By Lucas Lafrance
When I started my practice almost six years ago, like many of us, I didn’t know where to start.
I’m not talking about a lack of resources or outside guidance; the internet submerges us with information about anything nowadays. It’s maybe one of the greatest gift of modernity. Being able to instantly quench the thirst for knowledge is something I came to see as valuable in my life. Without this new-age blessing, I would never have been able to advance in my understanding of the Dharma.
The thing is, even armed with all this practical understanding, I had trouble to put my daily practice in motion. Knowing what the Dharma means is one thing, but figuring out how to apply it to our inner emotional world is another. It seemed to me like I was still the same person as before.
I still struggled when faced with anything I regarded as negative.
I can’t remember which book or which podcast shifted my mindset into leading with compassion, but to this day I have a deep belief that it was the turning point for me.
I had strong feelings of aversion towards certain people and I came to understand that this was the main obstacle on my path. I already possessed a good understanding of non-self and impermanence, but I was unable to apply them into my practice without a true compassionate emotional background.
But how can we suddenly become more altruistic? What can push us into shifting the narrative we create about the world from self-centered to compassion?
The simple answer is mindfulness—being self aware.
With the power of self-awareness we can analyze and influence the stories we create about our environment. My feelings of aversion were still there, but I forced my consciousness to let go of the thoughts associated with these feelings. Even though I still felt the anger and the judgment on a deep level, I would not allow my mind to revel in it. I, instead, started to actively change the narrative towards one based on compassion.
A big trigger for me was people with what I considered to be uninformed opinions. It made my blood boil to picture those people spread their incorrect information to others like a disease. It was more than a simple concern for the well being of general knowledge, it was a real grudge I came to hold against whoever I considered to be unintelligent.
Using self-awareness, I forced myself to stop this little movie of them spreading their incorrect information and instead tried to picture their past existence.
Maybe that person didn’t do well in school because their parents weren’t very supportive, for example. There are millions of variables to take into consideration when it comes to the understanding of anything. There are countless phenomenons I don’t understand myself for different reasons.
Why am I allowing myself this lack of knowledge but judging others for the same thing?
My past existence allowed me to know the things I know and prohibited me to know the things I don’t. Since the same process applies to everyone, there is no logical reason for me to judge anyone with lesser knowledge than me, or resent anyone with more. Forcing this narrative into my mind, I started to understand non-self on a much deeper level.
The impact this shift had on my practice was critical. My analytical mind was unable to let go of my bad perceptions of others without a conscious effort to calm the waters of my emotional turmoil. This goes to show the symbiotic relationship there is between our consciousness and the inner world attached to it. Even when my anger and aversion seemed to be justifiable, I reminded myself that they were in reality an expression of my own ignorance. From resentment towards the outside, these emotions shifted to compassionate behavior towards my own lack of wisdom.
With patience and dedication, I was able to transform this false ideology of mine into a deeper understanding of myself, others and the Dharma in general.
When I started my journey on the path I had this misconception it could be learned like any other classical theoretical subject. I felt like I read enough books to understand the entirety of it because I could answer any questions on the subject on paper. However, the Dharma goes further.
The teachings require of us that we look inward and find our own faults. We have this ability to lie to ourselves and to reinforce unwholesome behavior because we lack the wisdom necessary to look at ourselves with complete honesty. Like Thich Nhat Han famously said: From love comes understanding, from understanding comes love.
If we ought to progress in any way on the path, before anywhere else, we must first apply this wisdom towards ourselves.
Lucas Lafrance is a simple practitioner from Montreal, Canada. He’s been a practitioner for 6 years now and is trying to help people around him the best he can.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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