A Personal Daily Practice and Why?
This is an excerpt from my book, In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most.* The book is a discussion between three close friends: myself, the philosopher Alexandre Jollien, and psychiatrist Christophe André.
In this edited excerpt we share our views on the practicalities and importance of a daily personal practice.
Matthieu: Why practice? Because practice is the indispensable complement to study and reflection. Attentive reading and listening make it possible for us to increase our knowledge. We then have to reflect at length and consult people who possess the knowledge we need to examine the validity of the teachings we have read or heard. However, according to Buddhism, we mustn’t stop there because the most important step is the next one: assimilation through practice of all we have learned and studied, which should result in a change in our thoughts, speech, and behavior.
• The first thing I like to recommend when starting a dedicated practice, is to put aside activities that are constructive neither for oneself nor for others. In other words, one has to do a bit of housekeeping in one’s life. Everything, obviously, depends on what goal you set for yourself.
Alexandre: Everything can become a practice, including, and perhaps especially, the things that make us stumble. Here are some guidelines that I’d like to recommend that serve me day by day:
• The first thing in the morning that I do is dedicate the day to others, and especially to the most helpless, and to those who are suffering. We must constantly remember that we are not practicing to pamper our egos but in order in order to become people devoted to loving others and relieving pain.
• The second practice I recommend consists in letting pass — a thousand times a day, letting anxieties, fears, emotions, pass like so many bees buzzing around us.
Christophe: I begin my day with a period of mindfulness, at least ten or fifteen minutes, sitting and trying to focus my mind in being present to the moment, to life as it is second by second. But as my day continues, I make an effort to have more little moments of contemplation to remember that what I am doing is not just for my bread and butter — something mechanical, an obligation — but a choice.
• Another practice, which is an important one for many people in our society, is to remain centered and struggle against becoming scattered. I try to look at my emails, my texts, and make my telephone calls only at certain fixed hours, generally three fixed times a day. The rest of the time, I try not to get involved in the phone or computer, otherwise it’s a considerable waste of energy, and one’s attention gets scattered.
• Another practice that I do quite regularly consists in setting aside some open time, time that is not spoken for by tasks and obligations. Take this time to have open spaces where you can just breathe or perhaps respond to unexpected demands. Or take a walk for an hour in the woods, which I try to do every day.
Matthieu: Lastly, I find it is necessary to realize the value of time. If we constantly put off doing the essential until tomorrow, this kind of hesitation might well accompany us all the way to our end. The right moment to start is now.
In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most
by Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien. A Sounds True Paperback.
*In Search of Wisdom is the English translation of the best-selling book, Trois amis en quête de sagesse
About the Other Authors:
Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and writer who spent 17 years in a home for the physically disabled. His books include In Praise of Weakness. He lives in Switzerland. For more, visit www.alexandre-jollien.ch
Christophe André is a psychiatrist specializing in the psychology of emotions. His books include Imperfect, Free, and Happy and Meditating, Day After Day. He lives in France. For more, visit www.christopheandre.com
* In Search of Wisdom is the English translation of the best-selling book, Trois amis en quête de sagesse