The Most Important Lesson You’ll Ever Learn About Opportunity

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Two shoe makers go to a remote village.

One of them immediately gives up and goes home, declaring, “It’s hopeless! Nobody here wears shoes.”

The other, smiling, declares “What a glorious business opportunity! Nobody here wears shoes”.

Opportunity is something that you discover, not something that you wait for

 

Whether it’s new business idea, a new career direction, a new journey, or a new friend or lover, however you define it, the opportunities in life are endless. They surround you like air.

You don’t have to have an expensive education, or special training to see them. You don’t even have to go looking for them.

You just have to keep your eyes and mind open.

Right now, there are countless problems that needs to be solved, people who need help, places to go, people to meet, and so many things to learn and discover about the world.

Most people trundle through life, blindly, on auto-pilot. Like the first shoe maker, they may see a glass, but they can’t help but think it’s half empty.

It’s not complicated. If you’re waiting for a new opportunity to come to you, you should know, it’s already there.

Can you see it?

 

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How running taught me the value of persistence

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parismedal

A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of perseverance. The ability to see things until the end – it’s the difference between make or break.

Little did I know, I would one day go through one of the biggest tests of perseverance – a full marathon. I would end up putting my money where my mouth is.


lessons in starting out

When I first started running, it was to lose weight. I dragged myself to the treadmill about once a week, or sometimes just once a month. There was no ‘big goal’, and I was never really that good at it. I got out of breath, my chest hurt, and I made a hundred excuses. It took me a year to run more than three miles.

I wasn’t making much progress, especially weight-wise. Mostly, it was because I didn’t do it enough.

Then one summer, when the weather was particularly good, I went for a run. Just a gentle jog in the June breeze, and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I ran a couple more times that week, then a few more the week after, and within that month, running turned from a chore to a hobby.

While I was running for superficial reasons (ie. to lose weight) and not making much progress, I would be completely put off by just the number on the scales. I would think, ‘What’s the point?‘. But, after that month, I started to truly appreciate running as something fun and healthy to do, not just as a means to an end.

Once I actually got going, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I grew to love it. Now, I run because I enjoy running itself, not because I wanted to lose weight or impress others. It gives me more energy, the opportunity to clear my mind, and a sense of accomplishment. I had persevered, and eventually, everything clicked into place.

Before I knew it, I was running a half marathon. Finishing it was one of the best things I had done in my life up until then. I felt so proud of myself, and so happy that all of my hard work had paid off. Instead of asking, ‘What’s the point?’ I came to ask, ‘What more can I do?‘.

I read into minimalist running. I took up yoga, swimming lessons and spin class. I had neglected my body for years, but now it was one of my highest priorities. Being healthier became a part of my daily life, rather than something I begrudgingly tried to fit into it.


screw it, it’s now or never

A few years after that transforming summer jog, I found myself signing up for a full on marathon.

What an idiot. Training went fine until a common cold turned into a chest infection, which turned into a check-in in the emergency centre of the hospital. It happened right when I was supposed to be running the most miles. I had probably made it worse from running outside in cold and rainy weather. The doctor told me to stay in bed.

Flash-forward to the big day. I hadn’t had a proper run in weeks. I had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to give up. I didn’t want to give up. No way. At the start line, I said to myself, ‘Screw it, it’s now or never.’

Twenty miles later, my feet felt like they were going to explode with every step. My hip had locked up, my shins felt brittle enough to snap, and if I had to go up another incline, I might didn’t think I would make it.

Despite all this, somehow, I kept going. I saw a sign that read, ‘Run as if zombies are chasing you!’ In other words, keep going as if stopping wasn’t an option. 

So I put one foot in front of the other. Again and again. I did it ten thousand times until I saw the finish line.

When it was in sight, I sprinted.

My foot crossed the line. I did it! I cried. I waddled. I smiled my oxygen-deprived head off.


5 lessons on persistence

What did I learn that day? That band-aids are a runner’s best friend? Well, yes, but also some great lessons on the value of persistence.

1. Persistence is what separates people who are successful and people who are unsuccessful. They persist and persist until they finish. They may adjust their course, slow down or speed up, but they just don’t give up. It’s as simple as that.

2. If you look at the most successful people in the world, the one thing they have in common is that they didn’t give up. You can look at any field, and at any measure of accomplishment, or at all their different backgrounds, but you will see that to get to where they are, they simply got started, and kept going. Their common characteristic was their perseverance.

