Before coming to University, I really wanted to be a professional golfer. My coach said I had some natural talent, and I managed to get to a pretty good standard as a result of his lessons and going out on the course regularly with my dad.
However, after a while of steady improvement, I hit a wall. I plateaued, and my handicap started yo-yoing. I asked my coach what was up, and he gave me a lesson and some good pieces of advice. But when I played out on the course with my dad later that week, I was still hitting every bush and tree in sight.
When I went back to my coach, he asked me a question, one that made me realise what I’d been doing wrong all along.
The question he asked when I complained to him was, “Well, have you been practising what I taught you?”
And I hadn’t. Sure, I’d been going out on the course with my dad, but I hadn’t been going down to the Driving Range hitting bucket after bucket, like everyone else who genuinely wanted to be a pro golfer was doing. I wasn’t practising what my coach had said, which meant there was no way I was going to be able to actually implement it.
Ok, ok, enough golf talk. The point of this story is to show exactly what the Dalai Lama is saying here about achieving happiness. The advice he’s giving, and the teachings that are contained in this project, are not quick fixes. There’s no nugget of information that you’ll read and it’ll be like a light-switch of happiness has just been turned on (although that would be such a cool invention).
The brain is a muscle, so just like people who regularly go to the gym (myself not included) to work out physical muscles, it’s just as important to train our mental muscle. That’s why I’m hoping this playlist that we’re creating will be something we can keep coming back to in order to reinforce and remind ourselves of the key ideas.
“Even when the sky comes falling down, I’ll be ready when the sky comes falling down”
‘When the Day Comes’ is all about this preparation, and it’s put in the metaphorical context of readying oneself for a war, but we can just imagine we’re going to war with negative states of mind (too much of a stretch?).
“Today I will march for you, today I will march for me, we raise our arms and hope for better days”
In all seriousness, the Dalai Lama explicitly makes the comparison to soldiers drilling for battle, saying that we must train the mind in the same way, so that it can handle any obstacles thrown its way. We’ll never be able to stop encountering some forms of suffering, even if we just stayed indoors forever and never ventured outside (something that we’ve all recently found out isn’t a lifestyle we want to continue any longer than we have to). But the actual experience of suffering happens in the mind, so even though we can’t change things like old age and death, we can change how we handle them, through training the mind in the field of happiness.
Equally it’s interesting that Howard C. Cutler, a psychiatrist and the man interviewing the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness, says that neuroscience has proven that the brain can design new patterns and new combinations of nerve cells in response to our ways of thinking. In other words, our brains are malleable, which means we can adjust and alter their wiring through practising new, positive habits.
It seems that practice really does, as my mum always tells me, make perfect. Well, maybe perfection is a bit of a lofty goal…but it can at least make us happier, and that’s not only an achievable aim, but one that we all have a right to reach.
“Even when the day comes, I’ll be ready when the day comes”
So raise those dumbbells of delight and hop on that tranquility treadmill - it’s workout time.