Author of Poetry and Prose
A Guide to Better Living
By Augustine Tagaste
Look around and you will see countless examples of lost people living a mechanical existence. Our modern globalized life has infused each of us with deep-rooted fears and insecurities that like a cancer eat away at our ability to find truth, happiness and peace. Don’t be afraid to explore, and don’t fear failure. Fear is the enemy of Better Living.
I was once one of those people, but years of experience and difficult life lessons pushed me to seek and find a better way of life through mindfulness and compassion. We all tend to fear change or being different, and society foments this fear. Nonetheless, we must each endeavor to improve ourselves and our society.
We are constantly bombarded with unrealistic expectations and then we are increasingly frustrated when we cannot meet them. Our obsessions with financial gain and physical satisfaction force us to live in a constant state of debt and insecurity. It never occurs to us that not everyone is going to be a millionaire and maybe you don’t need everything you see on television, or maybe it’s okay not to have a perfect body and not to have the libido of a porn star.
Therefore, my goal in this guide to Better Living is to help awaken the state of mind necessary for every individual to find truth, obtain happiness and feel inner peace on their own terms. You don’t need to forsake the modern age or surrender your gadgets and bank account. It’s simply a matter of adjusting how you think and learning how to feel.
Your journey to Better Living won’t cost you anything and the rewards are endless. A few simple steps will bring you to mindfulness and compassion, which are the core elements of the best life.
These steps are:
Mindfulness is defined as the intentional focus of one’s attention to emotions, thoughts and sensations. Compassion is both an emotional and a rational response to what affects others. Therefore, on the path to Better Living we have a principal inward perspective and a principal outward perspective. This corresponds with our nature as we are both individual and social creatures.
As we nurture and refine our inner psycho-spiritual state of being we must also nurture and refine our relationship to the people and greater world around us. There is a fine balance between finding and protecting our true selves and being an active part of our society. In most cases people are tempted towards one of two extremes: living in isolation or surrendering entirely to the society. Avoid these extremes at all costs.
We each seek truth in one form or another and this guide is intended to help you find your personal truth. I will not tell you what your truth should be; instead I will show you the simplest and most direct way to get there.
We are each born into a cube, and our goal is to break out of our cube to live a complete and happy life. From the first second after birth we are instantly separated into categories and at odds with our fellow human beings. We are boxed in by race, religion, nationality, gender and social status.
These constructs are the starting point for the frustrations and limitations that make life difficult for us on many levels. The harm we do on a daily basis to ourselves and others begins with the confining walls of our personal cube. To be happy and whole with ourselves and others we need to first break out of this cube.
Personal responsibility plays a key role in this first step to Better Living. We need to come to terms with ourselves and make the conscious decision to move past our initial programing and seek our way to happiness and wholeness. No one can do it for you and it must happen naturally.
We are our own cause and we are our own effect. We are the sum of every decision we have made and every consequence of those decisions. Therefore, we must appreciate both the good and the bad in our lives as they are the building blocks of who we are.
From a neutral perspective, our lives are complete and made whole by every negative twist and positive turn. Each individual’s path leads them to exactly where they need to be and along the way their truth is revealed.
There are moments when regret causes us to wish we would have done something differently because hindsight always seems to know better. But it’s never too late to change the course of our life and start down the path to better living. The honest reality is that we would not be the people we are if the past were different.
So don’t waste your time trying to erase the past or compensate for it. The other side of that coin is to also forget developing a perfect future because we cannot be certain of what will be. Too much focus on what has not happened yet will only add to your frustration. Live your life earnestly and be who you are today.
For example, I wouldn’t be able to recognize myself if even one little piece of the puzzle of my life were changed. For better or for worse I would miss the person I have become. Knowing ourselves, accepting who we are and being comfortable with that is fundamental.
Regret can be healthy as long as it keeps us conscious and helps us understand ourselves, but don’t dwell on it. Learn from the past but focus on living a good present in order to obtain a future of infinite possibilities.
