Sometimes the biggest questions you can ask yourself—Who am I? What is my purpose? Where can I find fulfillment?—come down to a very simple one: What shall I do today?
Grand visions aren't hard to think up; carrying them out is the problem. Everyone's days are filled with distractions. Duties and demands pile up steadily. The bigger issues become hazy when your to-do list is overflowing. So how can we bring vision and practicality closer together?
The world's wisdom traditions tell us to look inside for the real obstacles that block the way to fulfillment. Outer demands will always fill the time given to them. Pitching into the swirling activity of daily life inevitably makes existence seem stressed and chaotic. What you can do instead is to examine your reality "in here," which is where clarity can be found.
What most people find when they look inside are the following ingredients in their mental makeup:
- Confusion: this manifests as not setting clear priorities because the path ahead doesn't look clear and decisive.
- Distraction: this manifests as a hundred small things that pull your attention this way and that.
- Disorganization: this manifests as a lack of orderly thinking that leads to productive results.
These three ingredients make up the managerial part of mental life, which is a basic necessity. There's a spectrum of problems that changes from person to person. The tightly controlled, highly disciplined thinker is at one end, while the vague dreamer sits at the other edge of the spectrum. There are countless variations in how we use our minds. If your goal is clarity, set aside the thoughts and sensations that fill your mind every day. Focus instead on the goal of finding clarity.
- Confusion is solved by getting your priorities straight.
- Distraction is solved by getting better at focusing your attention.
- Disorganization is solved by throwing out non-essentials and tending to the important things first.
Remember that we are talking about your inner life, so achieving clarity isn't the same as cleaning the house and straightening out every room. The solution doesn't lie in attacking the problem directly. If you become a kind of efficiency expert, you could probably sort your thinking out in a more orderly, focused way. But the effort would be a strain, and the results would likely be temporary. It is far better to find a way to let the mind become orderly, focused, and clear on its own.
We've all been taught, one way or another, that the mind will run amok if it isn't watched and controlled. Like a child, it is easily distracted; an undisciplined mind will run around in all directions. But few people have actually tested whether the mind's nature is so chaotic. We take for granted, looking at our own confusion, that it would be a struggle to turn inner chaos into something more orderly. This is where the world's wisdom traditions offer a valuable secret.
They teach that the unsettled mind comes about through one thing only: losing sight of who we really are. You can't be a puppet of outside demands and pressures unless you see yourself as secondary while the world "out there" is primary. After all, how can you eat, put a roof over your head, raise a family, and so on without plunging into the hard realities of daily existence? The answer lies in finding out who you really are—a conscious agent who can choose, at any time, to live from the level of the true self.
By committing to the practice of meditation, you take your mind to this level where clarity is natural and effortless. The analogy of a river helps to show what happens. On the surface, a river is fast-flowing and whipped up into waves and eddies. As you descend into it, however, the river's flow becomes slow and steady. At the very bottom, the water may be so calm that it hardly moves at all. In the same way, there's a level of the mind that knows only peace, calmness, and clarity. But unlike a river bottom, it's not sluggish. There's a beautiful balance between relaxation and alertness.
The settled mind, in fact, is the most capable of meeting the day's demands because it is guided from within. Self-awareness dominates, which means that you know who you are and where you're going. Suddenly, it turns out that the day contains enough time for you to find fulfillment, which is a timeless quality that is undisturbed by demands, duties, and distractions.
Regular daily meditation also leads to changes in your everyday life that can be summarized as dos and don'ts.
- Make your surroundings orderly and uncluttered.
- Take a close look at the stresses that need to be addressed.
- Keep away from negative influences.
- Find a friend or confidante who shares your vision of clarity and fulfillment.
- Center yourself several times a day whenever you feel distracted or unsettled.
- Go outside to experience the calm and inspiration of Nature.
- Follow a regular, daily routine.
- Get eight hours of good sleep every night.
- Remain in situations that are disordered and stressful.
- Push your work time to the limit of exhaustion, mental or physical.
- Be tied down by other people's opinions and attitudes.
- Let stress go unaddressed.
- Let a good night's sleep slip by more than once or twice a week.
- Immerse yourself in bad news and the world's chaotic unrest.
- Ignore your body's signals; be aware of when it wants to rest, nourishment, downtime, and a chance to reset itself through meditation and quiet time alone.
- Forget to provide yourself with pure food, water, and air.
What these lists suggest is that as your inner world becomes more orderly and clear, your actions in the outer world should follow suit. Both sides of the equation are important. Just remember that without inner clarity, all the external neatness and organization won't serve as a substitute. Inner fulfillment is the goal of life, and always has been.