What Makes Life Worth Living? (Part 2 – Connection)
Some of the topics from this article have been explored further within What Make Life Worth Living? Part 1 – Earth
The Buddha said;
“There are 3 types of actions: physical action, vocal action and mind action.”
Physical action tends to be given the greatest importance however, it is our mind action that affects and leads to our physical and vocal actions. This is the concept that will be explored in this article through my own reactions and thoughts. The most important step we can take to improve our lives is to understand our mind action and the rest will follow.
In the previous article several ideas were explored about “What Makes Life Worth Living?” for example; helping others, the Xbox (possessions), money, wealth, love. All of these to some extent rely on our connections with other humans, other species and the planet.
So, what can we do to make such connections thrive? What can we do to improve our mind actions and in turn our physical and vocal actions? Why is this important? If what makes life worth living is based on our connections, why would we choose not to improve our actions for the benefit of ourselves, others and the planet?
The Dalai Lama puts this point across elegantly:
“Within the scale of the life of the cosmos, a human life is no more than a tiny blip. Each one of us is a visitor to this planet, a guest, who has only a finite time to stay. What greater folly could there be than to spend this short time lonely, unhappy, and in conflict with our fellow visitors? Far better, surely, to use our short – time in pursuing a meaningful life, enriched by a sense of connection with and service toward others.”
It could be suggested that a large part of the reason we enjoy our connections is down to their quality. We enjoy the quality of our food e.g. a banana’s flavour and nutritional elements, our friends e.g. the ability to openly discuss issues and to enjoy their company, our relationships e.g. the faithful, kind, openness we adopt to help each other… etc. There are infinite examples that could be listed of how we truly enjoy the quality that comes from our connections. These connections are natural and help us to thrive with others and our approach to life. There are vast amounts of contradicting information on how we can improve our minds and we don’t all have the time to sift through it. I’m only going to discuss two ideas in this article that – in my experience – have helped me; Meditation and Mindset.
Please try to read the following with an open mind.
Meditation helps us to become more mindful of our approach to everyday situations in the external world and of our understanding in the sometimes chaotic inner world. Over time it can help us to learn about our reactions, emotions and most of all can help us to alleviate suffering and misery in our lives. The process can help us to become better people and enable us to help others with whatever difficulties life brings. Just like we train our bodies to have control over them the same can be said for our minds. Who doesn’t want to become a better, happier, more helpful person? That is the question that led me to give a trial to the practice/technique of meditation.
Beforehand I thought it was a very stupid idea, “Sitting down, legs crossed? Closing my eyes? I do that enough watching TV or in bed? How could I possibly benefit from this?” but as with anything in life until we give a fair trial to something and gain our own experiential understanding of it how will we ever truly know? (What I mean by a fair trial can be explained using the example of a diet. If you want to lose weight and see long-term results you need to stick to the diet for at least a month without the intention of “On the 31st day I’m going to eat shit” and giving it a shot no matter how biased you are towards the idea. Unless you give the diet a fair trial, you’re just doing it for a few days and you won’t see long-term results. In example an unfair trial could be wanting to learn guitar, picking it up strumming it a few times and saying “Nope, I can’t do that” – as the Buddha said “Continuity of practice is the secret of success”) Here, I’m going to give an exaggerated example of how our experience can teach us. A person is heavily depressed and unhappy, they are overweight from eating junk food, they spend more time in front of the TV than they do outside and they smoke vast amounts of cigarettes. The person one day decides “Enough is enough; I’m going to do something about it.” They begin eating a nutritious balanced diet, exercise frequently, spend time learning about a subject that interests them, stopped smoking and perhaps give a trial to practicing meditation. It is clear that these actions may alleviate a number of symptoms that were causing their depression and unhappiness. However unlikely it may seem that someone with this initial mindset would change their life so radically, open your eyes, think about it for yourself and see how anyone can benefit from saying “Enough is enough.” Make a life-changing choice to do something about it.
So why not give it a go? There are many tools and techniques out there to explore and here are some I have personally tried and found to be helpful.
– Free 10 Days of guided meditation from headspace.com – I think this is definitely a step on the right path and is an easy-to-use not to out of the comfort zone option. For 10 days you spend 10 minutes (I’d recommend first thing in the morning) following the guided meditations on this website or app, if you can see any potential benefit then perhaps signup and continue. Initially I quit after 10 days thinking what a waste of time. However, something urged me to try again – this time after 10 days I signed up. After a month I could see the benefits and after 3 months I could feel the benefits.
