What are the required elements, the conventional prescription if you like, for a successful modern life?
It would probably involve being consumed by plenty technology, being constantly ‘hyper-connected’ both online and with people. ‘Being busy’ socially, and to work as hard as possible to earn as much money as you can – to afford the mortgage, house, car, education, plus all the other life-luxuries that are presented to us as essentials.
All of this can often leave us all both feeling a tad unfulfilled, and with very little wriggle-room to even consider, let alone pursue the things in life that manifests ‘our-fulfilment’.
Our ability to harvest ‘inner-cheerfulness’, propagate our health & wellbeing, & develop a calm resilient mindset is dependant upon our capacity to back up, shut down, restore & reboot.
Simplicity and authenticity that are keys to personal-thriving.
Because we’re all busy and forget, it’s important that we provide ourselves access to ourselves so we can regularly recalibrate our thinking, to realign our vision, and upgrade our internal narrative.
Maybe ironically, this is best achieved when we free ourselves from ourselves.
This week I’m simply going to present ‘reflections’ from two prominent thinkers.
One a Japanese Buddhist Zen master & poet, the other, from an American naturalist, essayist and philosopher.
I chose these two individuals, amongst many, as they focus on two elements that I think we’re not only ‘missing’ these days, but can be easily, and readily accessible if we allow ourselves the precious resource of time.
The next post, I will be presenting one lifestyle choice, a behaviour and indeed a habit, if mastered, will indeed not only allow us to give better access to ourselves, but improve our wellbeing and capacity to better cope in the modern world.
Japanese Buddhist Monk & Zen Philosopher Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) amongst other things is famous namely for two things; (words taken from the book “Great Thinkers” by School of Life)
As a Haiku poet, and a Zen master in the traditional ‘tea ceremony’.
Traditionally ‘haiku poetry contain three parts, two images and a concluding line that helps juxtapose them. The best known haiku in Japanese literature is called ‘Old Pond’, written by Bashō himself;
A frog leaps in
His poetry reflects two of the most important Zen ideals: wabi and sabi. Wabi, for Bashō, meant satisfaction with simplicity and austerity, while sabi refers to a contented solitude. It was nature, more than anything else, that was thought to foster wabi and sabi.
Hence Bashō’s most frequent poetic topic is nature, such as:
by peach blossoms
Bashō’s poetry is of an almost shocking simplicity at the level of theme. There are no analyses of political or love triangle or family drama. The point is to remind readers that what really matters is to be able to be content with our own company, to appreciate the moment we are in and to be attuned to the very simplest things life has to offer. Bashō also uses nature themes to remind us that flowers, weather and other natural elements are – like our own lives – are ever-changing and fleeting.
This transience of life may sometime be heartbreaking, but it is also what makes every moment valuable.
These valuable moments present with nature offers us, as Bashō elegantly frames, ‘leads one to an enlightened frame of mind know as the concept of ‘muga’, or loss-of-awareness-of-oneself or self-forgetting. Bashō reminds us that muga, or self-forgetting, is valuable because it allows us to break free from the incessant thrum of desire and incompleteness that otherwise all humans live.
We need to be reminded, and deliberately pursue forms and methodologies that suits our purposes so we’re better abled to derive pleasure from simplicity, and how to escape (even if only for a while) the tyranny of being ourselves.
Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify. – Henry David Thoreau (words taken from the book “Great Thinkers” by School of Life)
Philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) felt that too often we use the company of other people to fill gaps in our inner life that we are afraid to confront ourselves. He goes on to say “the task of learning too live alone was not so much about carrying out daily chores as it was about becoming a good companion for oneself, relying first and foremost on oneself for companionship and moral guidance: “insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.’
Most of all, one should change oneself before seeking to change the world.
Even back in his day…Thoreau was mindful of technology and often viewed it as an unnecessary distraction. He obviously saw the practical benefits of new inventions, but he also warned that these innovation could not address the real challenge of personal happiness: ‘our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things…What we need to be happy isn’t work or money or technology or even lots of friends, but time.’
Thoreau believed we should look to nature, which is full of deep spiritual significance. He said he would be very happy ‘if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state,’ for we are likely to find that ‘nature is worth more even by our modes of valuation than our improvements are.’ We can best understand ourselves as part of nature; we should see ourselves as ‘nature looking into nature,’ rather than an external force or the master of nature’.
Nature provides the meaning that money and technology and other peoples opinions cannot, by teaching us to be humble and more aware, by fostering introspection and self-discovery.
Thoreau believe that with the right kind of consciousness, human beings could transcend their previous limitation and ideas. This mental state – and not money or technology – would provide real progress. He optimistically declared, ‘only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.’ If we clear our lives of distractions and make time for a little contemplation, new discoveries await us
Thoreau teaches us how to approach our frighteningly vast, highly interconnected and morally troubling modern society. He challenges us to be authentic not just by avoiding material life and it’s distractions, but by engaging with the world.
Though we grapple with the fake news, conspiracy theories, decimation of our environment, the ‘impact’ of Covid 19 and it’s subsequent social & financial ramifications – we should remind ourselves that it should not take a severe crisis for us to question a materialistic and distracted life.
We must also continue to learn from nature and the psychological possibilities it offers all of us… as Thoreau’s guiding mantra says ‘In wilderness is the preservation of the world’
[Words in fact being repeated now by Richard Attenborough in his latest Netflix documentary]
Thoreau concluded that we actually need very few things. He suggested that we think about our belongings in terms of how little we can get by with, rather than how much we can get.
Thoreau deeply valued what he called self-reliance and the ‘progress’ it seemed to make. The civilised man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet
I believe that it’s by essentially using our feet, by ‘doing’ the actions we love most that we can best access not only nature and all that she offers, but also tap into the abundant resource of ourselves.
To be more content with our own company, and to appreciate the moment(s) we are in.
Till next time