Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the utmost masters of self-awareness and meditation.
In this video, he provides insights about being oneself in a masterful fashion. Worth watching his speech.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the utmost masters of self-awareness and meditation.
In this video, he provides insights about being oneself in a masterful fashion. Worth watching his speech.
Let’s picture a situation where an individual (let’s call him John) is the owner of a shop. John has two employees, whom we shall name Jane and Bill. John has a good relationship with Jane and Bill, and business is good.
However, during a weak period in economy, John’s shop starts to see a decline in clientele, and his sales drop. However, his costs remain high, as he is reluctant to let any of his employees go. Unfortunately, at some point, the situation becomes so critical that he faces a couple of options: to close his shop, which would compromise his own livelihood and that of his employees, or to downsize and let one of his employees go, which would compromise the affected party’s livelihood.
John makes a tough decision, and with the hope of giving his business some time to recover and turn around, he decides to let Bill go. John is fully aware that this decision will have an undesirable impact in Bill’s life. In the meantime, he reassures Jane that she’s keeping her job, which guarantees her immediate livelihood.
In the above example, John was facing a tough situation where, regardless of his ultimate decision, some collateral damages would have been inflicted, whether upon himself or upon other people. In his case, his decision ended up hurting Bill, although he did somehow manage to salvage a relatively positive outcome for Jane and himself. Nevertheless, John cannot help but feel guilt for his action, despite this being mostly caused by situations beyond his control (i.e. adverse business conditions).
In our case above, does John’s decision make him a bad individual?
Unfortunately, just like in John’s case, there are situations in life where people with good intentions end up inflicting damage upon other individuals. People make difficult decisions where, despite of being fully aware of the consequences, they act to avoid a more dangerous situation, or to keep the danger away from themselves or others.
When we inflict damage upon others, does that makes us bad people?
What if the damage caused is not intentional?
What if, against our will and our best intentions, our interactions with people result in unwanted consequences that affect other people?
Are we to blame ourselves for damage inflicted upon others, even when we tried our best to avoid it?
There is no easy answer to any of the above questions. In fact, there are no right or wrong answers: When we act fully aware of the consequences of our acts, we are accountable for the results of our actions. Even when we might not be fully aware of the consequences that our decisions would have, we still hold some responsibility on their consequences.
On the other hand, however, we can argue that when we face these dilemmas where we know undesirable consequences will arise, we can count ourselves as victims of the dilemma itself. Essentially, when damage is inflicted as a result of a difficult decision where we cannot avoid the collateral effects, we are making those decisions based on particular circumstances. We are not to blame about causing one damaging effect, which we chose over another outcome which would have been in itself another damaging effect.
It is unfortunate and sad that sometimes life gives us these challenges, where the outcomes of our moves will have a negative effect elsewhere. However, it is up to us to make the best out of those outcomes: When these situations arise, and we make difficult decisions, nothing prevents us from being human and approaching the people who have been affected by our actions or decisions. It is at the point, more than ever before, our responsibility to support them and make sure that the damage inflicted is reduced to the least possible, and offer any kind of assistance to them.
As humans, we must care for one another. Even when we have inflicted pain or damage unto others, albeit unwillingly, it is our responsibility to care for them and to be as human as possible during their difficult times. Let’s not forget that our own path through life does contain some rough patches as well, and we never know when will we be the ones impacted by the collateral damage of other people’s decisions. The more humane we are with people in need of our support, the better support we will likely receive if we hit a rough patch.
The Little Prince, by Antoine the Saint-Exupéry, is one of my favourite books of all time. Ever since I was a young child, I have been captivated by such a simple, yet beautiful tale. I have had the opportunity to read it in a few languages, including its original French, and I can attest that the beauty of the story does not get lost in translation.
I admire this book for many reasons. Not only the story is entertaining and easily understood by any reader regardless of their age or background. In my opinion, perhaps the most important attribute of the Little Prince is that it is a fantastic philosophical work.
For people who have not read The Little Prince yet, I highly recommend you do so. It should take less than two hours to complete from beginning to end. In short, the story is about the interaction between the author himself, and an extraterrestrial young kid (The Little Prince) who left his native asteroid and, as part of his galactic voyage, he visits Earth. Saint-Exupéry, a pilot, is stranded in the Sahara trying to repair his broken airplane, when the Little Prince meets him and they become friends. This friendship leads to a beautiful philosophical reflection where the author recalls his views of the world when he was a child, which in turn helps him understand the views on life that the Little Prince shares with him.
