Hello again loyal readers of the Judicalis Group's Crime and Society blog, loyal readers of Security, Eh? (If you do really exist!) and general members of the public who may have just stumbled upon this. I should probably start by apologizing for, and explaining, my rather lengthy absence from this space. Much has transpired since my last post on 28 November 2013. I submitted my Oxford University doctorate on 7 February 2014, and promptly departed for a month's worth of travel in ASIA quickly thereafter. Regardless of how badly I needed the time away, there's no justification for how I so abruptly left you, without notice (although I'm sure you were able to find a way to carry on with your lives!) So consider this post my way of apologizing and making up for my absence.
This post will be different from any post I have ever posted, or will ever post, in this space. It is a compilation of the lessons I learned whilst on my travels (as well as in previous lives) and a general commentary on life, love, loss and my personal and professional life as an academic. It is significantly longer than anything I have ever written here (15,000 words) but don't worry, I've provided a handy amalgamated table of contents below and I promise that my future posts will be of the normal length and stick more to the specific themes of security, law, politics and international relations that are this blog's purpose. After much consultation and introspective thinking, I've decided that this is the appropriate venue to share my "dissertation" in life experience. I consider it to be my version of Jerry Maguire's The Things We Think and Do Not Say. I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it over the course of the last 24 hours. As always, please feel free to comment with any thoughts, insights, and skepticism as you see fit. Happy Reading Friends!
- Introduction and Context
- Experiences and Connections
- Concluding Remarks (Skip Here If You Are Short On Time)
- Potent Quotables
- Bibliography and Further Reading
1. Introduction and Context
Rationale for writing:
When I first set out on my first ever trip to the Asian continent on February 8th, 2014, I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I knew where I would stay, I knew that I would be taking a much needed break from my life in the United Kingdom, and I knew that I would inevitably gain invaluable life experience that no University textbook could teach me. I had no idea that I would learn so much about myself and the world around me, and I had no idea that these lessons would significantly alter my worldview pertaining to life, love, loss and my personal and academic journey.
Having just submitted my Oxford Doctorate dissertation, I had envisioned my travels as a reward for almost four years of blood, sweat and tears. I chose to first travel to Thailand, specifically to the island of Koh Samui, so that I could relax and repair the physical, mental and emotional damage I had done to myself during a final stretch of dissertation work that had included many late nights, far too much caffeine, a severe lack of exercise and social contact, and more microwave meals than I had ever consumed in a two-month span. It was in Samui that I began to rehabilitate my mind, body and soul. It was also here that I began to learn more about Buddhist teachings and realize that many life “philosophies” I had previously lived by were deeply rooted in Buddhist thought (i.e. selfless acts of kindness, living in the present, working hard, staying humble, and caring for yourself and those you love).
From Samui I went to Chiang Mai, where my interest in Buddhism was stoked naturally by meeting and talking to local people who were some of the most peaceful, respectful and humble human beings I had ever met. Growing ever curious, it was whilst in transit at the Bangkok airport on my way to Hong Kong (20 Feb 2014) when I stopped in at a book shop to procure some easy reading material. A Lonely Planet Hong Kong guide seemed like a logical choice, as did some kind of primer on Buddhist philosophy. The book store clerk said that a lady he spoke with a week earlier had raved about a book called The Restful Mind, written by “His Eminence” Gyalwa Dokhampa. A quick scan of the book’s introduction revealed that this man, “more popularly known as ‘Khamtrul Rinpoche’, teaches worldwide bringing a young and vibrant viewpoint to Buddhist teachings” (Dokhampa, G, 2013, p.1). I was struck by the fact that he had completed a nine-year course to attain his Master’s degree in Buddhist philosophy. I was impressed that he was only five years older than me (born in 1981) and was surprised to see that he had a website, FaceBook page and twitter account (@GyalwaDokhampa). I stuffed the books into my satchel and set off for Hong Kong, not knowing the profound impact that the book, its teachings, and their application to my past and future experiences would have on me.
In the days and weeks that followed, I methodically worked my way through the book as I travelled from Hong Kong to Beijing and back, finally completing it whilst on my return from Hong Kong to the U.K. Everywhere I went, it was with me. I don’t know if it was the fact that I hadn’t read for pleasure in so long, or if it was because all of the places I was visiting were so conducive to introspective thinking (i.e. the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Lion Rock in Hong Kong, etc.), but I just couldn’t put it down or stop thinking about how its teachings had so many applications to my past, present and future life. True to form as someone who has been educated in legal and logical reasoning for the better part of a decade, I started annotating pages and making marginal notes with an eye towards writing some kind of commentary on the book and its many connections to my life experiences, particularly those I had in ASIA. And so I write this "dissertation", the end product of all of these aforementioned lessons, experiences and introspective thinking.
I’m not claiming to have become some kind of Buddhist guru whilst on this adventure. To do so would not only be insanely naive and cliché, but it would also simultaneously trivialize the decades of training that most Buddhist thinkers undergo, and ignore the fact that I was raised Catholic by devout Italian-Canadian immigrant parents. I wouldn't claim to have considered myself a devout Catholic for a long time, nor would I even say I had an entirely concrete conception of my religious or spiritual philosophy. Perhaps that’s why I was immediately drawn to The Restful Mind, which emphasizes in its very first page that “Buddhism is not a religion, but rather a way to finding happiness” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p.1). As such, I read the book for many of the same reasons I am writing here: to learn of, and disseminate, shared life experiences and engage in a dialogue about happiness and the meaning of life.
With that said, it is important for me to note at the outset that I write this with no purpose but to express thoughts, feelings, experiences and stimulate dialogue. I do not intend to misrepresent myself or trivialize those who dedicate their lives to the study and practice of a way of life that I have only recently become tangentially educated about. If that does incidentally occur, or if anyone who reads this takes offense and/or wishes not to be included in my writing, I would ask that they contact me personally through the means available on this blog, rather than through any other social networking medium or platform. Lastly, I would like to reiterate that the words and thoughts in this writing are entirely my own prerogative and intellectual property, with the exception of those from authors who I cite and reference in the appropriate manner.
Finally, by way of acknowledgement, I’d like to thank my parental units, Gino and Mary Alati, without whom nothing I've ever accomplished in my life would be possible. The simple fact that I was able to embark on this adventure is a testament to their loving generosity and support for all of my life’s endeavours. I am truly blessed to have them, and a myriad of other amazing friends and family members, in my life. This fact is something I have never, nor will I ever, take for granted.
Seven “chapters” follow in this “dissertation”, all of which have some logical purpose. The following Chapter (“Lessons”) describes some of the lessons and teachings in The Restful Mind that I have found to have the most application to my life experiences. Chapter Three makes explicit connections between these lessons and my life experiences. Chapter Four’s toolkit summarizes the key aspects of techniques presented in The Restful Mind that I will (and already have began to) use in the future to live a healthier and more balanced personal and professional life. Chapter Five (“Concluding Remarks”) is meant as my summary of life lessons and philosophies that I am going to endeavour to live by, many of which are based on the lessons in The Restful Mind and my past life experiences. If you’re already tired of reading my musings, you may just want to skip to this section. The “Potent Quotables” in Chapter Six are a compilation of my favourite quotes from The Restful Mind, whilst Chapter Seven’s Bibliography simply provides the reference for The Restful Mind and reiterates parts of its recommended further reading list.
In this chapter I reiterate some of Gyalwa Dokhampa’s teachings that resonated most with me when reading his book, The Restful Mind. After each quote or teaching, you will see a name or tagline (in bold) that I have given the teaching, to aid the purpose of chapter three, where focus turns to connecting the teaching with my life experiences.
