I recently had one of my periods of disquiet where I’m not sure what on earth I’m doing with myself. I wonder whether I ‘should’ be spending my life dedicated to finding inner peace and being happy with quiet contentment, or working hard and if so how best to direct my work, and what on earth, in general, to do next! The usual result of non-stop thinking that on a good day I increasingly manage to recognise and smile at! Hurray for mindfulness!
But it did leave me wondering again how best to find a ‘3rd way’, some perfect mix of being and doing, peace and action, that I still couldn’t put my finger on.
I recently wrote to a very nice lady who commented here on this blog a while back, asking for some wise words from her 73 years of experience on earth. She told me that for her true happiness is among other things a job well done and, not convinced by my idea of quiet contentment, that she never stopped exploring new ideas and small challenges.
This got me to re-evaluate a few ideas again.
I agree that quiet contentment on its own isn’t the way forward. I think the way, perhaps this ‘3rd way’ I’m getting at, is to do things, to find and explore new experiences and to do good work (jobs well done as she said), but from a quietly contented inner space.
To follow whatever urges and inspirations drive us, but from a perspective of living in the present, rather than always thinking ahead to the future, or about what we’ll be able to show others we’ve done.
Action is important. I love it in The Artists Way when Julia Cameron talks about how she just ‘receives directives’ about what to do from her idea of God (‘The Great Creator’), and just does them without questioning. I’m doing that with this blog, and a couple of other projects, following inspirations.
But my biggest stumbling block is the need to trust uncertainty, or rather, to be able to live with uncertainty, but to press on with my projects while trusting that the Universe (or God, or whatever one calls it) knows where I’m going even if I don’t!
Life is about doing, about moving, about experience, but from a mindful place. Last night I listened to a bit more of the audio book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and he addressed exactly these points – work from a place of inner peace, from the present moment, let inspiration and enthusiasm guide you, and learn to trust even when you don’t know where you are going.
In the end, it’s about being at peace with uncertainty while at the same time trusting the Universe, or God or the cosmos, or whatever you want to call it, to work with us.
This ‘trusting the Universe’ while we live in these uncertain spaces, means stilling the mind. It’s only my thoughts after all, my ‘non-stop thinking radio’, that doesn’t feel comfortable and is afraid there. When the thinking stops, everything is fine. On I go, in peace. Things happen, work happens, life unfolds, and it’s a wonder to behold, a joy to take part in.
“With all this socially engaged work, first you must learn what the Buddha learned, to still the mind. Then you don’t take action; action takes you.” Thich Nhat Hanh, quoted in Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan.
Is that the key to my ‘doing vs being’ debate as well? You don’t ‘do‘ things just to get anywhere or gain anything in the future. Rather, you just ‘be‘, live happily in the present moment – “first you must learn to still the mind” – and once you are there, “you don’t take action; action takes you”: plenty of great ‘doing’ happens all on its own.
Highly Recommended Further Reading
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle – Chapter 9, Your Inner Purpose. (The whole book is excellent, I’ve added it to the Resources page, which is full of excellent recommendations to help with the stilling-the-mind element of all this).
Final thoughts on achievement…
…from Thich Nhat Hanh who, as author of over 100 books and head of monasteries in France, the US, Hong Kong and Thailand, knows a thing or two about it:
“There is not much we have achieved except some peace, some contentment inside. It is already a lot,” he says. “The happiest moments are when we sit down and we feel the presence of our brothers and sisters, lay and monastic, who are practicising walking and sitting mediation. That is the main achievement and other things like publishing books and setting up institutions like in Germany, they are not important.” Thich Nhat Hanh, from an excellent article in the Guardian.
Thank you for reading.