Everything we experience triggers an emotional reaction. When something feels bad our mind tends to fabricate a complicated story, telling us what object or person to blame for the bad feeling. Emotions are important guides we should carefully listen to. What we tend to forget is that the story our mind fabricates is dependent on what we believe, our current emotional state and cultural background. In many situations it is our mind that is creating most of the drama, when in fact the world is quite ok as it is.
Two years ago we spent a couple of weeks in India. Our small hut was located directly on the beach. We would fall asleep with the sound of the ocean in our ears. Each morning would start with a long walk on the beach, followed by two hours of Yoga: Breathing, sweating, gazing over the endless Arabian see. After a spectacular sunset we would head to one of the small restaurants on the beach. Savoring Palak Paneer, Aloo Gobi, Dahl Makhani, vegetable rice and steaming cheese Nan. Our feet in the sand, a cold King Fisher beer in one hand, millions of stars and a few candles illuminating the scenery.
Oops. I forgot to mention the five dogs circling the table, begging for food, carefully checking out every intruder crossing the invisible boundaries of their territories.
Then one day a friend got sick. He had a bad bacterial infection and was dehydrating quickly. We asked for the nearest hospital, hopped on one of the local Tuc-Tucs and arrived, after a detour to the dental clinic due to communication problems, at Dhavalikar Hospital.
Nurses and doctors took good care of our friend. Once he was in his bed we left for the beach, promising to come back soon with a stomach friendly dinner.
Lost in thought, mind racing, thinking how quickly good things can go stale, we made our way back. Everything felt different. All of a sudden the heat seemed unbearable, the beach dirty, the dogs aggressive. For the first time, head slightly dropped, gaze on the ground, I noticed dog droppings hidden in the sand.
“Filthy dogs!” I thought.
The beach was the same. The dogs were the same. Our friend was suffering, but still had his great sense of humor. So why was I lashing out at the innocent dogs?
I was sad, still thinking about the past, what we could have done differently to prevent the bacterial infection, locked into the “cultural ethos” of Swiss cleanliness, where dogs and their owners go to school and learn how to behave “correctly”. All the confusion, sadness, anger and fear creating a whirlwind of thoughts, that finally resulted in blaming the innocent dogs for everything.
Not enlightened at all, but very human.
Only a calm mind can see clearly
Emotions are dynamically fed by our drives and dispositions, interlocked with other emotions, related to our beliefs, a wide-ranging network of symbols and the “cultural ethos” of the society we grew up in.
If our mind is a whirlwind of emotions, we won’t be able to see things clearly. Even a simple palette of colors will be taken apart, rearranged, mixed together, until we see a dramatic Van Gogh painting instead of a neutral set of colors.
That evening, with a calmer mind, the beach slowly regained its former beauty. I wondered how quickly my mind had tricked me into only seeing the negative sides of Patnem beach.
My mind had only meant well. It wanted to help me cope with a difficult situation by creating a story that reflected my emotional state and fitted my believes.
I was happy again, could finally laugh at my mind’s ability to create more drama than necessary.
I was back in paradise.