YOUTH IN FOCUS: I suffer with mood swings. They are not extreme (like suicidal thoughts or anything), but one day I’m happy and talk with everyone and the next I’m quite grumpy. I realize that it is affecting my relationship with my friends and family. Is there anything I can do about it? 

Moody, Thimphu

Well, we are not robots and so will naturally be affected by the world around us. Normally, though, we just blame others for our emotional upsets: “Ah, my boss said this and now I’m disturbed.” However, if we investigate deeper, we will realize that it is not simply someone’s words that influence our moods, but rather how we crave and reject certain feelings. In turn, these feelings are triggered by four pairs of opposite situations known as the eight worldly dharmas: pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame and fame and disgrace.

Let’s take praise and blame as an example. Everyone likes to be praised, right? For example, we feel happy when our name is announced on TV for having done something good, and we proudly hang certificates of appreciation on our office wall. Now, you may ask what is wrong with that. Well, the problem is that others’ opinions are unstable and so if we rely on them we will naturally feel insecure.

Perhaps it is helpful to think of others’ opinions like an unstable chair. If we lean on the chair, we will obviously move when it wobbles. Likewise, if we rely on others’ opinions for our sense of well-being, we will naturally feel unsettled when they change.

How we relate to the unstable chair is perhaps similar to how we should respond to other’s opinions. In the case of the chair, we can look at it but should not lean on it for stability. With other’s opinions, we can listen to them but not rely on them for our happiness.

In practical terms, what does this mean? How should we respond to praise and blame and the other eight worldly dharmas? Should we become like an emotionless rock? Should we totally block out the world around us? No, this is neither practical nor desirable. Instead, it would be best to be aware of how these pairs of opposites hook us.

In the same way that fish are deceived by a fisherman’s hook, we are also misled by praise, pleasure, gain and fame. Rather than offering us long-term contentment, they are the cause of emotional swings.

With regard to the fisherman, the swaying of his fishing rod indicates that a fish has been caught. For us, the moving of our mind is a warning sign that we have been caught by praise and blame, etc and are in trouble.

Therefore, to gain some mental stability we should be aware of the eight worldly dharmas, and in the same way that a fish avoids being caught by a hook we need to avoid being caught by these pairs of opposites.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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