Food for thought: The art of what is possible

We’re in the era of overachievement. Increased productivity. Hyper-competitiveness. Everything must be done better, faster, more often, more efficiently. You should be able to have a job (or two), take care of your family, go to Crossfit 7x week, work on your PhD and get away with sleeping 4 hours per night. No excuses. If we look at the results (ie, does this behaviour confers any sort of evolutionary advantage, makes us better people, leads us to permanent happiness, …?), the answer is likely to be “no”. So why do we do it? The victim-type/conspiracy-theorist would say society/the system/god/family/peer pressure is to blame. Those of us who prefer to believe in self-responsibility can go a bit deeper and find that ego is the culprit. Both pride and attachment -disturbing emotions that arise from illusion that “I” am separate from “you”- can make us behave in crazy ways. And in the process we forget to care about what really matters, like mental and physical health. In my opinion the real reason is that it’s easier to pay attention to fill your day with uni assignments and office stress than to sit down to meditate and spend quality time with your spouse. This also gives you a wonderful excuse to suck at everything you do and/or to avoid working hard enough to stop sucking at everything you do.

My Buddhist teacher has the perfect antidote for this. Whenever someone asks him “dear lama: I have two jobs, three kids and I’m working on my masters in aerospace engineering… how can I get through my personal practice?”, he knows that you’re really saying “I’m trying to fill up my time so that I have a pretty good excuse to not meditate” and he gives you the “art of what is possible” alternative. Meaning: do as much as you can, but do it. Meditate for 5 minutes if that’s all the time you have.

Mark Sisson has a similar approach when he says “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. How many times have you excused your lousy eating habits by thinking “I can’t afford grass-fed, sustainably-raised beef and organic local vegetables, therefore I’ll just eat ”? Or “I found the perfect gym but I can’t make it to any of their classes, so I’ll just continue to be a sedentary deskjockey for the rest of my life”? Aren’t we just coming up with excuses to escape from our “no excuses” lifestyle?

Although we like to think in black and white, pretty much everything in life falls in a spectrum. Meaning: no need to shoot for the stars, doing a bit better than yesterday is good enough. In a week/month/year you’ll be way ahead than if you just sit down and do nothing.

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