How To Accomplish Little And Feel Great

At no time in the world will a man who is sane
Over-reach himself,
Over-spend himself,
Over-rate himself.
-Lao Tzu

All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
-Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

Sell not yourself at little price,
being so precious in God’s eyes.
-Rumi

The world wants you to be the best you can be. The message is relentless and you may not have even thought of trying anything less. It has brainwashed you into believing that striving for success is essential for your well-being. What does “best” mean and can everybody be “best”. Many times, striving for best is actually killing you. Well, to be contented and happy you can get away from giving less than your very best. It is about finding the right balance and the right amount of effort and that is a lot less than what you have been led to believe. You will then realize that your commitment to excellence is the source of your trouble. Then you will start to turn everything down a notch.

Mediocrity is the key to happiness. The world does not really care. It is a simple fact of life that your successes and failures really do not matter to nearly everybody alive. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will feel comfortable and get on with underachievement. Even your friends, colleagues, neighbors and family do not really care for your success; because success is often relative and if you succeed, they have relatively lost. Our sense of satisfaction is relative to our standing relative to others and if we have less we suffer. This constant comparison with people who are more successful, smarter or beautiful breeds frustration and jealousy. It is suffering. But we all do it. Why?

We have been taught that achievement is our friend. We get positive feedback and rewards for achieving things and negative feedback and punishment for failing to achieve. There is nothing wrong in trying to improve ourselves but we kid ourselves into thinking that achievement is absolutely essential, like an addiction in order to live well. But what it does is it corrupts our bodies, minds, feelings, heart and soul. So the key is to retrain your mind and soul, to develop healthy attitudes to ensure that you never fall into the trap of high-intensity, strive-for-success-at-all-costs thinking. 

Now, let us explore the ten principles of underachievement:

Life’s too short. We all think that we are going to live for ever. But remember, nobody has got out of this world alive so far. In geologic time, that is less than a second away. You can drive yourself into a frenzy trying to do as much as you can while you are here, or you can relax and enjoy your split second. It’s your choice.

Control is an illusion. None of us is in total control of our lives, and if you think you are, then you are under a delightful illusion. Most of your life is not under your control, including your success, wealth, etc. So just relax, and live.

Expectations lead to misery. Because when you have a expectation, there is a good chance that something will go amiss.

Great expectations lead to great misery.

Achievement creates expectations. Expectations to do better, and better, and better, and…. suffering.

The law of diminishing returns applies everywhere. Benefits don’t continue to accrue at the same rate as effort or investment, whether it is money, swimming pool, tennis court, pool table, penthouse, or the 100 dollar wine bottle. At some point, in almost any endeavor, the curve flattens out and may even begin to dip. More is not always better, and good enough is good enough.

Perfect is the enemy of the good. If you want to be perfect, then the adequate, enjoyable, or even plain good won’t do  and that is horrible. If something is worth doing at all, sometimes it worth doing imperfectly.

The tallest blade of grass is sure to be cut. Accomplishment is not usually the source of admiration, it is usually the source of envy and resentment. If you are the best, make sure others do not recognize it.

Accomplishment is in the eye of the beholder. Do you really care about what someone has achieved in an activity you neither know or care a whit about?

The 4% value added principle. We are 96% identical to chimpanzees. The most successful and most unaccomplished people-all of us. So being alive itself is a great achievement.

So,

Work slowly and steadily, like the tortoise, not the hare. Make sure you spend time with family rather than be always at work. Spend time on hobbies and things you really like to do. Remember that ugly people have good sex too. Assume that there are many perfect mates you can find and if you have found one already, remember that one is good enough. Don’t demand perfection in your relationships and don’t create expectations in your relationships. Eat what you like in moderation; after all this body is going to rot someday and starving is not going to prevent it. Don’t spend a lot of money on fitness. Just walk. Do something with your upper body. Stretch yourself. Sleep a lot. Be satisfied with little. Then the wealth ratio: what you have/what you want is >1 and you have money to invest which you can put in index funds and match the market and beat 98% of people over the long run. If you live this way you will have healthier, durable relationships, more time to enjoy a wide variety of activities and save money. Don’t stress your kids too much; allow them to blossom in their own way and time. Encourage them but do not pressurize them. Kids are messy and life is messy too but beautiful. Enjoy the messiness. Realize that you are part of the Divine as is everybody else and evolution towards realizing our oneness with the Divine never ends as is the Divine expressing Himself in Her world. We are all on the path and the path is everywhere.

Once you do the above,

serenity
peaceful work relations
moderate fitness
smooth commutes
friendship
humble faith
sustainable economic growth
low blood pressure
contentment

is all yours for the taking.

