By Daniel Scharpenburg
“Take all the courage you have left
Wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head.”
-Mumford and Sons
We waste a lot of mental energy; we are wasting it all the time.
I only use the word “waste” because we could be using our mental energy for other things, and much of the time we don’t realize we’re wasting it in the first place, but we’re squandering our time and attention.
This is a famous Zen saying:
“Great is the matter of birth and death. Impermanence surrounds us. Do not waste your life!”
When we put down our baggage and stop obsessing over bullshit that doesn’t matter, then we can direct our energy toward other things. Arguing with people on the internet takes mental energy that could be directed toward productive things—that’s something I’ve struggled with. I can tell, just from looking at social media, that it’s also something a lot of people struggle with all the time.
When we think too much about how other people live their lives, this takes mental energy that could be used for other things.
I see people say things like, “I can’t believe that person dresses like that,” or “This hairstyle trend is stupid,”…and I just shake my head and think, well, I don’t have time to worry about that.
How much time do we spend worrying about things that aren’t happening? There are plenty of realistic things to worry about, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I experienced some uncertainty with my job a couple years ago and I was a wreck (the huge employer I work for was shut down for a day). I was so worried about what ultimately turned out to be one (paid) day off. I was afraid that I could be out of work for weeks, or months. That is an absurd fear that no one else was really worried about. As a kid I was the very rare child who worried about being alone for the rest of his life at the age of 8. The point is I’m a bit of a worrier sometimes, but I hope I’m getting better.
How much do we worry about nonsense like I did?
When we aren’t genuine or wearing a mask and when we don’t show people who we really are—that takes up a lot of mental energy. We tend to build walls around ourselves. Some of us do it more than others. But if we spend any time worrying that someone will see through the façade we’re trying to build…well, that’s energy that could be used for other things too.
We could be spending our time being real instead.
I wonder how much happier we can be if we can just put all that stuff down. That’s the thing I really want to emphasize. We do a lot of things that don’t really bring us contentment. We do a lot of things that steal some of our joy. Not to say that it’s easy, of course. It’s not easy.
The poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
The world is constantly trying to make us stay in the daydream, but we have the power to wake up.
We have the power to change what we’re doing, to change our focus. So let’s see if we can shift things around a little.
From The Ceasing of Notions:
Emmon asked, “If all existing things are empty, why can only buddhas see this and not ordinary people?” Master Nyuri replied: “It is obscured by the working of error but becomes clear in the stillness of truth.”
Editor: Dana Gornall