Archive for Peace

Don’t be competitive!

Although competitiveness is often glorified, it is actually very harmful both to our spiritual development and also to our relationships. There are two fundamental problems with competitiveness: The first is that we give too much prominence to our ego, considering ourselves to be more important than others. The second is that we become overly attached to what are often very trivial matters. Both of these contradict the premises of spirituality and will cause conflict in our daily lives.

Competitiveness comes in many forms. The classic one is to be obsessed with winning. Competitive people want to win in even the most trivial of matters, such as a game of tiddlywinks. Of course, there is nothing wrong with competing for fun, but only provided that we are not genuinely concerned with the result. If we find ourselves experiencing a sense of deflation when we lose, then we have a problem. In the first place there is the sheer absurdity of the situation. We are letting our self-worth be defined by our ability to play tiddlywinks. Second, we are failing to respect our opponent’s desire to also win the game. We are somehow considering ourselves to be more important, and thus considering our own success to be more desirable.

We must counter these notions by recognizing the equality between all beings. We must recognize that this concept of ego, the concept of “I”, is nothing more than a mental fabrication, and should not be put up on a pedestal. We must learn to rejoice in the accomplishments of others, and understand that we can all succeed and be happy when we work together. This concept may initially be easiest to see with our friends (with whom, ironically, we often compete the most), and can then be extended to all beings.

We can also counter competitiveness by keeping the bigger picture in mind and not becoming attached to one tiny area of our life. Our self-worth is not defined by our ability to play tiddlywinks, or tennis, or even by our ability to ace exams. We must put these qualities alongside qualities such as kindness to others, and see that they are not so important. Then we may be less obsessed with whatever we are competing about.

Remember, competitiveness is not restricted to playing a game. It also manifests as a desire to be right in an argument, which can once again be over something trivial such as the definition of a word. It may arise as jealousy – perhaps that our friend is more popular than we are. It also arises as the desire to be the acknowledged expert on a subject: For example, we wish to be the one to demonstrate the correct golf swing – we do not want our equally accomplished friend to demonstrate it.

Thus, we must be on the lookout for competitiveness in all areas of our life. We must constantly be on guard for jealousy and attachment. When we find that our pride is hurt, or that our relationships are burdened with conflict, competitiveness is probably present. In such situations, we must counter it in the way described.

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The art of doing nothing

Most of us are addicted to activity. At every instant of the day we are doing something. We get home from work and start making dinner. As we eat our dinner we turn on the TV. When the TV goes off we pick up the phone, and so on and so forth. We want to fill every moment with some kind of activity, and as soon as one ends we immediately look for another.

Even in times when the physical activity dies down, the mental activity continues. We enter a waiting room, there are no magazines in sight, and thus we are forced to sit still. But instead of relaxing and enjoying the experience, we begin thinking. Our minds begin planning the rest of the day, contemplating who we will talk to and what activities we will engage in. Or perhaps we relive an argument from earlier this morning, thinking how we could have played it better and so on. Therefore, while appearing to be doing nothing, the activity inside us is as great as ever.

For many of us, the only time when activity subsides comes in the form of drowsiness – “zoning out” on a bus or in front of the TV, or drifting off during a long meeting. This has a very different quality from, say, the stillness we experience when watching a beautiful sunset, or observing a magnificent view from a mountain top. That kind of alert peaceful stillness is also accessible in everyday life, but few of us let the inner activity subside long enough to notice it.

An extremely useful exercise is to practise just pausing for a moment between each activity. For just one instant, let the mind be at rest. This moment of peace can be so rewarding that we may yearn to extend it. Next time we are lucky enough to have a longer period on our hands – perhaps waiting in a doctor’s office – we may joyfully take the opportunity to be still for longer.

When each activity is sandwiched between a moment of stillness like this, we begin to live consciously. We calm down, realizing that we do not always have to be in such a rush. Our days acquire more clarity and we start to relax and enjoy life. We are learning the art of doing nothing.

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