I must admit I thought long and hard before choosing the above title – I have read many similarly titled articles which promise wonderful tips to revolutionise your life, and which in the long run end up making you feeling worse about yourself because you haven’t managed to put into practice! However, from the five years I have spent full-time on the journey of self-discovery with my teacher Sri Chinmoy, I have managed to put into place some practical lessons which have reaped enormous benefits, and I’d like to share some of them here. As you will see, many of them have more to do with attitude and how we look upon events – once the right attitude is there, the rest falls into place.
A good start is half the battle
It is important every day to keep at least some part of the day solely for yourself, where you can do the things that keep you grounded, centered and focused on the important things in life. In many ways, the morning is by far the best time for this. Firstly, you are much less likely to be distracted by work or friends or unforeseen circumstances. Secondly, when you can have that time in the morning, the sense of peace and balance you get lasts through the day and insulates you against the swirls and storms of life.
Having that time every day for yourself does involve a certain degree of discipline, but when you can keep up that discipline, you feel much more in control of your life, and able to tackle other issues which need improving. For me, my ‘self time’ happens as soon as I get up – half an hour/45 minutes of meditation to center the heart and emotions, some inspirational reading for the mind, followed by running to harmonize the body. Sometimes it is a struggle to complete that discipline, but I know from experience that If I don’t begin my day on that foundation, then I will not be in the right state of mind, and the rest of the days challenges will be much harder to face.
Start from where you are
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”
– Carl Jung
The most common reason why people give up and get cynical about the whole idea of self improvement is that they measure their progress against some idea of perfection, rather than trying to improve things one step at a time. Human nature being what it is, the path of improvement is often a two-steps forward, one step back journey. If one day everything goes pear-shaped and you are not able to complete your daily goals, it is very important that you do not beat yourself up over it. If you do that, you only increase your sense of helplessness, and begin doubting your ability to ever take control of your life. The best thing to do is just quietly and firmly resolve to do better tomorrow, and take whatever practical steps you need to take to avoid a repeat of today’s mistakes.
Don’t impose crises upon yourself
There is some part of our emotional being that secretly loves a drama or deadline or a crisis, and often in responding to it will drop everything we are doing, including our self-improvement practices. It is only when we have entered into a spiral of panic and frustration, we realise that we have dropped the very thing that could have brought us through that intense period with our sanity intact! It has taken me many missteps to learn this lesson (and sometimes I still forget 🙂 ) – that no matter how bad the situation is or how badly I am pressed for time, as long as I keep first things first and mantain all my daily practices, things always sort themselves out.
Don’t apologize for doing the right thing.
I really like this passage from one of Sri Chinmoy’s books:
Unfortunately, we are living in an age when self-control is not appreciated; it has become an object of ridicule. A man will be trying hard for self-mastery while his friends, neighbours, relatives, acquaintances and the rest of the world mock at him….who is the fool: he who wants to have control of his life or he who wants to remain a constant victim to fear, doubt and anxieties? Needless to say, he who wants to conquer himself is not only the wisest man, but the greatest divine hero, the divine warrior.
Not everyone is interested in self-improvement, or perhaps they might have succumbed to the kind of cynicism that we mentioned above. You can’t please everybody, and to try conform to other people’s expectations is the surest way to lose your own peace of mind. That does not mean you have to be selfish; quite the opposite. When you embark upon the process of changing your daily life, you recognise that it is only when you are centered and content in your own life that you can truly be of service to others. Your so-called ‘self time’ becomes then not only something for yourself, it becomes part of your service to the wider world.
Photo: Erdenebataar from Mongolia, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries