Maintaining inner peace through right speech and action

When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.

The Dalai Lama
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When I read this quote by the Dalai Lama, I thought about the times that I’ve lost my patience and said or done something that I immediately regretted. The embarrassment and guilt from those types of situations can sit with me for days while I rehash them in my mind and wonder about possible outcomes.

Obviously, there’s another problem there of living in the past instead of living in the present, which isn’t healthy on its own, but all actions have consequences. I think this is something the Buddha was aware of and is an important part of the idea of karma. The things we say and do that we might wish we could take back not only create guilt and bad feelings between us and other people, but, according to Buddhist teachings, they also add negative karma which can come back to visit us in this life or the next.

So, sure, live in the present, but it’s also important to help that along by not doing things that anchor us in the past. In other words, spending more time listening and thinking before speaking or doing so that we don’t get stuck in a cycle of worry and anxiety. I’m not saying that to preach to anyone. It’s more of a personal reflection and a reminder to myself to be vigilant as a means of improving my mental clarity, focus, and quality of sleep.

I’ve come to believe that simplicity is best, and the simplifying process doesn’t have to be restricted to discarding or giving away unused goods, it can also be a simplification of mental burdens by removing unnecessary worries and stresses by doing and saying the right things at all times. It’s like that old adage about not lying, so you don’t have to maintain the mental burden of remembering which lies you’ve told to which people.

As for what the right thing to do and say is, well, that’s more subjective and depends on context.

Finding satisfaction in what I already own

I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last few years and some ideas and philosophies that I’ve come across are nothing new, but they’re just not things that I was exposed to when I was younger, when they would have had the most impact, mostly because when I was a kid things like e-books and Amazon didn’t exist. And I guess the information just wasn’t as accessible even in print. Accessibility creates new markets, after all. Specifically, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about finding meaning in life and moving away from consumerism towards a healthier outlook on how to find meaning in life.

It seems like most of the issues we have in life come from not being satisfied with what we already have or need and constantly falling victim to our cravings for what we want, through one form of acquisition or another. We confuse needs and wants, and we oppress others to acquire possessions, power, or stature that we don’t really need to live truly satisfying lives. Worse, we confuse acquisition with satisfaction.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The one who has conquered himself is a far greater hero than he who has defeated a thousand times a thousand men.

The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve bought a new thing, looking for satisfaction, only to find myself looking for the next acquisition-triggered dopamine rush a few weeks later. The problem isn’t that I need new things; it’s that I need to find an appreciation for what I have, and that can only happen if I correct my perspective.

This seems like something that should be common sense, and I understand it on some level, but I haven’t fully implemented it in my life. For example, I’ve criticized the small iterative upgrades to mobile phones and other electronics that are intended to keep people spending, but it hasn’t quite hit home, I suppose. I’m not quite there yet. Maybe it’s always a struggle, breaking free from consumerism in the pursuit of inner peace.

But I have donated quite a few things to Goodwill. Probably 1/3 of what I own, and honestly I can’t even remember what most of the items were because I wasn’t using them anyway. I’m simplifying my life so I can focus on the things that matter. It’s a process and only part of the journey, but it’s nice to be taking concrete steps in what feels like the right direction. Downsizing, healthier eating, meditation, exercise, and trying to focus on things that actually bring me joy.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, and you want to know more, then I recommend starting out by researching minimalism and habit formation. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of habit formation to trigger new behaviors, the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, is helpful. The Android app, Atom: Build a habit of meditation (For Beginners) is, obviously, oriented towards meditation, but along the way it teaches you a lot of good information about why and how to make new habits stick, and it’s not a bad idea to learn how to meditate anyway.

I picked up these ideas from the reading I’ve been doing on Stoicism and Buddhism. Both of these philosophies focus heavily on letting go of delusions and recognizing that mastering our own minds is the greatest challenge with the greatest possible reward. So, if you want to get into the philosophy (or spirituality/religion, depending on how you look at it), good places to start are The Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, and The Dhammapadha (avoid the free F. Max Muller translation, it’s outdated and hard to understand), which are the sayings of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha.

Being happy with enough

A lot of the problems we have in the world right now are because people want things that they don’t need, like a new phone every two years for example, and it creates a constant dissatisfaction with the present.

I wonder if this is why rich people kill themselves? They have so much, and not knowing what to do with it and not having time to use it must create additional layers of dissatisfaction.

The focus on living in the present moment that Marcus Aurelius wrote about reminds me of Buddhism. Aurelius even says that we shouldn’t worry about the past or the future because they do not exist.

The True Self

Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

…the True Self is the self that existed before the division of heaven and earth and before one’s father and mother were born. This self is the self within me, the birds and the beasts, the grasses and the trees and all phenomena. It is exactly what is called the Buddha-nature. This self has no shape or form, has no birth, and has no death. It is not a self that can be seen with the aid of your present physical eye. Only the man who has received enlightenment is able to see this. The man who does see this is said to have seen into his own nature and become a Buddha.

The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman by Takuan Soho