Why is the book called ‘How Wonderful’?

I’d like to explain where the title of the book come from because it explains a lot about the book itself.

A long time ago I was a Buddhist monk and I had a ‘Guru’, a very old, small Tibetan monk. He had come over to the West decades ago to teach about enlightenment and inner peace. The Guru was semi-retired now and his old students were the ones teaching newcomers like me about mindfulness. I only actually met the Guru personally on one occasion, but there were lots of stories about him.

One day a senior monk, over a cup of herbal tea, told me a story that summed up what this little Tibetan lama and his merry gang of Western Buddhists were trying to achieve with all this meditation. The monk told me that, many many years ago, the Guru and his senior students were preparing for a big teaching festival. Lots of people were booked to attend, there would be lots of monks and nuns and laypeople coming and there would be days and days of Buddhist teachings and meditation.

As the starting day grew closer, however, everything was going horribly wrong. The schedule was collapsing and the whole event was on the brink of imploding. Even by the standards of amateur religious enthusiasts it was looking like a memorable balls-up. So my friend the senior monk was asked to come over to the festival site and help. He was one of many people being summoned to try and avert a complete disaster. As he arrived and walked through the front door the Guru was coming down the stairs.

The newly arrived monk was welcomed with a huge smile and the Guru said: ‘We have SO many problems!’ The old Tibetan lama paused for a moment and then said with great delight ‘How Wonderful!’

The Guru was a meditation-master and he looked at life very differently to most people. To him the obstacles of daily life were wonderful opportunities for training the mind and that made them very worthwhile, or ‘auspicious’ as Buddhists say. The possibility of this entire festival going down in flames and becoming a major embarrassment just made the situation so much better for training the mind! Now it was ‘very auspicious’.

‘How Wonderful’ became a phrase that the Guru’s Western students used a lot. It was a simple reminder to them to change their attitude before they tried to change anything else. For a sincere Buddhist any situation was an opportunity to train the mind and it was, therefore, wonderful. ‘How Wonderful’ was the correct Buddhist response to any situation, whether it appeared delightful or horrifying.

Simple, really.

I was to hear that phrase a lot over the years. It was often said through gritted teeth by someone whose life had just been turned upside down. It was frequently said in tones of ironic frustration. It became my own response to life when I didn’t know what else to do.

‘How Wonderful!’

Sometimes the words would be accompanied by a reluctant smile and a shake of the head. Sometimes they were said with a tone of surprise when events actually went according to plan. I heard people say those words while they were crying and again when they were laughing hysterically. It summed up a powerful message: if I change my attitude to this moment then I can change how I’m responding to life in this moment.

Many modern people put all their energy into ignoring their problems, and they just end up carrying them around their whole lives. Being a Buddhist means reframing these problems (‘How Wonderful!’) and then taking that reframe deeper and deeper into the depths of body and mind in meditation, contemplation before it becomes effective action.

As a monk my end-goal was to be able to genuinely welcome all my problems as opportunities to train my mind so I could cultivate deep experiences of inner peace.

There’s the end of suffering right there. If my problems become my fuel for finding inner peace then do I actually have any problems any more?

In the years to come those two simple words would sum up the challenge of mindfulness for me. To say ‘How Wonderful!’ was to acknowledge that the situation wasn’t what I was expecting. I was also reminding myself that I could use this situation, no matter what I felt about it. I was staring down my depression and my anxiety by reminding myself I could always train my mind; and because of that, then eventually I will free myself from mental slavery.

How I respond to life is my responsibility. Responsibility begins with mindfulness. That is a simple and undeniable truth that I tried to ignore it for as long as I could, but when I finally did acknowledge it everything changed.

This book is the story of me learning to accept that simple truth, and how I overcame the obstacles – conscious and unconscious – to put it into practice in my life.

One of the most basic lessons I struggled with was that depression and anxiety are signals from my inner world. There is a problem in there that needs addressing. If I respond to those signals I can create a better life. If I ignore those signals then the problem will only grow; it will never go away by itself.

Like everyone else I ignored my signals for as long as I could and only faced them when I absolutely had to.

Like everyone else I tried doing everything else before I finally faced the emotions that had terrified me since I was a child. Like everyone else after I’d faced them I wished I’d done it years ago.

Mindfulness is facing those things we’ve learnt to ignore. Mindfulness will also improve your physical and mental health, increase your creativity and improve your relationships. It will help you increase your sensitivity and your capacity for pleasure. It will tell you things you have forgotten. It’s also very useful for dealing with the ups and downs of a frantic mind.

I still experience anxiety and depression, but nothing as bad as it used to be and for nowhere near as long. In the past my depressed slumps could last for days; now I have the skills to stay calm and find my way out much sooner than that. Depression simply doesn’t get its claws into me like it used to. The anxiety doesn’t go on and on like it used to. I’ve figured out what to do when I’m in that state to come out of crisis. I’ve tuned into what sustains me in the difficult times of my life.

I’ve changed. I had to.

The alternative to changing was to live in dissociation, experiencing life on auto-pilot and watching myself replay the behaviours of my past over and over again in a subconscious loop where I stayed numb and powerless. I’ve changed through trying things like meditation, yoga, counselling, psychedelic therapy, falling in love and performance poetry. I found out what works for me. I found what connected me to something stronger than my fears: mindfulness.

Mindfulness could always find a way to break me out of some thought-loop and help me start feeling human again, help me reconnect to life again through feeling my body and my emotions.

Whenever I learnt something that improved my mindfulness my life changed for the better. Being aware of what’s happening for me and being able to accept it in the moment changed how I experienced life and how I felt about myself.

My journey wasn’t straightforward or clear and for a lot of it I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was even helping. It took me a long, long time before I even realised what the problem even was.

But something kept me going. Some deep animal instinct to escape pain wouldn’t stop telling me that something was wrong and I needed to fix it. This was at the root of my depression and anxiety. Eventually I did face what was wrong and out of that came a whole new direction in my life. I found a community, a partner and a career change that suited me so much better than anything in my past ever had.

I found the strength to make changes I’d dreamed of for years. My life began to feel very different; not perfect but so much better than what it used to be.

So how did it happen? Well, I tried doing different things. Like yoga, which I talk about in the next extract.

Thank you for reading this extract. What was your reaction to it? If you’re in the mood and want to send me a comment please use the form below.

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4 thoughts on “Why is the book called ‘How Wonderful’?

  1. Ridley Kennedy

    Hey Brendan, just finished the 1st excerpt and it did make me think plus I like the way you write. I thought I might like your writing as I have always liked your poetry.
    You may want to have a proof reader pass their eye over it, they pick up lot’s little things. Like in the 1st line I think it should read “book has come from” or “book came from”. By the way I’m not a proof reader.
    I’m looking forward reading further excerpts.
    All the best
    Ridley

  2. Hairstyles

    I was recommended this website by way of my cousin. I’m now not certain whether or not this submit is written through him as nobody else recognize such certain approximately my problem. You are wonderful! Thank you!

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