If there is one thing you can find online everywhere you look (besides pornography), it’s ‘self-help’ manuals. We’ve all seen countless posts, images and videos explaining how to achieve wealth, happiness and a piece of mind in 12 easy steps. After a while, these tend to blend together into a mishmash of yoga, gluten-free diets and excessive consumerism (or is that just me?). To be fair, there is some sound advice to be found in a lot of these guides, but for the most part it the same old tired phrases: Be nice to others, eat well, don’t stress over small things, and similar bits of timeless wisdom. This got me to think: could I write a lifestyle article without rehashing ideas from thousands similar articles? The answer is probably ‘No.’, but I nonetheless tried to come up with something original for the occasion. So without further ado, here is my unconventional list of advice on how to achieve a piece of mind in today’s hectic world.
There is a simile in the Pali canon where the Buddha explains the difference between a disciple and a lay person. When a layman is in pain, this experience is followed by feelings of anguish and resentment about the fact that he is in such a state. It is as if after being struck by a dart, he is struck again by a second one, increasing his suffering further. In contrast, someone who is a disciple is never struck by the second dart, because he accepts that pain is an integral part of life. Therefore, one means to attain a peace of mind is to acknowledge suffering, without needlessly adding to it ourselves.
Many people see art as nothing more than a distraction – it is there to make life a little easier while we are exposed to it. Once we are done with reading a book, seeing a film or listening to a tune, we are supposed to move on to practical matters of life that need our attention, leaving our impressions to collect dust somewhere in the attic of our mind. Since we don’t pay enough attention in our encounters with works of art, we tend to increase the number of encounters as a form of compensation. Instead of properly appreciating a single film or a book, we are constantly seeking out new ones as they come out. This turns art into a chore, a far cry from its intended purpose. So rather than consuming art as fast-food, we should treat it as a gourmet dish for the mind.
Accept that Change is Inevitable
Our world is in a constant state of flux. One day you are happily married to a person of your dreams, the next Doolan Wagner divorce lawyers come knocking on your door. We take measures to ensure that some things remain the same as long as possible, but this is always a losing battle. Instead of wasting time and effort on trying to hold on to everything, a better way of doing things is to recognize that we are not fully in control. It is useless to stress over matters which we couldn’t influence in any way. Accepting that changes is inevitable frees our mind of the constant need to second-guess everything we do.
Learn from the Past
We often hear the phrase ‘let go of the past’ when looking for advice on how to cope with some unpleasant experience. But what if the opposite is true? What if by studying the past, both our own, and that of the rest of the world, is the solution? Consider this: whatever hardship you might be going through, at least you can take solace in the fact that countless others were once in a similar situation. Being aware that people in the past have experienced the kinds of hardship you are currently going through, makes it easier to come to terms with whatever might be ailing you.
Be Honest With Others
Social relations are something that is thrust upon us as soon as we are born. While it is true that we have some measure of control over who we spend our time with, it is nigh-impossible to escape from society as such. Unfortunately, the balance between two forces that govern our social life, that is agency and circumstance, is often tipped in favor of the latter. We start relating to other people according to the rules that are out of our control, turing our interactions into a kind theater. And who can say what is real anymore if life becomes nothing more than a play? Needless to say, this a great source of anxiety in our lives. Is there something we can do about it? We can begin by practicing honesty in our relations with other people. Saying or hearing the truth can often hurt, but it can also bring with it a sense of contentment by removing doubt from our minds.
Face Your Mortality
While there have always been disagreements on the reality and nature of the afterlife, there is one thing that remains certain – death is inevitable. Every person knows this, and yet lives their lives as if this is not the case. This self-obfuscation is taken as mandatory for everyday life, but this attitude has a serious downside. Treating death as some distant possibility inflates the importance of trivialities in our eyes. Instead of being rightful anxious about our demise, we lose our peace of mind worrying about things that are ultimately irrelevant. Rather than glossing over our mortality, we should make an effort to properly appreciate it. What makes our choices in life meaningful in the first place is the fact that there is a finite amount we can make, so every one of them counts. After all, a mind at peace with death cannot be swayed by trivial concerns.
It is not just our own suffering that clouds our minds. Witnessing the hardships of others around us can even be more distressing than our own troubles. Especially if the cause of the harm is another human being. Regrettably, it is far too easy to just ignore oppression, even when it’s happening right in front of us. Closing our eyes and pretending things will somehow work themselves out is obviously not the solution. The only way to shield ourselves and others from violence, mental as well as physical, is to take a stance to fight injustice head-on as soon as it arises. Edmund Burke famously said that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”, and we should take this sentiment seriously. To obtain our own peace of mind, we must begin by fighting for everybody’s right to do the same as well.