The global village is a land of abundant opportunities. This is great. We have all options at our disposal. Whatever our dreams, the world is at our feet and we can all go out there and just do it because we’re worth it. It’s wonderful. The only drawback is, that the same can be said for everyone else. Effectively, there is a good chance that someone out there will have education, better facility, better track-record, better ideas, better appearance, better demeanour, better connections – all of that. Anyone can build a website, or get a guy in Bangalore to do it and, in principle, disrupt your entire organisation in a matter of months, if not weeks.
On today’s ultimate level playing field only one edge is left – the final frontier: our mind. The eastern approach to tuning our mind, and by extension our consciousness, is not about awakening the behemoth within, or crushing it, or going into beast mode. Quite the contrary. This tendency to constantly push and pressure our mind, that is exactly the problem. This is why we stress out and subsequently feel inadequate. The solution therefore, is to reverse that; to awaken contentment within, and let things come to us on their own – because they will if we let them.
Following are five tools to put ourselves in a state of mind, conducive to inner peace and clearer thinking. Doing so will allow us to reach goals faster with less effort. For true gurus, things just happen around them. We may not go as far in our practice, but even if we keep our modern life, the principles remain the same, and can be applied anywhere, anytime.
When tuning our mind like a guru, the first thing to consider, ironically, is everything except the mind, namely our surroundings and lifestyle. Our lives are filled with unnecessary disturbances that we fail to notice, simply because we have become accustomed to them. Modern society in its entirety, is made up of distractions and disturbances. It is how we enjoy ourselves: drinking, over-eating, gambling, excitement, media, sex, sugar, shopping and so on. All of this, unless we restrict ourselves, spin our minds out of control. When we are not distracting ourselves, we are longing for that next distraction fix.
Our mind functions best under regulation, order and peace. The entertainment approach to happiness comes with an intrinsic negative fallout. ADD, stress, depression and social anxiety are completely normal reactions to disturbing mental circumstances. Therefore it is imperative, that we take a step back from the rat race and find value in simple things. Yoga, bonzai tree making, knitting, whatever, as long as it is slow and not competitive and/or result driven in any way.
De-cluttering our mind is impossible without de-cluttering our lives. It is like trying to drive our car with the hand brake on. So cut your distractions down by 50%, and while you are at it, get rid of half of your belongings too. Trust me, you will feel 50 pounds lighter afterwards; the world will gain colour and flavour. You will have so much space and air to breathe. It is like magic.
We are regulated, we just rarely notice because what regulates us, is our senses and our surroundings, and that type of regulation is unsteady. The out-of-tune mind loves to be whimsical, though it keeps leading to disappointment.
As a monk, I would regularly come across people who asked if I was allowed to do this or that. “Are you allowed to walk around on your own?”, “Are you allowed to talk to women?” Often they would exclaim that their life was more free than mine. The reality, however, is the opposite. I chose, and still choose, to live under certain restrictions because it creates inner peace, and allows me to reach more valuable goals (and yes, I am allowed to talk to women).
This self-regulation should extend into our dealings with other people. We talk a lot about freedom of expression, and I think most sane people are generally on board with that concept. But what about responsibility of expression? Should we not also consider that? I mean, using freedom of expression to exploit or guilt trip others, surely should be considered immoral, no? Self-regulation, meaning the ability to not react – to not have to constantly voice our opinion, is powerful, both internally in giving us increased confidence and self-esteem, but also externally, because when we remain silent, others will naturally want to know what we think.
Modern society, and social media in particular, has provided us with a multitude of echo chambers we can dive into at our leisure. An echo chamber is an environment defined by a certain belief, so members don’t have to worry about anyone disagreeing with them. It seems great because we can share common interests with likeminded people, but if we are never challenged in our beliefs, our thinking stagnates, and we become emotionally unprepared for dealing with disagreement. This gives rise to extreme and fanatic thinking patterns. The principle applies equally across all areas of the political compass. It is universal. No one is exempt.
