Many of us move through life in search of meaning, happiness, love, peace, and other things we consider most important in this lifetime. Some acquire wealth and academic degrees along the way while some others, not yet as ‘fortunate,’ strive for what the latter has acquired. However, very few have found that which they seek. This, perhaps, is because it does not stem from the material things we possess. And so, the quest continues.
In a TEDxVitosha talk, I watched on YouTube, Master Shi Heng Yi, a Shaolin monk, identified self-mastery as the way to whatever we seek. He began with a story that I find quite interesting and enlightening:
“A man lived close to a mountain. All his life he wondered what it’d be like to climb it and what was at the top. Finally, he went on the journey. At the foot of the mountain, he saw his first traveler. He asked the traveler what it was like climbing the mountain and what was at the top. The traveler told him. But he thought the way the traveler followed would be too exhaustive and that he would find another way.
Not long after that, he found a second traveler and asked him the same question and after getting a reply, he made the same decision as before.
He went on to ask many more travelers. In the end, he decided he had enough information. He now knew what it takes to climb the mountain and also what was at the top. There was, thus, no need to climb it anymore. Sadly, he never climbed it.”
The lesson is simple: our goals are like that mountain. Each individual must find the most suitable way to climb that mountain. No one can really tell you what is up there, the clarity of the experience can only be achieved if you see it for yourself. And so, climb you must.
Master Heng mentioned 5 hindrances that cause many to never reach their ultimate destination. These hindrances are, in fact, states of mind, and they are outlined throughout the rest of this article
It is a state of mind that results from chasing pleasure and immediate gratification. Our world is filled with so many distractions, from ardently watching movies and sports to going on shopping sprees and lots more. Things, which aren’t bad in themselves. However, the danger lies in giving in, all the time, to these desires that make us feel good at the moment. If you let them go unchecked, if you don’t achieve self-mastery, your goals will continue to be unreachable.
This state of mind has to do with actively trying to avoid the things that you have an aversion to or dislike. It could be internal, such as negative thoughts and mood swings, or it could be external such as climatic conditions or diseases. Rest assured, you’ll encounter many of those in your journey to self-mastery and to move forward, you must learn to let go of such dislikes.
DULLNESS OF THE MIND/HEAVINESS OF THE BODY
In this state of mind, you experience laziness, loss of energy, lack of motivation, and even depression. This is bound to happen at some point in your journey. Buddhists liken it to imprisonment. You find yourself locked in a cell and It becomes very hard to make any kind of mental or physical effort. Take a break, have some relaxation, and focus on things you have control over rather than on those you don’t. Whatever you do, find a way to get over it. Indeed, self-mastery requires effort, but what doesn’t?
It is the state of an unsettled mind. It occurs when you constantly worry about the future or roam in the past. Master Shi Heng compares this to the monkey mind. Constantly jumping from one tree to another, unable to stay for a long time in the present. And when this happens, it becomes difficult to see clearly. You must let go of negative thoughts from the past and anxiety about the future, else you may never achieve your goal.
It is closely related to an indecisive state of mind. Here, you are caught in a loop. Constantly fixating on things over which you have no control. Forever doubting your capabilities and your chances of succeeding. When this happens, the mind can no longer synchronize with your actions anymore and the result is that you get disconnected from your goals. Your journey to self-mastery meets an untimely death.
LET IT RAIN
You’re probably wondering how you can surmount these hindrances. Trust me, you’ll find Master Heng’s solution simple but intriguing as I did. “Make it RAIN,” he said.
R- Recognize the particular state of mind you’re in. Do you spend most of your time doing the irrelevant things that make you feel good? Is something you hate impeding your goal? Do you find yourself lacking the mental discipline to carry on? Do you often find yourself overthinking things? Or Do you doubt your ability to achieve what you desire? Examine yourself. After all, a problem identified is half-solved.
A- Accept the situation as is. Is it a situation, person, or maybe it’s yourself you don’t like? Whatever it is that is hindering you from climbing that mountain, acknowledge and accept them. Because in the end, no amount of anxiety or worry can change them.
I- Investigate. In your journey to self-mastery, you must detach yourself and look at things as if from higher ground. Find out why a certain thought has popped up, why your mood has turned sour, and why a situation has emerged. When you shed light on the WHYs, you equip yourself to not only combat them but also to prevent them from re-occurring.
N- Non-identify. As Master Heng mentioned this final solution, one thing came to my mind: thoughts are powerful and they are malleable. One of the ways to train your brain and mold your thoughts is by practicing positive self-talk. When you are faced with unpleasant situations or your thoughts spiral out of control, Master Heng advises that you tell yourself: “I am not my mind, I am not my emotion, I am not this situation.” Distance yourself from the negativity. Don’t identify with it because, in the end, you’re more than all that and then some.
Regardless of what your goals are, you cannot truly succeed if you don’t achieve self-mastery. Your life will never be meaningful. On the other hand, achieve self-mastery and see everything come together; meaning, happiness, love, peace, and whatever else you desire will be within easy reach. The question really is, will you make the effort to climb the mountain? It is certainly worth every effort.