All of us need to refocus our thoughts and energy towards finding a better way to live and our own truth. This requires a serious personal effort to develop our own mindfulness and our ability to show compassion for others.
Unfortunately, as modern people we have come to accept many social illusions that run contrary to our basic ideals and common sense. We have turned the modern dream of good living into the modern myth of the good life. Fueled by the economic and political needs of the ruling elite we have become mass produced drones blindly banging our heads against the wall of conformity.
The commercial media machine has played a leading role in this catastrophe by eagerly perpetuating our new mythology. One perspective on this issue is simple and comical but hits at the heart of the matter:
“Mass media is rich people paying other rich people to convince middle class people to fear poor people.”
That is how you indoctrinate and control an entire society; by using fear, status and money. All of which are unnecessary for Better Living.
Fear is a waste of time, status won’t make you a better person, and money is only necessary for basic needs. I guarantee that a fearless nobody with only enough money to stay alive can reach Better Living. And that person will probably have a better shot at it than a wealthy celebrity.
To gain or lose status or money has become our greatest fear and the driving thought behind our lives. If we don’t have a certain car or a certain house, or a certain job or a certain pair of jeans; then we feel like incomplete failures. For example, one acquaintance of mine complained to me that he hated his life because he hated his car. After inspecting the vehicle I became confused because it was a good car in perfect condition.
I then asked the obvious question and his answer shocked me. He started hating his car because his brother bought a new luxury car that made his car look bad. Since he was unable to afford a similar car he decided to hate his life.
There was no hint of wishing his brother well; and no appreciation for the fact that he himself could afford a car at all. Instead, jealousy and an unbridled desire for instant gratification proved to be the limits of his thinking and emotional capacity. Unfortunately, he is not in the minority.
Something is painfully wrong with a society when this type of thinking and behavior is an accepted norm. Money and status in isolation are meaningless and worthless. It’s how we use them to help others and benefit society as a whole that make them valuable.
Why do we as a society insist on perpetuating such illusions and falsehoods? Are our lives, our souls, so empty that we can be satisfied with simple avarice and greed? We each need to explore ourselves and discover who we truly are and who we want to be as human beings. We have to go beyond what is fashionable and what will make us rich, or appear to be rich.
The philosopher Epictetus teaches that it’s through clear thinking that we are able to properly direct our will, stick with our true purpose, and discover the connections we have to others and the duties that follow from those relationships.
Ultimately, life is better when we stop trying to obtain attractive stupidity and focus on developing soulful intelligence. We must break out of The Cube.
The only way to successfully break out of your cube is to expand your mind, nurture your soul, share life with others and enjoy graceful simplicity. Action is required, but once you start acting you will increasingly enjoy the journey.
Build your heart into a condominium with a room for every soul you meet. This is the key to compassion.
Expand your mind into a field where knowledge is planted and farmed. This is the key to mindfulness.
Balance the construction of your heart with the farming of your mind. This is the key to a better life.
Inspiration can be found everywhere, so don’t hold back or easily dismiss possible sources of it. For example, William Shakespeare infused many inspiring ideas into his plays. One of my personal favorites comes from the character of Polonius in Hamlet when he advises his son:
“This above all – to thine own self be true
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man”
It resonates with me when I consider that emotional insincerity and self-deception were as rampant a problem in his day as they are now.
As I observe the behavior of some of my fellow human beings it amazes me that a large portion of the population needs to be told precisely what to think or feel, and exactly when to think or feel it. It’s as if they don’t know their own minds well enough to be able to decide such matters for themselves, like sheep they are easily led to a manufactured sentience.
Even more worrisome is the question of who is leading them, and why. There are many social, political and religious figures that want to tell you what your truth should be and that you will suffer if you don’t do exactly what they say. Ignore them and find your own truth for yourself. Opinions are like anuses, everyone has one.