– Don’t want to listen to someone guide you? And want to get more then a 10 day trial without paying? Well here’s my attempt at trying to explain a meditation technique you can try yourself (based on Anapana Meditation):
Sit down in a comfortable position (On a cushion, mat, chair or whatever you fancy) and aim to have a straight back without leaning against something. Take 5 deep breaths and on the 5th out breath slowly close your eyes. Now your aim is to observe natural respiration ‘as it is’ focusing on the area above the top lip and below the nostrils for any sensations you may feel. These could be anything from cold on the inhale, warm exhale, tingling, vibration, pain, whatever sensation you feel – it doesn’t have to have a name if you feel something there focus on it. Don’t force your breath, don’t count your breath, don’t listen to music, don’t light incense, just observe and remain aware of the breath going in and out, in and out. Each time your mind wanders off and you’re caught up in a trail of thought (Don’t get agitated this happens to all of us) gently bring your attention back to observing the natural breath and the sensations that arise in the area described earlier. At first you may trail off for 20 minutes before you notice you’re thinking and then bring your attention back to the breath. The next time you sit to meditate it may be 15, then 10, then 8, then 6, keep practicing! I would recommend trying this for 15-30 minutes a day minimum and if you wish so ‘hours’ (Whatever you can fit into your day.) This should help you to concentrate your mind and may even give you a glimpse into a perspective that the thoughts that usually create many issues in our lives come and go, rise and fall just as our breath does. (Of course don’t take my word for it, practice and experience it yourself and see whatever happens for you)
– My highest recommendation would be to dive into the deep end and go to a 10-Day Silent Vipassana Meditation Course – The benefits I have gained from doing this have been exponential – feeling lighter, clearer, more balanced and more able to do the work I wish to do in my life. This was the best life-experience I have had so far and I strongly suggest you give it a go. It is donation-based, non-religious, non-sectarian, and free from dogma, belief, blind faith and commercialism. Nothing is stopping you except yourself. See www.dhamma.org
What is a Growth-Based Mindset?
Where do we begin, there is an ever-increasing body of research on this idea. So I’m going to pass it over to the psychologist who discovered it (these aren’t my words)
- Why brains and talent don’t bring success
- How they can stand in the way of it
- Why praising brains and talent doesn’t foster self-esteem and accomplishment, but jeopardizes them
- How teaching a simple idea about the brain raises grades and productivity
- What all great CEOs, parents, teachers, athletes know
Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”
If you wish to learn a little more without having to pay for the book “Mindset by Carol Dweck” then I would suggest reading this article by Marina Krakovsky about Carol Dweck’s work. https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124
It was around 3 years ago I stumbled across this article, leading me to radically change my approach to learning and life. There were many things in life I just couldn’t see myself doing because I felt uncomfortable doing so or not smart enough to achieve. However, after reading this short article (along with many other influences) I put myself in uncomfortable situations and allowed the growth to begin.
Finally, the old Indian Fable of the blind men and the elephant.
“Once an elephant came to a small town. People had read and heard of elephants but no one in the town had ever seen one. Thus, a huge crowd gathered around the elephant, and it was an occasion for great fun, especially for the children. Five blind men also lived in that town, and consequently, they also heard about the elephant. They had never seen an elephant before, and were eager to find out about elephant.
Then, someone suggested that they could go and feel the elephant with their hands. They could then get an idea of what an elephant looked like. The five blind men went to the centre of the town where all the people made room for them to touch the elephant.
Later on, they sat down and began to discuss their experiences. One blind man, who had touched the trunk of the elephant, said that the elephant must be like a thick tree branch. Another who touched the tail said the elephant probably looked like a snake or rope. The third man, who touched the leg, said the shape of the elephant must be like a pillar. The fourth man, who touched the ear, said that the elephant must be like a huge fan; while the fifth, who touched the side, said it must be like a wall.
They sat for hours and argued, each one was sure that his view was correct. Obviously, they were all correct from their own point of view, but no one was quite willing to listen to the others. Finally, they decided to go to the wise man of the village and ask him who was correct. The wise man said, “Each one of you is correct; and each one of you is wrong. Because each one of you had only touched a part of the elephant’s body. Thus you only have a partial view of the animal. If you put your partial views together, you will get an idea of what an elephant looks like.”
There are many interpretations of this story but to embody the lessons in this article the moral of the story could be that each one of us sees things exclusively within one’s point of view. We should also try to understand and give trial to other people’s points of view. This will enable us to get a well-rounded perspective on different situations and events.
This leads to the next article (Part 3). Yes, we can help to save the earth through doing our part and yes, we can help to train our mind to be more loving and compassionate. But what stops me and you from living our lives fully? Most of us understand how important our experiences are in teaching us lessons in life, but a lot of us don’t pursue new experiences because they are out of our comfort zones.
This leads to the question, how can you and me experience life to it’s fullest? – Part 3 is on the way…