What’s the secret to feeling calm, focused, and at peace?
Perhaps monks provide a clue. Buddhist monks appear to be peaceful and present all the time. How do they do it?
I will tell you.
For thousands of years, Buddhist philosophy has focused on how to reduce human suffering and keep the mind in the present moment.
Some of the basic principles are true for us and we can adopt them into our modern life.
Adopting some or all of these habits, or trying to part of the time (it's a work in progress) may help keep you present, find more peace, reduce stress and even lead to more happiness in your daily life.
Habit 1 – Stop Chasing "Things"
Did you know that the Buddha was born a prince? Yes, he could have spent his life in a big, beautiful palace where everything is done for him.
But he didn’t.
He abandoned everything when he realized the empty nature of materialism.
2300 years later, Buddhist monks continue to do the same. They keep material possessions to a minimum and only hold what they need to live their life. Usually this will all fit in a small backpack.
They completely declutter their life. This is called Minimalism.
Habit 2 – Do for Others
In many Buddhist circles, monks learn to do things not for themselves, but for the whole world. Happiness is one of the most elusive words to define, yet it is very easy to comprehend. Much has been written about the pursuit of Happiness and what makes people truly happy, and one theme that really seems to apply is "doing for others" Material things do not make you happy. In fact they do the opposite. Every time you acquire something, it pushes the goal a little bit further, so is something you can never attain! This endless pursuit actuality insures long term chronic unhappiness (although there are VERY short bursts of happiness at the moment of acquisition, which usually fade very quickly...leading to to feel how? (post your responses please)
When you can develop a kind of selfless attitude and MAKE time to do something for others, it offers a tremendous sense of satisfaction and well being.
The less you focus on you and your personal problems, you get less emotional about small things and your mind becomes more calm.
This is called inner decluttering: making room for others and dumping selfish habits.
Habit 3 – Meditate
One of the main reasons you become a monk is to have more time to meditate. Most monks wake up early and meditate for 1 to 3 hours and do the same at night. This kind of practice changes the brain. If you’ve read any articles on the benefits of meditation, then you know what I mean.
You don’t have to adopt this kind of rigorous schedule, but what if you worked into your day 15 to 30 minutes of meditation? And one of the BEST things I have read about meditating, and also the most frustrating for beginners is this - Do not worry about emptying your mind. You can't its impossible, or nearly impossible without mountains of practice. Instead, let the thoughts enter, and give them space to exit. They come they go. Just try not to hold them or obsess. Allowing space for your thoughts to come and go IS meditating. So forget what you read about emptying your mind. That is only sort of right and impossible for most to achieve.
Habit 4 – Following the wise
In western modern society, we have an unhealthy relationship with old age. Everything is youth centric. But for Buddhist monks, and in fact many cultures see elder people as having wisdom. They seek elder spiritual guides that can help them on their path.
If you look around, there are always insightful people to learn from. Older people have more experience which means they can offer countless life lessons. Some of best insights on life can be obtained from interviews with people on on near death, when asked what they regret. Read those! Make changes now. We only get one go-around.
Habit 5 – Listen. Without judgment.
See the 2 periods? These are actually 2 different concepts, sort of.
Our brains naturally judge others. You don't have to look any further than social media to see how rampant and out of control this is. But according to Buddhists, the point of communication is to help others and ourselves suffer less.
Criticizing and judging doesn’t help. This ties into Habit 2. Don't make yourself feel better by putting someone down. Make yourself feel better by lifting someone. Try it.
Listening is an ART. So many of us don't listen at all. We are busy pre-planning our answers while we’re listening ! So try to make the main goal to simply take in all that they are saying. (how often do you do this??)
It leads to more mutual respect, understanding and chances for progress in the conversation.
Habit 6 – Change is the only law of the universe
According to Buddhist master Suzuki, a crucial principle we all need to learn is to accept change:
“Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transiency, we suffer.”
Everything changes, it’s the fundamental law of the universe. Yet, we find it hard to accept it. We identify strongly with our fixed appearance, with our body and our personality. And when it changes, we suffer.
However, Suzuki says we can overcome this by recognizing that the contents of our minds are in perpetual flux. Everything about consciousness comes and goes. Worry exists only in the mind, as a complex orchestration or random neurons firing in specific patterns. Consciousness and reality are really ONLY in your mind and they are in constant change. Realizing this in the heat of the moment can diffuse fear, anxiety, anger, grasping, despair. For example, it’s hard to stay angry when you see anger for what it is.
This is the essence of Zen. That the moment is all that exists.
Habit 7 – Living "The Moment"
As humans it can be tough to simply embrace the present moment. We are able to contemplate the past, and think about the future. Think about it - what is worrying? It is paying the price of the present moment for something that exists only in your brain! When you worry, your brain is wrapped around something that hasn't happened, and may never happen. If it does, deal with it as it is unfolding.
But mindfulness encourages us to return to the present. Practicing mindfulness enables us to get better at redirecting our thoughts back to what we’re actually engaged in.
It takes practice. It takes a willingness to want to improve. Start by reading and practicing these basic habits and notice the change.
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I write about things that I myself need to be mindful of. ways in which I would like to improve. It is not from the perspective of preaching - but rather writing helps me work out what I myself need to do - we are all in this together.