Writer: Erin Lee
As the 12th month draws to a close and as we get ready to embrace a brand new year, let's take some time to think about how well we have lived, and how we can possibly live better.
The following eight questions are inspired by the Noble Eightfold Path framework and serve to gently guide and coach us in our practice of living more simply, healthily, and wisely.
1. RIGHT VIEW
Have I been able to see life as it is?
There is nothing more important in mindful living than reminding ourselves to see life the way it is, rather than the way we want it to be.
Life is never smooth-sailing, and change is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we are able to anticipate or plan for change, and other times change catches us by surprise.
Look back at the past 12 months of your life and note the key changes that have happened for you, whether on the personal or professional front.
Reflect on how you had responded to each of these changes - how much did it affect you, and how long did it take for you to recover? How much acceptance were you able to cultivate, especially when things didn't go exactly the way you hoped or planned for them to be?
When we resist the change that life brings, we struggle and suffer more than we need to. Upon managing the change to the best of your ability, allow yourself to surrender to the reality of the situation, so that you may move on with ease.
2. RIGHT THOUGHT
How have my thought patterns influenced my life?
Leading a mindful life involves being aware of our thoughts, because thoughts, as fleeting as they may be, influence our decision-making and drive the courses of action we take.
Thoughts of inadequacy invite the tendency to hold ourselves back; thoughts of animosity invite the inclination to speak and behave more harshly. Thoughts of kindness invite the willingness to lend a hand and support others; thoughts of gratitude invite more happiness and stronger relationships; thoughts of simplicity invite readiness in letting go of what no longer serves us.
Reflect on the key thought patterns that have dominated your day-to-day life over the past year. How have they played a role in the way your life panned out? Have these thoughts been helpful or unhelpful to you? Remind yourself of the cause and effect of your thought patterns, and challenge the thoughts that have not been so constructive for your growth.
3. RIGHT SPEECH
How have I been engaging with the people I care about?
Relationships are an essential dimension of our urban existence. We thrive when our most important relationships are healthy and meaningful, and we feel connected with the people we surround ourselves with.
Reflect on the way you have been engaging with the people you care about, be it family, friends, colleagues, or even strangers. Have you had enough quality time with them despite your busy schedule? Have you been awarding them the attention they deserve?
In particular, reflect on how you have been communicating. Have you been authentic in expressing yourself, and do your words align with what you're thinking and feeling? Have you also been kind in the way you speak and respond? When we get caught in the throes of life, or when we become too absorbed in day-to-day busyness, the stress we experience may cause us to feel more reactive and thus neglect considering the words we use and the way we talk. This kind of mindlessness may have inadvertently brought hurt to someone important to us, and can be a great disservice to the relationships we are meant to nurture.
Moving forward, look at how you might practice being more mindful of your speech, and inviting more gentleness and kindness to the way you interact with others.
4. RIGHT ACTION
Have I been considerate in my actions?
It is impossible to live a mindful life without examining the effects of our actions and practicing careful consideration of what we do. We do not exist or function independently in this world, and so we can be certain that every single behaviour impacts ourselves, others, and our environment in some way.
You might reflect on whether your past actions have brought help or harm. Even seemingly insignificant behaviours such as making the bed in the morning, clearing the tray after eating at the restaurant, giving way to traffic, or choosing not to waste a plastic bag, matter. How will you practice bringing more mindfulness to your actions in everyday life?
5. RIGHT LIVELIHOOD
How has my work made a difference to the world?
For many of us, professional work is a substantial part of our life and even establishes who we are and our place in this world. Knowing that we are doing good, meaningful work can motivate us in doing our best and going the extra mile in making the world a better, more liveable place.
In general, do you feel good about the work you do, or does it make you feel uneasy? Does the industry you work in help and support other people? Does it directly or indirectly bring harm to the lives of others, and cause damage to the environment? Does it encourage people to lead better lives?
Some of us may not be fortunate enough to have full autonomy of how our work impacts the world. We may be bound by external conditions and practical considerations that prevent us from making change. Reflect on how you could take more ownership of what is within your sphere of control, and make an effort to shift towards a livelihood that gives you greater ease and peace of mind.
6. Right Effort
What have I given most of my attention to?
Since we have limited capacity of attention for our use every day, it is worth reflecting on what we have been channeling our energy towards.
Have you been spending more time than you need to on mindless, unproductive activities? Perhaps a review of your relationship with digital devices may help. Have you expended more attention than you should on meaningless pursuits and unhealthy obsessions? Have you been getting stuck in ruminative or catastrophizing states of mind, so much so that your wellbeing is affected?
Mindful living includes developing the skills we need to continue (and even grow) what is good and helpful for us, and curtail (and even eradicate) the resources we spend on what is unhelpful and destructive for us.
7. Right Mindfulness
Have I been mostly aware of myself and my environment?
A mindful life is an intentional way of living and being, where we pay attention to each moment of our experience, and stay in the know of what is happening from moment to moment.
When we are not being mindful, we tend to live on autopilot and allow emotional reactivity and habitual patterns to drive our decisions and behaviours; the mind forgets to remain aware and easily loses its balance.
Reflect on how often you've allowed your life to run on autopilot. How often do you lose yourself to dwelling in the past and worrying or fantasizing about the future? How aware are you of your body, and do you tend to ignore what the body is trying to tell you? How aware are you of your mind, and how quickly are you able to bring your attention to the present? How aware are you of the way your external environment impacts your internal state?
Consider how you might practice mindfulness a little more seamlessly in the new year, by working in moments of practice in your daily routines, and setting aside some time every day for mindfulness meditation.
8. Right Concentration
Have I practiced enough stillness?
Given how hectic modern life can be, the mind has been conditioned to become more scattered and restless than ever. An unsettled mind results in an unsettled life, where we find ourselves in need of constant stimulation and distraction. We become uncomfortable with resting and "nothing happening", and feel the need to fill every moment with something to do or think about. It is no wonder that burnout is an increasingly common phenomena in urban cities.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the busier we are, the more we should try and slow down and learn to rest in stillness. The less time we perceive ourselves to have, the more time we should allocate for our practice.
Learning to be still allows the chaos of the mind to settle, so that we can see ourselves more clearly and gain powerful insights into how we would like to live our life.
Having reflected on these eight questions, you will soon realize that this is not merely an intellectual exercise. Each question encourages us to come back to the practice of living more wisely. It is not enough to simply think about change, we have to actually work on making that change, and be disciplined about it! This is where niàn plays an important role in our practice. We keep reminding ourselves to live better, until this effort becomes effortless.
May you have a mindful year ahead.