Now is the Time to Be What You Can Be

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In short I’ve fallen for stoicism. During the January I’ve re-read two books on stoicism: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday. Also currently I am reading Ego is the Enemy and I will read the Daily Stoic.

Stoicism is a practical and applied philosophy of a virtuous life. If you cannot practice the thought or virtue, it’s not stoicism. Being a stoic means having inner dialogue, finding what you are in control of and then living the best life you can from there with no complaints about the circumstances or about results. Stoicism is about action, not about attaching to the rewards.

Living the best you can in the present, because stoic recognizes life is only in the present. Nobody can change the past, however with the action in the present we create future. Nor does stoic gets attached to the future – everything goes to the plan because we are creating the plan every moment as we go. Stoic cannot be thus harmed by ill will, because stoic turns any obstacle into opportunity or dies trying.

Literally stoic recognizes the shortness of life: memento mori – remember you are mortal.

It’s only now time to be what you can be. It’s now when you should start not only being, but start the doing. Be the doing you can be!

I decided to modify the words of Gandhi: Do the change you want to see in the world. Doing is being, do not just talk, start doing something about what you want! In the end we never cannot be still to long, we are never complete, perfection is just a day dream. Excellence is what we should pursue. Excellence means the best we are capable of with the given time and resources. We do not need to commit overly too much resources, that would be foolish, yet we need just enough to create excellence, the best possible solution.

Excellence requires letting go and yet finding ways to fulfill the need completely. Excellence is the practice of virtues. Every day we become what we can be if we practice excellence. The time to practice excellence is now!

Everyday Practice to Benefit Others

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 What I like about Buddhist thinking, is the idea of non-attachment and selfless service for others. Also in order to serve others, one must first learn to take care of oneself, which is not an easy task. In fact taking care of oneself becomes an everyday responsibility, because even when one learns the skillful way to deal with anything that occurs, one must also keep on sustaining that habit. Sustaining is the daily practice, that is why masters train every day.

If we want to be the masters of our own lives, we should start to practice also taking care of ourselves every day. Once we overcome our own anxiousness and confusion, we can finally start truly benefitting others as well.

In everyday practice, we must first each morning take care of our own unskillful thinking and then we can turn our practice into selfless service of others, I think this is suitable enough philosophy for a layperson.

Reasons for the ‘best’ way to be helpful diverge after the point has been made that we might need to take care of ourselves first, that’s why we have different philosophies, different branches of Buddhism and even different forms of service.

Almost any rule is a simplification and thus cannot be fully applied. In the sales profession it is necessary to prioritize the needs of others from your current position. However, the Buddhist could argue that one might benefit all the people more, if you first would take the time to reach enlightenment yourself and then remain in this world and help people. Such people are called bodhisattvas and it is certainly interesting perspective.

In my current thinking, combining ideas from many sources and philosophies, I think the taking care of your own thinking in the morning and then retaining skillful practice through the day is a sufficient way for the layperson to progress. You make your life your practice by not attaching to the fruits of your labor. This kind of selfless service idea is strong in Bhagavad Gita and Zen schools of thought and I think it is rather practical philosophy.

Does Your Decisions Increase Well-being of Others?

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When your thoughts match your words, and your words match your actions, you are what we could call happiness.

This sounds easier than it is, however with practice and effort it is achievable state of being.

Any mismatch here causes anxiety. Anxiety is not a state of wellbeing to ourselves or others.

We make decisions at thought level. Therefore a good question to ask yourself, does this increase the well-being of myself and others? Well-being that we manage to create for others always returns to ourselves, we only get that well-being what we have managed to create into our environment.

Do Each Moment the Most Important Thing

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If you do each moment the most important thing for the day, you will have done everything by the end of the day.

Ask yourself once every hour, what is the most important thing at the moment? Time is the only leverage we really have, we better start using it to the important things.

When we direct our attention to the important we may not get necessarily more things done, but we get that which is important done and that’s all that matters in life.

I’ve been trying to practice asking myself about the important things for about a year now. Yet the breakthrough happened quite recently when I realized that if I just do the important things I am done, I do not need anything else.

With this thought I get:

My work done.

My exercise done.

My writing done.

My reading & studying done.

Preparation for the next day done.

A good night sleep.

What more I could ask?

 

Determine what’s important for you.

Review of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

After finishing this classic, I got to say that this is exceptionally well honed book. The structure is great and the key message seems to be clear: you will find it much more advantageous for everyone to further your cause when you start with kind words.

The title of the book and the structure is brilliant. You can clearly see the vast amount of study and practice it has taken the author to put this all together in a such clear and concise manner. Wisdom is age tested, and carefully structured to this book.

Some of the content can seem rather repetitive after a few examples around the same topic. However this also creates a more interesting reading experience on subsequent reading times.

Mostly because those a bit outdated examples I chose to give 4 / 5 rather than full five. Definitely a book worth of reading and studying again and again.

 

 

Values in Action

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Values are wonderful. However, if they are not put in action they are nothing real. Values in action are called virtues.

