Welcome back to "Wisdom Wednesdays," where I explore timeless wisdom from around the world and challenge you to apply the insights to your own work and life.
Last week, we delved into the profound insights of Socrates, who said that "the unexamined life is not worth living." I challenged you to reflect on what you learned last year and how you might use it this year to live a life more aligned with your values and interests.
Reflecting on my 2023, I realized that I really value social connection and community and did not dedicate enough time to it in 2023. In 2024, I'll therefore be spending more of my time each week catching up with friends and colleagues, attending small group events and training, coaching, and facilitating workshops and seminars. What change will you make in 2024?
This week, we turn our gaze eastward to the rich philosophical traditions of Asia. Eastern philosophy, with its deep roots in mindfulness, harmony, and the interconnectedness of life, offers a unique perspective that can greatly enrich our understanding and approach to life.
This Week's Bit of Wisdom:
"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." - Buddha
The Author and Context
This simple yet profound quote is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, who lived in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent around the 5th to 4th century BCE.
Buddha, meaning "the awakened one," founded Buddhism, a spiritual tradition focusing on personal spiritual development and the attainment of deep insight into the true nature of life. This quote encapsulates one of the key principles of Buddhist teaching: the importance of mindfulness and living fully in the present moment.
Buddha's teachings have had a major influence not just in Asia but across the world. The emphasis on mindfulness, present moment awareness, and compassion has found resonance in various fields, from psychology to business to healthcare. In times of both turmoil and peace, these principles have provided a guide for individuals seeking inner tranquility and wisdom.
As someone deeply interested in both philosophy and psychology, I've found Buddha's emphasis on the present moment to be incredibly grounding. It reminds us that while we cannot change the past and the future is not yet here, we have the power to shape our experience of the now, leading to greater peace and clarity. Moreover, by focusing fully on what we are doing in the present, the only time we can exert effort, we enhance our ability to take wise actions to influence the future. Present-moment awareness can produce future effectiveness.
Relevance to You
This quote can serve as a gentle reminder for us to focus on the here and now. It encourages us to embrace each moment, find joy in the small things, and reduce the stress and anxiety that often come with ruminating over the past or worrying about the future.
As someone whose mind is constantly thinking ahead, I've experienced great benefits from the Buddha's insight that the only time we have control over is the present. While planning can certainly be useful, worrying is almost never helpful.
How often is your mind in the future? Are you planning or worrying? What about the past? Are you learning from the past or dwelling on it?
This week, I challenge you to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Here are some simple practices you might consider:
Take five minutes each day to focus on your breath.
During routine activities, like eating or walking, fully engage with the experience. Enjoy your food. Connect with the beauty of nature.
When you find your mind drifting to past or future concerns, gently bring it back to the present. Ask yourself, "Is this helpful?" If so, by all means, continue. If not, stop.
By engaging in one or more of these practices, you're not only living like a Buddha but also taking a mini step to become more effective in your work and life.
Last week, readers asked for resources I would recommend to learn more. To deepen your understanding of Buddhist philosophy and its application to modern life, I recommend the following books:
If you'd like to go a bit further with mindfulness, I would recommend starting with a meditation app like Insight Timer, 10% Happier, Waking Up, or HeadSpace
And if you'd really like to go deep, I would recommend doing an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, such as those offered by UMass, Brown University, or Mindful Leader.
Stay tuned for next week's Wisdom Wednesday, where we'll explore another timeless piece of wisdom and its application in our modern lives.