Happiness for ourself and those we love is in our hands
Without practical action, there can only be a false bliss or false Ananda. Many respected people are writing and teaching us how to become aware of and control one’s mind and thoughts to be happy. They point out that we can’t always control the actions of others, and therefore, the only way to achieve inner peace is to control our reactions. The aspect I am considering here is the effect of our actions upon our mental state. We act in two ways – through instinctive re-action or considered pro-action. It is the latter that is the focus of this essay. Considered pro-action is the third significant influence on our mental equilibrium, besides our reactions to the actions of others and our self-control.
Many sources of wisdom advocate doing one’s duty even when there is a conflict with our fundamental beliefs and feelings. It is also explicitly and implicitly proposed by them that we need not doubt ourselves and internally fret once we have taken the right action. We can take it as a means of controlling our reactions to the external world and its happenings.
But considered pro-action can go beyond this. It can eliminate the need for controlling our reactions by creating a peaceful state of mind before or outside the events that follow.
I, therefore, propose that there are three modes of influence that can be put down as Re-action Moderation, Post-reaction Control and Pro-action.
Let us take some examples of each mode of achieving peace of mind to illustrate the ways.
Situation: Your daughter, who usually calls you regularly, has not called you for a few days. You don’t believe she is away or ill.
Re-action Moderation: Normally, you would feel neglected, sorry for yourself and then angry with her for being so selfish or uncaring. With Reaction Moderation, you would immediately spot these chains of thought and feeling developing. You would laugh at yourself, distract your mind by turning to something you enjoy doing or put your ego aside and just call her. In general, you would do whatever works to quickly kill off the feelings of sadness and anger before they grow.
Post-reaction Control: However if you do end up feeling sad and hurt then with proper post-reaction control you would step outside yourself and study what happened in the event, what the cosmic reality is, see it from a very high perspective, forgive herself and yourself and think about how you can avoid it in future. It will prevent negative feelings from festering and making things worse for all concerned. Instead, you will think constructively. In general, you will work out the tactics and strategy that can lead to either almost perfect Re-action Moderation or, best of all, Pro-action.
Pro-action: If you practised pro-action you could simply call her once you missed her instead of waiting for her to call. And instead of complaining that you had to call you would focus on making it a pleasant and interesting experience for her so her mind would unconsciously remember it as a pleasant interaction that it would like to repeat and prompt her to call you regularly.
- Pro-action is, in fact, in certain situations, the necessary path to equanimity as no other mode will be sufficient.
- Pro-action has the most extensive and longest-lasting impact on the world outside oneself. It is also the most giving and unselfish mode of achieving higher self-actualisation.
- Pro-action is the most efficient mode of achieving calmness and peace of mind. It needs the least mental energy and time as it is preventative rather than curative.
It is but natural to ask ourselves some tough, challenging questions about this practice. Is Pro-action is simply fatalism or stoicism? Will it make us lazy and uninterested in making real improvements in the world outside us? Will it encourage in us a timidity and fearfulness, an unwillingness to fight wrongs? Will it only make us tolerate the bad behaviour of others and end up reinforcing it?
The answer to all these is an emphatic ‘no’ as long as we base our Pro-action on a foundation of:
a. Information, knowledge and understanding – We will gather the facts. We will look at things from all points of view fairly. We will recognise what is unjust. We will understand the underlying reasons. Our pro-action will be clear-eyed.
b. Steady and real improvement – We will seek constant improvement in others, ourself and the material world. We will take stock regularly if a particular pro-action plan is contributing to this. If it is not but is providing happiness or calmness, then it may be continued. If not providing even this peace of mind, it shall be modified or discarded.
c. Moderation – We will neither expect perfection from others nor ourselves. We will neither apply pro-action to all situations nor to too few. We will neither apply it for too short a time nor forever. We will take stock at reasonable intervals and modify our pro-Action plan accordingly.
Another way to put it is that we shall apply the Serenity Prayer but with an apposite addition at the end of it (in bold below).
God, give me the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other
and practise pro-Action accordingly.
What techniques may one use to become more pro-active? As this is an introductory essay on the subject, I will only briefly mention some of the possible methods:
1. Identify patterns of behaviour in family, friends, colleagues and self that lead to the 5 negative emotions of anger, sadness, envy, guilt and worry. Then disrupt the patterns.
2. Understand the universe, the world and living beings and what drives behaviour. With understanding will come the ability to foresee and predict future events and behaviours, in others and yourself. Then you can influence events towards good ones and away from bad ones. And more good events means more happiness, peace and bliss.
3. Practice the two paths to equanimity – reaction moderation and post-reaction control. They will strengthen your pro-action ability as they will free up your mind and time to be able to establish the foundations a and b above.
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