3. It’s easy to give up, but hard to carry on. That’s what makes a ‘success’ something to be admired. Anything worth achieving is worth working hard for.

4. Finishing creates momentum. The sense of accomplishment you feel from finishing carries forward into your next project, and then the next one, and then the next one. Life is a series of ‘projects’, whether at work, in relationships, or for yourself. Whether they end in success or failure, you will never know unless you finish. 

5. It’s not about luck. People don’t just get lucky, they finish things and learn from them.  By reaching your goal, you open new doors and opportunities. You end up with more and better chances of doing more stuff. In other words, luck doesn’t find you, but if you just keep going, and you’ll find it.

What can you achieve by being persistent?

 

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Phew, now that’s crossed of my life list, where am I going from here? To my next project of course. Sports-wise, my aim is to complete a duathlon in the next year or two, and a triathlon after that. Find me on Fitocracy, if you like. My course has been set, and I’m determined to reach the end. See you at the finish line!

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Lessons learned from snow & blossoms

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Oh, snow. It’s pretty at first, but then it turns grey and slushy, getting into your shoes and freezing your toes. Then there’s the winter wind that makes your nose turn red and your eyes start to water.

In Japan, the cherry blossoms came to mark the beginning of spring. The air is warm with the smell of flowers and grass, and there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than to stroll under the trees, with the sound of a river trickling alongside you, and delicate petals falling in the gentle breeze.

Both snow and the cherry blossoms are very different. One marks winter, the bitter cold that causes things to die or hide away, and the other spring, the season of birth and life.

They are both painful and beautiful in their own way. They both mark the passing of time; a season starts, a season ends. A new year becomes an old year.

The Japanese people have a tradition of having a picnic under the trees because the blossoms only last a few days, before all of the petals have fallen and the trees are bare again.

On the other hand, I know from experience that there aren’t many things that feel better than jumping into a pile of brand new snow, soft and freshly laid, ready for you build a snowman from, or make snowballs to throw at your friends.

How often can we enjoy nature’s beauty like this?

We need to learn how to appreciate each and every moment in the same way. In spring, summer, autumn or winter. Even if it is pouring down outside, or snowing, or sunny and clear, whatever the weather. Doesn’t it make you feel more alive?

Time passes. This is the truth that a lot of people don’t like to think about. They deny it, and avoid talking about it, but ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Is it really morbid? Or, does it, on the contrary, cause you to make more of the moment? You enjoy life more, because you know that you will only get a few chances to do so. Living in denial will only mean wasting it. 

So go, my dear, play in the snow, bask in the sunshine, run in the rain. Be bold, be brave, be strong, and live.

 

Make your own future

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“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.” - Dalai Lama

Do you keep a diary?

If you don’t, I highly recommend it. I guarantee that the stuff you write about will blow your mind one day.

Reading a past entry is like looking at a snapshot of your past self. What happened this time last year? How did you feel about it? It’s fascinating, some of the things that you cared so much about that you would dedicate so many pages and so much of your time ranting about.

But now, you read back, and  you realise that the things that happened to you back then, that seemed like such a big deal at the time, don’t seem so big any more, do they?

That’s because everything changes with time. It’s the nature of impermanence.

2012, an epic year indeed

I choose to see it as a sign of growth. People tend to say that they’re the same person they’ve always been, but the truth is, everybody changes over time. Sure, there are a few things, like core values and beliefs that are difficult to change, but all the rest of you, your likes and dislikes, how you spend your time, they way you move or speak, your knowledge, and of course your appearance, are always changing.

In 2012, I did a lot of changing. I went from only being able to run 3 miles at the most to completing a half marathon in less than 2 hours. I went on retreat to southern France, where I learned more about life in a week than I did in my entire lifetime. I travelled around China, where I met new people, and together we ate, saw, learned and experienced so many new things. I somehow even managed to throw in learning a new language and how to swim properly, amongst many other things, big and small. This year was one of the most exciting years I have been lucky enough to have.

There’s still growing up to do, but before I die…

As another year passes by, I realise one more change. It happens every year, but many of us don’t seem to notice.

We have one less year left to live. 

There are still so many things I want to see, people to meet, relationships to deepen, skills to learn, goals to achieve, places to go, experiences to have, new things to try, it’s unbelievable how much I have yet to do.

It would be such a shame to let a moment go to waste.

Like a lot of people, I keep track of all of these things with a bucket list. It’s simple, if I keep it somewhere obvious and I see it almost every day, I will be reminded about the goals I’m aiming for, the things that really matter. Then, as I accomplish each one, I proudly draw a big black line through it.

