Archive for Wisdom

Spirituality for smart people

The title of this article is paraphrased from Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People.This recently published book is in close alignment with the values of this site, and indeed the final chapter is devoted to spirituality. Throughout the book, Steve challenges us to be honest with ourselves and to face the realities of how we live and where our path is taking us. For those of us truly committed to growth, this book is highly recommended.

Steve strikes to the heart of spiritual inquiry when he declares that “a sound spiritual philosophy must be rooted in truth”, and that we must “strive to perceive reality as accurately as possible”. People so often choose their beliefs based on what is convenient and appealing, or by following their family and society at large. Yet beliefs can only be based on one guiding principle, and that is the principle of truth. Therefore, we must have the courage to strike out on our own and discover what we truly align with. We must recognize, as Steve says, that “there’s only one true authority in your life, and it’s you”. These principles – truth, courage, and authority – are just three of the seven principles described in the book, and together they empower us to tackle every area of our lives.

Steve also discusses the importance of exploring different belief systems and considering unfamiliar perspectives. When our goal is open-minded spiritual inquiry, it is clearly foolish to limit our perspectives to the few belief systems with which we are familiar. In the past, religions have sometimes warned against exploring other faiths. Such an approach is based on insecurity: we are afraid that by considering other beliefs, we will realize that our own beliefs are wrong. However, remembering that our primary goal is the pursuit of truth, this possibility should excite us rather than scare us.

Perhaps this fear of discovering our own beliefs are wrong results from a discordance from the principle of power. Our beliefs do not define us, and “one of the most empowering choices you can make is to decouple your spiritual beliefs from your identity”. As Steve points out, this does not only limit our ability to grow, but it also makes it harder for us to connect with people who hold different beliefs. Rather than holding to ideas such as “I am a Christian”, or an agnostic, or whatever, we must examine reality from multiple viewpoints, making it easier to see the big picture.

These lessons are not restricted to spirituality. They are representative of Steve’s approach to all personal growth. Be it our spirituality, our finances, our relationships, or our health, we are foolish to limit our thought to fixed preconceptions, and we must have the courage to be honest with ourselves and to seek out the truth. Steve challenges us to explore different viewpoints and to rethink every area of our life. More importantly, he teaches us how to do this rethinking.

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The fastest way to achieve our goals

There is much talk of productivity and efficiency – developing techniques to achieve the most possible in the shortest amount of time. Amid all this desire to move quickly, we often lose sight of what we are really trying to achieve. It would be foolish to walk all the way to San Fransisco only to remember that we were supposed to go to New York…yet people constantly expend huge amounts of energy achieving goals that are simply not important. This is particularly true when we attempt to increase our happiness by improving our circumstances instead of changing our activities (see Increasing happiness: activities and circumstances). The following story illustrates this nicely.

There was a small village in the middle of India that was said to suffer from a strange disease called laziness. An American heard of this rare disease and set off to find this village and cure them of their ailment. After several days of travel, he entered the village, and soon came across a middle-aged man lying in a hammock. The man was sipping a drink with a contented smile on his face. Delighted to find a specimen of laziness so quickly, the American waved his hand in front of the man’s face and asked him what we was doing.

“I am lying in a hammock,” replied the man.

“Yes, but what do you do for a living?” asked the American.

“I fish,” came the reply.

“Have you caught any fish today?”

“Yes, I caught two big ones this morning.”

“Then why don’t you go and fish more?” inquired the American.

“What for?” asked the man.

“Well, because then you could sell your surplus fish at the market and buy a fishing boat, which would enable you to catch even more fish.”

“What for?” asked the man again.

“Well, with the profits from that, you would be able to afford a trawler, and then you could catch so many fish that you would be able to sell to the neighbouring villages as well.”

“What for?” repeated the man.

“Well, with the profits from that, you could build a bigger house, a gazebo and a swimming pool, and you could buy an expensive car to travel whenever and wherever you please.”

“What for?” repeated the man.

“Well, to be happy, of course!” snapped the American, losing his patience.

“I am happy already,” the man responded. “Why go to all that effort for something I have in abundance?”

We spend so much of our lives busily trying to achieve this goal or that. Usually, the goal we aim for is merely a stepping stone to another goal, which is in turn a stepping stone to something else again. If we were to stop and think about our final goal, we would often realize that there is a much more direct way to achieve it. The speed at which we move does not guarantee that we will progress the fastest. The direction is of the most importance.

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