How can I see beauty in being a mother?

I have a baby and I haven’t slept well for eight months. I am totally exhausted and the child is often sick. I want to give him love, but I am so tired that I fear I’ll drop from exhaustion.

Lama Ole’s answer:

I am also working up to my limits all the time. Often I arrive at some place, meet all my friends, and am eager to talk to them. But I know that if I don’t lie down for an hour first, I’ll give a very boring lecture later because I would tell the same thing again and again due to fatigue.

But it is also possible to use pain as a source of energy. Several times I have only made it through a lecture because I had pain as a driving force. I remember that once I extended a lecture a lot because the police were standing outside and wanted to talk to me about the car I came with. And since they didn’t want to interrupt the lecture, I extended it more and more until they left. I was so tired that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But my boots were too tight and that pain enabled me to hold out.

I believe it was the actor Laurence Olivier who recommended always keeping a stone in your shoe when you have to learn something. This painful pressure was a point of reference for him from which he could gain strength. If your eyes hurt, then be aware of them and pull the energy of the pain out from them. If your back hurts, then be aware of it and use it as an energy source.

In your case, it would be best for you to use your motherly love as a source of strength. This is actually what two billion mothers in the world do in exactly the same way at this very moment. Try to draw strength from your motherly love and experience.

Always find whatever is strongest and get energy from there. Whatever thoughts appear, put them to use. Enrich yourself through your experiences. Start from a rich perspective and never from a poor one. We create our own lives; we ourselves determine what happens. Take the way of identification—it is the fastest and most direct.

On the outer level, avoid anything that could lead to difficult dreams and experiences. Avoid real hostilities and big problems, for example, by never borrowing a lot of money. Then, on the inner level, it is about developing compassion and wisdom. Compassion means thinking of others so much that one has no more time for oneself and that one also truly recognizes and experiences the wish for happiness for all beings. Wisdom means not taking things personally anymore: awakening to the fact that such things happen to everybody at some time.

And on the highest level, one identifies directly with the buddhas. All our meditations work in exactly the same way. After a twenty minute meditation, everything is not how it was before. When coming out of the meditation, one goes into a pure world: Everybody is a buddha whether they know it or not. Everything is inherently pure, with all qualities and possibilities. It is important to experience everything from a level of surplus. And that means not just meditating but also acting like a buddha as much possible. Also after the meditation, the partner is too chubby, the dog still barks, the children are still unruly, and the boss is still insufferable. But one experiences all this in a different way. It is important to experience a pure level when coming out of the meditation.

How can we deal with pain?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Everybody gets sick. Fifteen percent of humans have the chance to use pain relievers, and the rest suffer. One should definitely use the help one can get.

The process of dying, for example, is not influenced by painkillers. What happens while dying has nothing to do with chemistry. However, heavy use of painkillers does shorten life. We should simply think, “I am removing the pain”—then the karma is good. One shouldn’t think “I am shortening life,” because then the karma is bad. It’s easy—mind is boss.

I often work on something for a long time, and when I get close to finishing it, I stop because I realize it’s not the right thing for me. But I get frustrated by never being able to finish anything.

Lama Ole’s answer:

Nobody benefits if you are feeling bad. Thus you should think that your decision is ultimately for the benefit of all beings. But you also have to be sure that you don’t run away from anything.

The only sins we don’t forgive ourselves are those we haven’t committed. Never avoid something out of anxiety or the wish to escape life. We should work on ourselves and shouldn’t act out of weakness. For example, the family has been living on social welfare for years, and you get a chance to change the situation by passing some exam. If you then suddenly were to think that you’re incapable of it, that would be cowardly; that is character destroying. You simply have to get through it, even if it means falling flat on your face. It is like bungee jumping: if you have climbed up, then you also have to jump. Otherwise, you can’t look into the mirror later. There are situations where one simply has to do what is to be done.

But there are also other situations where we don’t change our opinion out of fear or weakness, but instead we simply realize that we have been on the wrong track and we do something else instead. That’s completely all right.

But the best approach is to finish one thing and then move on to the next. That is good style! And one takes the time needed for each task as a gift to oneself. This way one can always take previous experiences into the next situation and benefit from them.

How do we transform effort into joyful effort?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In the beginning, we work largely with the determination to experience the effort as joyful!