· “No being or thing has the ability to completely take away your suffering. The only person who can do this is you. A very compassionate friend or loved one, even a kind stranger, may help to create the conditions for you to let go of your suffering, but ultimately it is down to you. This might sound negative at first, but it is actually very encouraging because it means that we have a big part to play in whatever difficulties and whatever good things we are going through. Our ways of thinking, how we act and how we look at situations affect the kind of experiences we go through” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 25) -> The Manifestation Lesson
· “Everything is interdependent. When things happen, they are never caused by just one condition – they are the result of many conditions coming together, both external and internal... When we understand this concept of interdependence, then we see that we are not totally helpless. This is not to deny the strength of those external conditions, but just to demonstrate that there is always a degree of choice when it comes to our own thoughts and reactions” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 26) -> The Interdependence Lesson
· “Nothing exists as it appears to be. This isn't always a very easy concept, but if we stay with the examples of happiness and suffering, then it is realizing that these are not concrete ‘things’ but very much a reflection of one’s perception... If you ask ten people about their idea of happiness, they will all have different idea, from money or love to peace and quiet” (in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 27) -> The Perception/Perspective Lesson
· “It is good not to be satisfied with ourselves all the time; if that were the case, we would never bother to look for ways in which to grow and become a better person. But it is when we attach our sense of self to specific emotions or aspects of our behaviour that we stop seeing helpful lessons and instead feel disappointed in or frustrated with ourselves” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 41) -> The Constant Evolution Lesson
· “The way in which we look at the world determines what we see. And every one of us has our own individual way of seeing, our own lens containing all of our memories and experiences and through which we filter what is happening in the here and now. It’s so important to understand that our sense of reality is a perception: it is created by how we think, because this means that we can then also change certain aspects of how we look at things” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 42) -> The Perception/Perspective Lesson
· “People often think that meditation is a very solitary practice, a type of ‘novel gazing’ in which one thinks only of oneself, and that isn’t about real-life interactions or relationships... But spending a little time alone with one’s thoughts is very different from being lonely. Being happy in one’s own company is even a part of building up your resilience and ways of coping well with life; and as it turns out, meditation is very much about the people in your life and your community, even the world” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 50) -> The Being Alone With Your Thoughts Lesson
· “People who are able to see the other side of an argument might even think they are a bit of a pushover and would like to be stronger in their own beliefs; they don’t realise what a great mental skill they have. Because those are willing to see things from another perspective are the world’s great listeners; they have great depths of compassion and empathy” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 53) -> The Counter-Argument Lesson
· “When we hold on too tightly to our attachments we are trying to keep them just as they are, to make them permanent. But nothing in life is permanent. Our relationships with people grow over time, jobs change or are sometimes lost, even bricks and mortar fall down eventually. When we come into our lives we are empty-handed, and when we leave it is just the same... So while it’s no bad idea to wish to provide for yourself and your loved ones, one of the strongest messages I can offer is not to become too rigid in your attachments to anything” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 54) -> The Attachment Lesson
· “We should have the freedom to have desires and ambitions, things and people that we want, but we need to be flexible and understand that everything is subject to change and there is no point in getting fanatically attached. With a relaxed attitude to these things we can be as happy with a warm cup of tea on a freezing cold day as with or without the latest iPhone!” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 58) -> The Attachment Lesson
· “To be fearful or, conversely, very excited about the unknown is to be human in lots of ways. In most parts of the world, people are brought up to think often about the future, to create goals and ambitions according to expectations – either their own or those of others. It is important to be considerate of the future, but when we invest all of our present in our future hopes, we are placing a lot of value on what is inevitably in doubt. This sets us up to feel restless and agitated as we become dependent on an uncertainty” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 63) -> The Being Present Lesson
· “The restful mind is open, non-judgmental, curious, lively, patient and fearless. When the mind is restful there is a natural balance between the emotional and the rational. We can take care of everyday tasks, yet see the bigger picture at the same time. There is a feeling of harmony – that the mind is working with us, rather than running all over the place making us feel rushed and stressed and unsure about things. When are minds are in good health we will often tend to feel lucky and that we know our purpose for being here. We are nourished by our relationships and generous in return with our kindness and compassion for others” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 69) -> The Balanced Mind Lesson
· “Past hurts or regrets create clouds over our here-and-now. Or perhaps we just need to let go of having so many rigid belies and standards that we attach to ourselves and others. We need to live and let live a bit more. If we let go, who knows where we’ll go – and that’s the adventure!” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 75) -> The Letting Go of Regrets Lesson
· “Wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird that is essential to every aspect of our life. On a general level wisdom is understanding things from a larger, philosophical point of view, while compassion is the act of caring for others, putting our wisdom into our thoughts, words and actions” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 100) -> The Compassion Lesson
· “Starting from good physical health, just the simple fact that we are able to see and hear should be appreciated, if we are able. Next we extend the appreciation for having family and friends. We are fortunate to have people who love us unconditionally, think about how they go out of their way to make us comfortable. Then expand the appreciation towards the world: good people exist to benefit others because the world exists” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 103) -> The Appreciation Lesson
· “Every morning I try to appreciate all the beautiful people I have in my life and imagine how I would feel if they were to die tomorrow. This may sound morbid, but it makes me appreciate them so much more today” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 105) -> The Appreciation Lesson
· “We can sometimes tend towards developing fixed attitudes rather than staying open to what each day or moment might bring. We become stuck in old patterns and ways of thinking, which at first might seem easier and more comfortable than always having to try to see everyone else’s point of view. But the trouble is that the mind becomes like a closed box, and new ideas just pour off the sides because we feel our minds are already full” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 147) -> The Staying Open-Minded Lesson
· “Many of us in today’s developed world are lucky enough to have good relationships either with family, friends or loved ones, a roof over our heads, food to eat and the basics of warmth and shelter. There are still people throughout the world though who do not even have these basics of life. I think it is at the point where we feel truly happy to have a hot meal or a warm fire that we learn the great lesson of living in the present, content to be right here and nowhere else” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 155) -> The #FirstWorldProblems Lesson
· “Whether you like to run, swim, bicycle, anything you can do to train your physical body will also help you to train your mind. When you are exercising your body you often give your mind a nice rest, at least from all the restless worries. Even if you have to concentrate quite a bit on your chosen exercise, like working out your next shot in golf or tennis, you are using your mind in a different way; you’re even exercising your mind at the same time as your body” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 171) -> The Importance of Exercise Lesson
· “If one day you feel much more off balance than usual, you might be feeling the same way in your thoughts or emotions. Along with balance there is also flexibility, so that you can be firmly rooted like a tree and yet sway in the breeze with ease and without the fear of falling down. This is exactly what meditation aims to do for the mind: to restore balance and flexibility, so that we can feel strong, but also adaptable to whatever may come our way” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 172) -> The Balance and Flexibility Lesson
· “Many people think we Buddhists are only about being and never doing, but it’s really that we need to be before we can do: we need to understand who we are, and then strive to get a great deal done, driven by love and compassion, rather than our selfish agenda. When we have understanding we remember what inspires us – why we do what we do. Inspiration then gives us momentum – it is our energy and something very special. We are no longer following our dreams, always one step behind, but being them, from moment to moment, day to day” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 174) -> The Being Before Doing Lesson
· “You can’t always control what job you have or what house you live in, or even whether your family will appreciate what you do for them every day, but you can control what you want to focus on: you can decide to provide them with conditional love because these are the people with whom you share your happiest moments. You don’t have to carry your responsibilities as a pressure or heavy burden that makes your heart feel like it is sinking, like your energy is stuck, instead of flowing free. It is up to you – you really don’t have to depend on others to set you free” (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 239) -> The Focus on What You Can Control Lesson
3. Experiences and Connections
In this chapter I make connections between the lessons in Chapter Two and experiences that I have had in my life, particularly (but not exclusively) during my travels in Asia. Many of Dokhampa’s lessons from the previous chapter are here reproduced in italicized form for ease of reading. I have done my best to write this section whilst being respectful of the privacy of those who have at some point touched my life. If you are one of these people mentioned, and you have any issue with what has been written, please contact me directly at email@example.com and I will be happy to discuss removal, redaction or modification.