For 2013, I have decided to publish my list. I have created a page to make myself publicly accountable for my lifetime goals. Hopefully, this will motivate me to get out there and just do it! Feel free to check it out The List.

Screw it, just do it

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln

Who knows what the future has to bring? The best thing you can do is take control of it yourself. Decide for your own what you want to happen, then make it happen.

I have been working on it for a few years now, and I’ve managed to cross off a few things already. Even so, the list keeps growing, and at a much faster rate than I can keep up with. Even if I can’t complete every single thing on the list, I wouldn’t mind, as long as I know that I’ve truly tried to. Some of the things will take a long time, years even, but as long as I keep in mind my reasons, I’m sure I can do it. Some of the things will take an immense amount of time, effort and courage, I hope I can live up to the challenge.

 

Nevertheless, I will never forget what an amazing year this has been. Both the good and bad things that have happened have made me a stronger and better person. I know that when I read back on my diary for the past twelve months, I’ll be happy to know that I have already experienced so much.

Thanks 2012 for being such an epic year, and here’s hoping 2013 will be even better!

Zen in a cup of tea

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How easily can a cup of tea be taken for granted?

Before I went to Plum Village, I had no idea that I never knew how to truly enjoy a cup of tea, water or coffee. I used to gulp it down without a second thought.

It’s the same with every breath. We all know how to breathe, we can even do it unconsciously, but what happens when we take a moment to do it intentionally?

What happens if we take the time to drink it all in?

Drink tea and breathe

Every morning, I have a cup of coffee. Every afternoon, a cup of tea. But, for every cup, I don’t take the time to enjoy it, I am too busy doing something else at the same time.

Every moment, I am breathing. But, for every breath, I don’t take the time to appreciate it, I am too occupied by distractions that cause my mind to wander off into the past or future.

However, in reality, everything I need to do, or think about, is in the present moment. Only when I am in the present, does life become real.

No longer is my life just another distraction, another figment, another ghost.

Have you ever meditated on a cup of tea? When you meditate, first, you direct your concentration on an object, like the cup in your hands. Then you sustain and intensify your concentration on it, step by step. You will see things that cannot normally be seen.

For example, did you know that to see the clouds, you do not have to look up at the sky? There is a cloud, right there, in your tea. The water in your cup used to fly high in the sky. It used to run down mountains and along rivers and seas. It has been around the world a million times and back again. Now, it is in your hands, and in the air you are breathing right now. It may not look exactly like a cloud right now, but it is in there, do you see it?

When you realise this, your connection with your tea, your breath, and therefore the rest of the world, becomes deep and meaningful.

To be able to have a cup of tea is a wonder. To be able to breathe is a miracle.

Sip your tea. Take a deep breath. Come back to life.

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Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path III – Mental Development

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Greetings everyone! If you follow my twitter you might know that I just spent some time on retreat to Plum Village in France, learning about the teachings of one of my heroes, Thich Nhat Hanh.

I’ve taken away so many great lessons from this trip, and I can’t wait to explore it all with you guys in the coming posts.

In the meantime, here’s the final instalment about the Eightfold Path. In the last two posts, Wisdom and Ethical Conduct, I have talked a lot about the practical applications of each step. With Mental Development, the focus is more about all the work that happens behind the actions.

Right Effort

Having Right Effort means cultivating the self-discipline needed to follow through with the Eightfold path and other teachings of the Buddha.

It’s not always easy to do the right thing. Indeed, in a lot of cases, doing the wrong thing is easier. It’s easier to steal something than to earn it. It’s easier to exploit the weak rather than fight the strong.

However, although doing these things can lead to short term gain, in the long run it cannot last. If you steal you could be caught and punished and if you selfishly continue to exploit those around you, you will be resented or eventually run out of vulnerable things or people to take advantage of. In time, you will become more and more insensitive to your negative impact on others as desire, envy, aggression and perhaps even violence takes over.

Instead, you have to learn to encourage your positive mental states, such as honesty, benevolence and kindness. As long as you put in the Right Effort to be compassionate towards others, your practice of the other steps such as Right Speech, Action and Livelihood will be fuelled by your positive energy.

The practice can be broken down into four steps which can be basically summarised as:

1. To prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states. In other words, try not let yourself get angry or hurt so easily. You have full control over these emotions, it is not others that upset you, it is you who allows them to.

