It’s no secret that everyone wants to feel better and improve their lives while reducing the stress they feel day-to-day.
There’s a multibillion-dollar “personal development” industry dedicated to helping people all over the world live more fulfilled and meaningful lives. The thing is, you can invest in all the courses, attend every seminar, and read hundreds of books, but knowledge without action is useless.
There’s a huge difference between knowing something on a purely intellectual level and taking action on it so you discover the impact of that knowledge on an experiential level.
It’s like watching someone on a roller coaster. As a mere spectator, you’re not going to experience the thrill and intensity of all the twists and turns. Sure, you can explain the “loop-the-loop” to someone, but you will never know what it feels like unless you take the ride for yourself.
But what stops most people from strapping in and taking the ride is fear. That uneasy feeling in your stomach that makes you want to run away and hide behind the sofa. Those thoughts about the worst-case scenario that run amuck in your mind. Fear is the real showstopper.
Achieving success isn’t just about taking action. You must remove the mental obstacles in your way so you can continue on to take the next step.
The Art of Living
If you’re a follower of Stoic philosophy, you may have heard the term “The Art of Living” being used to describe the Stoic principles in action.
One of the core ideas of Stoicism is summarised beautifully by this quotation from Epictetus:
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness become possible.” – Epictetus
This quotation directs us to use logic and reasoning to analyse our thoughts and emotions about the events in our lives so we can respond with clear judgment and inner calm. We must focus on our internal state as a means to move through our lives with balance and ease. In doing so, we become unaffected by external events, i.e., the things outside of our control.
After attending multiple 10-day Vipassana meditation courses, I noticed how the ideas and principles of Stoic philosophy tie in really well with the teachings of Vipassana.
At the heart of the Vipassana technique is a simple understanding that everything is always changing and that we should not react to the experiences in our life with craving or aversion. Instead, we must simply observe the sensations in our body with a calm and equanimous mind.
Both Stoicism and Vipassana come to the same conclusion: We have a choice in how we respond to the trials and tribulations of life. All it takes is conscious awareness of how you’re getting pushed and pulled by your emotions and external events.
As you can imagine, this is easier said than done, but as it is with anything in life, with consistent work, practice, and patience it becomes easier and easier. With all that being said, I want to share some guidelines and practices you can implement in your life today.
How to Live the Good Life In 3 Simple Steps
1. Do Some Digging
If you’ve never engaged with this kind of work before, it’s important to spend some time on your own with a pen and paper to answer the following questions:
“What things, people, and places have I created an attachment or craving for in my life?”
“What kinds of feelings do they generate inside of me?”
“What situations and feelings do I try to avoid? Why?”
“Are these cravings and aversions inside or outside my control?”
“What kinds of behaviour patterns do they trigger?”
Once you’ve identified the experiences in your life that trigger the unconscious patterns of your mind, you can then be aware of them when they happen again. This is the first step.
2. Practice Observation
One of the keys to fine-tuning your awareness, so you can pick up on the subtle sensations that occur in the body when you engage in an unconscious reaction, is practice.
Remember when you learnt to ride a bike? You fell off a few times, right? But now, it’s second nature to you.
The same applies here. You need to create a daily practice of observation while maintaining a balanced and equanimous mind. This can be done through meditation.
To start, you can simply sit and observe your breath as it comes in and out through your nose. Try to feel exactly where the breath hits and be aware of the hot and cold sensation around the nostrils.
Once you can pick up on all the subtle sensations in and around your nose, you can then shift to deepening your awareness of your body. To do this, scan your entire body, part by part, and see if you can identify some kind of electromagnetic charge, vibration, or tingling.
Perhaps there’s some obvious pain or tension in your body. Sit with that for some time without judging it and just feel into the depth of the sensation. Any experience is valid as long as you notice some kind of sensation, whether subtle or gross.
That should be enough to get you started.
3. Applying “The Art of Living” in Your Life
After you have been practising observation without judgement or reaction for a while, you can apply the same process to your life.
Here’s an example of how that might work:
Let’s say you’re intensely focused and working hard on an important assignment. Then, all of a sudden, your partner bursts through the door and interrupts you. You lose your train of thought and some anger and resentment start to bubble up. Your usual reaction in this situation might be to lash out verbally from a place of anger.
But now you take a moment to observe the tension and heat building in your chest and you recognise this to be an unconscious reaction of anger. You take a deep breath and choose not to react. Instead, you respond lovingly to your partner and respectfully assert that you are busy and require total concentration to complete your work.
This is a no-blame game and no one gets abused.
You used your awareness and new skill of observation to interrupt your usual pattern of frustration and anger. You realized that you had no control over your partner’s actions and therefore you should not let them affect your internal state. You then decided to respond with love instead of anger.
If you can move through life with this kind of awareness and make better choices about how you respond to external events, you will eventually overwrite your unconscious, pre-programmed reactions and they will no longer create unnecessary drama or stress.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
If you’re new to this kind of work then the situation I described above may seem unrealistic at first, as you realise that in the heat of the moment your emotions can often overpower you.
But don’t give up. It’s going to take much practice and patience to be able to observe and change your response in the moment.
At first, you might still get angry. But after 30 minutes you remember to observe the sensations in your body and you notice the heat and tension. You can then let go of your anger and return to a more balanced state.
With practice, you will be able to reduce the time between your reaction, observation, and return to a balanced state of mind. THIS is what the Art of Living is all about and you will live a happier and more peaceful life as a result of practising it.