· The Manifestation Lesson
I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but the Manifestation Lesson really first started speaking to me back when I was living in Toronto during my University of Toronto undergraduate years and working at a restaurant called the Keg. After a few years of working there, we had a manager named Shannon Menaul transfer to our Richmond Hill location. Shannon’s energy seemed to be infinite and she immediately drew in the attention and focus of several employees, including myself. She was one of those people who espoused wisdom without trying to force it upon you, someone who Dokhampa describes as a compassionate friend or even a kind stranger who made me really think about how my way of thinking, how I acted, and how I looked at situations could affect the kind of experiences I would go through in my life.
Over the course of my last few years at the Keg (I worked there until I left to begin my doctorate at Oxford), Shannon’s energy and compassionate teaching inspired me (and many others, I’m sure) to be constantly thinking about how my thinking, actions and outlook would manifest in outcomes in my life. For this, I am forever grateful to her and feel blessed to have had her in my universe, although I’m sure she’d be the first to tell you that she would've been (and still is) happy to play that role for any human being she encounters in this life. In my present life, the Manifestation Lesson has helped me to keep a positive outlook in the face of adversity that I have encountered in my personal and professional endeavours over the course of the last four years. It has helped to constantly remind me that I play an important role in whatever difficulties and whatever good things I am going through in life.
· The Interdependence Lesson
The interdependence lesson has perhaps spoken to me most specifically in regards to my path as a student, academic and young professional. The idea that “when things happen, they are never caused by just one condition – they are the result of many conditions coming together, both external and internal” has a direct relation to the processes whereby I applied for, accepted and completed the various degrees and programs I have made my way through during a 10-year stint in higher education. My path through this education wasn't clearly defined from the beginning, and if you would've asked me in my first years of education at the University of Toronto if I would go on to do another eight years of schooling I may have thought you were crazy.
With the benefit of hindsight, I see that the path I have taken is the result of many conditions coming together: the programs I was accepted to; the timing of these programs; the scholarships or financial aid attached to them; the fact that my parents were infinitely supportive of me pursing them; the research I did on the type of life that I wanted to live and; generally, my choice to approach each crucial decision in a logical and reasoned way. This is where the degree of choice when it comes to our own thoughts and reactions angle comes into play. You can’t always control external, interdependent factors in life, but you can control how you think about them and how you react to them, and being cognizant of this fact helps to give you useful perspective that aids in future introspective thinking and decision-making.
· The Perception/Perspective Lesson
The ideas that nothing exists as it appears to be and the idea that the way in which we look at the world determines what we see has some parallels with my current academic research, but especially connects to my travels throughout the world, particularly my most recent adventure in ASIA. Seeing a culture entirely different to yours constantly reinforces the idea that one’s own worldview is a product of their own upbringing and environment, or what Dokhampa calls our own lens containing all of our memories and experiences through which we filter what is happening in the here and now. Different people anywhere in the world will have different perceptions of reality and differing ideals of happiness, life, love and loss.
Before my trip to ASIA, I had always strongly believed in this philosophy, albeit in a different way that might be described as a to each their own philosophy. I used to always say to each their own in any interaction where my worldview, interests or general way of living life seemed to not be vibing with others that I was traveling with, meeting, or talking to. I think it’s important to remember this philosophy because it seems like so many of the world’s major problems are caused by a lack of understanding or acknowledgement of the fact that others may not think or act the way that you do. Dokhampa has furthered my understanding of this philosophy by pointing out that we can change certain aspects of how we look at things when we understand that our sense of reality is a perception. It has helped me to think about how I can be more respectful and understanding of the thoughts, actions and worldview of other people and, in the process, make my own thinking, actions and worldview that much more worldly, well-rounded and reasoned.
· The Constant Evolution Lesson
From a young age, I was always well into the idea of introspective thought and considering how I could be constantly bettering myself and becoming a better person through careful consideration and action. In High School, I used to have many conversations to this effect with one of the most introspective minds I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, Jeremy Au Yeung (Big love to you big guy, wherever you may be today). Among many philosophical topics we would discuss, Dokhampa’s lesson that if we are satisfied with ourselves all the time, we never bother to look for ways in which to grow and become a better person resonated in a forceful way then and still rings true for me today.
I won’t profess to have lived a perfect life up until now, I've made my mistakes and I’m sure I've hurt as many people as I've touched along the way. But I've always been comfortable knowing that this is a natural part of life, it is part of growing as a human being. I've evolved exponentially in each year since I've left High School, particularly since I've started traveling the world and moved my life to an entirely new country. It hasn't been easy, there have been numerous times over the last decade where I've grown frustrated with myself, questioned why I fall into the same thought and action patterns, and keep repeating mistakes I thought I had learned lessons from. However, as Dokhampa notes, It is when we attach our sense of self to specific emotions or aspects of our behaviour that we stop seeing helpful lessons and instead feel disappointed in or frustrated with ourselves. As such, one of the biggest things I’m taking away from his book and from my recent introspective thinking is to become more at peace with this constant evolution, to keep myself open to the idea that I will continue to make mistakes along the future road but, whilst doing so, keep my mind open to seeing the helpful lessons that come from them.
· The Being Alone With Your Thoughts Lesson
I've always been happy and comfortable being alone in my own space, which is why the idea that spending a little time alone with one’s thoughts is very different from being lonely jives so well with the vibe that I’m on right now. Dokhampa gives this lesson particularly in the context of meditation, which is discussed in the following “Toolkit” chapter, and meditation has indeed already started to influence my day to day life. Whilst on stopovers in and out of Dubai on my recent Asian travel, Johnny Grande (one of my childhood friends and a St. Robert's Alumni) and I extensively discussed the merits of meditation for personal, professional and spiritual health. My true belief in this fact is why I have included an entire chapter reiterating some of Dokhmapa’s teachings about meditation, breathing and calming the mind.
In a broader context, the idea that being happy in one’s own company is even a part of building up your resilience and ways of coping well with life has especially been reinforced by my recent and past travels. I traveled to ASIA on my own (though as a social person, I was rarely alone) and I have traveled to numerous conferences/places in Europe solo. There is a simple serenity that comes attached with being able to be on your own and being able to be comfortable with being on your own. As I said, I’m an inherently social person (thanks to my Mom’s RUSSO gene, among other factors) but I still recognize the value in being able to be alone with your thoughts, for a variety of purposes pertaining to spiritual, physical and professional health.
· The Counter-Argument Lesson
Dokhampa describes the ability to see the other side of an argument as a great mental skill, calling those who have this ability or willingness the world’s great listeners. As someone who has undergone ten years of criminological/legal training in logical and critical reasoning, you can probably foresee some of the reasons why this lesson vibes so well with my past experiences. It also ties in very well with the perception/perspective lesson, as the ability to listen to both sides of an argument is intricately and inextricably linked with having an understanding of where the people making those arguments are coming from. Most recently, this lesson has been pervading the teaching I've been forwarding on to my tutoring students. As I teach a philosophy/law course, there are very few definitive answers (as there may be in some scientific or mathematics fields) and, as such, everything is open to argumentation and analysis. The key point to remember, I tell them, is to keep your mind open to whatever argument is presented to you, to analyze it on its own merits and without bias, and to consider the counter-argument that may be crucial to your rebuttal. This is a basic principle that can hold true in any kind of personal and professional endeavour.
· The Attachment Lesson
Dokhampa’s teaching here is a microcosm of the overall fresh, young and logically reasoned perspective that he brings to sharing age-old Buddhist teachings. He reminds us that when we hold on too tightly to our attachments we are trying to keep them as they are and make them permanent, but nothing in life is permanent. WORD. As he notes, relationships with people grow over time, jobs change or are lost. We come into our lives empty-handed and we leave just the same. But he’s not saying renounce all of your possessions and forget everything or everyone you may have ever grown an attachment to. His teaching is more reasoned and logical than that, which is why I vibe with it so well. What he IS saying is that yes, it is natural to want to provide for you and your loved ones, but just don’t become too rigid in your attachments to anything because invariably everything is subject to change.