That being said, I’ve also found that many people are happy with this state of affairs and enjoy living in emotional and philosophical ignorance. They prefer to have someone tell them what to think and feel. Somehow the effort and risk of thinking and feeling for themselves are not worth the effort. Complacency and obedience have become the order of the day; they appear to be more socially profitable.
Like actors reciting carefully chosen lines people from all walks of life are constantly regurgitating what they are supposed to say without being sure of the thoughts or feelings within the words. For example, I know individuals who will quote the Bible for every situation and occasion in place of demonstrating honest empathy or offering constructive advice. When asked to explain the ideas or sentiments behind the quotes they stumble in their lack of real knowledge or understanding.
The same could be said for extreme political correctness. There is a troubling insincerity and falsehood behind our social treatment of delicate issues like race and gender. If we engage with our peers sincerely, openly and honestly then we will as a society sprint past the issues that hold us back. Disguising the problem or using categories to eliminate categories is not the solution.
Of all the intellectual and emotional crimes that a person may be guilty of, insincerity is the worst. Feel what you feel, think what you think and be clear about it. In essence, would you want to live not knowing you are alive?
Don’t worry about trying to be perfect according to society’s definition of perfect, and don’t spend your energy trying to satisfy the requirements of a group. The pursuit of perfection is a fool’s quest that only leads to frustration, depression and neurosis. This is because it doesn’t exist and you will never obtain it.
All human beings have imperfections. How we manage and learn from those imperfections is the only significant difference between us; the rest is circumstance. The real test in life is how we treat each other as people. Do we fundamentally love and respect our fellow humans or do we judge and belittle those who are not exactly like us?
Each beating heart, each soul, is connected to us and we are connected to it. Let us care for and nurture each other rather than abuse and subjugate each other. It’s better to be commonly human together than live divided by the illusions of categories and exclusivity.
Inside the Fog
Life is transition. No state of being is permanent; the trick is to become a better person along the way.
Better Living boils down to a simple personal choice. Do you want to live according to a mass produced vision for your life or do you want to create and pursue your own vision?
Be a light of wisdom in a fog of insanity. Share your mind but don’t sell your heart. The world around us can be crazy and illogical, so we must stay focused on our path to clear thinking and sincere sentience.
For example, in the eighth century Shantideva explained that:
“If the elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness,
All fear disappears and complete happiness comes.
All enemies: all the tigers, lions, elephants, bears, serpents [of our emotions];
And all the keepers of hell; the demons and horrors,
All of these are bound by the mastery of your mind,
And by the taming of that one mind, all are subdued;
Because from the mind are derived all fears and immeasurable sorrows.”
Therefore, the path to Better Living must begin with serious mindfulness. There are different ways to achieve mindfulness but there are also a plethora of distractions, detours and negative ideas that should be avoided. You must train your mind to distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful.
For example; many people try to find their truth through religion, but like everything else in life there are good ways to practice a faith and bad ways to practice a faith. To be clear; I am not trying to advocate for any particular religion or belief system, nor do I wish to reject them, rather I prefer to keep this philosophical exploration open to interpretation and universally applicable.
Deepak Chopra once stated that religion is belief in someone else’s experience, spirituality is having your own experience and atheism is no experience only measurement. This is a good starting point for analyzing how people manage and express their beliefs in relation to themselves and others.
I have a friend who is an evangelical Christian and likes to regularly boast that he was born a Christian and he will die a Christian. But is that faith or habit? He was raised strictly within one belief system and his loyalty to his parents is what keeps him within that belief system. It doesn’t come from some deep spiritual or intellectual exploration and subsequent realization. It’s a mechanical continuation of his Cube thinking.
Belief in God (or a higher power if you prefer) also comes easily to me because that is what I was taught as a child. However, I went through various stages of belief, agnosticism and learning about other faiths to reach the point where I believe in God because that is honestly what I believe. My initial programming will always be there, but the secret is to not let it dictate what I believe.
