What if the most courageous, compassionate thing you could do in life, was to learn how to be with yourself? It’s a powerful, perhaps surprising idea put forward by this week’s guest, the Buddhist monk, meditation teacher and author Gelong Thubten.
Thubten became a monk back in 1993 after suffering from severe physical and mental burnout whilst following his dream of becoming an actor in New York City.
His new book, A Handbook for Hard Times: A Monk’s Guide to Fearless Living, draws on what he’s learned over the past 30 years. Its premise is that we can embrace life’s difficulties as opportunities for personal transformation, using hard times to cultivate resilience, kindness, and happiness.
We begin our conversation talking about distraction and addiction, two states that are very closely linked. When we distract ourselves by scrolling, overeating, or drinking for example, says Thubten, we’re pushing away emotional pain or discomfort – even if we may not realise it. But the discomfort is really in the pushing. If we can learn instead to sit with what’s making us uncomfortable, those emotions start to transform.
So, how exactly are we meant to do this? Thubten explains that one way is through the practice of meditation and learning how to process negative emotions in the moment, rather than only understanding them in retrospect.
The most common misconception is that meditation needs a clear mind. But thoughts are inevitable, and the goal is not to push them away. If we use meditation to sit with our thoughts, rather than escape them, the transformations really start to happen. We become less controlled by negative emotions and start to cultivate positive ones. Meditation can unlock our innate self-compassion and this, in turn, improves our relationship with ourselves and with others.
Thubten insists that you can’t fail at meditation, because it really just means ‘being you’. The more we meditate, the less we run away from hard times and fear, and the more we become our true, contented selves.
Thubten is an excellent communicator and I hope you enjoy this really special episode.
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