There’s numerous examples from my life I can use to illustrate why this lesson has meaning to me, but I’ll stick to a recent one from my adventure in ASIA. I was travelling to Hong Kong airport during the day on Monday 24 February, ready to catch a flight to head to Beijing, China. I had various belongings with me, including a small carrying case that held a portable wireless modem, a portable usb charger and my electronic cigarette. I was using the modem and charger to charge my phone and message a friend of mine who I would be staying with in Beijing. When I arrived at the airport, I must have left the case behind in the cab as I shuffled to collect the rest of my belongings and head in to the airport. I only realized later on in the day that it had been left behind. Was it an inconvenience not to have it with me, particularly because of how difficult it is to find secure and stable WiFi in China? Sure. Did I suffer a small financial loss by losing it? Sure. Was I going to let it consume my mind whilst I was in a remarkably historic and beautiful (although horrendously polluted) city for the first time? Certainly not.
Dokhampa’s attachment lesson obviously extends past the context of personal possessions and goods that I have alluded to above. On a deeper level, he is talking about the freedom to have desires and ambitions, things and people that we want, but we need to be flexible and understand that everything is subject to change and there is no point in getting fanatically attached. This deeper meaning also holds true for my life, particularly professionally and in relation to my path through higher education. From a young age, I thought my desire and ambition was to be a lawyer. As I grew older, I grew more educated and flexible. I realized that my desire and ambition was to get to do research into legal issues that I was passionate about and that interested me. My travels taught me that there was a big world out there and I added ability to travel frequently to my list of desires and ambitions. After 10 years and an Oxford doctorate (hopefully) these are desires and ambitions that are all now possible, but not guaranteed, because nothing in this life is guaranteed to any one. Being able to orient my mind in this way has helped, and will continue to help, me to not get too attached to any vision of what my professional future may look like.
· The Being Present Lesson
Those of you who know me personally will know that I have a massive CARPE DIEM tattoo on my back in the form of an ambigram (i.e. it is artistically designed to look the same way and say the same thing from a left to right or right to left viewing perspective). I got the tattoo in Barcelona in 2009 whilst on one of my first ever long trips throughout Europe with one of my all-time greatest travel partners and close friends, Colin Seepersad. I chose the tattoo because I felt as though it was a lesson and a teaching that had been sent to me throughout the trip (Colin and I had been engaging in a number of adventure sports and activities, I had suffered a relatively severe near-death experience whilst on an ATV in Greece, and I had re-oriented my travel itinerary to re-connect with a one-of-a-kind Swiss girl with whom I still maintain a close friendship). The meaning of Carpe Diem, derived from Latin, is literally seize the day (or “pluck” the day in its original translation), but has been taken up to mean any variety of associated meanings and philosophies: live in the moment; make the most out of your time on this earth; put aside your fears and worries; live each day to the fullest and; last but not least, be present.
Dokhampa notes that to be fearful or excited about the unknown is to be human, as many people in most parts of the world are brought up to think about the future and create goals and ambitions. Here again his Being Present Lesson is reasoned and logical. He is not saying you never know when you’re going to go, live recklessly and go jump into canyons and dive off of planes because life is too short. What he IS saying is that it is important to be considerate of the future, but when we invest all of our present in our future hopes, we are placing a lot of value in what is inevitably in doubt, which sets us up to feel restless and agitated as we become dependent on an uncertainty. WORD. This lesson ties in well with the Attachment Lesson, as it emphasizes that is indeed within our human nature to be excited or worried about the unknown and uncertain. However, what I prefer to do, and what I've mostly always preferred to do, is be prepared for what might happen in the future whilst still doing my best to enjoy to moment and embrace the wonderful uncertainty that comes part and parcel with life. This was another valuable life lesson that Shannon Menaul taught me: if you put all of your energy and focus into what might happen in the future, then you don’t really invest that energy and focus into the here and now and, in doing so, you miss out on all the wonderful people and things that are happening around you in the present.
This lesson encourages us to keep our minds open, non-judgemental, curious, lively, patient and fearless. Dokhampa argues that when we do so there is a natural balance between the emotional and the rational. The concept and lesson of balance is one that spoke to me so much on this recent Asian adventure that I decided to have the Ying and Yang symbol tattooed within a pre-existing tattoo on my right leg, much to the chagrin of my parental units. The tattoo that was already on my leg was a Gemini symbol, again an ambigram that wrapped around my leg just above my ankle, which I had done last summer whilst in Florence with Colin and two of our other good friends, Claudia Longo and Chelsasauraus Sutcliffe. I chose the Gemini symbol for the obvious reason that I am a Gemini, and also because it symbolized two very distinct sets of personal characteristics that I believe I get from my mother and father’s genes. My father’s side, the ALATI side, is where I believe I get my calm and patience, my logical and rational, as my father is definitely the strong, silent type. The ALATI writing was already on my leg, as it was the first tattoo I ever got, during my first ever trip to Italy (and Europe) over a decade ago. The RUSSO writing was added in a symmetrical spot on the other side of my leg. It was important for me to add this along with the Gemini symbol, as the RUSSO side of my personality is where I believe I derive many of my mom’s amazing character traits: the social animal gene, the expressive and passionate nature, the emotional side.
Adding the Ying and Yang symbol on the back of my leg, in the appropriate artistically symmetrical and symbolically balanced spot, completed an overall tattoo that speaks to my belief in the philosophy of balance. I won’t profess to have always lived my live perfectly in balance, but it is definitely a vibe that I am totally on the wavelength of currently. The inspiration for the tattoo and the meaning of the Balanced Mind lesson really came to life for me in Chiang Mai, Thailand, before I had bought Dokhampa’s book. The local people that I met whilst there live a humble, open, non-judgmental, patient and fiercely respectful existence. They don’t live above their means, and they exhibit a feeling of harmony and balance in their mind and body that is connected with how they speak, what they eat and how they interact with people. It may sound horribly cliché to say this, but my time in Chiang Mai really took my introspective thinking to another level and forced me to start to reconsider some of the rather unhealthy ways I had been living my life in the United Kingdom. The Balanced Mind lesson has really stuck with me, and its physical and artistic manifestation will LITERALLY be a part of me for the rest of my life (Sorry Mom and Dad).
Dokhampa usefully notes that past hurts or regrets create clouds over our here-and-now. To be honest, I have never been the kind of person to hold on to regrets. I’m not trying to act holier than thou or anything here, I’ve just never seen the utility in them. Sure, in the course of my introspective thinking, I’ve considered things that I may have done differently in a past life, but I’ve always tried to remind myself that the past is the past and all you can do is turn your “mistakes” into lessons by learning from them and having them inform your thinking in the present. This is a worldview I’ve always tried to share with those around me. One of the most profound times I’ve shared it occurred recently on my Asian adventure whilst at the Island Hoppers Beach Club (IHBC) in Koh Samui, Thailand, an amazing place that I have thoroughly reviewed elsewhere and would strongly encourage any of you to visit if you happen to find yourself in that region and want a chilled-out, beach zen kind of place to relax and meet amazing people.
It was at the IHBC that I met a kindred spirit, an Australian by the name of David Fellows who was on a similar journey of life exploration and general relaxation. I believe David and I were brought together by a mixture of fate and rational choice, as he had originally planned to stay down the road at some kind of holistic, spiritual cleanse resort. We bonded over conversation at the IHBC bar where he, I and Shahin, the phenomenal owner of the IHBC, discussed our lives, reasons for being in Thailand, travel in general and a whole host of other topics. I was pleased to find out the next day that David had decided to move to the IHBC and stay for the last few days that I was in Samui. Although I had already planned some excursions, and we were both doing our own thing the last few days, the last bit of time we shared was real and introspective for the both of us. We could not have been any more different. He was older (not old, but older) and had accumulated much more travel and life experience. I’m an academic and a writer, and he is a landscaper, which showed in his physically large frame. However, as we chatted casually over the course of my last few days in Samui, I soon realized that we had more in common than met the eye.