My beliefs developed over time and evolved during years of study and exploration; not because it’s what I was told to believe. There was even a time when I doubted if God existed at all and we were just a universal accident. So, I recommend that everyone on the path to better living experience the same process.
For that reason it really bothers me when people try to force their belief system onto greater society or are actively prejudiced against those who believe differently. That particular hypocrisy kills me, especially when I consider that they are behaving more out of habit than real faith. But to be fair, this type of self-righteous and discriminatory behavior is not exclusive to extremely religious people. It can be seen in all other social circles.
I was in a coffee shop the other day and as I observed customers interacting with the staff it became apparent that the latter were being disrespected and abused. The human capacity for entitled arrogance was on full display. Some people seemed to forget that service does not equal servitude; and that slavery was indeed abolished.
What struck me most were the demands for respect from the customers without any hint of repayment in kind towards the staff. Respect should be automatically mutual and equal. It should be easily offered and quickly returned upon receipt. If we are to uphold the values of human dignity and equality then we must start by respecting each other regardless of circumstances or differences.
If you are at all serious about travelling the path to Better Living then you must be courteous, polite and respectful to every person you encounter regardless of the social situation. Every human being is worthy of respect unless they prove that respect to be misplaced. Even then, don’t lower yourself but deal with it in a graceful manner.
Respect is not a privilege or a right; it’s a bond of love that exists naturally between all humankind. It is best to treat others as we wish to be treated; this is how we learn to be compassionate.
A Better Life
Live boldly, think clearly and seek wisdom; but more importantly, put the principles you learn into practice. All the introspection and knowledge in the world is worth nothing if you don’t use it in your daily life. We need to practice what we believe once we have decided to go down the path to Better Living.
Along those lines Epictetus advises that once you have determined the spiritual principles you wish to exemplify, abide by these rules as if they were laws, as if it were sinful to compromise them. Separate yourself from the mob and be extraordinary.
Building on that thought I would add that this requires the passion to live a better life. Passion is essential to life. We need to feel passionate about someone or something at some point in our lives; otherwise our time on this earth has been wasted. Without it life would be reduced to a routine fulfillment of mechanical functions. And then you die. So, boldly pursue your passions and explore your life’s journey.
Now don’t get confused, when I speak of passion I am not referring to sexual passion. I am talking about love for life and love for others. These are the greatest motivators for pursuing and achieving Better Living. Without love the entire exercise would be pointless.
Mindfulness is an act of love for yourself, and compassion is an act of love for others. If you neither understand nor practice mindfulness and compassion, then you will never truly know love; and love is our highest purpose in this life.
The late Nelson Mandela once explained that a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special. As a writer and a man who is hopelessly in love with women, I find it wonderful when all these are present in a lady.
True beauty and passion are inflamed by a sharp mind and a warm heart. Her body attracts and inspires, but seduction is won by what we hear and feel. As I once wrote:
Within a perfect chest
Beats a heart to adore
Behind looks finely set
Her mind entices more
It comes down to experiencing the whole woman in her entire form and essence. Love should not be limited to fleeting hormonal desires and physical symmetry.
If we don’t explore the full range of our capacity for love then we are wasting the greatness that can be found inside each one of us. Therefore, the same poem (above) concluded with:
Love is a woman whole
Beauty in every part
Blinding her inner glow
True passion will spark
Gentlemen, seek the whole woman and don’t settle for an empty shell. Once you have found her be sure to love and appreciate her with every fiber of your being.
Ladies, seek to be whole women and look for partners who will truly love and appreciate the woman you are. But never forget that there are two sides to that coin.
At the end of the day, we must all understand that life is not worth living without honest passionate love.
Inwardly, patience is the key to everything. From it we gain compassion, which then leads us towards truth. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others in order to understand the power of compassion. Once we are able to harness and feel compassion we are then able to find our truth.
