The Search for Enlightenment

asia Aug 28, 2019

In my 6th month of Remote Year, I sat cross-legged on the floor of a Buddhist university in Chiang Mai, Thailand while a barefoot monk in an orange robe and a shaved head taught me and my friends about Buddhism. 

I learned that Buddhism is not a religion in the way that the word is commonly used.  It is not a system of faith or worship either.  There is no almighty creator, savior, supreme being, or messiah.  My understanding is that Buddhism is a search for truth based on the teachings of Buddha, a prince who left his lavish life and chose to spend many years on a journey of suffering in search of enlightenment. 

In the western world, the concept of enlightenment has become synonymous with heightened self-awareness, self-realization, self-reliance, and self-resolution.  Buddha believed that everyone possesses the power to make themselves good, wise, and happy.  And this is not in order to please any Supreme Deity, but for the sake of being true to the highest in ourselves. 

Once Buddha found his own enlightenment, he dedicated his life to teaching others how to find it for themselves.  He knew he could only point out the path, not walk it for them.

These learnings resonated with me as feelings of empowerment.  My personal interpretation as someone who isn't Buddhist is that while there may be challenges in my life, I am the one in control of my emotions, well-being, and experiences. 

As such, it's important to take time to deeply understand myself, my desired ways of being, and to continuously seek knowledge that allows me to grow and develop.  And being in Thailand has reminded me of what I've only more recently learned: that the acquisition of knowledge is a balance of action and mindfulness - a balance of doing and receiving.   

Knowledge Through Action

One of the principles of knowledge acquisition that I have taught and used for many years in my professional career is the 70/20/10 principle.  This means that 70% of the way we acquire knowledge is through experiences, 20% is through learning from others via coaching and mentoring, and 10% is through formal learning like classes and training. 

So, if we want to develop a new skill, we should think holistically about how to learn that new skill by considering 1) the experience that will allow us to learn by truly practicing the skill in action, 2) someone that may be an expert in that skill that we could learn from or that could provide us with feedback/advice, and 3) a course or training program to support that development. 

Knowledge Through Being

I'm a New Yorker that is used to making things happen through intense action and focused effort.  So when I heard about a place called Ziva Meditation that teaches Type A New Yorkers "meditation for high performance", I was intrigued at how sitting still and not taking action could improve my life. 

What I learned from my 4 day course in their NYC studio early last winter is their 20-minute trifecta method of mindfulness, meditation, and visualization.  It's explained in great detail in the book: Stress Less, Accomplish More: Meditation for Extraordinary Performance by Emily Fletcher. 

I've been using this method daily and I've noticed more clarity in my thoughts, more understanding of knowledge I've accumulated, more creative ideas popping up, and a greater sense of calm and contentment.  Sometimes right after meditating, I find myself opening up my computer to write down a new idea for my book.  It reminds me about the importance of rest, recovery, and reflection. 

When I first got to Thailand, I would be hard on myself for not consistently "working on my book".  But what I realized is that sometimes the best knowledge or ideas don't come from working, but are inspired by just...being and relaxing.  And Thailand certainly offered me many opportunities to do that, from regular massage treatments, to Temple visits, bathing elephants, Thai cooking classes, and snorkeling around the Phi Phi islands.

As the end of my month in Thailand marks the half-way point of my remote year, I'm excited about all the opportunities I still have to keep learning and growing.  And even though this program is only 12 months, I know that I'll never stop traveling, searching for knowledge, and seeking that balance between doing and being. 

What's most important to me is that I continue to feel empowered on the journey toward enlightenment - a destination I may never reach. 

But as Buddha said: "It is better to travel well than to arrive".

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