Don’t you ever fantasize on the day when you’ll leave everything behind to live a simple, spiritual life?
Dreaming of becoming a Buddhist monk or a Yogi in a meditation cave is often a mental trick to send our current problems to hell:
- Gone the bills every months: the monastery would provide.
- Gone the arguments with the family and partner: celibacy would cut through relationship complications.
- Gone the city, its nastiness, violence and noise: replaced with unlimited vacation in the Asian countryside.
Dwelling in a gorgeous place by the side of a mountain, listening to the distant humming of Buddhist rituals as you fetch water in the river…It’s a daydream I used to have.
An it’s a widely shared fantasy, judging by the number of messages and comments I’m receiving from people who’d like to abandon everything to live a religious life.
As you probably know, I actually did that when I was 26. I turned my back on the city, its challenges and its juicy promises. I left everything to become a Buddhist monk.
It felt good and it was definitely meaningful, but 10 years down the road I went back to the a normal routine, and I have no regrets about it.
I still cherish my monastic past, but now I’m pretty sure I could have gotten the same results in a more conventional way.
In fact, there’s a lot of “monastic” rules you can start applying where you are, without turning in the keys of your apartment, I’m confident saying this because I spent the last 5 years experimenting with both asceticism in an urban environment and I think it worked out.
I started addressing this topic with a post on Urban Monks, now I’d like to share a little more on how to live like one.
So, in case you’re tempted to leave everything behind, instead of planning to settle in the Himalayas, I invite you to start now, where you are.
Waste no time
There’s a Tibetan tale that I like, it’s blunt and cruel:
An old man had nothing except a big bag of barley. One dark night he had hung the bag of barley above his bed to protect it from mice. Before falling asleep he thought: “I will sell this bag of barley, buy a horse, and then I will sell the horse. After I sell the horse, I will take a wife, and she will have a baby. It will be a boy. But what will I call the baby?”
As the moon rose, he suddenly thought, “I will call the boy ‘Moon’. No, actually, my boy will be so popular his name could be ‘More famous than the Moon’ ”
In the meantime, as the old man was busy planning the next 20 years of his life, a mouse had nibbled the rope by which the bag of barley was hanging. The bag fell on the old man’s head and killed him instantly.
Sorry for imposing that nasty story but I like the fact that it throws the main point at your face: no matter how ambitious our projects are, our time on earth is running out on its own, regardless.
And just because years don’t come in unlimited supply, we need to set our priorities well.
I’m sure you’ve seen people trade their best years for a 20M Start Up business that never went anywhere.
What about those who built their lives around retirement, only to hear the Doctor give them a terminal diagnosis a week after they finally paid their dues to the corporate world.
Those horrible might be your fate unless:
- You clearly know that you won’t live forever
- You set your priorities accordingly, when it’s still time
If you apply the above fearlessly you’ll sort out what matters first:
- You’ll naturally want to spend more time with those you care for
- If there’s something you need to say to somebody, you’ll get it out of your chest asap
- You’ll manage to make a living out of what you love doing, for fear of waking up too late after a meaningless career
People diagnosed with a serious disease are often a good example of how quickly you change when you feel the countdown.
I guess the recordings of the most common regrets of the dying also prove this point.
Buddhist Monks and Yogis are advised to keep in mind that they could die anytime. I’ve been practicing that formally for years, it definitely shifts your perspective.
When I understood that life was actually short, I dumped projects which didn’t mean enough to me: becoming a techno musician being one.
I’m aware that my time on earth might be 40 years at best and that thought brings priorities right where they belong. There’s no time for selfish or useless projects. I trash the fluff, more and more, I keep simplifying, and it feels right.
That conclusion seems to be the same for all the people I call Urban Monks.
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