Underachievement is the key to happiness in your life, and for everyone else around you. Stop worrying about not being perfect. Dedicate yourselves to the pleasures and benefits of mediocrity. Remember, underachievement is not about doing nothing. It’s about the right effort at the right time, in the right place. And not one bit more. Go ahead and start living life to the minimum. Don’t strive for success against your own best interests. Don’t take any so-called achievement seriously. Because you are already good enough.

You must always work not just within, but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way, the one you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.

Pablo Picasso

notes from the book: The Underachiever’s Manifesto by Ray Bennett 

Stories 52: What We Really Want

The abbot woke up early one morning. Nothing unusual in that. But this morning he was awakened by the sound of something moving in the nearby shrine room. That was unusual because most of his monks would normally be practicing their morning “chanting” at this time (“Zzzzzz . . .”) so he went to investigate.

In the darkness he saw a silhouette of a hooded figure. It was a burglar.

“What do you want, my friend?” said the abbot kindly.

“Gimme the key to the donation box, punk!” said the burglar brandishing a long, sharp knife.

The abbot saw the weapon but felt no fear. He felt only compassion for the young man.

“Certainly,” he said, slowly handing over the key.

As the thief frantically emptied the box of cash, the abbot noticed the robber’s jacket was torn, his face pale and gaunt.

“When was the last time you have eaten, dear boy?”

“Shuddup!” barked the burglar.

“You’ll find some food in the cupboard next to the donation box. Help yourself.”

The thief paused a moment in confusion. He was taken aback by the abbot’s consideration for his welfare. Still, pointing the knife at the monk just in case, he hurriedly filled his pockets with cash from the donation box and food from the cupboard.

“And don’t call the cops, or else!” he shouted.

“Why should I call the police?” answered the abbot calmly. “Those donations are to help poor people like you, and I have freely given you the food. You have stolen nothing. Go in peace.”

The next day, the abbot explained what had happened to his fellow monks and to his lay committee. They were all very proud of their abbot.

A few days’ later, the abbot read in the newspaper that the burglar had been caught robbing another house. This time he was sentenced to ten years in jail.

Just over ten years later, the same abbot was woken up early in the morning by the sound of someone in the shrine room. He got up to investigate and, yes you’ve guessed it, he saw the old burglar standing next to the donation box carrying a sharp knife.

“Remember me?” shouted the burglar.

“Yes,” groaned the abbot reaching into his pocket. “Here’s the key.”

Then the burglar smiled, put down the knife, and said gently, “Sir, put away the key. I couldn’t stop thinking about you all those long days in prison. You were the only person in my entire life who was kind to me, who actually cared about me. Yes, I have come back to steal again, but I realized that last time I took the wrong thing. This time I have come to take your secret of kindness and inner peace. That is what I really wanted in the first place. Please hand over the key to compassion. Make me your disciple.”

Soon after, the thief became a monk and became rich beyond his wildest dreams. Not with money, but with a wealth of kindness and inner peace. That is what we all really want. What a steal!

Ajahn Brahm in Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy

 

Reflections On Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta

In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are anicca, dukkha and anatta.

  • Anicca means that everything that is exists is impermanent.
  • Dukkha means that everything is subject to stress, unpleasantness and suffering.
  • Anatta means that everything does not have a self.

In the Vedas, the formula for the Divine is Sat – Chit – Ananda

  • Sat refers to eternal existence
  • Chit refers to eternal consciousness and knowledge
  • Ananda refers to eternal bliss and happiness

There seems to be a contradiction between these points of view. But Truth is Truth. It has to be experienced and when we put them into mental forms, they can get distorted.

In my view,

Ultimately everything is Divine. The good, the bad, the ugly. When one says that everything that exists is impermanent, it means that the things that are manifested out of the Divine, all are impermanent. Impermanent here can mean that they change form – like a body dying and going to the elements; or ultimately, the elements merging into the Divine itself ( like what is said to happen in pralaya or the ultimate annihilation). It does not mean the manifestations of the Divine are false or illusion; it just means that they come and go; they are temporary. So, in this way, yes, everything is anicca but in their innermost sense, everything is Divine. And, the Divine is immortal, eternally exists, with no beginning and no end. This is hard to comprehend mentally because these can only be understood beyond the mind.

