More freedom. More peace. More joy. More gratification. More of what we are truly after. How do we find it? And how do we find it more often?
It is a worthy ponderance because once when we uncover the path to a better day, we are empowered to shape the world around us. The world becomes a playground built solely for our enjoyment.
Before we explore a few paths to a better day, it might help to understand what a better day truly is. In other words, what is the “better” we’re looking to get out of our day? A few great minds left us some valuable insights.
Joseph Campbell — a famous mythology expert — believes a better day is one where we are simply “raptured with being” all day, every day. Eckhart Tolle — a modern spiritual teacher — believes a better day is one where we bring consciousness to the world. Buddhists believe a better day is one with no suffering (which produces a state we cannot cloak in words). In Matthew 22:37 Jesus says a better day is one where you “love the lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
If we experience these ideas with an open mind we’ll find that they all point the same place. The same state. In other words, a better day is one filled with an infinite supply of peace, love, and joy.
Getting there is elusive, however, because we’re faced with an innumerable amount of traps in our daily lives. One of which is conventional wisdom around how to live a better day.
Why Traditional Answer’s Fail
Notice how none of the ideas above mention anything external like, “be more productive,” “make more money,” “own more stuff,” or “be the most fashionable.” Yet, if we are left to our own devices to answer the question, “How do I live a better day?” our initial impulse drives us to something external. The greatest minds of all time understand that more doing does not equal more life. It’s quite the opposite actually. More doing takes us away from the depth of life that exists around us.
Take drinking tea for example. I love tea. Every morning I enjoy a cup of black tea from the Yunnan Province of China. It’s delicious in a way that only good tea can be. Though I erroneously try, its flavors cannot be put into words.
But how do we pick up the nuances? How does the same cup of tea go from an ordinary experience to a better experience?
We don’t get more out of our tea by moving our tongue faster or taking stronger whiffs. We don’t gulp it down harder or slurp it louder. We do the opposite. We do less. We think less. We categorize less. We name less. We let the tea naturally fall over our tongue. We let it sit on our taste buds while it makes unspeakable connections with our gustatory cortex. We sit with stillness until the nuances of the experience naturally emerge.
We wake up to the life of our experience when we find the moment and do less.
What if the answer to the question, “How do we live a better day?” is to not answer the question? Much of our thought is waste. Wasteful thought hides the essence of life and syphons useful energy. Being consumed with wasteful thought is like barreling down a pitch-black, neverending, narrow, curvy, backwoods highway. It’s easy to get lost, it doesn’t lead to anywhere, and the longer we follow it the more tense we get.
Luckily there is a way out of the woods.
Siddhartha’s Flower Sermon
Siddhartha’s famous flower sermon exemplifies how “non-doing” opens our mind to the beautiful nuances that surround us.
Siddhartha sat down next to a pond for his daily sermon. With his disciples gathered around he silently uprooted a full-bloom lotus from the water bank beside him.
He said nothing. He motioned nothing. For several minutes Siddhartha simply gazed at the lotus. He closely inspected every element of its being with a satisfied look on his face.
(Only one of Siddhartha’s disciples, Mahakasyapa, understood the sermon. Mahakasyapa became the Buddha’s predecessor and the flower sermon served as the foundation of Zen Buddhism.)
There is much debate about the meaning of the sermon, which isn’t surprising because it isn’t meant to be understood intellectually. If we step into experience, however, the lesson becomes clear.
The following is a photo from a friend (and subscriber), Alex W. Take a few moments and enjoy the photo with less doing.
How quickly did your mind produce thoughts? Questions. To-dos. Labels. Judgments These all pop into mind fairly quickly. Did you latch on to a thought and get taken down a backwoods highway?
The experience makes two things clear. First is how the vibrant nuances of life come to life when we find stillness in the present. The subtle shadows cast from the cactus needles pop. The red flower preaches the unmanifested beauty that exists in everything.
Second is the true nature of the mind. The untamed mind continually produces thought no matter what our intention is. There are infinite opportunities to get drawn down the pitch-black backwoods highway to nowhere. We don’t need to get in the car, though. Thought is impermanent and thought does not end. Knowing this lets each wasteful thought float away.
Every thought presents itself as the most important thought there is. The reality is, our thoughts and desires are temporary. They come and go. Some come more often than others, but they all come and go.
When we are deceived by the illusion that our thoughts and desires are permanent, conflict grows inside us (i.e. I want $1 billion, but don’t have $1 billion. Conflict! I want to do something that matters, but what I’m doing does not matter. Conflict!). Freedom from this conflict comes from the acceptance that thoughts and desires are impermanent. The truth is our mind is quite funny. We should not take our thoughts too seriously.
Life is Our Art
I recently watched a documentary on world-famous artist Gerhard Richter. In it he says “my favorite pieces of art are the ones I do not understand.” This struck me because a highly regarded artist is saying…great art cannot be put into words (though many try to in order to justify their enjoyment). To me this also says, a great life cannot be put into words. We see indications of this in the statements of Campbell, Tolle, Jesus, Buddhists, and Siddhartha’s flower sermon. A better day is an experience.
How to Find a Better Day
I don’t want to present the illusion that an all encompassing explanation can be delivered in a few short paragraphs. Deep understanding through experience, however, can be gathered in a few brief moments. It is simpler than some might believe. Find stillness and notice the currents of our being.
Once we are fully conscious, we are free to play with the conditions of life to create anything. The next issue of the Get Elevation newsletter will build on this understanding when we explore dependent origination, and how focusing on and accumulating the right conditions creates a better life.