2. To abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen. If you do find yourself getting angry, it is best not to act immediately. Instead, take a moment to breathe, and you’ll find that a lot of your anger will dissipate quickly. Your mind will become clearer and you can make better judgements about how to handle the situation instead of making it worse.

3. To arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen. The third step is to intentionally be compassionate towards others. Smile and complement people, even strangers. Give generously to others, whether it is your material resources, time or effort.

4. To maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen. Avoid lying as much as you can. Either keep promises, or don’t make ones you can’t fulfil. Be patient and forgiving. Listen deeply to your family and friends and love them unconditionally.

 

Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness is simply the ability to see the world clearly as it is. We should try to clear our minds of delusion and judgement, because they lead to discrimination which inevitably leads to hurting others.

We may only be half conscious of it, but we spend a lot of mental energy categorising, interpreting and distorting things. We fail to recognise the importance of some issues or blow others out of proportion.

When our view is being obscured we don’t see the other side’s perspective. We don’t realise that there must be a reason why people do or think in certain ways, if it is not ‘our way’ it doesn’t mean it’s the ‘wrong way’.

Right Mindfulness enables us to be aware of ourselves and the world around us. It doesn’t stop or make us do anything, instead it is just the non-judging acknowledgement of our thoughts and actions. When we know we are doing something hurtful or helpful, Right Intention and Right Effort will guide us to stop or continue our actions.

Practising Right Mindfulness builds a mind of tranquillity and equanimity. You will find yourself much more emotionally stable and with a much better ability to remain composed under tension or stress.

The best way to practice is simply just to sit down in silence and close or half close your eyes. Once you stop moving your body and stop being distracted by information going into your eyes and ears, you can think more clearly about things the things that are on your mind.

Right Mindfulness (combined with Right Concentration) leads to insight. With clarity of conciousness, almost anything can happen. You may find a solution to a problem or make an important observation about a relationship, your past actions or realise that things aren’t as bad as you had thought. If you sit regularly and patiently, you will experience the miracle of mindfulness. 

 

Right Concentration

Right Concentration is developing the ability to direct all of your mental energy towards a single object and maintain that focus for a period of time.

In the context of the Eightfold Path, it means concentrating on wholesome thoughts and actions such as those under Ethical Conduct – Right Speech, Action and Livelihood.

It might be very difficult at the beginning to maintain focus and not be distracted by all the things going on around us. But what most people don’t know is that concentration is a skill, just like tennis – nobody is naturally born already amazing at it, they have to learn the techniques and practice consistently.

The best way to learn is, again, to practice meditation. I cannot emphasize how important this is. You don’t have to go on retreats, the Dalai Lama himself says you don’t have to be vegetarian, but meditation is an essential component to Buddhist practice. Even if you do not wish to be Buddhist or a Buddhist practitioner, meditation (like eating healthily or taking up yoga) is immeasurably beneficial to everyone.

One way of practising Right Concentration is to try, for 20 minutes, in whatever you are doing, to pour your entire concentration into doing it. Immerse yourself. Don’t stop until you are done with the task at hand or 20 minutes are up. Try to ignore or postpone any distractions until you have finished. If you can do this, try it again for an hour, a day or even a week.

You will find that you are able to complete the task not only more quickly, but with better quality. Each person has enormous amounts of concentration within them, which also means each person has huge potential to achieve great things. Unfortunately, it gets spread out and diluted as we allow things to distract us from our goals.

Concentration is a powerful tool. Being present and focussed is the difference between being a participant of life and being and merely being an observer.

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It’s taken me a little while to write these posts, partly because I was busy preparing for my travels but partly because although the Eightfold path is a simple concept, it is complex in it’s teachings.

There’s so much to say (believe me, I read a lot of literature before writing these posts) but the most important point of all is not just reading about the theory but the actual practice of the path itself.

These posts have been an introduction, a guideline, a gift from me to you. However, it’s up to you now to choose where to go from here. Remember the saying?

“Imagine what you could achieve if you put your mind to it”.

Now, you don’t have to imagine. May the Eightfold path lead the way!

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Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path II – Ethical Conduct

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The next stage of our journey along the Noble Eightfold Path is understanding how Ethical Conduct affects every single aspect of our lives.

By conducting Right Speech, Action and Livelihood to the best of our abilities, we can move closer towards an enlightened body, heart and mind.

You don’t have to be Buddhist to follow these principles. As you read on, you will see that that these concepts, and indeed Buddhism itself, is a way of life that emphasizes growing and practice.

