In his decades of monastic education, Tibetan Bön master Geshe YongDong has travelled around the world to spread his spiritual teachings, but one truth stood out to him more than most: That everyone is unhappy — most often for the same reasons.
“Whether you’re rich or poor, from the East or West, human nature is the same,” says the sprightly 50-year-old, whose title of Geshe is the highest attainable degree in Tibetan monastic education. “We all want to be peaceful and happy, but we just don’t know how.”
He’s more than familiar with the breakneck pace of modern life. Meditation, he says, is one of the best ways to find calm amidst the storm.
“Particularly when you’re stressed, you need to practice how to find peace in your heart,” says Geshe YongDong, who was in Singapore as part of Aman’s upcoming collection of wellness retreats, Journey to Peace.
Virtually every teaching and exercise that he shared in his talk is immensely relatable. We’ve picked out three of the most useful techniques that will help train you to be more conscious of your mind and body.
Focus Your Mind By Focusing Your Breath
Everyone breathes, that’s a given—but there are different levels of breathing that affect how your body feels, says Geshe YongDong.
“In Tibetan wisdom, we believe that people fall sick easily because they don’t relax their mind,” he says.
There are three levels of breathing: shallow, upper breaths (in the chest area), middle breaths (in the lungs and heart), and deep, lower breaths (in the belly).
Taking shallow breaths makes you feel anxious and nervous, while deeper and rhythmic breaths help to steady the mind, says Geshe YongDong. “If your breathing is calm, your mind will be calm too.”
Geshe YongDong outlines a simple breathing exercise to practice. First, close your eyes and relax your body — the more tense you are, the less space there is to breathe.
Start by breathing in through your nostrils. As you breathe, visualise it as a form of pure white light entering your body. Follow the breath to the top of your head, and let it travel through your neck, down through your chest, and finally, into your belly. Hold it there for as long as you can.
Finally, release your breath and any tension with it, as if it were a cloud of black smoke escaping your body. Repeat this three times, or whenever you’re in need of some calm.
Conscious breathing is a great way to train yourself to focus your mind when needed, says Geshe YongDong.
He says: “Your breath is a vehicle of life. When your breath is balanced, your mind will follow.”
Managing Noisy Thoughts
If you’ve ever tried mediation before, perhaps you’ve been distracted by the racket of thoughts in your head.
Meditation doesn’t magically quieten your mind — in fact, sometimes it gets even noisier, says Geshe YongDong with a laugh.
“Some people even think that meditation makes the noise in their head worse,” he says. In reality, you’re starting to see your mind as it really is in the moment.
But rather than attempting to quell any stray thoughts, you can learn to live with them.
The mind is like a wild horse, says Geshe YongDong, you can’t control it, but you can tame it.
Awareness is the key in this next exercise. Visualise yourself in the middle of a room, seated on a chair and surrounded by opened doors. Thoughts come drifting through these opened doors — but don’t close the door on them. Let them come through and pass by you. You don’t need to interact with them, either: Simply let them drift past you, acknowledge them with a smile, and let them go. All you need to do is to sit on your chair in the middle of that room, and observe.
By learning to welcome your thoughts, you’ll be able to get a handle on them when things get overwhelming.
How To Let Go And Move On
There is a famous Buddhist saying that states attachment is the root of all suffering. As Geshe YongDong explains it, as long as you are attached to something, you are stuck — and you’re also setting yourself up for grief.
“For example, you have a house which you think you own. If someone broke a window, you’d get angry,” he says. “That’s because our ego says: ‘I own this’.
“But do we really own this house? Can we really own anything? Ultimately, we own nothing in this world except our consciousness,” he says.
Attachments can come in the form of physical possessions, relationships, and even thoughts and memories. But letting go can be one of the hardest things to do, says Geshe YongDong.
“It’s not easy to do, but it is possible, and it is a conscious choice,” he adds.
First, you have to acknowledge that this attachment is affecting your life in some way. This applies to both positive and negative things: Geshe YongDong tells the story of a man he met in Canada, who was obsessed about recreating the perfect moment he found when driving down a mountain range — so much so that he was blind to any other beautiful moment in his life for 14 years.
When you recognise what you are attached to and that its preventing you from moving forward, you’ll be more prepared to let it go.
“When you recognise the temporal nature of life, then letting go becomes spontaneous,” he says
For some sound advice that you can follow in your everyday life, Geshe YongDong offers up some wisdom: “If you really want to be happy, you need to focus on your heart,” he says.
“The head often makes mistakes, but I believe that if you do everything from the heart, you’ll never make a mistake.”