As grown-ups, exploring life through the eyes of a child can seem somewhat immature. However, it is one of the most complex reflections we can do. As we live through life, we progressively acquire more “adult” views of ourselves, the world and the people who surround us – and this leads to forget the child we used to be. While this happens, the thoughts, views and dreams that we had as children also vanish, and are substituted by more “mature” ideas where we measure the value of thoughts and ideas in more tangible and numerical standards than we used to.
Growing up, nevertheless, is a natural process – and a necessary one too. We could not live our whole lives thinking, dreaming, and playing as children. As people transition from childhood to adulthood, there is a lot of learning occurring in between, which helps us craft new thoughts and ideas, and in turn allow us to set new goals and dreams adequate for our present and our future. However, as we grow up, we also tend to keep out of our radar some of the values and dreams that we looked to pursue during our infancy.
What the Little Prince masters to portray is that every one of us started life by being a child. This child still lives within ourselves. Therefore, our childhood memories, values, dreams and passions accompany us the rest of our lives, however they are there in a dormant state. It is up to each individual to awaken those memories, dreams and thoughts, and incorporate them in their adult life as well.
It may be hard in the beginning to reach our inner child, especially if we have been disconnected from our childhood memories and dreams for a long time. Making this connection a goal in our regular meditation is very helpful. Recalling our childhood thoughts might be a very powerful experience which may awaken various unexpected emotions at first, but as we continue to practice this over time, it will also become an easier and more natural approach. As we reach this state we gradually understand our views of life as we were children, and with a little effort, we can incorporate some of them to our current life plans and goals.
By incorporating our childhood thoughts in our meditation on regular basis, slowly but surely we will make room for our inner child in our adulthood, and with that, we will also make room to our childhood dreams. By dedicating some of our valuable adult time (maybe an hour, maybe a few minutes) regularly to work towards fulfilling those childhood dreams, we will be in turn working towards living a more fulfilling life.
Knowing ourselves would appear to be something natural, and to an extent something that we can take for granted. From the moment we are born, every single second of our life is spent with ourselves. We are raised by our parents and are surrounded initially by immediate family. Thereafter, as we grow up, we attend school and meet childhood friends and teachers. As we experience it through all of its facets, we do so by coming in contact with different people and their thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and actions. But inevitably, we are at all moment with ourselves.
If we spend so much time with ourselves, would it not just make sense to say that we know ourselves better than anyone or anything else?
As logic as that may seem, throughout our lives we find ourselves trapped in life experiences where we are not in control of ourselves. For example, we get sick. We also react to certain situations with attitudes and emotions that surprise ourselves and people who surround us. We develop likes for activities that we did not previously enjoy, and lose interest in subjects that we felt passionate about in the past. And it is through these behaviours that we understand that, perhaps, we do not know ourselves as much as we thought.
Unfortunately, no one in our life provides a recipe or formula to get to know ourselves and enable us to predict our every reaction, feeling, and ways of thinking. No one can tell us the way we will behave and the decisions we will be making as we experience the different circumstances that we will face in our lives. No one except, of course, ourselves. And it is exactly at this point where we face a great paradox: On the one hand, we humbly acknowledge that we do not inherently know ourselves, but on the other hand no one can know us better than ourselves.
The solution to this paradox resides in opening our minds, but not in an ideological way – but rather in a physical and spiritual fashion. To really know and understand ourselves, we need to have the willingness to learn about ourselves. This willingness takes effort, practice, and humility above anything else. Humility to acknowledge our physical and spiritual limitations, and our humility to accept inside and outside knowledge in order to develop a better understanding of who we are.
As we partake in the journey to discover our most basic nature, we do so with full awareness that we are beyond simple physical entities. Indeed, there is a physical aspect in us: We all have a physical body which is our vehicle to navigate the physical world. However, we must also be aware that we are not limited to only our physical nature – we have a powerful mind which serves as the bridge between our physical being and all other parts of ourselves that are not tangible, like our thoughts and our consciousness.