On my last night, David and I shared a beautiful last supper on the beach with two wonderful German girls, an older Italian man who owned a restaurant down the street from the IHBC, a Welsh man who had just arrived, an older Dutch man who was living in Cambodia, and Shahin, amongst other people who trickled in and out throughout the night. We spoke of our lives and experiences, of love and loss, and ideas of happiness. After dinner, I thought it might be a nice idea for these lovely people to leave a message on my Canadian flag, a little memento for me to remember them and that moment by. Everyone took turns signing it, while I wrote a personal message on the IHBC’s “Wall of Kind Messages and Good Vibes”. After a while, I noticed that David had spent quite a bit of time writing out a long poem on my flag and grew curious. He told me that he wrote the poem (copied below, CC David Fellows, 1992) the last time he was in Thailand. He also told me that it has a special personal significance, because he hadn't shared it with anyone before and because the last time he was in Thailand he suffered a significant loss of a friend that he regretted and held himself responsible for.
Out of respect for Big Dave, I won’t get into the details of the loss, all you need to know is that it had stayed with him for a long time, a heavy burden for any person to keep with them. Having built up a repore with Dave, I felt it appropriate to share with him my views about regrets and loss. I expressed to him what was essentially the Dokhampa Letting Go of Regrets Lesson, without even knowing it because I had yet to buy the book. I told him that he shouldn't feel responsible, that he couldn't carry that load for the rest of his life, and that there could have been any number of external and/or interdependent factors, totally devoid of his actions, that led to that loss. I can’t speak to whether or how my words or thoughts may have been internalized by him, but I do certainly know that the energy of the response I got from him was very much in line with Dokhampa’s argument that: We need to live and let live a bit more. If we let go, who knows where we’ll go – and that’s the adventure!
Big Dave, I got nothing but love for you man, and I think our (short) relationship and friendship perfectly exhibits how human beings can connect anywhere in the world, under any circumstances, regardless of their differences or personal circumstances. I look forward to getting to meet you and your family some time, in this life or the next, but hopefully in this one on the sunny confines of a beach in Australia. Until that may or may not occur, if I ever want to be reminded of the great times and talks we had, all I have to do is look up at the Canadian flag hanging in my Oxford Graduate dorm window, and read your words:
There once was an Island upon which I stayed,
Where people smiled as free as the palms swayed,
There was nothing one needed that couldn't be had
To be on this island I was oh so glad!
All was silent as the silvery moon shall declare,
Not for long for soon the sun will stir,
Bringing forthwith the shrill cockerel’s cry,
An entrance for heat where I might lie.
So may it be on that pearl white sand,
With the aqua green sea lapping the land,
For soon I am sure I will have to depart,
With that paradise I leave my heart.
David Fellows, a.k.a. Big Dave, Tropical Koh Phangan, 1992
Dokhampa’s lesson that wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird that is essential to every aspect of our live has various applications to my personal and professional life. He describes wisdom generally as understanding things from a larger, philosophical point of view which jives very well with skills that I’ve developed throughout ten years of academia. My academic training has taught me to never look at any area of analysis, particularly in the area of anti-terrorism research, from one singular point of view. On a more personal level, compassion, or the act of caring for others, putting our wisdom into our thoughts, words and actions is something that has been ingrained in me from a young age. While I have many people to thank for that, I’d like to specifically thank my mother for being the most caring human being I have ever met or been exposed to in my entire life. Bird, you've taught me compassion in a way that has had so many different applications to so many different aspects of my life. If I've ever taken for granted or lamented your caring questions, such as “Are you eating?” or your e-mails of job listings, I apologize and promise that from this day on I will always cherish and appreciate how lucky and blessed I am to have such a caring and compassionate human being as my mother.
· The Appreciation Lesson
Dokhampa’s appreciation lesson is intricately connected to the appreciation meditation, which is discussed in the next Chapter’s toolkit. On a more general level, he suggests that we start each day by always being appreciative for having good health, as just the simple fact that we are able to see and hear should be appreciated, if we are able. My travel to Beijing, China on days in which the city was experiencing Orange Alert levels of pollution has certainly allowed me to vibe with the being appreciative for good health lesson. He then suggests that we extend this appreciation to having people who love us unconditionally, whether they be friends or family, and then finally extends this towards the world as good people exist to benefit others because the world exists.
Since returning to Oxford, I've been starting my days with a short period of this appreciation meditation. Again, I’m not claiming to have mastered the Buddhist art, but for the first time in a long time in my life I’m starting my days with a simple and nourishing breakfast that I don’t eat in front of a computer screen or whilst goofing around on my phone. Before I eat, I put my head down and try best to clear my thoughts of everything for a few minutes, with the exception of the things that I’m appreciative of: my health, my supportive family, an amazing array of fantastic friends (including the UK-based “Boyshies” and all my peoples back home in Canadia), and the opportunity I've been given to pursue what I love at a world-class educational institution.
Whilst I consider all of these things, I mainly focus on my family, particularly my close family and my mother and father. Dokhampa says that every morning he tries to appreciate all the beautiful people he has in his life and imagine how he would feel if they were to die tomorrow. He acknowledges that this may sound morbid, but it makes me appreciate them so much more today. As someone who not too long ago almost lost his mother to that horrible C-word that won’t be reproduced here, I can really vibe with what Dokhampa is saying here. Yes, it sounds morbid, but any of you who have experienced a similar loss or even just a close brush with that loss, regardless of how close the person was to you, knows that this experience forever changes your outlook on life, loss and love and puts into perspective the fragility and uncertainty of life. It makes you appreciate just how important those really special people in your life are. As Dokhampa notes elsewhere in his book, the simple act of clearing your mind and engaging in this kind of appreciation can EASILY get lost in the hustle and bustle of our normal everyday lives, filled with work and other commitments, but it is a small and useful thing to take a few minutes every day, whenever it may suit you, to send out to the universe some appreciation for those people you care about and feel blessed to have in your life.
· The #FirstWorldProblems Lesson
Before my trip to ASIA I had always jokingly (and perhaps insensitively) used the phrase First World Problems when I found myself thinking or talking about some kind of mundane gripe or inconvenience that I encountered in my day-to-day life (think long line-up at the grocery store, not having a good internet connection in a place you are staying, etc.) But going to ASIA, as well as my previous travels (such as a seriously life re-orienting trip to the Ukraine I did with one of my childhood best friends, Peter Machalek) has really caused me to re-examine how lucky I am in comparison to other people in the world who live much more difficult existences. As Dokhampa notes, many of us in today’s developed world are lucky enough to have good relationships either with family, friends or loved ones, a roof over our heads, food to eat and the basics of warmth and shelter. There are still people throughout the world who do not even have these basics of life. I’m not saying that I've been the most active participant in volunteer organizations or activism that seeks to rectify these global inequalities, nor am I saying that I’m going to judge you for posting statuses to FaceBook about that schmuck who just cut you off or that dude in the subway whose odour is really offending you. All I’m saying is that by keeping #FirstWorldProblems in perspective, we can get to the point in our lives where, according to Dokhampa, we feel truly happy to have a hot meal or a warm fire, where we learn the great lesson of living in present, content to be here and nowhere else.
· The Importance of Exercise Lesson
I personally dedicate this section to the man, the myth, the legend, THE Daniel Pascoe. Daniel was a colleague of mine in the Oxford Centre for Criminology before moving on to take up a professorship at the City University of Hong Kong. He was kind enough to let me stay at his apartment in Hong Kong when I visited ASIA, and this was only one of the myriad of ways in which he helped me out. Whether he truly knows it or not, Daniel caused me to reconsider some of the ways in which I had been previously living my life. The most relevant for this section’s purposes is the emphasis he places on the importance of exercise. As Dokhampa notes, whether you like to run, swim, bicycle, anything you can do to train your physical body will also help you to train your mind. When you are exercising your body you often give your mind a nice rest, at least from all the restless worries.