It was never necessary for me to apply that therapy to myself. I always thought: the greater, the faster, the more joyful, the better! But for those who don’t experience this, I can actually imagine that it helps to tell oneself, for example, “Wow! How exciting! I made this woman happy! Look at how she lies there and radiates!” or, “Wow! I took the curve in the road faster this time!” or, “I worked for fourteen hours but am still fresh enough to have a beer!”

We should constantly think in a “both-and” way, and in doing so we develop the attitude that everything is completely great and exciting. Thus we pull ourselves up from the swamp by our own hair and make ourselves rich through our own will and strength.

You simply change your view. If you are looking through black glasses, everything is hell; if you’re looking through rose-colored glasses, then it’s heaven. And if you have no glasses, then it is really about whatever has to be done next. And that is more beautiful and exciting than any heaven. But you can reach this state only from heaven, not from hell. So you have to start with good projections and experiences and continue from there.

Why do you keep saying that a solution-oriented approach is better than a problem-oriented one? In order to solve a problem, I first have to understand it.

Lama Ole’s answer:

If one identifies with what one is unable to do, then one ultimately becomes less and less capable and life becomes gray and boring. No one makes progress in the world this way.

But if one identifies with what one is able to do and jumps into the tasks, then there is always something to do—one creates a huge, lively world.

What can I do when my thoughts start racing?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In general, thoughts are always there. A thought arises, and if one observes it one realizes that it just continues to flow like a stream, like waves that come and go. It is interesting when they are there; it is also good when they are not there.

You shouldn’t take thoughts too seriously. Thoughts, concepts, and ideas are useful if you have to learn something or apply your intelligence. Whenever you aren’t engaged in work that requires full concentration, you can disconnect the stream of thoughts from the immediate actions.

For example, while riding a bicycle one doesn’t think, “Now first I have to move one foot here and the other foot there, and at the same time I have to hold the handle bar and shift into the right gear,” and so on. Instead, one just sits on the bike, trusts the wisdom of the body, and rides it. If one does what lies in front of one’s nose and the thoughts continue in parallel, then the actions become more spontaneous, effortless, and useful.

Body, speech, and mind contain a great amount of spontaneous, intuitive wisdom and energy. You are a Buddha; you have everything in you; you are connected with everything.

Thoughts are very good if you can switch them on and off as you like. Then you think what you want and turn them off again when you have thought enough—you are spontaneous and effortless. The best teachers for this are the surfers on the coasts of California, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. They lie on their boards in the water. For a long time there are no waves. Then a wave appears that would bring them only halfway to the shore, and another comes that would break the board. Then finally, the right wave appears and the happy surfer gets up and rides in. He doesn’t hate one wave and isn’t attached to another, but instead he simply does what’s possible. And when we live in this way, the abilities and powers inside us come to the fore. I also learn a lot in this way about patience.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to turn off the thoughts when they become too many. But there is a good method which Milarepa also used centuries ago. He spoke the syllable “PEI.” In the very moment one says PEI aloud or inwardly, the thoughts diffuse and are gone.

Another way to free yourself from thoughts is to imagine the lama on top of your head. The lama appears as if made of water, and you let this water flow into yourself. This way you become the lama himself, who in our case is always the Karmapa. Imagine that you yourself are Karmapa and try to hold this perception and feeling as well as possible.

If important thoughts come up that distract you from what you have to concentrate on, then you can write them down. Since we Westerners react strongly to written things, it is very helpful to use notes to keep from being distracted from what is important in the moment.

Once when I helped someone who was injured, I experienced being completely focused and did exactly the right things without thinking. Is this some kind of higher awareness?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I would say that the state in which one is aware on multiple levels at the same time is the highest state of awareness. If you do exactly what is needed in a situation in a beyond-personal way—without thinking about time, about what you should feel or whether you should be afraid—then you will see that all your powers and abilities will come to the surface.

You’ll manage to do things you didn’t know you could do. Those who don’t work with their mind always want to hold on to something or push away something else. But in the moment of authentic action, one does what’s in front of one’s nose. And afterwards, when reflecting on the experience, one sees it was done with joy and power. But in the moment, the action itself was important.

Disturbing emotions are the only thing to be wary of during a spontaneous, effortless act; there must be no anger and no aversion. If there really is no disturbing feeling, then one will do what benefits others and what is right. There is no doubt about that.

On the one hand, we should do what’s in front of our nose. On the other hand, isn’t it important to think long term?

Lama Ole’s answer:

As a Buddhist, you have a much better chance than most to choose what benefits beings in the long run. This is because you decide without fear and attachment, out of a state of freedom and with a broad view.