I’ve thought quite a bit what do I value and so far I’ve been rather satisfied with these seven:

Value Virtue (value in action)
Love Kindness, compassion, metta, forgiveness, mercy
Aspiration Excellence, purpose, openness, curiosity, courage
Responsibility Sustainability, effort, courage
Courage Positive action despite of fear, growth, rightfulness, effort
Truth Seeing the world as it is, open mind and learning.
Gratitude Awareness, meditation, metta
Humility Service, gratitude

 

It’s not perfect, yet it shows what I value the most. While these I review every day, it’s not really the same as thoroughly reflecting and deepening the bond with these values and virtues.

When I read Frank Bettger How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling and Dale Carnegies How to Win Friends and Influence People, I picked up an idea from there that they picked up from Benjamin Franklin about the virtue list. A theme virtue for every week.

First six days are now in behind with the love theme. What the theme does, is forces me to contemplate further how do I practice each day and what could I do more. I’ve found it to work like magic.

What are your values? What do they mean in action? What are you willing to do and on the other hand what are you not willing to sacrifice?

Unique, Not Apart

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 We are individuals who are who are part of greater self. We seek naturally to be a part of something greater than us. People are hypersensitive pack animals, because this is the way we have survived. Prioritizing first our own safety comes through belonging to group.

Our first need is safety. Only after safety has been satisfied we begin to look for some sort of variance of excitement. On the next level there is uniqueness and belonging. And finally there is fulfillment and altruism.

Because we are pack creatures pretty much all our needs are fulfilled through other people. Sure we can be physically safe alone, but we cannot be psychologically and emotionally completely safe and sane alone.

Once we feel safe within the group, our needs to show our individual and unique side begins to grow. In this way the individual flourishes within the group. We all have need to express our uniqueness and to be ourselves to a some degree.

With the individual now in mind it is easy to think that we are just individual. In reality we are just self that is part of greater self where we all are connected.

Having both interconnectedness of everything in mind, while at the same time seeing each other as unique individuals we are is a skill to practice 😉

Meaning of Work in Relation to Life

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 What is the meaning of work in regards to life? Work is literally the meaning: by work I mean the verb of working. By work I mean the elaborate use of the word meaning literally all activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.

As I was reading Bhagavad Gita today on the commute, I understood that too often we attach our minds too much to the end results: the rewards, fruits of labor.

Meaning of work is not the reward on contrary despite all we do and say, but the liberation to give and do without asking. By this statement I do not encourage slave labor, but to find ways to work without the expectation and attachment to the rewards.

Working is part of our nature. In Gita this is described as yoga in practice, however I found the awfully similar idea in Meditations by Marcus Aurelius where he says that it is man’s true nature to work.

Finding ways to work and serve others without any expectation of rewards brings surprising benefits that no fruit or coin can purchase.

Quality of Thoughts

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I guess is fair to say that most of our thoughts are not that high quality. However, it’s not to say that there isn’t some good quality thoughts mixed in.

However, how one can recognize a quality thought from the stream of many? Most of the people cannot, and the state of the things reflect that.

To know a quality thought, we must learn to recognize some. Usually success (results) in an area of life or another is good indicator that they must have some thoughts that actually work. Also books for example often have at least some quality thoughts. With the effort of writing a book this tends to be the case, but is not any sort of guarantee.

Thanks to the sheer quantity of thoughts, most of our conscious stream is not quality. In fact probably the best bet is indeed to look for quality thoughts outside: books, people who read book and people who have practiced thinking.

Then also one alternative is to start practicing thinking, which can take a while. And while at it, it might be good idea to write some thoughts down so at least you’ll recognize a good one from the bad one eventually.

Life is Fun When We Are Learning

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Attending business school created momentarily illusion for me that I knew something about something, grades did support this illusion for a moment. However, I was glad enough to enter a place where I could learn how business really works and I quickly realized how much I have to learn.

After completing my studies I understood that although I knew some theories and I had put them into some practice, the real learning would start now.

What I’ve been amazed is how little effort people put to their learning after universities to their professional development. Their employees even might be investing to their training and they do the minimum required. This might serve all of the parties involved in the short run, however it is not going to be enough in the longer run.

Learning is constantly refining our understanding of the world, applying that understanding, reflecting upon it and applying it again. I found PACT learning cycle from Skills You Need which does represent this very well:

  • Procure. New knowledge (theory) or ability (skill) is acquired.
  • Apply. The new knowledge or skill is then practiced in some way.
  • Consider. The results of the practice are evaluated and/or assessed.
  • Transform. The original knowledge or ability is modified accordingly

At best learning is this ongoing process. Yet people do not put much effort to first procure quality knowledge or skills, they settle with what has been given to them. Failure in the first steps leads to the lack of practice in later steps: people who take inferior ideas into practice, also do not have the ingredients for high quality synthesis in the transformation step.

In a sense, you need higher quality ideas in the first steps and then to keep on practicing all four steps in order to have high quality original working ideas.

Most of our ideas come from people are close to us. However, if no-one in the social circle procures any relevant knowledge outside the social sphere then the atmosphere becomes quickly stagnated.

Life is fun with great ideas, because it is through ideas that we can satisfy our needs of safety, change, uniqueness, belonging, fulfillment and sharing.