In the months before my Oxford doctorate submission and departure for ASIA, it is fair to say that I wasn't exactly a picture of perfect health. There were extreme periods of sleep deprivation (something which Daniel, or the “Paz” as his friends know him, is vehemently opposed to), unhealthy eating, aggressive amounts of caffeine intake and, lastly but not insignificantly, a glaring lack of physical exercise. At the time, I justified it to myself by saying it was understandable because I was under pressure to finish the doctorate. How could I reasonably be expected to take the time to eat healthy, sleep and exercise? Spending just over week in Daniel’s presence showed me that my justifications were exactly just that, justifications. The guy is working like an absolute beast in his new Professorial role and still finds time to get his regular exercise and sleep in. I’m not disparaging myself by comparing myself to him. After all, Dokhampa has noted elsewhere in his book that focusing on how others live their life to the point where you lose focus and energy on your own life is quite unhelpful. Rather, I’m saying that he has opened my eyes to the importance of exercise and healthy living (as has my trip in ASIA more generally), and I planning to actualize (and have already began to actualize) this lesson in my ‘normal’ life back in Oxford through regular exercise, better sleeping patterns, healthier eating and moderation of my drinking.
· The Balance and Flexibility Lesson
Again we see this concept of balance, albeit in this context Dokhampa was talking about Yoga, a practise I’m definitely interested in getting more involved in over the coming weeks and months. Dokhampa says that, If one day you feel much more off balance than usual, you might be feeling the same way in your thoughts or emotions. Along with balance there is also flexibility, so that you can be firmly rooted like a tree and yet sway in the breeze with ease and without the fear of falling down. Although he’s talking about yoga and meditation here, I think there is a more literal connection to what these practices do for the mind, as Dokhampa acknowledges when he says that meditation aims to restore balance and flexibility, so that we can feel strong, but also adaptable to whatever may come our way. Being flexible is a skill that I have always thought I've had and am now realizing can be further developed through yoga and meditation. Being balanced in your mind is all about being open and flexible to any variety of situations and circumstances that can occur in life, which is connected to the Attachment Lesson. If you aren't too rigidly attached to things, ideas, ambitions, etc. then you open your mind to be flexible and reactive to the inevitable uncertainty associated with life. Things may not always go the way you want them to, but if you can be open and accepting of this fact, and of the general uncertainty associated with life, you can much more usefully react in the present when things go awry.
· The Being Before Doing Lesson
This lesson is intricately connected to the Being Present Lesson and the Constant Evolution Lesson. The latter urges us to constantly be engaged in introspective thought, to be thinking about who we are, where we've been and how we might be constantly evolving. As Dokhampa notes, we need to understand who we are, and then strive to get a great deal done, driven by love and compassion, rather than our selfish agenda. When we have understanding we remember what inspires us – why we do what we do. Inspiration then gives us momentum – it is our energy and something very special. WORD. This lesson is particularly applicable to my academic journey, the recent Oxford doctorate struggle in particular. My colleagues, particularly those I've grown close with in the CFC, as well as anyone who has done any kind of higher education (but particularly a PhD) will know that the experience is about peaks and valleys. It is a long journey and it can take its emotional, physical and mental toll, as I've alluded to earlier. However, if we are truly present and we are really being before doing, then it makes it that much easier to do something like write a dissertation (or whatever your personal or professional equivalent is) because, as Dokhampa says, we are remembering why we do what we do and that inspiration gives us momentum.
The skeptics among you might say this is cereal-box philosophy, the type of zen philosophical nonsense that doesn't apply to the real world. This is a criticism Dokhampa himself deals with when he says that, many people think we Buddhists are only about being and never doing, but it’s really that we need to be before we can do. In my future academic and professional endeavours, I am going to make efforts to constantly be present and conceptualize my dreams and aspirations in a totally different manner than I have previously. I’m not conceptualizing the reason for having done this PhD as specifically to get a job, nor will I do any kind of work in the future specifically because it pays me money or ticks boxes that I think society places pressure on me to tick. I’m doing it because my dream (to do research or contribute to knowledge all over the world) is part of my being, it is a part (albeit only one part) of who I am. As Dokhampa says, once we have inspiration and momentum, we are no longer following our dreams, always one step behind, but being them, from moment to moment, day to day.
· The Focus on What You Can Control Lesson
The last lesson is one that I have always tried to live my life by, one that has been particularly stoked by my travels (including the most recent in ASIA) and one that I perhaps first most genuinely began to consider and receive during the time in which I was blessed to be in Shannon Menaul’s company. When I first met Shannon, I was an egregious planner. At the time, I was quite defensive about this aspect of my personality, as I thought that it was useful to always have everything logically planned and sorted out. To keep it short, I used planning as my safety blanket. I was wise enough at that point to know of the principle that you can’t control everything in life, but I was still stubborn/naive enough to think that if I planned logically for all of life’s eventualities, I may be able to control the future outcome’s in some way, shape or form.
While I learned many lessons from being in Shannon’s presence, perhaps one of the most significant was that which is furthered in this context by Dokhampa when he says that, You can’t always control what job you have or what house you live in, or even whether your family will appreciate what you do for them every day, but you can control what you want to focus on: you can decide to provide them with conditional love because these are the people with whom you share your happiest moments. Being present, being open-minded and flexible, being cognizant of interdependence and perception, being responsive to change and evolution, being willing to leave behind rigid attachments, are all intrinsically connected lessons and ways of living life that acknowledge the fact that there are a myriad of things in life that we can’t control, no matter how hard we try or how logically we plan. Life is filled with uncertainty and, as Dokhampa notes elsewhere in his book, the only real certainty we have in life is that it will someday end. To conclude this chapter appropriately with the words of Dokhampa: You don’t have to carry your responsibilities as a pressure or heavy burden that makes your heart feel like it is sinking, like your energy is stuck, instead of flowing free. It is up to you – you really don’t have to depend on others to set you free.
The Restful Mind espouses a variety of techniques to help one towards the end of living a more balanced, healthy and present life. These include various forms of meditation, breathing exercises, and several other general comments on healthy nourishment for the mind, body and soul. It is not my intention in this chapter to reiterate all of these techniques, nor do I think that would be appropriate given copyright concerns and the wider fact that I am only just learning these techniques myself and don’t profess to be any kind of expert in the arts of meditation or other Buddhist practices. Quite frankly, if you've read this far and are vibing with what you've been reading, you’d probably be well served to pick up The Restful Mind, do any of the additional reading suggested by Dokhampa (See Chapter Seven – Bibliography), or engage in personal research into other sources pertaining to Buddhist philosophy or practices. Gyalwa Dokhampa’s personal website, FaceBook page, or twitter page would likely also be useful resources for these purposes. That said, all I hope to do in this chapter is quickly reiterate some of the “tools” Dokhampa espouses in The Restful Mind that have already been immediately useful to me since I returned from ASIA.
