• Could you practice Buddhist techniques like meditation to improve your sense of self? (MOODBOARD/AAP)Source: MOODBOARD/AAP
You don't have to shave your head or don a red robe to achieve inner peace and calm, says Buddhist nun Robina Courtin. Just practice the Buddhist techniques of mindfulness and be open to the lifestyle elements associated with the faith.
Kimberly Gillan

16 Jan 2017 - 4:16 PM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2017 - 12:04 PM

When it comes to religion, we often assume we'd have to completely convert to get involved in a new faith.

But as Buddhist nun, Robina Courtin tells SBS, people in the community are invited to become a "one per cent Buddhist" by adopting some of the lifestyle elements of the faith if they appeal.

"If a Buddhist is doing their job properly, they are knowing their mind and … becoming their own psychologist," Courtin explains.

"[It's about] developing an incredibly sophisticated awareness of our inner workings and cognitive processes so you can gradually [gain] effortless control over your mind, lessen the neuroses and grow the goodness – the kindness, the wisdom and the clarity."

"If a Buddhist is doing their job properly, they are knowing their mind and … becoming their own psychologist."

While totally exploring Buddhism can involve studying philosophy, reincarnation and karma, Courtin says a lot of Westerners are attracted to the DIY psychological elements that monks and nuns have been practicing for centuries – and for many people, that's all they require from the faith.

"It's up to individuals how much you want to take from it all," she says. "Listen to things, read books, go to a class, think about it – then follow your own mind and your own heart."

Here's just some of the steps you can take, Courtin says. to become a "one percent Buddhist" and  try pave the way for a more content and calmer year ahead.

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Be curious

If you're truly interested in cultivating more kindness, wisdom and clarity, then Courtin says you need to be open to learning new things about yourself. "The first step has to be that you want to know your own mind," she explains. "Listen to the thoughts and feelings and emotions."

It takes time to cultivate a bird's eye view of our emotions, but Courtin says the rewards are vast. "We have the most amazing potential to know our own minds," she says. "There is masses of stuff out there – it's up to us to want it and go one step at a time."

"Recognise the thoughts and feelings and emotions and listen to them – that's the whole point."

Meditate daily

Meditation is key if you want to get to know your mind better and Courtin says you can try any number of techniques to help you gain perspective of the way you think. "Learn a simple technique like how to focus your mind so you can step out of the mess and begin the job of observing what's there," she suggests. "Recognise the thoughts and feelings and emotions and listen to them – that's the whole point."

Let go of the external world

Courtin says that we often fall into the trap of attributing happiness or unhappiness to external events, however Buddhism advocates forgetting the external and taking responsibility for our mind's response. "If you think of sadness, anger and depression, you think of the things that make you depressed and angry – we are totally focused on the external condition that triggers the internal process," she explains.

But even if someone has treated you poorly or you've had a string of bad luck, Courtin says you can still take ownership over your cognitive response. "The focus [in Buddhism] is on learning to understand and take responsibility for the internal process," she explains. "Going to other levels of his own mind in a really clear, focused way … [Buddha] found we can get rid of neuroses – anger, depression, jealousy, anxiety – and that's the long-term goal."

"When you focus on the wisdom first, you naturally become more effective in the world."

Spread the compassion

There's more to knowing your mind than just reaping the individual benefits – those around you will likely profit as well. "There's a nice analogy in Buddhism that a bird has two wings – wisdom and compassion," Courtin explains. "When you focus on the wisdom first, you naturally become more effective in the world. You become less neurotic, less miserable, less angry, less self-centred, more content, more joyful, more connected to others, more compassionate and more able to benefit others."

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Shaun Micallef's Stairway to Heaven airs on SBS on Wednesdays at 8.30pm from 18 January 2017. Watch all the episodes online after they air on SBS On Demand.

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