Through embarking in various experiences in life and constant meditation, we have the potential to discover much about ourselves: Things we like and we don’t like, talents that we had no knowledge about, interests, ideologies, emotions, and interests. However, these experiences are not lived in a single day, nor it takes a few meditation sessions to really understand our thoughts. It is almost needless to say that unearthing these discoveries takes many years of diligent willingness to discover, in a rather neutral mindset, secrets about ourselves.
Knowing and understanding ourselves is like building a house: It will take more than just putting a few bricks together to call it “a house”. It takes hard time and detailed work to achieve a final product that we can call a house, where all pieces -every brick, every nail and every wood stick- fit together to create a magnificent building. Likewise, to truly know who we are it will take a lot of introspective work to discover more about us. And the more we know about us, the better we will understand the much we can give to others and help them come closer to their own self: At the end of the day, the moment each individual understands themselves, they will also understand the mission they are accomplishing in life and the role they are playing in helping achieve the large universal goal that we are all collectively pursuing – whatever that may be.
One of the activities that I enjoy most doing in a pitch dark night is stargazing. The reasons why I do this are many; stars look like tiny sparks of light shining in the otherwise empty-looking black sky. They also form constellations. It is very exciting to sit outside blanketed by the darkness of the night sky and find those shapes and characters that ancient civilizations also observed in the sky, therefore naming groups of stars after the shapes they seemed to form. It is also exciting to see the shiniest spots of light in the dark sky, and figuring whether what I am seeing is a star or a neighbouring planet. There are literally millions of celestial bodies to be observed in a good night, assuming there is little or no light pollution in the surroundings.
Looking at the stars, however, is more than just admiring their beauty and figuring the shapes they form together. Our ancestors studied the relationship between our human lives, our world, and the universe they could see from Earth. For centuries, sages dedicated their lives to stargaze and find not only beauty in the sky above, but also finding answers and meanings to whatever they observed in the sky, and the impacts that those relationships had in humans and our everyday lives. As such, they developed profound studies in various sciences like physics and astronomy, and in other mystical fields of study like astrology. The kind of knowledge they acquired through their studies was not only impressive, but lasting enough that most of it has been transmitted throughout generation, and is still appreciated and studies in our times.
Thanks to the studies that ancient and contemporary sages performed about the night sky, we have today a much better understanding of what we are actually looking at whenever we stargaze at night. We understand that there are not thousands or millions, but billions of stars in the observable universe around us. We also understand that there are there are constant physical and chemical reactions among the heavenly bodies that take place every second; yet, some of them are so large and so distant that we cannot live long enough to truly appreciate their ultimate impact in both our lives and in the course of the universe as a whole. Stars, constellations, galaxies, planets, clouds and other bodies are in constant motion, shaping and reshaping astronomical knowledge as we know it.
Most of us, however, are normal mortals without a deep understanding of the forces that move the universe. Most people do not have a deep understanding of physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrology, nor any of the other sciences that rule the relationship among celestial bodies. Yet this does not imply that average people, like you or me, cannot appreciate in great awe the beauty and greatness of the universe that surrounds us. At the end of the day, every single person, animal, object and phenomenon that we could ever fathom is intrinsically related to the universe that we were formed from – whose fate is linked to ours.
Our relationship to the universe is not only physical. While it is true that each of the atoms that form our body can be traced back to some distant relative in the universe (that is, a star, a planet, a quasar or whatever not), our links to the vast infinity of the universe go well beyond merely that. Our minds are also deeply related to it. As a result, our thoughts, emotions and moods are also related to the greatness of the universe, and whatever phenomena happens in there can potentially have an effect in our personae. Our mindset is not necessarily ruled directly by the cosmos above, however there is a fine link whereby we can be affected by cosmic forces in a multidimensional fashion.
Appreciating the universe that surrounds us, therefore, can have some benefits in ourselves. First of all, it can help us realize that we are really small as compared to the enormous cosmic reality, and our existence is therefore very limited. This, however, does not imply that our lives are meaningless and not worth maximizing – in fact, all the opposite: We should, and must, ensure that we make the best out of our limited time we are to spend in this great universal puzzle. However, it should also help us realize that mankind, as a species, is but a blip in the universe, and as such we should perhaps spend less time hating among ourselves and invest more effort in realizing that we are, after all, allies in this cosmic reality – and our mission as a species is a common one.