It would seem that everything is subject to suffering and unhappiness. But that is true for the mind, not for the Divine who exists within us and us who is the spark of the Divine. We often are unhappy when something goes away, someone dies, something is lost, something becomes ill or non-functional. If one understands that since the manifestations of the Divine, which is everything in the world changes, these things are bound to happen and these things affect us only if we think that we are an independent self apart from the Divine, only if we thing from an ego-perspective. For example, we do not grieve when we kill an ant by pouring water on it. The ant does not belong to us. We do not grieve when another person who is not related to us dies. Because we do not feel the sense of belonging. If we understand that nothing truly belongs to us; everything is a part of the Divine, then why should one suffer. That realisation is difficult, but the absence of that is what leads to suffering and unhappiness. And once we realise, that everything is the Divine, belongs to the Divine, then it is all bliss, it is all the play of the Divine, the lila. That leads to eternal happiness and bliss.

The third assertion of the Buddha is that there is no-self. It is often said that this applies to everything both temporal and so-called divine things. My way of understanding this is that, yes, there is nothing that is independent from the Divine and in that sense there is no independent self. In the Advaita school, everything is Divine, everything is one and in that sense, there cannot be an independent self, everything is the Divine. In the Vishistadavaita philosophy, the manifested world, both living and non-living is the body of the Divine. The Divine is immortal and so is his body but the body is not the Divine fully just like our body is not completely ourselves. My finger cannot exist without being attached to my body; in that sense we cannot exist properly without being attached to the Divine’s body- otherwise there will be dukkha, anicca. But if we attach ourselves to the Divine, then it is Sat and Ananda. In other philosophies, there is the distinction that the finger is different from the body in one sense, but one can see that it is just a way of seeing and the same idea remains that one has to be yoked to the Divine. Essentially, what I am saying is that no-self means no independent self that exists in isolation from the Divine and the problems that we face is because of the fact that we cannot identify ourself with the Divine but keep thinking we are separate.

So,

understand that the forms are anicca, temporary; do not identify with the forms but identify with the Divine

understand that identifying with the forms and thinking that these forms independently exist is what leads to stress and suffering, dukkha; surrender to the Divine completely and understand that you are an eternal part of Him and once that happens, everything is bliss.

understand that you do not exist in isolation from the Divine; because you are a part of the Divine; then you understand that anatta, the understanding that you are not-self nor is anything except the Divine. The Buddha did not talk explicit about the Divine.

Buddhism has spread a lot today, especially in the Western world and there is a lot of things one can learn from the teachers of Buddhism today. The three marks of existence, if we view it this way, can help us deepen our understanding of our own path towards the Divine.

God Bless.

 

The Essence Of Meditation Practice

We all have this intrinsic awareness. We need to rest in this intrinsic awareness and allow the contents of the mind to appear and disappear without grasping, aversion or fear. Once that happens, there is comfort and ease. To rest in this intrinsic awareness and pay attention and see things as there without wanting to change anything is what brings about true change. It seems simple but is not easy. When this happens, we really know what the body, the feelings, the thoughts are, and what we really are.

We yearn to rest in this intrinsic awareness when we are not satisfied with the way our life is, in some aspect or the other. The paradox, however is, one can rest in this intrinsic awareness only if we accept the way things are. The journey, for some reason, is still necessary. The aspiration to rest in the intrinsic awareness is also necessary. In some ways, it is a new way of living, where one rests in this awareness rather than constantly being pulled and pushed here and there and to do that one has to let go, one has to surrender and one can call that an effortless effort, may be. We also need to be curious, in the sense of being open to what happens, rather than wanting something specific to happen. We also need to be kind and compassionate to everything that exists or arises, including yourself. We also need to let go in a kind and compassionate way what disturbs us being in that awareness.

All this first starts to happen, when we read something or meet somebody who sort of embodies this awareness and we then aspire to it. We then do some form of practice which gives us glimpses of this awareness. Then that may give us the conviction that we want to go all the way. That is when the aspiration really becomes strong. For most of us, the conviction is really not there and that is the issue. Once the conviction is there, one just practices being in the intrinsic awareness irrespective of whether it gives us pleasurable experiences or not.For we have then surrendered to that intrinsic awareness and deep down, we somehow know that this is the path. Once we have done that, we can rest in the background stillness, no matter what happens. But that does not happen in a day or sometimes even in a decade. That is why practice resting in the awareness is necessary and extending the practice to our moments of life where there may not be quiet in the sense of what quiet means. But quiet is in the background of everything and that is what we need to rest in. Simple but not easy.

Having a place, a time, a ritual for doing the practice is useful, just like a growing plant needs to be protected from too much wind by a protection. Once the awareness becomes stronger, then you may not need the protection. You may still keep it as something that anchors you. The practice is simple, but not easy. You need to let go; you do not hold anything nor do you accumulate anything. You just be, aware and let go of everything. There is nothing to achieve. Just sit and be aware. If something needs to happen, it will happen. If nothing happens, then that is what needs to happen. No expectations, no results. Just sit and be aware of the breath. If thoughts come, be aware of it and let it go. Go back to the breath. Keep being aware of the breath and let other things, thoughts, feelings, memories, physical sensations go. Let them come if they want, let them go. The awareness of the breath. At some point: the tummy, the chest, the nostril. Gentle and let everything else go.

