Monthly Archives: May 2012

Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path

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Buddhism is one of those things, like travel and culture, that you can read all the books you want about it (believe me I have read many) but the only way you really learn is through practical experience.

Buddhism is not so much a religion, but a philosophy – a way of living. There are many precepts and concepts and theories and scriptures, but essentially the real beauty of Buddhism shows itself when you try to apply what you have learned from pages in a book to your daily routines, interactions, relationships, work and outlook.

Trying to explain Buddhism to other people is a very difficult task. There are many people who are closed minded, hold prejudices against religion, don’t know anything at all, make judgements too quickly, or worst yet, they think they already know it all.

But nobody is really right or wrong and certainly nobody knows everything. Even during my research for this post, I have learned new things, and I have already been practising for a few years now. So I shall start at the beginning, with what the 8 Fold Path is, and over the next few posts I’ll explain more about each of the principles and how you can constructively apply them to your (minimalist) life.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is a pragmatic guideline which was taught by the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama himself to show people how they can develop their ethical and moral conduct, gain wisdom and eventually liberate themselves from suffering.

If you look at the Dharma wheel, it has eight spokes, which represent the eight aspects of the path. They all begin with ‘Right ____’ to show that there is some way to act and think in every situation that would reduce suffering towards ourselves and others.

They are not ordered steps that you follow until you’ve ‘mastered’ one before moving onto the next, instead, they are all deeply interrelated and good practice involves being mindful of all of them at the same time, as much as you can.

The Four Noble Truths lays out that the origin of suffering is attachment, and that the way to release oneself from suffering is to follow a path that leads away from all of the delusions of what is and isn’t real and truly important. 

So even though there is no set order, since the general direction of the path leads away from ignorance, some of the principles are easier to start with than others. The most common way the principles are divided is into Wisdom, Ethical Conduct, and Mental Development:

When you begin to apply this new way of thinking into your life, there is every chance that you will make mistakes. Or, bad things might happen and people will wear on your patience. These are the times when you and your practice will be tested. But if you take them as opportunities to learn from, through a trial and error, in the end you will gain a much deeper understanding of yourself and the way the world works – which coincidentally, is something close to enlightenment.

What has the Eightfold Path have to do with minimalism? As it turns out, everything. In the next post, I will talk about how to attain (at least a little) wisdom, with the Right View and Right Intention. Then, I’ll move onto the other principles under Ethical Conduct, which will be about acting considerately towards others, and Mental Development which is about cultivating a strong state of mind, free from illusions.

In the meantime, here are some posts that you might find helpful:

The Eightfold Path is exactly what it says – a path, what you learn on the journey is so much more important than the destination. If you are patient and persistent with your practice, trust me, eventually you will find your way.

 

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5 quick tips to get healthy the minimalist’s way

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To run a mile you have to take one step. And then another. And then another. There’s no secret formula behind it.

I’ve seen so many people try out new things that are good for their health or happiness, but after a few weeks or months, they give up. They make excuses about how it takes too much time or effort, but the problem was that they started out with such lofty goals that they became frustrated when they realized that they couldn’t reach them.

They also don’t realize that getting healthier is a lifestyle change. It’s not a fad that only lasts a few months. You have to be willing to transform the way you think about yourself, about food and about exercise. Here are some minimalist tips on how to get healthier for good.

1. Start small. It’s easy to build up big ambitious dreams like “One day I’ll weigh __ pounds” but to achieve such goals, everyone has to start somewhere. If you want to start running or working out, don’t push it until you’re sweaty and out of breath, otherwise you’ll come to dislike it. Just take a short and slow jog around the block. If you can manage to do this almost every day, then you can look to increasing your speed or distance and challenging yourself.

Last week, I ran my first half marathon. I joined thousands of other people as we all lined up, put our headphones in and pounded the pavement. Everybody I passed or passed me had their own story of how they got into running and then to this race. But no matter who they were or where they’re from, it all started with a single step.

