A meditation teacher unpacks an ancient Buddhist text that reveals the answer. It might surprise you.
Maybe you're like me and you live in a packed city, in a cramped apartment, with a partner and/or roommates, and spend your morning commute cramped amongst people to get to a job where you are constantly surrounded by other beings. And maybe you're like me in that in the middle of your day you hear a nagging inner voice that says, "You know what? I bet I'd be better off if I had some quiet solo time once in a while."
There is a beautiful Buddhist text dating back to the 14th century known as the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. Bodhi can be translated from Sanskrit as "open" or "awake" while sattva can be translated as "being," so it is an open-hearted being. A meditation master known as Ngulchu Thogme composed these verses so that we could live a full life with open hearts in order to be helpful to those around us. Many of these practices revolve around applying virtue to even the toughest of our everyday situations. He has one that specifically encourages us to take time to ourselves in order to have the mental and emotional fuel to show up fully for others:
Giving up negative places, mental afflictions gradually decrease.
With no distractions, virtuous activities naturally increase.
When mind becomes clear, certainty in the Dharma is born.
To rely on solitude is the practice of a Bodhisattva
Related: A Self-Discovery Exercise to Help You Be Your Best Self
When you hear the term "negative place" what comes to mind? It could be a loud, raucous environment where it's hard to concentrate on even the simplest of tasks. Or maybe it's the sort of place that brings out the worst in you--a crowded party with unlimited alcohol and the company of three or more of your exes, a hectic workplace environment, or a bar that you frequent when you feel lonely or ashamed. Whatever your version of a negative place may be, Ngulchu Thogme says that it is important to our spiritual path to give those up. You can discern what this sort of negative place means to you and, as soon as you do, resolve to stop spending so much of your time there.
"Why?" you may ask. "Sure, I'm not my best self when I'm there but that bar has cheap drinks and good music." Well, according to our friend Ngulchu, giving up negative places is how we calm the mind. Without being provoked by a lot of mental afflictions (read: exes, work stress, alcohol-fueled pity parties) you have the time and space to connect with yourself. The more you take the time to connect to yourself the more at home you are with who you genuinely are. And when you're actually at home with who you are you're more likely to engage in virtuous behavior.
Continue reading to learn how to cultivate more solitude.
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