“Be aware of any opportunities to simplify your life. It might start with taking half an hour each lunchtime to actually switch off or be away from the computer so that you can have a little time just to eat, without trying to do lots of other things simultaneously”(159)
“Spend a day doing each little thing with your mind fully engaged, from brushing your teeth to making a pot of tea.. It might seem a little contrived to begin with, but you will be surprised at how you begin to enjoy the smallest trivia in the day, even the washing up!” (160)
“If you feel the burn of irritation triggered by an everyday situation that just seems to push your buttons, a very good way to distract your mind from the irritation and ease the rising tension is to come back into the present and focus on your breath... Keep your breaths quiet and slow and, as you breathe in, imagine that white light. You might also find a moment of appreciation is a helpful way to diffuse restless emotions or to distract your mind so that the irritation is prevented from growing into something more unpleasant. If you can train your mind to do something else, then you will be more likely to see the situation in a different light, and perhaps see that it might not be worth getting so worked up about... You no longer carry it with you for the rest of your day, so that it colours your mood and interactions with other people (none of whom knows what an unfortunate morning you might have had)” (160-1)
“See if you can find activities that allow you to think less, at least about the usual day-to-day things, and simply be more. Sports can be very helpful in this respect... The same is true of painting, pottery, singing, climbing, horse riding. Any activity that helps to focus your mind on something other than the usual mind chatter is like a vacation for the mind and usually helps bring you into the flow of the present moment” (161-2)
“Practicing your listening skills will help you to be truly present with the other people around you and is a very generous act too. When you find yourself finishing another person’s sentence or wanting them to get to the end of their bit of the conversation so that you can say your peace, you are constantly jumping ahead in your mind, which can make you feel rather jumpy and agitated in yourself. Relax, let your mind quiet down and listen to someone else for a change” (162)
· Nourishing the Body to Nourish the Mind
“Your body and mind are, as we have seen, very much interdependent... To understand just how close the connection is between body and mind, think for a moment of a smile versus a frown. The choice you make will have an immediate effect on your mind. When you frown you create those two deep furrows between your eyes – you might say you even close up your third eye, the gateway to your inner wisdom. Your face feels tense and your mind follows, becoming rigid and uncomfortable. But when you smile, everything opens up, including your mind. People are drawn to your eyes, the good feelings are contagious. You just feel better. No wonder they say that laughter is the best medicine” (165)
· Walking meditation
“You can do a few minutes of walking meditation at any time of the day, whether you are in the park or even along a city street. To practice though, it may be a good idea to go somewhere a little more quiet and natural as you will be less easily distracted. Try to find somewhere with uneven ground, then you will be truly present in your walking, rather than constantly drifting back to your busy life” (167)
“Before you begin, simply stand for a few moments. Feel the connection between your feet and the ground and then upwards through your body, up and out of the top of your head. Relax your shoulders, don’t let your knees lock and look directly ahead. Relax your jaw, your eyes, your forehead” (167)
“Breathe gently from your belly, and feel this as the centre of your body... Breathe deeply, taking time on the exhale. Just put one foot in front of the other and enjoy each step. Appreciate your body as you move. Appreciate the earth beneath your feet, feel the sensations between the two and throughout your body” (167-8)
“Let your thoughts come and go with the rhythm of your pace, your breath. Feel the breeze on your face. Just allow nature to infuse your body... After a few minutes, building up over time if you like, gently come to a stop and spend a few moments just standing again, feeling the ground beneath your feet, sensing your body and mind” (168)
· Feed your mind and eat mindfully
“Just as food is energy for our body, it is energy for our mind. And it turns out that there are foods that are especially beneficial to a calm, focused and healthy mind. We know that a good breakfast helps children to concentrate better at school, yet so many adults rush out of the door in the morning without giving their minds any good fuel to get through the day. Then, by mid-afternoon they feel frayed, running on empty” (168-9)
“Scientists have even identified some of the nutrients that are particularly good for the mind, and at the top of the list come the omega 3 essential fatty acids, which help the emotional part of the brain to increase production of the neurotransmitters associated with positive mood. Flaxseeds are full of these omega 3s” (169)
“In mindfulness programmes, food or tea are often used to engage all the senses with the mind, to encourage more awareness of how they smell, look, feel and taste. They might suggest taking a piece of chocolate and observing closely everything about it as it dissolves in the mouth. It’s a little like the Daily Breathing meditation in that we bring our attention away from the restlessness of our minds to something more immediate and physical. And if we can practice this kind of mindful eating every once in a while, then it will have the gentle knock-on effect of helping us to be more aware of the little, but vital things our days – from the sun on our face to a cup of tea – all of which can help us to cultivate a restful mind and give us a little piece of joy” (170-1)
· Summary of Other Techniques Suggested by Gyalwa Dokhampa:
o Breathe – “Awareness of body and breath is the first step towards awareness of your emotions and reactions in everyday situations” (176)
o Choose your words wisely – “It will help your own peace of mind to mean everything you say from the depths of your heart” (177)
o The gift of silence – “If we are able to keep silent for even one hour in a day, we can really begin to develop our insight and restful mind. We often waste time with gossip, talking of others, and this wastes energy too” (178)
o Read, look, listen – “When we are very busy we might find that we go for long periods without reading, listening to music or taking in art or culture. We can't seem to find the room in our minds or the time in our schedule. And yet, when we do pick up a book and read just a few pages, we feel our minds expand. We feel less stuck when we are not seeing and thinking about everything from only our own point of view” (180)
o Change a habit – “In everyday life people have a lot of ingrained habits that are perfectly harmless, but encourage the mind to do as much as possible on autopilot. So from the route you take to work, to the cafe where you get your morning coffee or where you sit in meetings, you might follow the same pattern every day. Changing one of these habits an be very refreshing for the mind as it brings you back into the present, so you might see things differently and enjoy the change” (181-2)
o What went well today? – “Why not spend a little time dwelling on what you did well today? Put side your worries about all the things still left on your to-do list and let yourself feel good about what you did. Like the Appreciation meditation, this habit is about perspective. It’s about training the mind to see that glass as half full rather than half empty” (182)
o Doing your best – “This is a daily habit that we are often very good at instilling in our children, but which we may place less value on as we get older and start judging how successful we are by comparing ourselves to others. But doing your best today, right here in the present, is the restful mind. It isn't about worrying how good you are, or looking across the room at others all the time or putting a label on yourself. It is about cutting out all of the usual mind clutter and doing what you do, with your best intentions and your best efforts” (183)
o Being with nature – “If we spend time with nature, then we get to know our own nature a little better too. Nature has the ability to bring us back into the present as we catch sight of a rare bird or stand in awe of a view we have just climbed to” (185)
o Laughing like nobody’s business – “My teacher His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa uses this phrase, and what a sense of freedom and lightness there is in his words... If your heart has laughter in it, your mind feels happy. Laughter helps us through the sad times, offering a bit of light in through a darker part of life. So laugh like nobody’s business! (185-6)
o Share your worries – “If you can work on being a good listener to others, then others will, in turn, be helpful listeners to you when you need some care and support. Sharing a worry means sharing the burden, opening up a space within your mind so that you can take a breath and perhaps see and feel a concern in a less harsh light” (187)
o Practice compassion – “When you turn on the news today you would be forgiven for thinking there is little joy or happiness in the world and much suffering. But the constant barrage of bad news can have the effect of desensitizing us to the suffering of others, as we feel helpless and wonder how one person can make any difference at all... It is not comfortable feeling the suffering of others, but if you can allow yourself to feel this pain, you are getting in touch with something at the very core of your inner nature, and that is your compassion” (187-8)
o Share your love and kindness – “Practice giving every day – from giving a compliment if you tend towards being critical, to giving change to a homeless person, if you know what it feels like to be a little grasping towards money or success” (188)
o Release any frustrations of the day – “There is a saying, ‘Don’t let the sun go down on an argument’, and the same is true of any negative feelings you have had during the day. This is why spending a few minutes in contemplation is so helpful, as you can acknowledge any difficulties that came up during the day and how you felt as you reacted. Then you can consider that you don’t need to hold on to that negative feeling” (188)
o Sleep (dedicated to Daniel Pascoe) – “A good night’s sleep is an incredibly restorative tonic for the mind. When tired, the mind easily becomes stressed and tense, unfocused and unsure of which direction to take or choice to make. Don’t be too hard on your mind when you are tired; allow yourself to rest and restore” (189)
o Find what is truly important in your life – “When you are in the eye of the storm, it’s extremely hard to step back and ask yourself: is this really what I want? Is it the path to happiness? But if you practice when your mind is restful and you are feeling very good about life, you will gradually build up positive mental habits that can be of great help when you are under pressure” (195-6)
o Clearing the mind clutter – “It is quite fascinating how our state of mind can usually be observed by looking at our immediate surroundings. When you look at your desk or your tools as you are about to start work for the day what do you see? Is the path ahead nice and clear, or clogged up lots of bits and pieces? ... Creating a sense of physical space has the instant effect of creating a feeling of space in the mind. Calm replaces panic and even time seems to stretch out more. It’s funny, but when you realize you can only focus on one thing right now, wear one coat or use on mug, you bring the art of simplicity back into your life, and letting go doesn't seem such a hard or bad thing after all” (196-7)
o Technology clutter – “Technology has given us yet another opportunity to practice our hoarding tendencies. With the internet the answers to all our questions are at our fingertips, but then we end up holding so much information and so many questions in our minds that when we should be enjoying dinner or a walk in the park with a friend, for example, we are no longer really there... If you can clear the tech clutter you will free up your mind to be much more present, rather than worrying about those messages you haven’t replied to or those articles you haven’t read. Give yourself the time to do this, even just a little at the end or beginning of the day, to delete and therefore let go” (198-200)
5. Concluding Remarks
At the end of The Restful Mind, Gyalwa Dokhampa says that, “I am always appreciative of the time people give to come to any teachings, and I am very grateful to you for the time you are giving to read these words. It is a gift to me and I hope that you feel there are gifts in return from this book that you can take with you into daily life to encourage your restful mind. Giving and receiving teaching is perhaps even more precious than diamonds, as these are ideas that can be passed on or that you can use to benefit those around you.” (244) As such, I may be so bold as to follow his example in thanking you for the time that you have spent reading my words. Writing them has been incredibly useful for my introspective thinking, and if you take anything away from them at all then I will feel as though I have done some good for the universe. I couldn't agree more with Dokhampa’s statement that giving and receiving teaching is more precious than diamonds, as the experience of writing this “dissertation” has been absolutely invaluable to me. I must also of course thank His Holiness Gyalwa Dokhampa for putting his teachings out into the universe. Thank you sir, I know you've done this selflessly and without need or want of recognition, but I need to say out loud how much I appreciate your teachings and what they have done (and will continue to do) for me, others in my life, and people in the world more broadly.