The universe around is very vast, and stargazing during a good, dark night, allows us to appreciate only a small fraction of the universe that lies beyond us. More importantly, it helps us to understand an undeniable fact about ourselves: We, as individuals, are small. Very small. We are tiny when compared to the enormous cosmos around us. And if we are this small, is it worth to worry excessively about our everyday issues? Are we powerful enough that we can equate ourselves to the power of the universe? We might understand our roles in our jobs, in our communities, but what exactly is our role at large, when considering the universe as a whole?
The answers might not be obvious or readily available to us. However, spending a good hour stargazing and meditating upon the celestial bodies we observe on a nice dark night can give us a hint of the answers we are looking for. The beauty of the cosmos around us is infinite, but if we commit a good portion of our time to decipher how it is related to us and we can meditate upon how the cosmos affects our lives, we will be able to find answers to both our most profound and most mundane questions we can reflect upon. Guaranteed.
From our perspective, the fourth physical dimension is straight forward in its strongest sense. It is a straight line that we call time, and we all travel through it in a direction that goes from past to present, from present to future, and from future – deeper into future itself. For everybody and everything in our world, time is a one way journey.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that time -and consequently, our lives- seems to travel in an unavoidably straight direction, there still appears to be an intimate relation that influences present by our past, our future by our present, and even past by our future. Indeed, it is easy to understand that present and past are directly related because there cannot be a present without a past. Likewise, since present is future’s past, the relation between both is akin to that of present and past. But what can we tell about the influence of our future in both in our present and our past? Is there even a influence at all of our future over our past?
In our human view, given our limited understanding of Universe as a whole, that would impossible. Future only happens because past and present have already happened and shaped the direction of said future. But even from a scientific point of view, we acknowledge that our perception and understanding of the Universe is very limited.
Einstein explained that time and space are relative, and both can be bent and altered by each other. Likewise, quantum physics agree in that our potential understanding of the Universe is very restricted, since all we can potentially study and understand from it is whatever we can sense from our 5 physical senses only. There is so much more that surrounds us, which we can’t possibly perceive – let alone understand. We are aware of our own inherent human limits, and all of our knowledge, perceptions and understanding will be limited by them in consequence.
These principles support the theory that the Universe is, in fact, multi-dimensional (as opposed to restricted to the 3 dimensions -height, width, depth- plus the fourth dimension, time, that we can perceive from our perspective). If that is true, then time is a dimension that can be modified from other dimensions beyond our capabilities of understanding, in a way that our past, present and future could be occurring simultaneously, but in different dimensions and in different spaces.
This knowledge is an invitation to realize that every single moment in our lives counts. Despite the fact that we seem to have only control over our present, in fact we have also control over our past and future. The decisions we make every second have a repercussion in who we are, and who will we be, and potentially who we were some time before. At the end of the day, time not a straight line and sometime, somewhere, we can find ourselves coming back in it as well. Thus even if we made mistakes in our past, correcting them in the present will also correct our past and will allow for a better future, which will in turn help us fulfil our mission in the Universe.
Each and every single human has been gifted with talents, and therefore, each human has the possibility of creating opportunities for change and lasting impacts in many different ways. Moreover, groups of people with unique, powerful talents can harmoniously team up to better achieve specific, positive, long-lasting goals. And more fascinating yet, the combination of unique attributes can be a plentiful, ongoing source of ideas, opportunities, and change.
In this outstanding talk, Kare Anderson provides very valuable insights to reflect upon our own strengths, goals, the power of association, and the ultimate possibility that each of us -all of us- have of creating opportunity for change.
Meditation does open our minds to untapped realms that lie very deep in our psyche. They remain dormant for the longest time, and only come out until we achieve the right level of consciousness. Sometimes, it is a good idea to have a pen and paper readily available right after our meditation, as the ideas that flow in our brains can potentially be very liberating and unexpected in a positive way.
Upon a recent meditation, I was blessed with inspiration to write some verses which, put together, come to create a beautiful poem which I have decided to title “Bending Time“:
Our existence always flowing as linear time,
Scripted storyline, travelling an unexpected path
We fear, never daring to turn our heads back
Continuity is queen, never falling out of track
Minutes bending hours, seconds, and all time,
Space and matter created and destroyed in a sigh.
Lives evolving from little steps to rhythmical march,
Souls hovering in darkness, souls finding the light,
Timelessness shaping our minuscule knowledge of life,
Mystical connection to the pristine heavenly ground,
Redemption and utter fulfilment of our divine task.
