Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide
One of the most important things I ever learned from Buddhist psychology is the concept of the three poisons of the mind: grasping (I must have this), aversion (I must not have this) and delusion (I’m ignoring this by escaping into fantasy). Calling them poisons seems accurate because each causes us to suffer. Grasping because you’re never content with what is, never experience the satisfaction of enough. Aversion because it’s hard for you to tolerate the present moment when it’s not going perfectly, which if course is most of the time. Delusion because you miss out on the life and people around you due to your lack of presence.
While all of us can find ourselves in one or another of these states, I’ve come to see that we each tend to have our “favorite.” Mine is definitely aversion—I’m prone to worry so I spend mental energy on not wanting bad things to happen in the future, which mostly never come about, and often catch myself unhappy about something small—“I hate cold weather.” “I hate lines–I shouldn’t have to wait.” As a result of these two mental habits, I experience more unpleasantness than necessary.
My husband Don’s is delusion. He spends a great deal of time fantasizing about all sorts of things, missing out completely on whatever is happening with family, friends, etc. He once told me about a fantasy he had that a famous art dealer would come to his apartment, see his work, and sign him to a gallery. If only life worked like that—no effort at all! As Don has discovered, delusion leads to a lack of necessary exertion as well as disconnection from others.
As for grasping, I’ve known many people who tend towards greed, another word for this poison. When I was a corporate coach, I heard about thefts of millions by insiders and even had two clients who’d been to prison for embezzlement. We see grasping every day, most recently exposed in the Pandora Papers which revealed the more than 100 billionaires who have hidden trillions of dollars in offshore accounts. Greed is literally destroying our planet, causing suffering for every single plant, animal and human.
I’ve found it very useful in my quest to cultivate the kind of mindsets that lead not just to personal happiness, but to the well-being of all on this planet, to notice when I’m caught in aversion, greed or delusion. Today, for instance, I took a break from writing to go to the pharmacy. I had to wait maybe 3 minutes and my mind did its usual aversion thing—“come on, this is ridiculous, what’s wrong with your customer service”…etc.
Then I noticed what I was thinking, labeled it, and calmed down. When I got to the register, I encountered the most lovely worker who was happy and kind. So by catching my mind in its habit, I was able to have a pleasant experience rather than an annoying one.
Try it for yourself. Begin by thinking about your thinking—which of the 3 habit patterns do you tend to fall into? One, two or all three? Then, when you notice craving that expensive purse or worry about some possible bad outcome, or drifting into fantasyland, see if you can label it and choose not to poison your beautiful mind.