Once I read a story about two men standing in front of the harbor looking at the ships crossing in the sea. One man asked, “How many ships are there?” The other man answered, “There are so many of them I can’t count”. The one who asked then smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter how many ships you can count. There are only 3 ships that keep crossing in your mind: Money, Power and Sex.” How true! How many thoughts are there in a day deeply rooted in one of these 3 ships? That’s worth reflecting.
Without a doubt, money is necessary in today’s world. Even freedom is taken as financial freedom for a reason. Many people strongly believe that if they can free oneself from the pressure of money, they can then be free to do whatever they want. This results in an endless pursuit of materialism, in which they can never be successful enough. In an article “A question worth deepening”, I shared a life-changing experience I had in Bhutan with a group of social investors, educators and entrepreneurs who came to explore Gross National Happiness (GNH) application in business. After a few rounds of debate on the significance of GDP and GNH, we arrived at a simple yet not at all easy to answer question to everyone: “What is enough?” Once I had my answer to this question, I felt so relieved. Though I can’t say that money no longer has its pressure on me, I no longer take reference from my bank account to say I don’t have enough. I have enough to be free. My account is full of my experiences and competencies; my assets are my limited potentials as a human being.
As Satish Kumar, renowned Indian environment activist and author, said in “A Quest for Meaning” documentary, money is just a piece of paper, a means of transaction. It doesn’t feed us. What really gives us life is the sun, the air, the wind, the earth, the community we live with. Though it is not in my direct experience, I can literally relate to it as I have some Indian notes of 500 and 1000 rupees. By the end of December 2016, due to the government’s demonetization policy (you can read about this critical change for India here), they would be valueless. Just a piece of paper. Money does its job in exchange for services and goods. It doesn’t define one’s worth or guarantee one’s success and happiness.
The latest presidential campaign in the US has been a reality show for how people, supported by egoistic leadership and nationalism, are willing to do anything for power. Power in this case represents the nuclear activation button to destroy even a whole nation who are not conformed to one’s rule. While most of us never come to this position of power, we all try to have some forms of control over others. Most of the time knowingly or unknowingly, we take advantage of those who are weaker, smaller, less equipped and more vulnerable than us.
I reflect on times when I felt powerless, and they are situations when I have nobody to rely on but me: when I felt out of breath while swimming in the sea; when I got lost in a new country, when I couldn’t socially do certain things because of my age, gender, or nationality; or when I just couldn’t convince my fellows to do that would be good for them. After all I’ve learned that true power is, first of all, the power to rise above any life situations without relying on anyone or any system. Most profoundly, true power is the power that comes from within. It makes one person stand out and the others listen.
Such power can not be acquired or assumed from one tradition to another, from one sovereign to another etc. If we want people to respect us and follow us, we must earn it through our actions and ways of living. Everyone is born with such a power. Empowerment simply means we are aware of this true power that a human being is blessed with. My favorite author, Brene Brown, delivered a brilliant talk about the Power of Vulnerability on TED with deep insights on this topic.
It’s been the most avoided topic in public, and yet the most condemned crime in history. Women for generations have been forced to reduce their exposure to the minimum so as not to cause sexual desires from men. Living in a so-called open-minded society to both men and women nowadays is a relief on the one hand and a blatant lie on the other hand. Why? Because one can do as much as one likes, as long as others do not know about it. Let’s face it, we have sexual desires all the time. They come as often as our desires to eat, to play, to feel good about ourselves. The more we suppress them, the more they arise in our mind. And when we are not allowed to express it, we seek for other ways. Society and religion have labels for this, but whatever it’s called, 3 submarines of sin, guilt and shame will all be there.
I think we walk a thin line between right and wrong when it comes to following sexual desires as a human being. In my experience, love and what comes with it has been the largest school for me to understand myself. I wouldn’t know about the nuances of my physical, emotional and mental needs had I not followed what my feelings take me to. Just because we conform to societal rules while knowing very little about our inner drives, we live a blatant lie about who we really are and what we really feel from the inside. End of the day, let’s not avoid the word Sex and what it really means to us.
Before it becomes an act of morality, it’s an act of nature, of how a girl becomes a woman, and how mother and father are born. A very controversial woman has said this much better than I do. Watch Madonna delivering a 10m speech upon receiving Billboard Women in Music 2016 award here.
Why Meditation matters:
To be engaged in the world is to constantly deal with issues about Money, Power and Sex. In other words, we can’t choose to avoid them. These 3 ships will cross our mind many times in a day. How to live with them without letting them take control of our life? That’s when meditation comes along. When we sit in silence, we learn to accept the nature of our mind. Gently but persistently, we observe it. This process helps us gain insights of our inner drives. With regular practice, we will reduce compulsive behaviors and reactions to outside triggers that tickle our fear, self-esteem, and insecurities. When our mind is calm and clear, we naturally shift our focus from what disturbs us to what supports us. This is a process of reinforcing good behaviors rather than punishing bad behaviors.
In my personal experience, the more I meditate, the more I become true to myself. The more honest I am to my thoughts and actions, the more I improve myself. The more I improve myself every day, the more I come alive. I wrote about What made me alive in 2016, a year in which I spent 100/365 days away from home, delivered workshops and hosted events for companies in and outside Vietnam, interacted with thousands of people, and above all, wholeheartedly connected to myself, others, and nature. I was able to live a year in full very much thanks to having placed mindfulness and meditation in the center of all my activities. And that’s why meditation matters.
Thank you for reading! I look forward to connect with you more this year!