Whether your goal is Nirvana or just making the best of your current situation, you seek optimal living.
Optimal living is combining your skills, knowledge and personal condition to work and live as happily and effectively as possible. It is accomplished by embracing continuous change, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity
It is adapting to whatever comes along, being open to lifelong learning, cultivating mindful awareness and committing to living in harmony with all things.
Does optimal mean perfect? Yes and no. Acknowledging your faults and flaws enables improvement. It seems that the perfect process is one that is as good as it can be at any time and is continuously improving. The perfect thing exists for a moment and is gone. The process goes on. The more perfect it is, the more optimally you live.
What Does It Take?
What then does it take to live optimally? It begins with the recognition that you may not be living optimally - that things are not as you'd like them to be; that you are dissatisfied, stressed and/or reactive.
Dissatisfaction can lead to fatalism and depression - "I'm going to be miserable for the rest of my life." It can lead to self-imposed stress as you try to keep up with the increasingly complex and volatile world by running faster, working harder or building fortresses to resist change. Or, dissatisfaction can be a motivator to find and eliminate its cause. In some way, dissatisfaction is the fuel for improvement. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, "No mud. No Lotus." The perfect beauty of the lotus doesn't exist without the muck.
Finding and eliminating the cause of dissatisfaction is the path to optimal living. Journeying on that path requires the wisdom to know that you keep yourself from realizing perfection in the moment. It requires the courage to objectively self-reflect and change, and the loving kindness to accept the imperfections. It requires being open to paradox and both-and-thinking, and the patience to accept a never-ending process of improvement.
Ancient wisdom teachings are guides to optimal living. The goal is the unconditional happiness that comes when we live in harmony with all things, free of self-imposed stress and dissatisfaction. Wisdom traditions provide methods and images of what it is like when you do live optimally so you can gage your state of mind and direct your journey towards optimal living, with loving kindness and acceptance.
There are many models for achieving optimal living. This one says that the foundation for the path is represented by three pillars.
- Non-dual clarity - instant presence.
- Wisdom - view and intention
- Action - skillful behavior
is the experience of the natural state that reflects and encompasses wisdom and action. It is the absolute, the boundless, formless, unfabricated spontaneous perfection of clarity, compassion and cognitive capacity - bare awareness, instant presence. The experience of non-dual awareness enables skillfully applying wisdom in action. At the same time, stepping back to self-reflect and to be aware of awareness itself, enables increased recognition of the natural state. Since the natural state is always present recognition of it can occur right now as you breakthrough conditioned thinking into open-mindedness.
has two dimensions - understanding or view and intention.
The view reflects the nature of our existence
- everything, including ourselves, is continuously changing and therefor has no fixed substance.
- there is imperfection and dissatisfaction
- everything is caused by something
- what we do and say matters
- we are part of an infinite array of interrelated systems
- most pain and anxiety are self-imposed as a result of being attached to what cannot be, and from fear and ignorance.
The view recognizes that eliminating the causes of suffering enables non-dual experience.
puts wisdom into action. Wise intention is to do what you can to realize natural perfection and to dedicate yourself to being of benefit.
is the ethical and skillful behavior that achieves the intention with the view as its foundation. The Taoists speak of wu wei, "non-doing," and the paradox of wei wu wei, "doing without doing" or "action without effort." In more modern terms, it is Flow - the quality of being totally immersed in action so that there is a loss of the sense of self and time and a natural application of skills, knowledge and awareness unencumbered by self-consciousness, worry, judging and other distractions. This doing without doing brings us back to the realization of non-dual clarity. Clarity and wisdom without skillful action does not bear fruit.
Action includes the exercises such as meditation practices that change the mind by undoing negative habits and conditioning and carving new healthier neural pathways.
Whether your goal is Nirvana or simply being able to live more effectively and happily in your life, the path is the same. You apply action and wisdom to achieve optimal living.
The commitment to optimal living is like a courageously stepping into the unknown. It means confronting and accepting your own imperfections, so you can transform them into the fuel for continuing to realize the natural perfection, the ultimate state of flow. To do this you cultivate wisdom and dedicate your action to the journey.
When dissatisfaction meets a glimmer of awareness that there is a way out, you take the step. Then the path unfolds before you as the glimmer becomes increasingly bright.