To mitigate this, we must re-learn how to think and there is a simple way to do that. Have you ever seen the yin-yang symbol? That circle with a black and a white drop turning around each other. Within the white is a black spot and within the black is a white spot? The black within the white represents the bad within the good, and the white within the black represents the good within the bad. What it means is, that seemingly contradictory elements, in the case of this symbol black versus white, are actually complimentary, and give rise to each other. Practice thinking like this. Anything we support, find the weakness in it. What can be the negative fallout of it? And whenever something bad happens, find the good in it. What can we learn from it? Thinking like this allows us to rise above dualistic and conflict based thinking. The world becomes more nuanced and beautiful.
Renunciation is one of those words I try to avoid – unsuccessfully. I work with high achievers. People with wealth, fame, beauty, power and knowledge. What I bring to the table – my unique selling point so to speak, is renunciation. It is liberating for people to sense, that I do not want anything from them. I am not impressed, appalled, intimidated or distracted by the opulences of the world, because I have accessed that sixth, hidden opulence: renunciation. Living for so long without possessions has, in a sense, made me fearless in the face of material opulence or scarcity.
When we don’t want anything we are powerful and trustworthy. Nothing really belongs to us anyway, so it is not like we are giving up anything. Think about it, all the things we “own,” how many of those things will we still have in 20 years? 40? Similarly with our social and professional position. These things can be taken away from us at any given moment, so how can we say we own them? Thinking we do invites stress into our lives. The things begin to own us more than we own them.
There is a tremendous feeling of liberation in knowing, that the opulences of the world come into our lives and leave again, and we will still be fine. The fun part is, that when we think like this, the opulences naturally flow towards us, and when we chase them they naturally flow away from us.
Meditation and mindfulness is becoming the new big thing in the west. In the east it has been practiced for thousands of years and it is the crux of our ability to perceive reality clearly and without judgement. A mental state of meditation makes us unshakable in the face of the world. In a time with constantly changing circumstances and increasing competition, on the corporate level as well as the personal, this is the magic process.
There are various types of meditation, categorised by two parameters: personal or guided, and active or passive. The most popular ones are guided passive meditations – which should not be surprising in a culture fixated with convenience. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of videos on YouTube, taking us through a guided passive meditation.
Buddhists enjoy personal passive meditation. They call it Vipassana. In short, you sit in a relaxed pose and either focus on a candle or a picture of a Deity, or you close your eyes and focus on the space between your eyes, or your breath, while simply noticing the internal and external impressions, such as thoughts, emotions, sounds or a breeze passing over your skin, allowing it all to pass through your consciousness without judging or labelling the experience.
The process of “kirtan” is a guided active meditation practice, which is gaining in popularity. Here mantras are put to music. These are sung in a call-and-response fashion: the kirtan leader sings a mantra, and the audience responds singing the mantra back. Since it is done in a social setting, with other people, and put to music, it is easy to follow and pleasant for the mind, which is probably also why we see a surge in popularity of this form of meditation.
The last version is personal active meditation, where mantras are chanted repeatedly by ourselves. During this process, as with the Vipassana technique, we begin to experience our mind without identifying with it. Mantra meditation is the most effective method of the four, but also takes more effort. In short: personal is more effective than guided, and active is more effective than passive.
The result of a regular meditation practice is a state of happiness that is unrelated to our surroundings. We don’t have to achieve anything to experience it and that in itself makes us perform better. Our relationships benefit, our habits improve and our general outlook on life becomes more constructive and optimistic. The positive effects of meditation cannot be overstated.
Tuning our mind like a guru is all about creating a conducive and relaxed environment for it to function.
The mental state of being busy is unrelated to our productivity and, more often than not, reversely proportionate: the more busy we feel, the less effective we are. We hear about the concept of flow – that sweet spot between complacency and stress – some call it passion, where everything seems to just, well – flow.
Tuning our mind like a guru goes beyond that. It removes the passion and pressure completely and simply observes the world as it is, without judgement. This means everything becomes clear. Complex challenges are reduced to simple and exact solutions, without effort. The global village falls in love with us. The ultimate level playing field is suddenly rigged in our favour and no one minds, because people want us to succeed.
When our mind is tuned like a guru’s we have no need to exploit our surroundings, which means the good results keep coming, while we remain calm and collected. It sounds amazing and it is, but it is also completely tangible and practical – normal even. It is just, that in our modern race for success we have forgotten it. Let us get it back.