Recently an excellent Lama named Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche gave a beautiful talk about garbage. Paraphrasing, he asked his students: What do you do when your garbage can is full? You get rid of it immediately don’t you? Why? Because it stinks doesn’t it? And yet we don’t get rid of mental garbage, do we? Instead, we keep it with us as if it was our best friend.

What is mental garbage? Unkind, self-absorbed thoughts, fear, worry, regret, guilt, rage. Replaying our suffering and misery in our mind over and over again: he did this to me, she did that to me, I don’t have this or that, how dare s/he do/say this or that to me? Why is the system so corrupt? Why do I have to suffer so much? Why is this happening to me?

This Lama then admonished all of his students to get rid of mental garbage as quickly as we would get rid of our household garbage. Get rid of it! Stop dwelling on problems and understand that all misery comes from only caring about ourselves and not giving any real importance to others, unless they do something for us.

Instead of thinking of how we can become better people, step by step, we would rather smell our stinky garbage and keep it with us and force those around us to smell it too…Chances are very good that if we cultivated our minds well we would experience far less pain and misery, both physical and mental.

In general there are two categories of human being: those who lift others up, and those who bring others down; it’s a spectrum; most of us fall somewhere in the middle, but we move from the middle to one or the other extreme through ignorance on the one hand or wisdom and compassion on the other. Who would we rather be, a person who lifts others up or brings them down? What causes and conditions produce each type?

Some people believe that our physical problems have only physical causes: this reveals a profound ignorance about the relationship between mind and body.

If we refuse the medicine of teachings on how to reduce our suffering and gain lasting freedom, it is because we don’t really want to be well, and usually if we don’t really want to be well there is some underlying anger that we have not worked out or released. And if we don’t want to be well we need to understand the impact of this on ourselves and others. We need to see just how incredibly dangerous this attitude is because when we die, we have to take our minds, or consciousness with us. Our body may end but our mind, consciousness, spirit (or whatever you wish to call it) continues. That spirit is a changing entity, which means it can be conditioned, improved, healed. But to improve it we have to do something to change it.

Some of us cannot admit that we like to identify with our misery, our victimhood, because that way we don’t really have to take responsibility for how our own thinking, emotions, beliefs, are keeping us in pain and misery. We stubbornly want everyone to feel sorry for us and join us in our misery and limitation. Who does this help? What sort of attitude does this inspire in others?

As the Lama Chopa says:

In short, the childish pursue their welfare only,

while Buddhas act solely for the welfare of others;

discerning the faults of the former and benefits of the latter,

please bless me to be able to equalize and exchange myself and others.

How do we start to do this when our habit of selfishness is so entrenched? Step by step.

Have I offered any kindness or word of thankfulness to another today, this hour, this minute? Have I given thanks for the good things I do enjoy? Have I stopped myself from blurting out those thoughtless, cruel, sarcastic words? Have I recognized how I am making others’ lives easier or more difficult? Does my behavior inspire ease in others or does it add to their stress? Would my behavior delight or frighten a child? Have I directed a kind thought to all those who suffer more than myself?

Or am I angry about others’ good qualities or joy? Am I jealous that someone else is reaching for and developing their fullest potential to become a more fully uplifting person, one who benefits him/herself and others? Am I resentful for the losses I have experienced? Have I considered how my self-importance and entitled attitude harm the mental peace and joy of those around me, and prevent me from generating the love, respect, and wisdom that can free me? Am I using my pain and misery to control those around me?  Or am I bringing a champion’s attitude to my situation?

As one of my teachers recently pointed out: it’s all in our attitude. He spoke of a man he met in USA who has no arms or legs. I knew immediately he was talking about Nick Vujicic. People like Dan Caro and Nick Vujicic (see Youtube or google them) possess the champion’s attitude, and with it they uplift countless people…