There is only one last thing for me to do in this piece of writing, and that is to summarize the life lessons and philosophies that I am going to endeavour to live by from this very moment. These lessons and philosophies, aforementioned in several parts of this writing, are heavily rooted in the teachings of Gyalwa Dokhampa’s The Restful Mind, in combination with my life experiences up until this point (including, but not exclusively, those which occurred whilst I was in ASIA). As such, it seems appropriate to lay out the “Ten Simple Tools for the Restful Mind” that Dokhampa lays out at the conclusion of The Restful Mind, whilst contributing thoughts on how I might utilize these tools going forward in the future.
1. See the good in life
CARPE DIEM baby! Life is too short to always be focusing on the negative. In the future, I will do my best to always appreciate the good that I have in my life: a loving family, great friends, my health and a world of opportunities ahead of me. Even when times inevitably get tough and I find myself floundering back to less than positive outlooks, I will endeavour to reflect and constantly remind myself of how insanely blessed I am in so many different ways.
2. Accept that life is full of ups and downs
I’ve referred to these ups and downs elsewhere in this writing as peaks and valleys. My recent life experience has led me to truly believe and accept that life is genuinely full of ups and downs. If you’d have talked to me two months ago, in the heat of my thesis-completion deadline, you might almost think that I was an entirely different person. Having gone through what I've gone through and learned what I've learned over the last couple of months, I feel prepared to accept that life is full of ups and downs, and I will endeavour to roll with the punches when life inevitably throws uncertainty my way in the future.
3. Come back into the present
This one is dedicated to Shannon Menaul. You were one of the first ever people to teach me the value of being in the present, and you did it selflessly and in an unassuming manner. Some years and many significant life experiences later, I’m not yet claiming to be an expert in this category. But I have an appreciation and understanding of the importance of being present that I will endeavour to always hold with me in my future personal and professional life.
4. Love and being kind are what matters
This one is dedicated to my mother and father, and to all of the other people in my life who have shown me love and kindness. Dokhampa says that, “Beyond putting a roof over your head and food on the table, the balance in life will never come from material possessions. So if you can nurture your loving relationships and a more general love for humanity and the world, you will be going a long way towards bringing a feeling of balance to your mind.” (250) This belief in balance is literally now a part of me, and I will endeavour to live a more balanced lifestyle that nurtures my loving relationships and puts good energy and kindness into the universe.
This lesson (as well as number six below) will definitely be the hardest one for me to actualize, as I have traditionally struggled to maintain calm and embrace inactivity. Dokhampa acknowledges that, “Sitting can be one of the hardest things for some people to begin with” but suggests using breathing techniques to allow “the body to relax into the moment.” (251) From this moment, I will endeavour to continue to embrace, and learn more about, teachings pertaining to breathing and meditation.
6. Do one thing at a time
As noted above, this lesson is particularly pertinent for me because those of you who know me well will know that I love a bit of multi-tasking. I believe that the way forward for me in this regard is to embrace the simple suggestions Dokhampa makes, such as: taking few minutes to relax and allow my mind to settle over a cup of tea; when working on a project, switch off the e-mail and phone and immerse myself in the task and; not trying to cram too much busyness into every waking minute (252).
This lesson will be easy to actualize, as those of you who know me know that I heavily subscribe to Dokhampa’s idea that, “It’s good to see the funny side of things, and not take yourself too seriously. After all, we’re all just human beings, doing our best” (252).
I will endeavour to engage in Dokhampa’s Walking Meditation or, at the very least, a simple personal walk, at least once a day. Rain or shine. Regardless of what the U.K.’s weather forecast may be.
As Dokhampa notes, “As you practice simply sitting and breathing, you become more used to being still and settled. And then you can really listen, which is an act of generosity not only to the speaker, but also to yourself, as you might learn something.” (254) I will endeavour to continue practicing my sitting and breathing and will make every effort to use these skills to allow me truly listen to anyone who is kind enough to share with me.
10. Embrace simplicity
I will endeavour to embrace simplicity, to try and “see anger for what it is – a fiery and strong emotion, but also one that you need not cling to.” (254) I will continue to believe that I “can’t always control the outcome” which will lead me to “practice the art of letting go of things too, or taking care of what you already have rather than always looking for more.” (254-5) I will endeavour to really appreciate the “health-giving benefits of food” and actually “slow down and take time over your meals, rather than always rushing to the next task.” (255) Lastly, to conclude, I will endeavour to never lose sight of this teaching: “Remind yourself of the difference between what you want and what you need: what you need can be a very simple thing, while what you want can have no end” (255)
6. Potent Quotables
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away” (Henry David Thoreau, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 21)
“The solid rock is not shaken by wind and so the wise are not ruffled by praise or blame” (Buddha, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 51)
“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think” (Buddha, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 69)
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives” (Henry David Thoreau, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 89)
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Henry David Thoreau, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 100)
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well” (Voltaire, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 102)
“Gratitude is also extremely health-giving. It alleviates depression, makes us happier, improves the quality of our relationships, is a good treatment for insomnia and can help us live longer” (David R. Hamilton, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 103)
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” (Charles Darwin, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 107)
“If you constantly have this notion of ‘me’ and ‘others’, and you can’t stop seeing others’ negative qualities, then you have a lot to work on. You have not travelled enough of your own inner bumpy path” (His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 114)
“The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm” (Swedish proverb, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 118)
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend to and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh” (Henry David Thoreau, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 134)
“In the end these things matter the most: how well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?” (Buddha, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 135)
“The secret of healthy living for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly” (Buddha, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 155)
“I have just tree things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures” (Lao Tzu, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 159)
“Someone once asked a Zen Master, ‘How do you practise Zen?’ The master said, ‘When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.’ ‘Isn’t that what everyone does anyway?’ The master replied, ‘No, no. Most people entertain a thousand desires when they eat and scheme over a thousand plans when they sleep" (Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 188)
“If there is something to do to fix it then fix it; if there is nothing you can do then don’t worry there is no point” (Shanti deva, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 208)
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are” (Chinese proverb, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 210)
“The thought manifests as the word. The word manifests as the deed. The deed develops into the habit. And the habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care. And let it spring from love” (Buddha, in Dokhampa, G., 2013, p. 235)
7. Bibliography and Further Reading
Dokhampa, Gyalwa (2013) The Restful Mind: A New Way of Thinking, A New Way of Life. London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton
Hamilton, David R. (2010) Why Kindness is Good For You. Hay House
His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa (2012) Everyday Enlightenment. Penguin Books
His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1999) The Art of Happiness. Hodder Paperbacks
Thoreau, Henry David (1995) Walden: or Life in the Woods. Dover Publications Inc.
Thoreau, Henry David, Walking, available in various editions and online