Americans have a tendency to embrace the old Beatles’ adage “I get by with a little help from my friends.” We join groups that encompass everything from aerobics classes to weight watchers to staying celibate to alien abduction, and absolutely everything in between that provides support. The “it takes a village” credo will get you so far, but at some point we all have to sit ourselves down and listen to that little voice inside that says, “help yourself.” Practicing Buddhism can help you, help yourself and it requires neither breaking a sweat, tipping a scale, abstinence or conversations with other-worldly beings. So, you might ask, what is Buddhism and how can it help me?
Buddhism is not a scary Eastern animal sacrifice cult. It’s a religious philosophy that started in Fifth-Century B.C. India and has about 500 million practitioners, making it the world’s fourth largest religion. The basic principle of Buddhism recognizes the human condition as one of innate suffering. Through the teachings and practices of the Buddha, we can relieve spiritual pain and suffering. The goal of Buddhism is to overcome negativity by taking the “Middle Way” and following the “Noble Eightfold Path” to inner peace.
The Middle Way
In Western terms, the Middle Way is very similar to “The Golden Mean,” which refers to avoiding extremes. Perhaps you remember the old saying, “everything in moderation.” Things like binge drinking, using drugs, and working excessively long hours are extremes of excess that don’t lead to a peaceful, fruitful life. On the other side, starvation diets, devout celibacy, avoiding simple pleasures and social gatherings are extremes forms of going without. The Buddha teaches that happiness can be found somewhere in between. And, isn’t happiness what you are trying to help yourself with?
Noble Eightfold Path
This philosophical part seems very technical, but this is Buddhism so nothing is all that intense. The basic ideas are Right: Understanding, Intention (Thought), Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. The terms may seem like a type of staunch regimen, but what Buddhism is driving at is just remaining positive and keeping yourself “in the moment.” Take something simple like growing vegetables in your garden. Buddhism focuses on thinking about just that task and the steps it entails. While you are sowing seeds or watering the plants, don’t allow your mind to wonder to work or social stresses. Focus, it’s easy if you try.
When it comes to activities that involve working with others, be upfront and honest about your intentions and goals. If you are brokering a business deal, don’t mask portions as being generous when you are just trying to make a buck. We all have to pay the rent. You’ll feel relieved by being completely honest and you’re likely to be received positively for being candid.
American culture has grown far too money-oriented and the line in Wall Street, “Greed is good” doesn’t hold water. Greed, in Buddhist thinking, is anything but good. Clinging to money and material things holds people back from peace and tranquility. Money, or the perceived lack of, is one of the major stressors in society today. There’s an old saying that goes something like, “The poor man didn’t know he was poor, until the rich man told him so.” What good is being wealthy, if you are miserable?
Being a mindful person doesn’t require crossing your legs and sweating in spandex. Meditation is merely being in the moment as you do everyday tasks. But rituals are helpful as a way to ground us. Here are a few routine things you can do to help with your focus:
Tea Meditation: Having a quiet cup to start your day can provide time to reflect and make that first step a “Right” one.
- Sitting Meditation: Formal meditation is a cornerstone of Buddhism. Meditation helps relax the mind and body, which means that you’re in a better mental state before engaging in activities that may have previously been stressful. It’s a head start on achieving daily peace.
- Exercise: The mind and body are your personal ying and yang. One fuels the other. Stay fit, but don’t try to run a marathon or be a couch potato. Long walks have a way of clearing the mind as well as giving the metabolism a low-impact cardio boost.
- Be Creative: Human beings are artists at heart. Some paint masterpiece’s, others do paper mache or grow flowers. Creativity is part of who you are, embrace it.
When we seek “self help” aren’t we really just trying to be happy in our own skin? Buddhism offers a path to everyday peace, tranquility and a way to be fruitful and productive by not getting stressed out about not being fruitful and productive enough. Perhaps pop singer Anna Nalick said it best, “breathe, just breathe.”