The Teacher listened patiently to a woman while she poured out her troubles to him. She described a difficult situation with a certain family member about which she was deeply troubled, but which she felt helpless to change.
The Teacher said to the woman, "I see you are agitated about your relationship with this person. His behavior troubles you and you have no power to change it. You can achieve inner peace despite this situation. However, doing so will require an important change in the way you perceive yourself and the way you interact with the world. This may be difficult, but it is the only way to escape the controlling web of negative emotions in which you are entangled. Let me explain why this change is necessary."
"The first thing I want you to do is to take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then release it slowly. Focus on the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils, filling your lungs, and then escaping through your nose or mouth. Let this absorb all of your attention. If thoughts of your family situation or any other problem come to you, set them aside temporarily as you allow your breath to become the center of your awareness. Continue this breathing exercise until you feel that you have calmed yourself and re-established control over your attention."
"Now, expand your awareness to the rest of your body. If there are places in your body where the muscles are tense, try to relax those muscles and allow your awareness to flow through them in a calming fashion. Focus particularly on the muscles of your face, jaw, and neck; shoulders; and lower back. Draw a relaxing breath and allow any strain or tension that you find in your body to be expelled with the exhalation."
"In this way, you will establish that it is you, and not your problems, that are in control of your self and your attention. Having done so, it will be possible for you to examine your life situation with greater objectivity. You can become aware of the source of your emotional anguish, which is the first and most important step toward escaping it."
"Consider this: no problem exists outside yourself. The actions of others or the existence of certain circumstances may create a situation, but that situation does not become a problem until you label it as such. It is your mind that observes a particular situation and decides that it represents a problem. What you perceive as a problem, others may not. So, for example, the behavior of your family member is a situation, but it does not create a problem for you until your mind observes the situation and is disturbed by it. It is that disturbance that causes the mind to label the situation a problem."
"What is the source of that disturbance? Most likely, it is your attachment to the notion that your family member must behave in a particular way in order for you to be happy. In other words, you have chosen to make your happiness hostage to the behavior of other persons. This may be because you feel that others must treat you with a certain amount of love, consideration, or respect; or because you are genuinely concerned that they may harm themselves or others. Either way, you can regain your ability to be happy by reclaiming control over your happiness independent of the actions of others. You can view the actions and life situations of family members with concern, any may even act compassionately to help minimize the damage that they do to themselves and others if you believe it is necessary to do so. But your actions will be more effective if carried out from a base sense of happiness and well-being that has its foundation within your own awareness and is not dependent upon any other person."
"It may surprise you to know that your awareness includes more than one sentient intelligence. Much of your day-to-day activity is carried on by the intelligence I call Ego. This is the awareness that is attached to your body and particularly your brain. It evolved along with the brain and its function is self-preservation. Originally a set of genetically programmed reflexes, Ego developed in tandem with the increasing complexity of the human brain, and eventually acquired the capacity for abstract thought. At that point, Ego was able to conceive of itself as an entity separate from the body and its environment. As a result, Ego's original beneficial purpose to maintain and protect the body - the existence of the individual as a physical entity - took on the additional purpose of preserving Ego itself. It is no exaggeration to say that Ego now believes it is the body's function to serve and protect Ego, and not the other way around. Ego therefore seeks to dominate and control your awareness, and to exclude from it other intelligences, including the intelligence I refer to as the higher Self."
"Unfortunately, because of its roots in the primitive centers of the brain and nervous system, Ego also is the channel of negative emotions. Many of these - anger, fear, and related emotions - have their origins in the fight-or-flight survival reflex. As long as Ego dominates the awareness of the individual, these negative emotions will have an important role in behavior. They are useful to Ego's pursuit of control over awareness, since their natural self-preservation purpose requires them to supplant other mental functions while they are active. These negative emotions are a primary source of the disturbance you are experiencing. Because Ego sees itself as the center of the universe, it seeks to control not only the individual in which it resides, but all other individuals with which it comes in contact. Any resistance to that control by others (or by the egos of others) is interpreted as a threat, and generates fear, anger, and aggressive behavior."
