain? Are you okay with that?
Is there anything more you can understand on a deeper level?
Once you find those limits it should become easier to push through them.
4. Focus on what you would gain by letting go
Do you really want to move on from this problem? What kind of resistance do you need to overcome? Once you know what’s stopping you from moving on you have two choices: move on or wallow in your pain. I would recommend the former!
If you don’t enjoy talking to people you may have feelings of anxiety when you do. You may have decided you want this to change but what’s stopping you is your worry of what people think about you. This stage may help you, as it has helped me, to realise how most people are too busy thinking of other things than thinking about you. Your problems are, mainly, in your head.
5. Enjoy the freedom (until it becomes another prison)
Continue to meditate on these thoughts. Sometimes waiting and being mindful is all you can do. Think of this whole process as building the foundation while living your life does the rest. To keep up the feeling of overcoming a problem you need to be mindful of it when a similar issue arises. Return to the process and remember ‘how is my body and mind feeling?’
A time will come when you reach the limit of this new freedom. If it was easy to find true freedom then everyone would be in total bliss. A new problem will arise and it will feel like you have been released from prison into a bigger prison. My advice would be to go back to step one until you feel truly free.
Special thanks to the Birmingham Buddhist Centre for giving me an understanding of the Tapussa Sutta.
By Jacob Quirke