When Zen literature speaks about the "walls or gates" blocking access to our inner serenity and happiness it uses the words "poison" since these walls are, most of the time, like poison pills that we swallow without being fully conscious of their effects. Of course many sources of our suffering, sadness, sorrow, grief come from outside self such as loss of a loved one or a job, accident, war, verbal/emotional aggression, disasters, etc. However we shall see that most of our hindrances against achieving serenity and happiness are self inflected. The Buddha 2500 year ago talked about causes of human suffering many times during his 50 years teaching. The term "suffering" is now better translated as dissatisfactions. You will see that the main source of our suffering and dissatisfaction is our ego-self controlling our mind. This list of "poisons" is by no mean exhaustive and in fact cannot be.
1) Desires: By desire I mean anything we want, expect, search, dream, hope of such things as intelligence, money, power, control, possessions, fame, pleasures of all type, etc. Obviously many of our desires and hopes are natural, logical and expected such as good health, proper education, adequate job and retirement, good relationships, etc. The problems start when our desires and hopes become unrealistic, endless in their quest to fulfill them or when we become addicted to them (see attachments below). They are with attachments the main source of our ongoing dissatisfactions.
2) Attachments: An attachment is a strong emotional bond/feeling between one person with another one, with a pet, job, money, activity, food, intoxicants, gambling, sex, mind set such as opinion, concept, ideology. In fact we can be attached to anything. When the source of such attachment is transient such as self, a person or to a job it is clear that there is an obvious risk of suffering and disappointment when the cause of such attachment fades out or disappears suddenly.
"Happiness is not how much we have but how little we need,” said the Buddha: 2500 BCE
Controlling our desires regarding needs, goods and possessions is a very difficult task to follow in our society of consumption where people look more at what we have rather than what we are.
3) Judgment: The same way that we have thoughts popping out continuously we are judging all the time even subconsciously in auto pilot mode and without any purpose. Our ongoing judging activity has two main sources:
1) The first one is acquired: we have been groomed during our education to acquire an analytic and judgmental mind as key to success in life.
2) The second one is our ego-self that likes to judge all the time feeding itself in an auto satisfaction behavior. Judging to make a proper decision is perfectly logical and expected but judging for the seek of judging without any decisions it is pure waste of energy and great source of negative emotions.
4) Anger: How often are we angry with someone, a situation, an event, the weather, the traffic, the food, the bills, ourselves? Very often, too often. The question is: Who is suffering from it? Surely not the cause of anger but in fact, the one who is angry.
" Anger is like a red coal in your hand that you cannot throw away to someone,” said the Buddha.
Controlling our anger is difficult since this negative emotion is directly proportional to the size of our ego and any emotional reaction created in our brain circuits is X15 faster than our rational thinking. Meditation will help you greatly to fix it.
5) Words: What we say and write can back fire on us very badly without any control like a boomerang. They can cause significant pain and irreversible damage if they are inappropriate by the sender or misused by the receiver.
" Always be careful of your words since you cannot retrieve them " said the Buddha.
6) Lack of patience/ eagerness: A frequent cause of frustration and anger.
7) Fear: Fears are obviously legitimate when we are facing incurable diseases, loosing job, natural disaster, violent crime, etc. but unfortunately, most of these causes cannot be prevented.
" Things are what they are; if you cannot prevent them accept them" said the Buddha.
8) Jealousy: Also part of our ego it generates negative emotion; but.... who is suffering? Surely no the source of jealousy but the victim of it.
9) Pride: It is OK to have pride about our accomplishments, our kids, our work etc. but too much of it can/will be detrimental since part of our ego.
10) Poor self image: Perhaps the opposite of pride is a poor self-image. The poor self image is a growing cause of dissatisfaction and stress since the society and commercials are brainwashing us for the perfect body, great intelligence, perfect parents, perfect employee, perfect spouse, perfect sex, perfect friend, perfect house, etc. Meditation will help by discovering that your True nature is very different from this poor self-image.
11) Guilt: Guilt is a very frequent cause of suffering, pain and stress. It can last for days, weeks if not forever. How to deal with this complex emotional state is beyond this post.
12) Delusions & illusions: There are many of them. Here is a very short list.
There are other causes of dissatisfactions and many of them are specific to each of us.
SO YOU MAY SAY: "WHAT IS YOUR POINT? WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOID THEM?"
Like dealing with our stressors the key to manage our "poisons" is not to try to eliminate them but to be mindful to them. Being mindful to them is a giant step towards their management if not their control. How to be mindful to our poisons? .... Think for a sec. To be mindful to them cannot be achieved without practicing diligently meditation.
HOW MEDITATION WORKS ON OUR POISONS?
You remember the definition of meditation:
" A physical and mental activity aiming at relaxing then controlling body and mind"
When we meditate we are- in fact- mindful to the 4 phases of meditation that is:
1) Body posture such as still body/straight back. 2) Focus point (anchor of the mind). 3) Incoming thoughts. 4) Return to the anchor point. Because we tame our mind to be mindful we become day-by-day more mindful to many external factors such as our poisons and stressors. Without being mindful to them it is impossible to manage them. To be mindful is the first mandatory step in the controlling process. Nothing more nothing less.
A practical advice:
Write down your current "poisons", think about them then pick 1 or 2 that are currently affecting you the most. Using a mindful non-judgmental non-emotional approach try, once a while to meditate on one of them for a short period of time. This approach is commonly used in meditation-based stress therapy while dealing with stressors.
"When facing a problem try to fix it alone or with somebody else. If there is no solution there is no problem but just a fact." A crazy Zen saying.
" Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional”. The Buddha.
Ven. Ji Gong Sunim.