It’s not about overhauling your life completely, rather, it’s about doing our best to make small changes, and choosing the right decisions as you encounter them. You don’t have to do everything at once, even a small attempt at any of them will improve your life, and the lives of others around you.

Right Speech

Unlike our actions, because we cannot always see the potential effects straight away, we sometimes forget how powerful words can be. They can move people to laugh or cry, make someone fall in love or into an enemy, they can create friendship, war, art, memories, arguments, admiration, motivation or inspiration.

The Buddha points out four different types of wrong speech which actually can be much more common in our lives than we like to admit:

1.  False speech refers to the telling of lies to others. We should not speak deceitfully to exaggerate our worth or convince people of something that is not true.

Perhaps sometimes telling very small lies for the sake of peace is acceptable when your intention is in the best interest of somebody else, not your own. However, while it may be difficult to eliminate lies completely, we should strive to remain genuine and honest as much as we can. That way, people will come trust us, and believe in the things we say. Nobody would choose to confide in or take advice from a liar.

2. Slanderous speech. We should not use words maliciously against others. Some things are just not our business, so it is a waste of our time to gossip about them. As good people, we shouldn’t talk about people behind their backs, and in return, people won’t talk about you behind yours.

Slanderous speech does nothing but divide people and create enemies.

3. Harsh words. It might take some practice, but even if we are angry, we should try to remain civil and calm as much as we can. Resorting to insults that offend or hurt others will never make the situation better.

Similarly, putting the blame on ourselves or others for something that happened in the past cannot reverse it.

We should also try to take all criticism constructively, even if the intention of the person wasn’t so. There is always something you can learn from others. And when we are trying to give feedback, we shouldn’t just point out everything they did wrong but include praise for the things they did right.

4. Idle chatter. We should always try to speak with purpose, depth and good timing. Using speech only when we have something useful or interesting for the other person to hear and knowing when to remain silent is a sign of wisdom.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with silence, but actually if you are truly close to someone, or if you are confident in yourself, there’s no need to impress people with small talk to ‘prove that you’re not boring’.

In the end, the things that you don’t say are just as important as the things you do say.

 

Right Action

It’s not always easy to do the right thing all the time. However, as much as we can, we should try to:

1. Abstain from doing harm towards others intentionally or delinquently. This includes any sort of violence or action that may hurt other people or prevent them from having basic human rights such as food or water, freedom and equal love.

We should refrain from taking life, including, as much as we can, the lives of animals. You don’t have to be vegetarian, but you should respect that an animal has literally given it’s life for you to eat. Even insects are sentiment beings and as much as it is practical, we should try to spare their lives.

We should act kindly and compassionately towards everyone we meet, and try to make their day better for happening to cross our path.

2. Abstain from taking what is not given. This means refraining from stealing and fraud. We should respect the belongings of others and we should try to repay our debts to the people we owe and not take advantage of those who are in a position of less power than us.

If you manage to do this, the next stage is attaining contentment, which means being satisfied with what you already have, without feeling that you have to keep collecting more stuff, especially via unscrupulous means.

Finally, the highest goal is developing a perpetual sense of generosity - using or giving away one’s own wealth and possessions in order to better the lives others. You don’t have to live in a hut, but if you are content with what you have, then you will realise that most things that people desire, such as a sports car or huge house are not really needs but wants. A true practitioner would not waste their resources on such superfluousness and instead they would do what they can to help those in actual need.

3. Abstain from sexual misconduct. Although this mostly refers to relationships with our partners, we can also include any sort of loving relationship, such as friendship or family bonds. People should be honest and faithful to each other, care for them and be prepared to put their interests above their own.

Even if we only want what’s best for the people we love, we cannot change them by shouting about minimalism or Buddhism or any other way of life we believe is better. We must show them. When they see how happy and content we are, they may wish to change, and only then should we guide them.

 

Right Livelihood

Wealth is not evil. It’s how people obtain it or what people decide to do with it that makes it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and even these labels can sometimes fall into grey areas.

In general, wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. In other words, we should try not to harm other beings in pursuit of it. Therefore, we should avoid:

1. Dealing in weapons or anything malicious that could potentially be used to exploit others. We should not knowingly be involved with violence or trickery.

2. Dealing with living beings in a harmful manner such raising animals for slaughter or being involved in  the slave trade or prostitution. If it is within our power, we should try to reduce the suffering of workers, especially those who are exposed to dangerous or over-laborious conditions.

