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Dear Rinpoche: I’m Unhappy But Afraid to Make a Change

A Buddhist meditation master provides guidance on readers’ real-life problems. Here is his advice on dealing with unhappiness.

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Dear Rinpoche, 

“I live an unhappy life. But it feels like it’s more comfortable to stay in this life rather than to change it. I am scared if I change it, it will be more difficult. What should I do?”

Sincerely,
Afraid to Change
Dear Afraid,

I think the most important thing for anybody, whoever that might be, is to learn to reduce the thoughts of competition and judgment within yourself. This helps us develop a sense of ease. A practical way to do this is take up a form of meditation that feels calm, like focusing your attention upon your breath. This is very useful.

In addition to stilling the mind, I think it is very beneficial to practice what we call the “Four Immeasurables.” These are the limitless qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. You can start by making the aspiration, “I wish all sentient beings to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering; and I wish all beings to have happiness and the causes of happiness.” This aspiration is a powerful form of training—the wish for others to be free from suffering gives rise to compassion, and the wish for others to have happiness gives rise to loving-kindness.

The Four Immeasurables can be practiced in formal sitting sessions, but also throughout your day. When walking you can make this aspiration, when eating you can make this aspiration, even before falling asleep, you can make this aspiration. When doing this practice, though, don’t compare, don’t judge, and don’t have too much expectation of what the result will be. Don’t be uptight with your practices; take up an attitude towards your aspirations that is gentle and soothing.

Whatever I’ve mentioned to you, just do it. There is no need to focus too intensely on changing your unhappy life to a happy life, nor is there a need to fear that whatever happiness you have will dissolve into problems. What I am trying to say is don’t obsess over the details that you think make you happy or unhappy. Don’t go into them, don’t repeat the details, just focus on developing a calm mind. Don’t judge yourself, and do something meaningful.

If you are going to focus on details, then make those details in service of meaning. Work in the garden, help people in small ways. Whatever actions you see as meaningful, take them up.

With Compassion,
Rinpoche

Phakchok Rinpocheis a Buddhist leader in the Tibetan community of Boudhanath, which lies on the edge of Kathmandu, one of the most devastated regions affected by the earthquake. He and his monks are currently providing shelter, food, and water to the homeless within the valley, and sending aid teams of monks and laypeople into the mountains with supplies. Many of the monks in these rescue teams were born in outlying villages, and can navigate the terrain in ways that international NGO’s cannot. If you feel moved to send support, you can access further information here.

Do you need advice? Submit a question to Rinpoche here.

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