Life is not speed, it is resistance. Never mind how fast you get to where you want to be, but focus on how well you live along the way. Ignore the illusions spawned by commercial indoctrination and seek to be a good person to both yourself and others.
It’s better to live a soulful, mindful and explored life than simply race towards instant gratification and manufactured happiness. Many people seem to be entirely focused on bouncing around aimlessly obeying what society and their peers dictate to them instead of finding their own honest path to a life fulfilled.
Aristotle viewed patience as a difficult necessity to achieving a better life, he described it as bitter but bearing the sweetest fruit. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin confirmed that if a person is patient they can have all that they will.
Life’s journey is not always easy. If we stumble along the way then it’s simply a matter of standing up to go on walking. Be strong of will, clear of purpose and loving in intent. If while on the path you also find a perfect traveling companion then you are the better for it.
Before you can feel and practice compassion you must first understand that we are all equally human. Free yourself from social categories and group exclusivity. They poison the human spirit.
Differences between nationalities, races and ethnicities are superficial. We are all commonly human together. None is greater, none is lesser. Unfortunately, one of the hardest hurdles to overcome on the path to Better Living is prejudice. If we let it, it can invalidate any achievement.
For example, there is one absolute principle that defines American society, and although it has been immortalized in the currency it is often ignored: E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). It was the driving force behind the revolution, the U.S. constitution and American democracy. From the Declaration of Independence up to today there would be no United States without the concept of equality.
Recognition of this fundamentally powerful idea is not exclusive to America and has been further explored and expanded upon worldwide. In Ethiopia they champion the mantra of “unity through diversity”. It’s the core guiding principle of their constitution and permeates every aspect of government and society. The European Union touts “united in diversity” as its motto because the founding leaders recognized that democracy and progress depend on conserving diversity.
From the halls of Philadelphia to the United Nations headquarters humanity has come to understand the need for celebrating political, cultural, religious, racial and gender diversity by protecting equality. Nonetheless, a large portion of people have somehow forgotten this basic truth. When social and religious leaders start pushing to make some people more equal than others or try to impose uniformity, I don’t think they realize that they are being antihuman.
Remember that normalcy is defined by those in power, but being in power is by itself abnormal. So, rise above conventional ideas of normalcy and find your own normal. You cannot live a better life if your mind is infected by the diseases of prejudice, self-righteousness and arrogance. Besides, wouldn’t it be terribly boring if everyone were the same?
We must calm our minds, ignore our more selfish wants and desires, and look for what is best in ourselves so that we can better serve others. This kind of peace is only possible when everyone can see beyond their own self-interest. We must find our own inner-peace and launch that peace into our environment. Chaos and confusion are not part of Better Living.
Sogyal Rinpoche teaches his students to:
“Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of clear seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly, like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature.”
The best way to reach this state of peace is to remember that we cannot control or predict everything, and we shouldn’t want to. If you stress yourself over every little thing in your life then you will never find peace. High levels of patience are required.
Epictetus used this principle as the starting point for finding happiness and freedom. He wrote that some things are within our control and some things are not. It’s only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and cannot control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Peace is also necessary at a greater societal level when we consider human development. Without peace there can be no development, much less sustainable development. Conflict, especially internal conflict, is the worst thing that can happen to a society.
Some years ago I lived and worked in Somaliland (northwestern Somalia). The experience taught me a lot about the importance of peace and the effect it can have on a society.
After the fall of Somalia’s dictatorship in 1991 the country divided into three distinct regions. In the south of the country various warlords and religious groups fought each other for power, and today it is one of the least developed and most dangerous places to live. But in the northern region, Somaliland, the leaders of the various clans and a majority of the population decided to go in the opposite direction by declaring their own independent state, sharing power and working together to develop their region.
