You don’t have to practice yoga or follow an Ayurvedic diet to benefit from Buddhist ideas (but if you do, more power to you).
Whether or not you think about balancing your dosha, here are three powerful elements of Buddhist philosophy, “The Noble Truths,” and how you can incorporate them into every day. They might just change your life…
1. Dukkha: Life is painful and causes suffering.
Many people might say that Buddhism is pessimistic or negative. This is a common result of learning that one of the Noble Truths is translated as “Life is suffering.” But there’s more to this statement. It’s not just telling us, “Life is tough, so deal with it.” So what is it telling us?
We actually can create more suffering in our lives by trying to avoid or suppress difficult emotions. Yes, our lives are inevitably punctuated with various unpleasant feelings: loss, sadness, fatigue, boredom, anxiety appear and reappear during our lives.
But attaching or clinging to particular expectations, material items, and states of being is often a cause for acute frustration, disappointment, and other forms of pain. So rather than fear our suffering or seek an ultimate resolution to it (and become frustrated by our lack of finding one), we can learn simply to recognize our suffering.
How we can use this belief every day: Try not to buy into the idea that you’re broken. Expect that death, aging, sickness, suffering, and loss are part of life. Practice acceptance in the face of strife. Stop attaching to the idea that life should be easy and pain free, both emotionally and physically. This is a misconception made popular by the fashion, beauty, and pharmaceutical industries.
Illness, heartbreak, loss, disappointment, and frustration are parts of life that can be mitigated by practicing “non-attachment.” Try to embrace imperfection, to let go of this belief that life should be a certain way. Open your heart to uncertainty.
2. Anitya: Life is in constant flux.
Anitya or “impermanence” means that life as we know it is in constant flux. We can never access the moment that just passed, nor can we ever replicate it. As each day passes, our cells are different, our thoughts develop, the temperature and air quality shifts. Everything around us is different. Always.
When we are feeling especially uncomfortable, the concept of impermanence can be, paradoxically, comforting. In other words: if nothing is permanent, we know our pain will pass. But when we are experiencing joy, the idea of impermanence can be incredibly fear-inducing.
If we accept the idea of impermanence at face-value, it can be incredibly liberating. In the West, about 100 years after the Buddha expressed this idea, Greek philosopher Heraclitus mirrored the belief when he famously said, “You can never step in the same river twice.” All we have is the present moment.
How we can use it in our everyday lives: Celebrate the idea of change. Accept that everything is constantly changing. It’s kind of amazing, when you just think about it! And even when the idea of impermanence might feel scary, it helps us appreciate everything we are experiencing in the present: our relationships, body, mood, health, the weather, our favorite shoes, our jobs, our youth, our minds. So let’s savor those moments we do enjoy and know that the ones we don’t enjoy will pass.
3. Anatma: The self is always changing.
When I ask clients what they want to get out of therapy, they commonly answer, “I want to find myself.” Our culture has led us to believe there’s a concrete, constant “self” tucked away somewhere in us. Is it between our heart and liver? Or somewhere unknown in our brain? Who knows!
Buddhism, however, assumes there is no fixed, stable “self.” In line with Anitya (impermanence), our cells, memories, thoughts, and personal narratives — all of the “matter” that ultimately comprises our identities — change over time.
Sure, we all have personalities (though they can change over time). We have names, and jobs, and other titles that we use to identify ourselves, to feel a sense of “self.”
But the idea of a constant self is yet another story our culture has told us. It is a story we can change, and thereby accept the idea that we ourselves can change — at any time, in any place. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Thanks to impermanence, anything is possible.”
How we can use it in our everyday life: Instead of focusing on “finding ourselves,” we ought to focus on creating the self we wish to be at every moment. It’s possible for us to be, and feel, different today than we were and felt yesterday. Being depressed today doesn’t mean we’ll be depressed forever. We can forgive others. We can forgive ourselves.
Once we let go of our attachment to the idea of the constant “self,” we can rest more comfortably with the constant change present in all of life. In each new moment, we ourselves are new.