Q. You speak about the Dharma mind and pure awareness. Are they the same thing?

A. No. 'Dharma Mind' is the mind we nurture through practice. We are profoundly conditioned into always wanting and becoming something. 'I will do this because I want that' is the normal everyday mind that we are all familiar with. This is called the 'worldly mind'. The 'Dharma Mind' is quite different. Through years of practice, we slowly, and with much patience, turn away from that wanting mind and learn to stop becoming (something), so beginning to awaken to the unconditioned Dharma Mind that neither wants or wants to become. Learning to let go of all those desires and aversions, you begin to be just as you are, in all situations. This letting go is called unbecoming. When the Dharma Mind is fully mature, you will be empty of self and attachment, and you will have returned to your childhood innocence. It's at this moment the Dharma Mind will collapse and vanish, and you will awaken to your True-nature, which is your intrinsically pure awareness.

Q. Can the forum suggest a Dharma way to deal with being the object of another person's obsession? How does one deal with abusive mental attacks and the fear of such attacks, while at the same time remaining aware of all the many blessings one has in life? How does one warm up the heart, and keep it warm, so that it can withstand relentless abuse? I'm afraid of this person, and he will never let go. But I'm gonna live my life. What would the Buddha do? He always knew what to do. The Dharma will have a way. Can the forum see a way, please?

A. I'm very sorry to read of your predicament but I don't think this is strictly a situation for Buddhism, at least in the short term. Buddhism is about learning about yourself and the change that takes place on that journey. That change should cultivate inner strength, so that we become the master of our situation rather than its victim. In a situation like this you become master in the sense that you don't allow yourself to be the abused, but rather have the courage and inner ability to become emotionally detached from the abuser and take charge of your own emotional experience. Inner strength gives us the ability to even walk away from the abuse and maybe start completely anew. This usually takes years of practice. I'm afraid there's no quick fix in Buddhism. During the time of developing this inner strength through practice, one of the skills (upaya) we learn in order to help us through life is to employ other (external) measures, as and when needed. In this case I would employ someone outside of the situation to help, like a counsellor, or someone skilled in emotional abuse situations. Sometimes our experiences are just too powerful for us to deal with, and a part of Dharma practice is to admit that things sometimes are just too big for us right now. To acknowledge this truth can be a big step forward.

Q. I frequently have a dilemma as to how to work with the spaces in my life. During periods of spare time I often notice I want to pick up a book or watch a film, but I am aware that there is a lot of restlessness driving it. Sometimes I just sit with it and do nothing, but sooner or later I want to do something. Is it unrealistic to attempt to 'just be' in all the spaces of our day, or would you advise carrying out the activity but just attempting to remain mindful as we do it? I have heard it suggested that refining our activities may be useful in this regard. For example, if my restlessness urged me to watch an action movie, I could replace it with something like listening to classical music or doing some kind of artistic activity, with the aim of channeling it in a more skillful direction. Sometimes I have felt more nourished by doing this and at other times only more dukkha. I would be grateful for any reflections you may have on approaching activities in this way.

A. For most of us, doing nothing can be one of the most difficult things to pull off. We are profoundly conditioned beings, and the need to be always 'productive' is very ingrained conditioning – especially for us western people. Just to sit, just to be, can evoke all sorts of emotions. Try, as an experiment, to just do nothing, and experience the intense frustration that can arise. How interesting. Restlessness, in a very real sense, is all that Dharma practice is dealing with – learning to be just with whatever is in front of us at any given time without trying to possess or manipulate or avoid. Something is always there, trying to possess or avoid the moment, and that is our sense of self. If it doesn't exert itself, then the self becomes lost and frightened. Stay with that frustration and allow the emotional upheaval that arises to come up and burn itself out, for that is surely what will happen if we don't react and fall into an old habit, like filling the gap with some activity. This is the usual reaction we have in these situations. On a deeper level what happens when we are still is that we begin to come into contact with our unprotected self and experience its true reality – darkness, loneliness and fear. This is why we can hardly ever be still, always on the move, always avoiding our existential reality. By remaining still and allowing that fear to burn itself out, change will occur – true change – Dharma change. Dharma practice is about working with whatever life presents us with. Sometimes we are busy, sometimes we are not. Practice is not a process by which we create things to work with, as this would become another activity of the self. Having said that, dealing with our emotional reactions through our everyday experiences can at times be too much for us, so allowing ourselves diversions from time to time can be a necessary reality. But the key is to be aware that we are diverting, and why. That's all, there is nothing to act upon, just to know is enough. If you like action movies, then that is okay. I don't think making yourself engage with something 'cultured' is necessarily a better thing to do. But if you feel that that may help temper your restlessness, then give it go. If you find that you are forcing yourself into something that others tell you will make you more cultured, yet causes tension in you, drop it. More refined cultural activities may well have qualities that could be said to be more harmonious with the qualities needed in spiritual practice, but there is always the danger of trying to turn yourself into just another person. If you try to do this you may well just be replacing one persona for another, and what a waste of time that would be! Whether you appreciate Mozart or prefer a good goal scored in the rough and tumble of an emotional football match makes not a jot of difference to the Dharma. Skillful practice is about knowing yourself in all situations – whatever they may be. The living Dharma supports all life and is not concerned with the cultural values created by society. Just be yourself, learn to live in harmony with yourself, and the Dharma will love and support you