The peace they implemented in turn created the most developed region to come out of the disaster that was Somalia. In stark contrast with their brothers and sisters to the south, Somaliland’s population enjoys a stable and functional democracy with very little international help. A fine example of this development came in 2010 when they held the most peaceful and democratic presidential elections in the history of East Africa; followed by the most peaceful and successful transfer of power in the history of Africa.
Therefore; on all levels, from the personal to the global, peace is essential for human development and Better Living.
Better Living isn’t about money, health, success or beauty. It’s about balancing your heart and mind in order to live well within yourself.
Balance is a fundamental component for living a better life. Striving to keep the balance within ourselves and the environment that surrounds us should become a daily activity to the point of second nature.
Euripides made this the ultimate priority when he proposed that the best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are truly a wise person.
Many people make the mistake of giving either more weight to mindfulness or more weight to compassion. The human soul needs for both to be in perfect equilibrium. Not too much mind and not too much heart; just enough to keep us imperfectly human.
From that perspective, Bertrand Russell once said that the good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Therefore, we must earnestly balance ourselves between our own hearts and minds to actively journey towards Better Living.
Life is simple; there is no need to complicate it. Better Living requires simplicity in thought, action and lifestyle. Focus on what is essential and eliminate what is unnecessary.
Nowadays we make the mistake of cluttering our minds and our environment with stuff that is not only unnecessary but also prevents us from living a good life. Most of our fears, stress and frustration come from trying to keep up with the complicated webs we weave in order to conform to social pressure.
Leonardo da Vinci proclaimed simplicity to be the ultimate sophistication, and Lao Tzu advised that we should manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness and have few desires. Therefore, in order to complete the path to Better Living we must shed those life distractions that do not nurture us or make us better of mind and soul. Go down to the basics and keep your life easily manageable.
In the end there is one simple, clear and direct path to Better Living. It is universally applicable and easily accessible.
See the walls that enclose you and decide to pursue your true life goal. Take personal responsibility for your development and make the conscious decision to improve yourself. It’s entirely up to you; no one can do it for you.
Engage in the activities necessary to break free from your enclosure. You are required to act in your own best interests. Better Living doesn’t happen by accident and won’t appear from nowhere. Seek wisdom and you will become wise, search for your true feelings and you will feel.
Personify the wisdom you find while staying true to yourself. Incorporate what you learn into your personality and share it with others, but don’t give up who you are or try to accommodate who they want you to be.
Actively practice what you learn on a daily basis. Change your daily pattern of behavior in order to include mindfulness and compassion. This daily activity will lead you to your truth.
Be patient and be compassionate. Patience for yourself and others is the key to everything. Don’t worry about how fast you get there, but focus on getting there the right way. Remember to try and feel what others are going through and take the time to understand them.
Overcome all forms of prejudice in order to avoid self-righteousness and arrogance. This type of behavior will invalidate your progress towards Better Living. You cannot live a better life if you hurt others with your thoughts and actions.
Find and promote peace both inwardly and outwardly. Without inner peace or a peaceful environment you will not be able to develop and live a good life. Ironically, you may have to fight for it.
Maintain your balance between your heart and your mind. The heart is our center, and our mind is its moon; life is best when they are in harmonious orbit of each other.
Simplify your life by eliminating unnecessary distractions and clutter that will keep you from living a better life. There is no need to overly complicate what can be refreshingly simple.
To the above I will just add one final piece of advice: don’t take yourself too seriously. Stay imperfectly human, albeit a mindful and compassionate one. Humility is an underrated virtue that will improve your quality of life a hundred times.
Arrogance is never the correct attitude. You do need to love yourself before you can love others. But take care that this love does not become lust.
We each need to be able to laugh at ourselves every now and then. A humble look at your own flaws and quirks will help you keep a balanced perspective on life.
This is all you need to know to successfully journey down the path to Better Living. Some people will get there in a day; some will get there in a lifetime. What matters most is that you start your journey now and stay on your path until the end.
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