"Not all emotional disturbance has its origin in Ego; some may arise from love and compassion, which originate in the higher Self. Compassion can be distinguished from the egoic emotions by its external focus (on the well-being of others rather than the ego itself) as well as by the fact it does not employ the fight-or-flight bodily reflex to dominate awareness."
"What is necessary to inner peace is for you to learn to step outside Ego and consider your life situations objectively from the perspective of the higher Self. What makes this difficult is that Ego is continuously striving to exclude the higher Self from access to your consciousness through its control over the negative emotions. However, if the higher Self is once able to assert itself, your consciousness will naturally be drawn to it because the higher Self is the source of peace, love and happiness. Tapping that source will enable you to discover a peaceful space in the core of your being that cannot be disturbed by external events. This will allow you to forsake Ego's obsession (and corresponding frustration) with controlling those externalities."
"The higher Self is the core of your being as an immortal Spirit, rather than a transient physical body. It is the kernel of God-stuff that manifests in your awareness. As a part of God, it is the extension of universal love into the space that you occupy. It is something that you do not create, but rather discover through meditation and prayer. It is the part of you that knows that it exists. It sits behind the sense-awareness and world-awareness of more superficial elements of your being, observing without judging; expressing compassion rather than disapproval. When you can choose to live the larger part of your life from this aspect of the Self, you will exist in a state of greater equanimity, free from the need to judge and create conflict in your surroundings. You can relegate Ego and the other aspects of your physical being to their proper function of maintaining your physical existence, while reserving to the higher Self control over interactions with other individuals and the Universe itself."
"The idea that happiness is entirely internal to each individual may seem strange, and Ego will reject it. Few are aware of this inner Source of peace, and fewer still are able to live continuously in the state of awareness with equanimity that it confers. The Source is opposed by the egoic mind, which survives by creating disturbance. Ego seeks to control individual awareness through the distractions it creates. By extension, Ego is driven to attempt to control both internal and external circumstances.It cannot exercise that control if your awareness arises from the Source of peace. It tries to absorb your attention by creating problems and then obsessing over finding solutions to the problems that it itself creates. From Ego's perspective, the best problem is one that cannot be solved. As long as you allow your attention to be diverted to the irrational task of solving the unsolvable, Ego is guaranteed to thrive, feeding off the disturbance in your awareness."
"It should be clear, therefore, that there is no such thing as a problem that is external to yourself. Problems are created and nourished by Ego out of its misguided sense of self-preservation. However, you may choose to found your existence on a peaceful core that is rooted in the loving Spirit of the universe. From that core emanates the peace that passes understanding, that can only be disturbed if you allow it to be. By becoming aware of this core of your being, and focusing your consciousness on it, you are enabled to act compassionately in the world to alleviate the suffering of others, without unnecessarily taking that suffering upon yourself."
"The way to develop awareness of the higher Self for most people is meditation. The breathing exercise you performed earlier is one form of meditation. By focusing all your attention on the breath, you were able to protect your center of awareness temporarily from the strident domination of ego. Other forms of meditation exist, but the key aspect of meditation that will allow your higher Self to emerge is the determination to keep your awareness peacefully focused on a neutral or positive object, turning aside all distractions. As the clouds of negativity are dispersed by this focus, the bright light of the higher Self can emerge. Once you have experienced the deep contentment of living from the source of peace, love, and happiness that is the higher Self, you will find yourself returning to it again and again. Eventually, you will develop the ability to see the world through its loving eyes, and the more you do so, the more you will choose to reject the negative lens that is ego."
"Finally, as you learn to perceive your life situations from the perspective of the higher Self, you will be able to act - or not act - out of compassion for the benefit of yourself and others, rather than out of ego's need to defend itself. With peace, love, and happiness as your base condition, you will find yourself reaching out to share these benefits with others in the way most suited to their well-being. You will be free of self-centered emotional disturbance, which may go a long way to a peaceful and harmonious resolution of any remaining negative aspects of the life situation, and in any case will bring you greater peace."