5 Bits of Ancient Eastern Wisdom to Make Your Modern Western Life Happier

img_12811.) The Dispassionate Witness:  A person’s default setting is to repress emotions and pretend they don’t exist. On the one hand, this seems to work because others rarely notice one’s clenched jaw or downing of Prozac, and it’s true that fist-fights rarely break out in workplaces and classrooms. On the other hand, this approach leads to a lot of passive-aggressive behavior and stress-related illness. I just read in some material on Flow and business that 2/3rds of performance issues in businesses result from strained relationships.

The alternative is to take time to observe one’s emotional state, but to watch it without dumping fuel onto the fire. This process puts one’s feelings in perspective so that one can respond in a careful, but not repressed, manner. It doesn’t mean one won’t still be mad, sad, or scared, but one will be in a position to act in a manner that is neither petty and knee-jerk, nor one that consists of gobbling antacids. This brings us to #2.


2.) The Second Dart: [Siddhartha Gotama] Buddha talked about the mind’s response to an event as the second dart, suggesting that the second dart produces much more prolonged misery than the first. Imagine one is walking along and gets hit by a dart. Ow!  It hurts. But what makes it agonizing is when one’s mind becomes obsessed with the injury. It’s unfair that someone threw a dart at me. What if the wound doesn’t heal right? What if the wound heals up too well, and I don’t have a cool scar at story time?

This point is closely related to #1. One has to observe, but not let mind run wild. The first dart is real. The second dart is immaterial, a figment of the mind.


3.) Relaxation is Part of the Process: Anyone who’s attended a yoga class is familiar with closing in savasana (corpse pose.)  Occasionally, a student wants to get up and walk out at this point. They “aren’t paying __ $’s to lay around on their a##.” For Americans, rest is something begrudgingly accepted between actually doing stuff.

The problem with the “rest as laziness” approach isn’t just that one is likely to suffer a relaxation deficit, but also that the rest one gets isn’t effective. But how can rest be effective? I’m glad you asked. Because when you’re doing savasana or yoga nidra (yogic sleep) you’re not just letting your monkey mind run wild as it does when one is watching television or stuck in afternoon rush hour.


4.) Breath is Anything but Mundane: Since breathing is constantly going on and one can choose not to think about it, people dismiss it as unworthy of consideration. However, breath is the one point at which we can consciously influence our autonomic nervous system. [Well, there’s also blinking, but to my knowledge there’s no evidence that one can adjust one’s energy level or emotional state through blinking–but you can with breath.]  Breath is the key to improved physical performance, but it’s also a powerful tool to train the mind.


5.) Use the Belly: I haven’t studied a large number of martial arts, but I’ve trained in a diverse few that were extremely different in both approach and priorities. It could be said that these arts (budō, tai chi chuan, muaythai, and kalaripayattu) had nothing in common. Except they did. They all valued strength in a point below the navel. Sometimes it was called dan tien; other times tanden. However, regardless of the pronunciation, name, or the precise anatomical location, there was this commonality.

Strength in the belly is tied to both breath and mental concentration.


1 thought on “5 Bits of Ancient Eastern Wisdom to Make Your Modern Western Life Happier

  1. Excellent set of suggestions. All of them spring from #1 really. If you observe what is going in in the body, really observe it rather than observing one’s reaction to it, all else flows. But you know this – you’ve done the Vipassana course 🙂 Whatever you think of Goenka’s interpretation, it turns out that the Buddha was a smart guy.


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