Which direction to take in life

I just read a comment on a blog post saying that the book Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh had literally saved someone’s life. I think I could say the same about that book. I discovered it about 12 years ago in the comments of another blog post, and it opened the doors to mindfulness, Dharma, Buddhism – not religion, just a new way of life.

Actually I’d studied Buddhist philosophy as part of my philosophy degree at university, and seen many Buddhist temples in Thailand and other corners of South East Asia in a pre-university gap year, so perhaps I was bound to encounter it again at some point.

But the book Peace is Every Step showed me a calm, present, beautiful way to live, without running, without chasing after things. For many years I attended retreats with Thich Nhat Hann, and then, after my second child was born a couple of years ago, life became very busy on the home-front, and mindfulness and Dharma faded into the background.

Now they are very alive in me again. Now it feels like they can save me again from the running-round-in-circles of my tirelessly over-excitable mind. They can gently sooth my busy, exhausting thoughts.

Our mind can create incredible things, but it can also drive us insane, can drain us of all our energy with our recurrent, obsessive thinking.

Or we can learn to understand it and calm it, and to live very happily in the present moment. For me, living happily, ‘Being happiness’, means being peace – living with inner calm, and I know that mindfulness, meditation, even just knowing enough to watch and smile at my mind, can take me there. It’s not about becoming slow, or dull – great energy, fun and creativity will arise from all this, but without the over-excited ups and corresponding crashing downs.

Many years ago I saw that there were two paths in life, one, which attracted me enormously for a while, involving lots of business work with the goal of making a huge amount of money (and thus being ‘successful’ in our Western sense), and another which led to peace and happiness, which would be a great success in another sense. Still I am pulled about like a ship in a storm by ideas from our Western system of values that ask me ‘What are you going to do with your life next?’, often tormenting me from morning to night with the inner voice that spurs me on to ‘do something else, do something more, do do do!!!’ until I feel exhausted and bereft.

But then I remember the other direction, that says these ideas can be calmed, can be released, that the tormenting, exhausting and recurrent ideas are just what I call ‘mind-made problems’, and when we come to understand and calm our mind, they evaporate in the breeze.

I have been listening to the first few of a series of talks and meditations by B Allan Wallace, from an 8 week retreat on Shamatha (calming the mind) and Loving Kindness. A friend recommended the meditation in Audio 3 (that starts at 8m31) as a great way to clarify again what I wanted from life, and he was right – highly recommended. In another of the audios, Allan Wallace asks if we are sure what direction we want to take in life.

In one direction I see the endless push and pull of certain western values that torture me when I give them free reign – ‘what next, what next, what next?’ And in the other direction I see practices and a simple way of life that take all these torturous questions and dissolve them into peace. This is the direction of inner peace, of loving kindness, of a calm mind. Which direction do I want to take? The second, without a moment of doubt.

Then I think happiness will not be something that we can chase after, or manufacture, or pay for. Real happiness is true, abiding inner calm. It’s a path with many steps – much to let go of, many distractions to remove, new ways of simpler living and new practices to embrace. But if the direction is clear, then all will be well.

To live happily in the present moment, with a calm mind, filled with loving kindness. Filled with creative energy and life. That’s the direction I choose.

A further recommendation: The film, Walk with me. Captures the essence of all this perfectly. Available in all the usual video on demand places.

“The past is no longer there, the future is not yet there, there is only the present moment…”

This morning, Casa de Campo. The warm smell of dried grasses, the sound of crickets, the gentle morning breeze.