Accept everything, your life as it is, pleasure and pain, fame and dishonour, success and failure, the life we have now and just become aware. Be aware of the breath. When other things come up, gently be aware of them and let them go –  thoughts, feelings, expectations, beliefs, death, life. When this happens we may really know who we really are, but that cannot be communicated in a way that makes you really understand. Whatever is said is words. Just like one knows the smell of a rose but one cannot describe it.

Things do come up that prevents us from constant awareness – desires, aversions, restlessness, sleepiness, doubt and a mixture of these. They may come for various reasons. Be aware of them and let them go. Ultimately these things happen because we do not know who we really are and that we want something and do not want other things. But if we surrender to just being in the intrinsic awareness, then do they matter…. once we have truly surrendered it does not matter. The problem is to truly surrender to that intrinsic awareness and let it do what it wants to do.

The problem is that we interfere because we think we know what the correct way is and hence we desire certain things and avoid others. whatever experiences arise, good or bad, be with it. The stories of your life, the heart breaks and achievements are like waves on the ocean. If we choose the waves, then we will be tossed up and down and lose them anyway. If we choose the ocean, the intrinsic awareness, then what arises does not matter. They will come and they will go.

Be kind to them, though. Be kind and compassionate to everything, yourself, your surroundings, you family, your friends, enemies, world, universe. Wish that they be free of suffering. Wish that they are blissful and happy. When we live this way, there is fearlessness, courage, rapture, joy, bliss, freedom from desire and satisfaction, serenity, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, wisdom, absence of idle chatter and learning to relax to the present moment and being aware of the intrinsic awareness.

To start, this means to:

  • Knowing how things are really in this moment, just as they are, without adding anything else.
  • Recognize the space like awareness in which this is all happening.

But life does not happen only in meditation.

There is a life where we do things and interact with people. We need to be aware that suffering happens when we do not accept what happens, when we are not kind and compassionate towards anything. Untruthful, divisive, hurtful or unconscious ways of speaking, killing, stealing, hurting or misusing others sexually leads to suffering. We need to earn our living in a way that does not entail harmful speech and action. The practice of mindfulness and concentration, of resting in our intrinsic awareness helps us  being present in all these ways with every aspect of ourselves and the world around us.

So,

Sit for a short period, 30 minutes to one hour, rather than a long period that is unmanageable. Do not want experiences. Just sit and rest in the intrinsic awareness, being aware of the breath. Do it daily and this will nourish you. A certain sense of basic wisdom arises and you become calmer and wiser and start to do things differently. However, do not make a big fuss about it or think you are doing something holy. The key is to keep doing it, no matter what happens, whether you get a “good” meditation or “not”. Everything is as it is and different and realising this helps a lot. You will experience comfortable and uncomfortable things and that is okay. Just be aware and let them go. Be patient. Do not judge your practice; it’s all fine. Have a structure, have a teacher if possible. Awareness that this body and the experiences in this life will one day pass on can help you be grounded. Do not look for something. Be satisfied with this precious moment. Do not look for some kind of special light, some special experience, some special openness. That creates struggle. Let go of wanting special experiences. The ordinary experiences are good enough. Practising in a group may help. Do not ask why you should do it, or how you should do it. You can think of a thousand reasons to do it, a thousand reasons to not do it. You know in your heart that it is good to do it. So do it. Keep calm, have no expectations, surrender and relinquish and stay doing it. The most important thing for practice is to practise and not to give up.

Now,

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Be aware of the sounds within you and outside you. Just let them come to you. Do not reach for them or think about them.
  • Be come aware of your breath. Notice whether you are breathing in or breathing out. Not changing the breath in any way. Leave it as it is.
  • Notice where you feel the breath strongly: nose, nostrils and upper lip or throat and chest or in your abdomen. Choose one place to rest your awareness.
  • As you feel the breath, perhaps name it: in and out, rising and falling, So and Ham, Bud and Dho, etc. This helps concentration but the awareness of the sensation of breath is most important.
  • Notice that there be a small pause at the end of inhalation and the end of exhalation. If you notice the pause have a sense of being in your body, a body that is breathing.
  • When thoughts or feelings fill the mind, when you become caught in them and are carried away – when you realise this has happened, in a kind voice name this ‘thinking’ and return to the breath.
  • Continue..When you end sitting return to the sounds inside and outside and carry this mindfulness into your life.

God Bless.

-reflections from ” Why Can’t I Meditate” by Nigel Wellings.