I am committed to do the work but the difficulties of my life continually take me out of it, leaving me feeling disappointed. Clearly I need to change my situation so I can do the work.
For most of us, ordinary life is very hard. There are many setbacks and difficulties. Our attention is continually being pulled involuntarily in different directions. But let’s be clear. If we did not have these problems, we would have no interest in the work and no opportunity to work.
I remember Baba Ram Das saying: “No appointment, no disappointment.” This is true from one point of view and it’s a valuable insight, but not one for all occasions. The first step towards the work is taken when you come to understand that the world cannot satisfy you, that for all its beauty, everything it has to offer you is insufficient. This is a great disappointment but a necessary one.
And it must be noted that successful people, in the conventional sense, are rarely attracted to the fourth way for long. They may think that this work will help them be more successful, that it will give them additional powers for personal attainment, but it is not so.
The difficulties of life are necessary for work. The greater difficulty is when we are no longer disappointed for ourselves because then a huge source of work energy is lost. Equanimity is much more dangerous to one’s work than struggle, although equanimity also has its place in the later stages, when it is no longer a cover for complacency or defeatism. But we have the ongoing heartbreak of disappointment on behalf of others, especially our children and young friends.
For me, the disappointment leads to negative thoughts and moods which make it impossible to work.
Dealing with one’s negativity about oneself is absolutely critical. Continual self-criticism is enormously destructive. In the process of learning meditation, control of these states can be developed. Essentially, in meditation you learn to separate from thinking, to know in real time that you are perception and attention, not the thinker. This separation is dis-identification, a disengagement from the thinker and a re-engagement with voluntary attention. It is not stopping thoughts. It is a shift of identity.
This does not come easily for me.
There are other things you can do. Vajrayana teaches hundreds of possible antidotes. Strictly speaking, meditation is not an antidote. Placing attention on sensation can be effective. Negative thoughts need a certain amount of attention to flourish. Shifting attention elsewhere is like cutting the power cord on negative thinking. Move to an activity that diverts your attention.
Voluntarizing negative states and self-talk can also generate surprisingly positive results; rather than compound the negativity by criticizing yourself for it, agree to go into it. Intentionally make yourself emphatically negative and see what it looks like (probably best in private). You may even laugh at yourself, which is a most wonderful antidote.
Ultimately, the only real refuge is to be present in the present. That is where real help can be found. The past and the future have almost all the negativity in our lives. Of course, there may be exceptions such as those who experience high levels of physical pain.
One general rule. When in a negative space, do not let yourself think about or act upon anything important, until the mood has passed. Protect what is precious to you.