One of the things I do with my life is to teach a yoga class. But I don’t see yoga the way people usually thinks about it, like twisting the body in extreme ways.
For me it’s not really about this, but more about a quiet and a clear mind. It is about bringing a quiet and a clear mind to our everyday life.
To have a quiet mind we need, to a certain extent, to be able to control our thoughts. If there are many uncontrolled thoughts in our head, if we are often lost planning for the future, regretting the past or complaining about the present, we can be in the most beautiful garden and not even know that we are there.
When thoughts are not taking all the space in our heads, attention is possible. A quiet mind, with attention, is necessary to be able to see what is in front of us. For example, now there is attention. But if all of this attention goes out in only one direction, then there is focus…
… but there is no clarity.
At least not the way I refer to it. For me clarity is the quality that allows us to be aware of the whole of the moment, and not only of what grabs our attention in the moment.
Why am I saying all this?
If all the attention goes out—if the mind is not clear—then the clarity of the moment disappears and we cannot see the totality of the moment, what is needed in each moment. All we will be able to see is a fraction it. All we will see will be our own needs.
In the majority of cases, if the mind is not clear and something needs to be done, it will be done based on our own needs, without much consideration of the whole… because we are not able to see the whole. We will act based on a very powerful law: the law of survival.
If something needs to be done probably I will ask: what can I get out of this for me? Or more precisely, I will ask: How can I be sure that this action will make me feel more secure? How can I be sure that this action will make me feel better? Security and pleasure are the basic needs of our survival.
It is true that we share this survival needs with all the creatures of the world, except that we have something no other creature has: we have a mind that is able to project into the future. We often don’t realize how amazing this possibility is. This projection is what, for example, allows us to create beauty by letting us see that what is here now…
… can become different. In this case more beautiful.
But it is precisely this ability to project into the future which lets us know that no matter what we do, we cannot feel completely secure. Why? Because we can see that we are mortal beings. We can see deep in our hearts that we are going to die. This ability is also what allows us to see that we cannot satisfy all our desires all the time. Why? Because nothing is permanent, nothing lasts:
It started when I heard the story of Buddha for the first time. He was a prince. He was a young, beautiful, intelligent man. He had everything anybody would ever want. Because of some predictions that his father wanted to avoid, he was brought up in an artificial/perfect world, free of any kind of suffering. But one day, as a teenager, he escaped from this world into the city … and saw an old man. And that was it. He saw an old person, and he saw that all his security and all his pleasures will one day pass. He saw the inevitable destiny of all human beings. He saw his own inevitable destiny.
And his search for another reality began.
In my case it was different. I was always very good at sports. Actually sports were a large part of my life. One day, out of the blue, I got a thrombosis in my spine and half my body got paralyzed. After a million analysis and many doctors, the answer I got was that there was no reason why somebody as healthy as me would have such a thing. Now I am doing better, although I’m not what I used to be. But what really shocked me, what really touched me, was that I could see how everything can change in a moment; how in an instant our whole world can turn upside down.
Everything is like this. If we go deep into anything we do, we will see the impermanence of it. We’re always looking for something permanent and unchanging; we all want to feel secure all the time and satisfied all the time. Everyone does. But all the things we imagine will be permanent—family, friends, marriages, houses, possessions— never are, they’ll all change some day.
This vision of the impermanence of things can go two ways. In rare cases, it will put a stop in our lives and will make us wonder: is there anything else?
But in the majority of cases, when this question does not arise, when this deepening does not happen, it has exactly the opposite effect. It creates FEAR, the fear of seeing that nothing lasts, that everything is impermanent, and it is this fear what creates the desire, the need to GRASP whatever security or pleasure we can get. It creates the desire for more and more and more…
This GRASPING born of fear is what in our case, as human beings, turns survival into greed…
Why are we hurting the planet so much?
Because we don’t see what is there. We only see our own needs. We only have the vision of survival. We are blinded by our always demanding/never satisfied needs.
But we don’t need to go to the planet to see this. Why is it that our own personal lives are so problematic?
Because we don’t see what is there. We don’t see the people around us. We only see ourselves, our own needs.
It is this grasping what doesn‘t allow us to have a clear mind, and without it, we cannot see that in any moment we are ALWAYS given a CHOICE.
Imagine this situation: two dogs that haven’t eaten for a day. One of them is weak, old and sick and the other one is healthy and strong. If you put a piece of meat between them, for sure, the strong dog will eat the meat.
But if instead of the dogs there are two starving people—one of them old, weak and sick and the other one young and strong—and you put some food between them the stronger person will probably eat the food but…there is also the possibility that she/he will choose not to eat all the food but to share it.
The first choice is based on instinct, on survival. The second choice is based on intelligence.
For me, intelligence is not about solving mathematical problems. That is OK, but the intelligence I am talking about here is wisdom. It is the ability to see what I need—my needs—in the context of the whole.
Often what we call intelligence is the ability to work with great amounts of data and to be able to connect this data in creative ways for different purposes. But then, this “intelligence” can create a new drug to save humanity or a new drug to sell to teenagers and make tons of money. A lot of the intelligence of pharmaceutical companies focuses on profit instead of cures. A lot of the wonderful intelligent new discoveries of technology are completely disconnected from the real needs of a healthy human being. The tobacco companies use very intelligent people to create new ways to sell their cigarettes.
In every little thing that we do, we can choose between intelligence—or, as I call it, wisdom—and survival, which would make us no different than the dog. But if we cannot see the big picture of the moment, there is no choice; there is only one way to operate: survival mode.
With a clear mind we may actually be able to see what is in front of our eyes and see that we have a choice. But this choice depends on our awareness of the moment.
For example right now: are we here? Or are we lost on what we are doing? Take a few moments and pay attention to your body. Breathe a couple of times. Just imagine that the whole conference stopped, that there is no more TED. Just for a moment, forget me, forget what you are doing, and take a few moments to pay attention to yourself…
If the mind is not clear and something needs to be done, it will probably be done based on its own needs; based on survival. But if the mind is clear, if we are more present, we will be able to see the moment, the totality of the moment, and see that there is a choice. And that we can act from there.
At every moment, when we are acting in the world, we can ask a very fundamental question: who am I?
To answer this question we have several choices, but during this presentation I have been talking about two in particular:
1) Am I a person who lives in this huge and frightening world, so I need to protect and take care of myself, my needs, my problems and my possessions?
2) Am I a person who lives in this wonderful and beautiful world and as such is willing to care and contribute to it?
Every time we act in the world, we are affecting life. It doesn’t really matter how big or small are our interactions are, because, from the point of view life, there is no difference: what I say to people or what I don’t say, how I say it, when I say it; the way I manage my big company or the way I park my car; the way I talk to my kids, the way I talk to my wife; what I do in my private life, or what I do in my public life. We are always affecting life AND we always have a choice. And this choice depends on our wisdom, and wisdom depends on our ability to stop this talking mind and see and hear. It depends on having our own needs in the context of the whole.
It depends on our possibility to be more aware of the totality of this moment.