3. Working in meat production and butchery. If this is not possible, we should at least try to discourage the slaughtering of animals by not eating meat excessively. Check out this TED talk.

4. Selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Again, it might be a lot to ask for to completely stay away from alcohol or cigarettes, for example, but at least we should stay away from being involved in potentially very dangerous, illegal or addictive drugs or substances that are bad for people’s mental or physiological health and draw people in against their will.

Finally, we should try to stay away from jobs or activities that would violate the principles of Right Speech and Right Action.

 

When you think that minimalism is all about asking “what is necessary?”, it’s easy to see how it relates to Ethical Conduct – don’t lie or show off about the things you own, do what is right and be content with what you have.

There was so much to cover here, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. It may take a while to master all of these, indeed, it may even take a lifetime, but remember, there is no goal, what truly counts is doing your best with all your heart.

 

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These three principles act as a bridge towards the next stage, Mental Development, which I will talk about in the next post. In the meantime, due to popular request, I will start posting book recommendations on Twitter!


Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path I – Attaining Wisdom

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So here we are on the first part of our journey along the Noble Eightfold Path, laid out by the Buddha to guide us away from ignorance and suffering. In this first part, we will look at wisdom, what it means and how to attain it by practising Right View and Right Intention.

Wisdom

What is wisdom exactly? Some would say it is like knowledge, but that wouldn’t be the complete meaning of real wisdom. There are plenty of people who are book smart, or have a lot of general knowledge or can make obscure cultural references, which are all very well, but true wisdom is a different kind of knowledge that you can only gain from experience.

Unlike knowledge, wisdom is not a clear cut goal that you can reach by passing an exam. The real tests come from being able to overcome the obstacles that life throws at you.

Being wise simply means knowing how to be. What to say or not say, what to do or not do and how to be true to yourself and do well unto others.

Wisdom is the accumulation of humbling experiences that come from keeping an open mind and freely admitting when you are wrong. Wise people are not proud. They have plenty of dignity, but they are not proud in the way that most people are. They don’t need their egos boosting and they don’t feel the need to have recognition for every little thing they do. Zen teachers always tell their students, “If you think you are already wise, then you are not“.

 

 

Right View

To become wise, firstly you have to obtain a little perspective on things. Right View is being able to see things for what they really are. This means having the insight to see what truly matters, and what does not. It means realising that everything is impermanent and that the world around us is in a constant state of flux.

Stuff breaks, gets stolen or lost. People change their minds. Time moves on. If we insist on trying to keep things the same forever or if we hold on to an ideal or memory, one day when it will inevitably be gone, we will be unhappy. Instead, so we should enjoy these things while we can but we should also recognize that nothing lasts forever, so we shouldn’t become upset when it is gone.

In minimalism, having the Right View is the first step in the right direction. You have to see things for what they’re really worth – which is usually nothing really at all, just a bit of money here and there doesn’t make something actually valuable.

You have to realise that being happy is the most important thing in life, and simply possessing a bunch of stuff or qualifications won’t make you happy, so what’s the point in worrying about it all so much? The same goes for relationships that aren’t working or goals you’re holding onto just to impress other people with. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone, yet we spend our whole lives striving to win points in life as if it’s one big game.

Having the Right View shapes all of our other intentions and actions, so it is vital that people put their priorities straight. What are you working towards? What do you really want to do? What matters to you?

Right Intention

Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if more people intended to leave things in a better state after they came than before they arrived? Every act of kindness, no matter how small, adds up. Just a smile or some kind words can improve someone’s day or week, or even save a life. You can make a difference. This is what minimalism is all about – resisting the pull of selfish desire for the greater good of ourselves and for others.

If people just took a moment to breathe before they spoke or acted, then there would be much less anger and violence in the world. Holding a grudge or desire for revenge against somebody else is like holding a hot rock – painful and burdening, and yet people feel like this every single day.

Extending our compassion for people who annoy us doesn’t mean we understand why they’re doing something, it means that we understand that they are only human, they make mistakes but they’re just doing their best to be happy.

Every interaction we have with the Earth and other people should be with the intention of goodwill – to make the world a better place. If you want to make your mark on the world, let it be a positive one.

Commit to this with your whole heart, and you will attract like-minded, kind and gracious people into your life. Everything slots into place if you have the right attitude, and true intentions.

 

People who are truly wise can see things from a higher perspective. They know when to listen and when to speak. And they know when to act and when to let things go. But most importantly, they know how to be happy.

 

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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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