Forgiveness and forgetfulness fly from the mast,
Space and time vanish through, future meets past,
We are born, execute a mission, and begin to die,
Then a new turn lies straight ahead in our path,
The end is the beginning, the beginning does not end,
We are eternal, reality is the brainchild of our mind.
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) created few years ago a video to help viewers visualize the size of the known Universe. As the video states in the first few seconds, it features every star, planet, moon and galaxy, among other celestial bodies, that are known to date. In only 6 minutes and 30 seconds, it puts the Universe and our space within it in a breathtaking perspective.
I find this to be one of the most amazing videos ever produced, not only for the extraordinary scientific value it provides. From a spiritual perspective, it provides a very useful context to meditate upon. Realizing that we are so small, limited and remote in the big Universal scale is fascinating. Knowing this, can we decipher what’s the role we are playing in this Universe? What are we, humans, collectively pursuing during our existence in this vast, unknown region to us? What is our link to all this trillions of other celestial bodies that inhabit this indescribably extensive space?
I invite you to watch the video, and to meditate on it afterwards. I sincerely hope you find it as useful as I have for your meditation purposes.
There is a big misconception out there. Especially upon the rise of capitalism and consumerism, the term “wealth” has been often understood as the amount of goods with monetary value that are possessed by a certain individual or organization. As such, in modern language, wealthy person is that who either has large sums of money in their bank account, possesses expensive (usually luxurious) goods, or follows a financially affluent lifestyle. Unfortunately, our modern definition of wealth is very limiting and, needless to say, materialistic. Our contemporary view of wealth means that we can only be wealthy as long as we have access to possessing more than what the average person could. We prize the ability to own and we use that as a measurement to assess whether the person is successful or not. Society at large prizes those individuals who amass fortunes. Moreover, the social understanding of wealth goes to believe that financial wealth equates happiness, and the more we are able to own, is the happier we are.
If having more financial assets means that we are happier, why would we ever worry about anything else? If our purpose in life is to achieve happiness, and the key to happiness is to accumulate more money and possessions, why not pursuing money for the sake of money? If the ends justify the means, we could keenly pursue money and possessions no matter how we get them. Even breaking laws and bypassing ethics would be justifiable -stealing, defrauding, or whatever not- as at the end, we would achieve both success and happiness.
Once upon a time, however, the understanding of wealth was a much different one. In the ancient world, people valued possessions and power as we do today – however, there was also a huge perception of value in knowledge. Scientists, philosophers and teachers, among others, were thought of as people with a whole “wealth” of knowledge. Musicians, sculptors, and writers were valued for their talents and intellectual contributions to society. In those times, people were valued for what they did, and not so much for what they had.
The modern world, however, is a much different place. Our aspiration as a progressive society should decidedly not be to become just as we lived and thought centuries ago. Money is not evil, and neither are possessions nor financial ownership. It is important to acknowledge that they are a result of our evolution as a civilization and have become tools to foster our development as a society. Whether we fully embrace them or not, we cannot deny that they constitute a part of our lives as well and, they way mankind’s collective mind has evolved, our very belonging to this civilization creates a need to have money and possessions.
As money and possessions are part of our lives, we should acknowledge them by what they are. Amassing them is not ultimate happiness, but they are important tools to achieve happiness. Money can be (and is) a great vehicle to access food and learning, to raise families, to procure warm clothing and housing, and more importantly, to provide well-being to ourselves and all members of society. Money is also a great tool to develop research, medicine, to promote arts and to create a legacy that could impact every person and even future generations.
As such, we must acknowledge that the real power of money and possessions are not in themselves, but rather in what we do with them. For instance, an individual can choose to buy an expensive car with their money, or to donate this money to a charity. Which one would create a longer lasting impact? Which one would provide more satisfaction to this individual? Which one would provide more happiness? Likewise, if a person decides to either spend a large amount of money partying in Las Vegas, or to use that money to take his family to an educational trip, which one would create more satisfaction, happiness, and a longer lasting impact?
True wealth then should not be understood as the capacity to own something, or to have more financial assets than someone else. A wealthy person is not simply an individual who has lots of money in a bank account. A truly wealthy person is that who makes the most out of the financial means they have. An important piece in the big puzzle of happiness resides in understanding this very simple but powerful concept.