Bodhi Mind Reflection

How to Live a Life of Contentment and Happiness

Jeanette Semke

Regret and reconciling with the past can lead to greater contentment and happiness

In his talk about the importance of an attitude of contentment, Grand Master Wei Chueh said, “We should praise benevolent deeds done by others and reflect on our own unwholesome deeds.”  Praising benevolent deeds of others comes pretty easily to me and, yes, doing so is accompanied by contentment.  However, the challenge for me is that I have a difficult time maintaining a mind of contentment when I contemplate my own unwholesome actions.  The thoughts of those deeds continue to visit me, now and then, most days.  When they visit me, I often feel shame and discomfort.  Sometimes, when my mind is not in control, those thoughts about unwholesome deeds stay with me.  I feel agitation and self-loathing.  I even seem to be attached to them.  I think to myself, “I must be attached to them when they don’t cease.”  At such times,I don’t feel contented at all.  Dualistic thinking with judgements about good and bad, right and wrong, pleasant and unpleasant, are strong in these moments.  A strong sense of the “I” separate from all other beings prevails.  

As I become more skillful in quieting my mind, the obsessive thoughts about past mistakes, as potent as they now seem, may fade more readily.  I strive to weaken the uncontrolled narrative about my mistakes and strengthen my ability to carefully and mindfully reflect upon and contemplate those mistakes. What is less clear is how, actually, to cultivate more mindful reflection on those past missteps.  I figure it is important to engage in such contemplation in order to better understand what actions are skillful and what actions are unskillful.  Beyond that, it is an excellent opportunity to examine what tendencies and habits of thought led to those actions.  Also, in such reflection I hope to better understand what delusive thoughts undergird my attachment to regretful and self-punishing thoughts.  Further reflection on my unwholesome deeds may be a step towards purifying my mind.  I hope that “purifying” will help the thoughts and accompanying discontent pass away and not return.  My wish is to to refine my approach to contemplation.  The pain of shame seems to be well-established in my neural pathways after many years of remembering past mistakes and bad behavior.  Still, I think that there is an attitude of positive regret that illudes me.  

I figure this is important work.  Although I am grateful for the ever increasing contentment in my life, I see my difficulty with my regret and shame as a yet unresolved barrier.  One aid in that exploration may be to contemplate my dualistic thinking.  Since the strong sense of a separate self makes me more vulnerable to the sting of memories of past mistakes, I will further consider the teachings on emptiness.  Another aid is to investigate the meaning of positive regret.  Still another is to strengthen the bodhi mind so that it is more disciplined, wiser and clearer. 


Benefits of the Practice and how it leads to the growth of contentment

The struggle to reconcile with my.past mistakes brings humility.  That benefits me.  The counting meditation taught by Abbess has helped me to increase the number of minutes I meditate without the arising of delusive thoughts.  Also, I am confident in saying that the meditation practice is a cause of my increased contentment and wiser choices for action throughout the day.  I feel that slowly over time I am having more experiences of being in the moment and seeing things as they are.  These moments happen spontaneously and I cannot connect them to a particular moment in meditation or a particular Buddhist teaching.  I think my conscious mind is changing in positive ways that transcend language.

I have missed only one day of meditation in the last year.  Starting 2 years ago with a meditation of a few minutes, the length of my meditations increased to 30 minutes for sixth months.  The  consistency of a daily meditation has helped me to increase the meditation time to one hour per day for the last couple of months.  My consistent daily practice and guidance from Shifu helps me to have more and more moments of clarity with no delusive thoughts during meditation.  Even though my busy mind often lacks focus, the benefit of meditation and the dharma is evident in my worldly activities.  More often I face vexations with calm and am able to let delusive thoughts pass away.  My confidence in the truth of the practice grows.

During the pandemic, there are many reasons to feel fear for friends and family and for all the humans on the earth.  I fear that loved ones will suffer greatly.  I fear for my own suffering as I witness their pain and I experience loss of those dear ones.  During this time we are learning about the fragility of life and the fact of impermanence.  While I acknowledge this reality intellectually, my emotional acceptance is lacking.  The teachings about impermanence and non-self benefit me as I face all of this.  My empathy deepens.  Focussing on bringing loving kindness to my heart and a more loving heart to relationships helps me to get past the fear.  



I think of “realizations” as sudden “Ah Ha” moments, possibly accompanied by a deep shift in consciousness.  Using this definition I would say I have had next to no realizations.  Yet, when I think more about it, the deep spontaneous feeling of peace that comes now and then could be a “realization”.  It arises in everyday activities here in the city.  City-based realizations  are relatively new in my life.  In the past, realizations of peace only came when I was in the mountains.  These moments of profound peace give me confidence that the Buddhist practice brings peace.  Now in every day city life, they come more frequently.

Other realizations come slowly over time as I ponder a Buddha teaching and apply it to my life.  For example, having received Buddhist teachings about impermanence, I may apply what I learned to a vexation that troubles me.  Early in the covid pandemic, my frequent contact with my grandchildren came to an end.  We were able to be outdoors together in the summer months using masks and social distancing, but that became more difficult in the fall and winter because of the weather.  We were committed to not entering one anothers’ houses.  Once in awhile we met on zoom but that was difficult to arrange.  I missed them a lot.  I still miss them alot.  Through contemplation on impermanence, I came to appreciate the positive side of impermanence, realizing that difficult times do pass and things may get better.  A deeper realization addressed my attachment to my grandchildren.  After several years of closeness with the family, the separation due to covid caused me to suffer.  The children bring great joy.  I have contemplated the suffering and see the craving for what I cannot have.  During Vipassana meditation, I connect with and feel the love I feel for the children and then I think of all the children of the world and all living beings in the world.  The love expands.  My mind expands.  I love my grandchildren very much but now see an element of neediness in that love that I’m letting go of.  This change in my life  helps me to learn equanimity.  The affection and love that I feel for those close to me opens a door to loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy for all living beings.  



Jeanette Semke