2. Don’t let your first reaction be to buy stuff. Otherwise that yoga mat, exercise ball or ab crunch machine and so on will only end up gathering dust. And it’ll always be there to remind you of your failure. Only buy when you have developed a regular habit of working out and when you are absolutely sure that you need it. And even then,  you can get a lot out of not using any equipment at all. Gyms are overrated – the machines only facilitate muscle movement that are basically unnatural. If you don’t like running, take up swimming or yoga or pilates or tai chi or cycling or parkour or a martial arts or anything else that gets you moving naturally.

3. Get to know your body. Read ‘The Four Hour Body‘ by Tim Ferriss. Learn about what you can do to really get fit. If you want to lose weight, instead of signing up for a gym membership straight away, cut down on one thing you know you shouldn’t be eating as much. You cannot just ‘burn it off later’. At the same time believe it or not, you do not have to eat like a rabbit. Google “Paleo Diet”. If there’s one thing you should be learning about, it’s how your body works. You wouldn’t use junk to fuel a Ferrari. Your body is even more intricate and irreplaceable. Get educated.

4. Realize that “skinny” and “healthy” are not the same thing. Don’t overdo it. Being thin does not necessarily mean that you are healthy. If you lose too much weight, you’ll become fatigued easily, your immune system weakens and your overall health is much worse than being slightly overweight. I’ve known people to get completely mixed up between being “thin” with being “slim as a result of sport” or for the purposes of sport. Rather than concern yourself about your weight or fat percentage or whatever, choose an exercise that you enjoy doing, and do it for the fulfilment of challenging yourself and you will naturally lose weight along the way.

I run because it makes me feel alive.  This half marathon was a milestone for me, and I learned a lot. In some ways it’s more challenging than a whole marathon because if you want to do it in good time you have to run at a fast pace for 13.1 miles, almost like a prolonged sprint – and every couple of pounds you carry counts. But I would never trade away my weight if it means that I’ll end up skinny, frail and unhealthy. I don’t do it because I want to lose weight, I do it because I firmly believe that I was born to run.

5. Love thyself. It’s not always going to be easy. Sometimes you just want to devour some cake – but that’s okay. Just ask yourself – am I happy? This is very important. AM I HAPPY? Because if you’re trying to lose weight because you think it’ll look good or that people are judging you or for any other reason apart from for your own wellbeing then you should just stop now and come back when you have learned to love yourself for who you already are. You shouldn’t feel guilty about eating a cookie for crying out loud. If it makes you happy, then just eat it! Alternatively, if too much bad food would stop you from reaching more fulfilling dreams (like running a marathon, go mountain climbing etc.) and make you unhappy, then don’t. There’s always a middle way.

 

Ultimately, nobody is judging you as much as you think. People have better things to worry about than the number that pops up on a pair of scales when you stand on them. Life is too short to be constantly distressed by something so trivial. As long as you’re happy with yourself, your natural self-confidence will shine through – you’ll be more optimistic and much more likely to wear a smile on your face. And that is so much more beautiful.

 

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Embrace Life’s Flow

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“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it”. ~Lao Tzu

If only we could be more like water – strong, life-giving and beautiful. It trickles and surges, ebbs and swirls, here and there, following the natural course of life without attachment or resistance. Even when it appears to be quite still, it is not stagnant but peaceful and content. And it is always always flowing.

There are some weeks you’re busy, some weeks you’re bored. Sometimes you feel like working out, other times you feel like pigging out. Some days a friend or loved one can do no wrong, other days everything they do irks you. You can have an absolute favorite movie, song, food dish, book or hobby, but a few months later its being overplayed or you tire of it. One moment the sun is shining, the next it is raining.

People are fickle, states are constantly changing, old things break, new things are invented. Things don’t simply move in just one direction – they can go backwards, forwards, left or right, up or down, and even in complete cycles. If we try to force things we cannot control to be one way or another, or if we insist on being at one extreme or another, then eventually we will lose our balance. This is okay sometimes too, but if we look for it, there is always a middle way.

There is too much energy in the world for things to ever truly be still. It’s exactly these fluctuations and transitions that we experience every day that makes things exciting, keeps us on our toes and reminds us – if we remain mindful of it – that we are alive.

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