Buddha, pursuing enlightenment, also sought to understand how to free us from ignorance and suffering. Like other great wise men of the past, he proposed a practical philosophy that encourages us to focus on the simplest things, as a way to achieve higher goals. Taoism summed it up perfectly in one sentence: a thousand miles journey begins with a single step. However, in everyday life we find it difficult to apply these teachings.
The parable of the poisoned arrow
In Majjhima Nikaya, a collection of texts attributed to Buddha that are part of the Pali Canon, we can find the “Parable of the Poisoned Arrow”. Gautama Buddha told this story to a disciple who was eager to hear from the teacher the answers to the “14 unanswered questions” related to metaphysical issues such as life after death.
“There was once a man who was hurt by a poisoned arrow.
The family and friends wanted to get him a doctor but the patient refused, saying that he first wanted to know the name of the man who had wounded him, the caste to which he belonged and his country of origin.
He also wanted to know if the man was tall and strong if he had a light or dark skin and he wished to know what kind of bow wounded him, whether the rope was made of bamboo, hemp or silk.
He said he wanted to know if the feather of the arrow belonged to a hawk, vulture or peacock…
And he wondered if the bow that had been used to strike him was a common bow, curved or made with oleander and any other kind of information, the man died without knowing the answers”.
By reading the parable the first idea that comes to mind is that the wounded man’s attitude is absurd and senseless. However, Buddha is telling us that we all behave in the same way without realizing it.
In a sense, we are all hurt with this poisoned arrow because sooner or later we will die. But we live without being fully aware of our mortality, so we often over-emphasize insignificant things that prevent us from enjoying the present and sink us into a state of unnecessary concern.
Great lifelong lessons
– Focus on what’s really happening to you
On many occasions, to solve a problem, it’s important not to get lost in divagations, we have to act. Usually these fears and uncertainties are hidden behind these reflections. When we face a problem and lose sight of the details, though we know what the definitive solution is, is because we are afraid of something. But remember that long-term warm solutions only serve to generate more problems and create a state of inner dissatisfaction.
In other cases, we activate defense mechanisms such as projection or transfer, by which we move the problem out of us, or we try to hide it. Usually this happens because we do not want to accept that we are part of the problem, and therefore to solve the problem we must first work on ourselves. In any case, the proper strategy is to not distract the attention, it is important to understand what is really happening to us and learn to prioritize the here and now.
– Take a step at a time
The mind can become our best ally or our worst enemy. We can use it to solve problems positively or we can use it negatively to find a problem for each solution. To live with less anguish and stress the key is to go one step at a time. This does not mean we can not anticipate the problems, but we must make sure that we do not feed a catastrophic way of thinking.
Focus on the present, carefully evaluate the situation you are in and move on step by step, that step will not take you directly to your destination, but at least it will move you from where you are. Live day by day, as if every day was the first and the last of your life.
– Let it all flow and that nothing influence you
Sometimes we remain prisoners of troubles, even though these have already been resolved or are part of the past, because they remain in our minds, causing frustration, rage, and resentment. When we cling to what has happened, when we do not let those emotions and feelings go away, they transform us into their slaves.
In this regard, a study at Harvard University found that we spend 47% of waking hours thinking about what happened to us or what could happen to us. This “wandering mind” leads us to overly worry and to be unhappy. The best antidote is to focus on the present and express gratitude for what we have and are. So we will succeed in subtracting negative impact from experiences and we will achieve the balance.
– Eliminate everything that is useless
Leonardo da Vinci said that “simplicity is the utmost refinement” and was not wrong. Throughout our lives, we take on many things that only serve to create chaos and take energy away. When you realize that you can live without these and be happier, you will be able to appreciate more of what you have and you will get rid of a great deal of weight.
Eliminating anything that does not serve also refers to feelings, beliefs, stereotypes and dreams that do not belong to you and are just obstacles. When you look inside you, you’re amazed to find that many of the phrases in your inner dialogue are not really yours, but you have been inculcated. Make mental cleansing and get rid of emotions that hurt you, like resentment for a past event, anxiety about something that will probably never happen and the fear of losing what you have. If we move on with a lighter luggage we will not only get further, but we will also enjoy more the journey.
Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilbert, D. T. (2010) A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science; 330(6006): 932.