As I age, and see my peers age – some older and some younger, I observed most (people’s) minds habitually close in and circle within the same thoughts. It seems that when most people age, they may find there are fewer things to know or to learn, unlike young curious minds. Thus, speaking to them may be like talking to brick walls as they grow even stronger in defending their views without realising it.
Our intellectual society has taught us to speak and think objectively. We have learnt to defend our views hidden behind words that seem to sound objective but are not. Growing up, I felt like I was living on the edge of a cliff because there was no guidance to living a life in learning to address physical and/or mental pain. Is chasing sense pleasures and defending personal views a wise path for living that is able to address pain and fear?
But chasing sensual pleasures such as food, and sex, to increasing one’s identity/ego through wealth and power doesn’t seem much like a path. Even the fight for survival – from the caveman to an office white-collar worker is quite instinctive. It seems we are all living haphazardly, dependent on our instincts supported by the intellect. Even animals can do that. The exception is animals cannot expand their egos since it requires intellect (which belongs to Man). Is there a path to living wisely that allows us to break free of our instincts and habitual intellect that imprison us?
What is a path to living wisely?
A path is like a guidebook. For example, if you want to climb Mount Everest, you need to first get to the base camp to acclimatize yourself. Then, there is a map and a guide (the Sherpa), who help you on your way. The Sherpa’s only job is to direct the way.
A path to living wisely is like a map we use for guiding our lives. The Sherpa in the simile is a wise friend we meet along the way. Although this is a mindfulness blog post, I am not hinting that mindfulness teachers are like Sherpas. There are mindfulness teachers with different levels of understanding and it also depends on who you feel in your heart is a sincere mindful practitioner/teacher.
Furthermore, the Sherpas in our lives need not come across as wise people, they could be the most annoying people you have ever met. These people are teachers on your path. But first, let’s explore what a path to living wisely consists of.
The components of a wise path
A path that guides us in our lives has to do with tuning our thoughts and feelings. An instinct is a feeling. Although most people may claim they do not fear death, most of our instinctual actions in daily life are to avoid death. The intellectual survival instinct is to maintain our feeling of a sense of self (ego/identity) by defending our views.
Our need to build a wall of strong views to maintain an identity can cause much mental pain. Why so? Because you aren’t the only one doing it – others too, are building a citadel of egoic views. You can expect them to try to break down your citadel as you do the same to them – causing each other mental dissatisfaction/pain.
Mental pain consists of ‘fighting fire’ at home and at work (and other situations you feel go against your views). You may find that no one is listening to you or caring about how you feel. The difficult person in your life is most likely feeling the same way. You may wonder too, why is our world heading for more catastrophe instead of peace? Peace comes from learning how to live harmoniously with one another and nature by learning to cultivate ourselves with wisdom, virtues, and mindfulness. The path to living wisely is an inner transformation, it is not an outer one to change others.
Due to our busyness in maintaining our inner fortress (the ego) and our increasing lack of awareness due to more and more distractions, peace is becoming like another intellectual idea instead of a direct experience. How can we experience peace, if we find it hard to bend to others’ will?
Learning to bend is part of the path
I was watching the film ’42’ and there was a dialogue between the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the first African American baseball player he hired. He taunted the player with racist remarks to let him know what he will experience from the white audience on the field. The player asked the owner, “Are you asking me not to have the guts to fight back?” The owner replied, “No, I am asking you to have the guts not to fight back.”
In the context of the movie, the Dodgers’ owner explained that if the player were to fight back, he will be seen as the perpetrator, further fuelling hate for African Americans. In our context, we do it to reduce the hate in our hearts (as much as the intellectual ego likes to deny that it exists in our own hearts).
Not fighting back against a hurtful remark or learning to bend to others’ will does not make anyone weak. Rather, it is through understanding that fighting back only causes more conflict that a wise person would stop and instead listen. A wise person also knows that by listening and understanding what the other person fears are the only ways to end a conflict. But to be able to pause instead of instinctually fighting back, you need to have mindfulness.
Developing wisdom on the path to living wisely
Components of the path include wisdom, virtue, and mindfulness. Virtue consists of inner qualities such as patience, generosity, and forgiveness. Mindfulness is the ability to centre our mind to pause and become aware of our thoughts and feelings in daily life. Without the pause, our minds will run continuously without a break like a train going round and round the same circle (habitual defensive thoughts).
Wisdom is harder to explain because most of us think that wisdom is thinking. But wisdom has nothing to do with thinking. It comes from learning through direct experience by understanding our thoughts and feelings. By understanding how our thoughts and feelings work together and by being aware of our daily experiences, wisdom arises.
It is only by being willing to cultivate the virtues of patience and forgiveness when we meet the most difficult person in our lives, that we can develop wisdom. True peace arises when we are able to transcend our mental pain without avoiding (includes not caring about) that difficult person or situation.
What I have learnt on the path of living wisely is that only love (with compassion) can reduce both physical and mental pain, and it has to be supported by wisdom for a truly peaceful world.