In the Epilogue of my book, Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate, I reprise a few insights about the benefits of living more mindfully. I hope you find these useful!
There’s a story I like about a New York merchant banker who goes on vacation to an idyllic seaside village in the Caribbean. After a few days observing life from the hotel deck, he makes his way down to the harbour mid-morning, as the local fishermen finish cleaning their catch. The banker has seen how the local people live in rustic shanty homes near the beach. He’s had a chance to observe their simple lifestyle. And being in the business of financial solutions, his mind has quite naturally turned to their situation.
Introducing himself to the bemused locals, he soon confirms his suspicions. Yes, the fishermen tell him, they go out every morning to fish, setting out around 6 am and returning two or three hours later. Having sold their catch to a wholesaler, they then return home and spend the rest of the day relaxing with family and friends. In the evenings they enjoy dining together, usually downing a few home brews on a porch while watching the moon rise over the sea.
A gleam appears in the bankers’ eye as he explains that he has a plan that can make them richer than they ever dared dream. Gesturing to a bench nearby, the fishermen sit around their unexpected visitor, curious to hear what he has to say.
If you were all to go out fishing twice a day, instead of just the once, the banker begins, you would immediately double your income. In a short space of time, you would have collectively saved enough money to buy a bigger boat, capable of travelling further and taking in much larger catches. The improved revenues could be ploughed back into the collective business, enabling the purchase of more such vessels until you possess a whole fleet of them.
Some of the fishermen seem interested. Others have their reservations. As the banker glances about, one of the more excitable young men prompts him: ‘With bigger boats and more money, what will we do then?’
‘Good question,’ replies the banker, going on to explain that the wholesaler to whom they sell their fish each day, probably on-sells the very same stock for two or three times the amount.
There is a rumble of assent that this, indeed, is the case.
What you do next, the banker explains, is cut out the wholesaler, buy your own refrigerator units, sell directly to buyers and immediately double or triple your collective income.
By now, every single one of the fishermen is keenly engaged. How could they not be?
Having won over his audience, the banker describes how the fishermen could systematically buy out every wholesaler on the island.
‘What will we do then?’ the same young fisherman asks, wondering if there could possibly be more.
The banker smoothly explains how the same business model can be replicated on surrounding islands. He talks about the benefits of economies of scale and building the fishing fleet into a sizeable operation. Mergers and acquisitions would propel growth further. And the more he talks, the more engaged the fishermen become, the young fisherman interjecting every so often ‘What will we do then?’
The banker continues, drawing to an inevitable conclusion. Once the company has achieved critical mass, he tells them, they can either exit by a private sale or go public with a stock market listing. Either way, the initial shareholders, including all the fishermen, can cash out. By the time they exit the deal, each of them will be worth millions.
The fishermen sit, digesting all this in stunned silence before, after a very long pause, one of the more thoughtful elders asks simply, ‘What will we do then?’
‘Whatever the hell you want to do!’ the banker is emphatic. ‘For starters, you won’t have to work so hard, so you’ll be able to spend most of the day doing exactly what you please. You can spend your time with family. Kick back every night, have a few drinks with friends and enjoy your meal looking out at this great view …’
It is only as he utters the last few words that the banker realises what he is saying.
The same moment that the penny drops for every one of his audience.
The old man nods. ‘What you’re saying,’ he confirms, ‘is that we live like millionaires already.’
There are a few reasons why I find this a delightful tale.
At the most obvious level, it is a reminder to be grateful for the positive experiences we already enjoy. Mindfulness has an important part to play in this. If we are paying attention to the present moment, deliberately and non-judgementally, we are very much more likely to be happy than if we are caught up in mental agitation. This is even more true if our inner conversation tends to focus on the things that we want but don’t have, the people we are forced to spend time with but don’t like, the life we long for but don’t lead. By contrast, living in this moment, alert to what is actually occurring, is a very much likelier basis for contentment. As countless research studies suggest, it is also a more reliable basis for holistic good health.
The story also subtly points to the fallacy of a direct, causal relationship between ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ – the superstition exposed through the ages, by Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Adam Smith, Tolstoy, Albert Ellis – to name but a few – as well as any therapist when using cognitive behaviour tools today. In seeking to change the fishermen’s material circumstances, the banker is assuming a correlation between wealth and happiness. But this assumption is fundamentally flawed, as the banker should have known, living in a society which, though very much more affluent than that of the fishermen, is far from a haven of physical and psychological well-being.
But at its deepest level, we might see the story as a metaphor for mind itself. The merchant banker, so distracted by the compulsion to make money, has lost sight of the fact that its only use is what it can buy. What is the point of all the frenetic busyness and stress demanded by his master plan, when the end result is a lifestyle qualitatively little different from the one that the fishermen already enjoy?
It is our amazing good fortune that, like those fishermen, we are already the possessors of minds that are quite naturally radiant, lucid and blissful. We don’t need to engage in years of frenetic activity to manufacture or create such an outcome – it already exists. No amount of additional learning, intellectual gymnastics or other cognitive activity is necessary or even relevant. The nature of our mind is already one of profound and abiding contentment. Our only task is to let go of the obstructing agitation and dullness that prevent us from realizing this, to tug aside the veil of cognition that separates us from the direct experience of our own primordial mind.
It is my heartfelt wish that this book has provided some useful guidance, techniques and inspiration to help you realize this profound experience for yourself. As an assimilation of some of the wisdom and insights from which I have personally benefited, I make no claims of originality. But I, along with the meditators with whom I share the journey, know that these teachings take us gently along a pathway, millennia-old, which leads to a direct encounter of the most transcendent kind. The experience, revelatory as it is unexpected for most of us, of the abiding love and compassion which we discover is our own true nature.
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