The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness

28May/120

Welcome your Demons

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(Don't) let the hate flow through you

As Buddha sat meditating under the Bodhi tree for his final push toward Enlightenment, the demon Mara launched a fierce attempt to prevent him from arriving.

The demon assailed him with visions of beautiful women but each time Buddha simply responded, “I see you, Mara,” and remained focused on his purpose.  Finally, Mara retreated in defeat.

Mara represents all of those behaviours that keep us from realizing our excellence.  In this story he’s a symbol for destructive emotions like craving, greed, anger, and boredom.

We can respond to Mara in three ways.  The first is to give in: act with hatred or become attached to material possessions.  Try it and you will find that this strategy leads only to unhappiness.

The second is to fight Mara, which is what I’ve been doing for years, unsuccessfully.  I’ve tried to repress my anger, pull myself out of sadness by my bootstraps, or even ignore these emotions when they come. I wanted to take the shortcut to higher consciousness. But the battle cannot be won this way.

Mara must be faced with acceptance.  Welcome Mara and you take away his power.

I first heard the Mara story in Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance, a great read for those who seek greater peace.  Even after the Buddha reached Enlightenment, she writes, the demon continued to test him.

“Instead of driving him away, however, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge the demon’s presence saying, “I see you, Mara.”  He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest… Mara would stay for awhile and then go, but throughout, the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.”

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Just ignore those watery tarts

We cannot avoid negative emotions, but when we let go of our resistance to them and accept them as a part of life, we can be free of them.  This may seem counterintuitive, but it works.  At times I move through my acting angry, fearful, or sad without being aware of it.  But when I do finally key in—when I acknowledge Mara, those emotions start to lose their power over me.

I will leave you with a mantra that helps when I struggle with negative emotions:

“I welcome the opportunity (even if painful) that my minute to minute experience offers me to become aware of the addictions I must reprogram to be liberated from my robot-like emotional patterns.” - The Twelve Pathways to Higher Consciousness by Ken Keyes Jr.

I hope it also brings you peace.

3May/120

The Pursuit of Excellence

SoldierLifelong learning. Physical and mental fitness. Honesty, integrity, and compassion.

If these ideas get your motor running, chances are you're familiar with the pursuit of excellence.

The pursuit is a challenging one. Excellence asks that you sacrifice--by waking up earlier, studying longer, and training harder. It asks that you plumb the depths of your soul to battle your most vicious demons. And it asks you to hold yourself to a higher moral code than those around you, even when it may cost your life.

But the reward is nothing less than becoming your best self.

To the ancient Greeks, there was no higher aim. They called this special type of excellence areté. The concept is beautifully captured in one of my favourite novels, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

"The hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté."

Areté is seen in men and women of great accomplishment, like Aristotle and Leonardo Da Vinci. But you don't need to be a Renaissance Man to know areté.

"A man can do all things if he will."
- Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

All you need is to cultivate a sense of duty. Not to others, but to yourself. You must believe with burning passion in the value of excellence and work relentlessly to become the man or woman you know you can be.

Vitruvian rockerIf the pursuit requires such hard work, why bother? Isn't it better to relax and enjoy life? Watch some TV? Take the day off?

Maybe. That's a choice we're all free to make for ourselves. But in the pursuit of excellence you will find much greater rewards, like happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

And there is something greater than personal fulfillment at stake. The world suffers from an excellence deficit. Greed and incompetence has led the global economy into turmoil. Ignorance and fear still divide our human family. Building a better society requires that a critical mass of men and women decide to become their best selves. It's worth fighting for.

"The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there."
- Robert Persig

The altruistic argument will not appeal to everyone, and that's ok. We're all walking various paths at times in our lives, and no matter where they lead, we learn something valuable along the way. If you are ready, please join me; the world needs you.

But no matter where you are don't forget to enjoy this beautiful life however you can.