Most humans behave like American industries: they have just invested money in the factory but they want to take it out again right away. The smarter ones act like German or Japanese industries: they invest; the investment grows and stabilizes, and in the end they get a lot out of it.

With the Buddhist overview, you can see both what feels good to do before summer and what will be good later when you are sixty and still want to do a lot for others. Right now it is very important for you to observe your mind as well as you can in all states, extremes, and experiences, and to learn from everything that happens. It is important to do this now while you are free to go through it all. Later, when the body demands more, you should have the most pleasant possible conditions in which to work. It is not about becoming bourgeois but about always being as useful as possible.

Every time you have gone through something and learned from it, then others who have to learn the exact same thing will come to you! And when you realize this, you’ll want to learn and do even twice as much, because this way you can benefit beings better.

There are Buddhist teachings about attachment that describe the body as something impure. Isn’t this a contradiction of the Diamond Way teachings? 

Lama Ole’s answer:

The Buddha gave teachings for different people. He taught monks and nuns to consider physical sensations as something unpleasant since it is dangerous for them—for their peace of mind. He told lay people that the body is a way to give joy and a means through which to work with the mind. On the highest level, it is said that there are 72,000 energy channels in the body, all of them radiant, all of them meaningful. One sees the female part as a lotus flower and the male part as a diamond. One regards the whole body as a mandala, a power-field of light and energy.

If we practice on the Diamond Way level and consider the body impure, then we are breaking our bonds. If we experience somebody else’s body as unpleasant, repulsive, impure, or meaningless, we are stepping out of the buddhas’ power-field.

I have no idea how the monks work with this; maybe they keep it disconnected in their minds. But if one practices on the level of the Diamond Way, if one has received teachings on Mahamudra and then considers the body as something impure, then one actually throws everything away again. I always tell my students that highest truth is highest joy, and one should hold this level as well as one can.

When there are many things to do at the same time, how do I follow your advice of “doing what’s in front of one’s nose”?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Then do what is closest in front of your nose! If you are writing a letter, finish it; then if there is a cup of coffee in front of you, drink it, and so on. You keep your body busy with the things that have to be done while holding everything else in mind. Then the difficulties smooth out, and gradually everything will fall into your hands like ripe fruit.

First, try to look at things clearly without being disturbed by fixed ideas and strong feelings. This means not going up and down like in an elevator all the time but coming to rest and perceiving things directly, just as they are. There can be the problem of becoming too stiff or losing compassion, where one is too closed and wants to control everything. But if you approach things in a relaxed and open way, you’ll see what needs to be done.

It is important that you stay in your middle and have confidence in yourself. You stand there with inner strength. And then, from this level of strength, you will see what fantastic things can happen. If you can hold the middle, then the rest will come by itself. If you run away from your middle and look for something else, you will only get confusion and difficulties.

This is what good karma amounts to: one has so many good impressions in mind that one rests in whatever happens. One doesn’t have to prove or excuse anything, or move anything from here to there. If we can do this, then we’ll also see which difficulties we create for ourselves. If the barriers of the ego get in the way of this, then the Lama can give advice.

When I understood that all things are composite and therefore transient, I lost all interest in everything. How can I experience the world full of infinite possibilities again?

Lama Ole’s answer:

When one experiences things as transitory, this often comes with a loss of interest and excitement. And then the question is, What comes after our attachment to things has been loosened and does not drive us anymore? How can one go on from there?

I myself am always interested in the next picture, in the unfolding of every situation into an even wider space of ever more possibilities. It is important that even while something is still happening, you are already with the next thing, then the next, so that fulfillment never stops.

So don’t try to hold on to something to the point that you just sit there not knowing how to take it further, but instead go from one experience when it reaches its peak to the next peak.

And remember that highest bliss is highest truth! Try to feel at home where there is highest bliss, highest meaning, highest fulfillment, highest awareness, highest experience, and so on. Try to see everything that brings pain, limitations, and difficulties as functional errors from the outset. The nature of all beings is always that of the Buddha. The clear light of mind is the same everywhere.

One is mistaken as long as one doesn’t recognize that. One runs after one’s inner and outer impressions and is caught in an eternal cycle. We develop compassion if we can see this situation as it is, without any stickiness or sugar coating. One can indeed say that our general experience is suffering compared to the bliss of enlightenment.

If we try to see everything as pure, can’t we lose ourselves in illusions and superficiality?

Yes, that may happen indeed. For some time in Kathmandu, we had people who threw in too many of their own trips. They said, “Everything is pure,” and then ate some things that didn’t do them any good.
The point is that if we want something too forcefully, we are outside of our center and can therefore make mistakes. One has to know that on the ultimate level all beings are buddhas, but since they don’t know that yet they make many mistakes. It is a matter of holding ultimate and conditioned truth at the same time.

People make the mistake of confusing the path and the goal, of mixing up conditioned and ultimate truth. And that usually happens to people when they are under emotional pressure—when they simply want to see something in particular, or when they have to protect themselves from an experience that would be too painful. That’s why I say that the pure view should develop out of mature understanding, and not because one is escaping or hiding from things.

One should think, “Everybody is a buddha. Let’s see who has discovered that already and who hasn’t.” This means that we take it easy and that there is no pressure. The easiest way here is to look into the mirror and check, “How important is it for me that this situation comes out in this or that way?” This especially plays a part in matters of love. Maybe in the beginning, falling in love is only possible if one projects a beautiful image onto the other person. At first there might just be certain hormones that let the other appear as especially desirable. And then later on, you find out if there is really anything behind it—whether there is a bond or whether it was just a brief attraction.

And there, it is important to watch oneself closely—“Do I just want to see that or do I really see it?” If one is not trying to see something but sees it nevertheless, then one won’t make mistakes. Thus we should always act from our center. We are centered as long as we stand there firmly, without having to prove or apologize for anything.

How do you experience an unpleasant situation on the highest level — for example, if you are caught in smog and can’t breathe well?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Then I am aware of the inability to breathe for a moment and imagine how all those lead molecules find their way into my blood stream, where they go from there, and so on. Of course I try to leave the place, but it’s no tragedy.

We will all grow old, get sick, and die. The question is whether you make a problem out of it or not—here you can decide. You might also enjoy holding your breath. Instead of experiencing the breath in the throat, you experience it in the chest, and then comes pressure in the eyes. It’s possible to turn anything that happens into a party in the mind. In the same way one celebrates a beautiful lady, mind can celebrate itself.
And again, it’s about doing two things at the same time. On the one hand, one maintains the fresh moment of experiencing whatever is happening, and on the other, one considers what is worthwhile and what isn’t—how to manage to live a bit longer and to take better care of oneself.

Also remember that nobody will want to listen to you if you are caught in too many dramas and tragedies. The joyful view is better, where people say, “Ah, here there might be possibilities” and “here we can do something.” The way you act will influence people. If you can do something witty, joyful, and meaningful, then people will listen to you. You should always stay in a good mood.

If you lose the feeling of people’s buddha nature, of their potential, then you will become lonesome. Try to think instead, “OK, we made a little mistake there; maybe we can change it in this or that way,” and come in with surplus. Then you’re in a good position.

How can we keep the level of development we have reached?

Lama Ole’s answer:

On the level of cause and effect, we simply decide not to kill anymore, not to abuse others sexually, not to steal, not to lie, not to get “stupid drunk,” and so on. We find out where we made mistakes in the past and say to ourselves, “I am not going to do that anymore.”

On the second level, which is more psychological, disturbing feelings are dealt with. Here we try to remove our anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, and confusion. We recognize that those feelings don’t bring any benefit but only destroy a lot.

The third level is all about insight. It’s a matter of knowing that a higher level of joy means a higher level of truth and that enlightenment is the full unfolding of mind. This is a well-rounded state, at rest in itself and beyond hope and fear. We cannot grasp at or produce this state of mind, but only give space for it to appear.

There is a good joke about this. Enlightenment is like meeting a beautiful lady. If you chase her, she’ll call the police. Instead, you have to park your Porsche in front of her door, put your checkbook on top, and wait until she comes. So we can create the outer conditions for enlightenment, but we cannot grasp at it.

Aren’t we suppressing our disturbing feelings if we try to hold a pure view at all times?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Keeping the pure view starves out the disturbing feelings. We deliberately do not take them seriously or perceive them as real, because we know that the mirror behind the images is greater than any image could be—that the experiencer, our mind itself, is far more exciting than anything that is experienced. The experience itself is not distorted by this view; on the contrary, one sees things more as they are. One chooses only to see what is real and to draw energy away from what is not real.

So, if a disturbing feeling means a lower level of truth than a happy feeling, then you are simply smart if you direct your awareness and energy towards happiness and truth instead of giving attention to where nothing good can be expected anyway. I would say that this is not suppressing disturbing feelings, but simply being smart.