"One should become the master of one's mind rather than let one's mind master oneself."
––Japanese Buddhist priest and philosopher Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282)
A grandmother helped me understand things in a new way. I was often being a stern taskmaster over my mind, which was stressful. I yearned for more openness and joy.
As a Buddhist practitioner for more than thirty years, I had been striving to follow Nichiren's advice that we must master our minds or our minds will master us. But that dominator/obedience approach wasn't working. Being rigid is not fun for me or the people around me. Seeking to become the master of my mind sometimes became a battle within myself. (As a pacifist, I am repulsed by battles.)
Buddhist activist scholar Joanna Macy presents another option: she urges us to focus on gratitude first, as we set out to change the world. That sounds easy! But I found that the more I focused on gratitude, the more ungrateful, complaining, worrying thoughts filled my disobedient mind.
Then a Buddhist grandmother friend taught me that she calls those "disobedient" swirls of thoughts creative. She thinks of them like her preschooler grandchildren who spend much time in her home. Enjoying the children's creative play, she lovingly distracts them if their creativity is leading towards harm.
When I remember, I imagine my mind as a creative preschooler whom I dearly love. I allow emotions to swell and ebb and flow with love in a safe place, saying to her, “It’s going to be okay. I’m here. I love you.” And I write longhand in my journal, which often brings new perspectives and a fresh start. As I chant, I open more and more to each moment as a fresh start. Nichiren Buddhism calls each fresh-start moment hon nin myo. Perhaps these “fresh starts” are like how a creative preschooler is totally present to each new moment of ever-changing life.
Imagining my mind as a creative preschooler whom I dearly love helps me take a deep breath and relax a bit as we play together.
Oh, that we may better learn to play with our inner (grand)child in a loving joyful way, even when she's freaking out and throwing a temper tantrum.