Thoughts on health, happiness and sustainability

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Nourish the garden of your mind

I’ve been reading The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, which is a story about the philosophy of a fictional band of Indian monks called the Sages of Sivana.  Their core philosophy for achieving a happy and healthy life is divided up into seven steps, represented by a rather bizarre fable featuring a lighthouse and a sumo wrestler.

Step 1 of this process is represented by the symbol of a garden, which represents your mind.  In this post I want to summarise some of the key lessons I learned, though I highly recommend reading the book in full.

The garden of your mind

In the fable, the garden is the symbol for the mind.  The reason is that it is a lush, diverse and vibrant place that is bursting with life.  It is probably fair to say that anyone who cares about their garden tries to keep the weeds and toxins out,  fertilise it with nutrients and keep it tidy.  It therefore follows that you want to do exactly the same with your mind.

Keep toxins out

According to the Sages of Sivana, all negative thoughts are toxic to our mental well-being.  Worries and anxieties, anger, spite and stress are all harmful to our mind.  To let negativity into your thoughts is no different than letting poison into your body.  As I’ve mentioned before, Jeff Walker wrote an interesting article along he same lines about injecting poison into your brain.

To live life to the fullest, you must stand guard at the gate of your garden and let only the very best information enter. You truly cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought.

That last statement is really the cornerstone of the philosophy.

A worrisome thought is like an embryo: it starts of small but it grows and grows.  Soon it takes on a life of its own.

There is no fundamental difference between most happy people and most miserable people.  We are all humans who have to a greater or lesser extent had a mixture of experiences.  What makes the happiest people different is not the things they have in life, but the fact that they take a positive attitude to everything that they do have.  We cannot control the world around us, but we can control what we think about the world around us.

Situations should never be looked upon as good or bad, but as experiences from which we can learn and an opportunity to find a positive outcome.  This can be challenging in some of life’s hardest situations, but to deny the concept that you can make something positive from every situation is to pre-emptively decide to be miserable.  As I said in 13 ways to reduce your stress, all stress is actually self-inflicted.  If you have decided that you are going to be miserable, then you will be miserable.  If you have decided that you are going to be happy no matter what, you might just pull it off.

Fertilise the mind

A healthy mind is one that is constantly nourished with new ideas and positive thoughts, yet 95% of what a typical person thinks in a day is the same as what they were thinking about the day before.  The point being that we are stuck in the past.  We should be dedicating a lot more of our minds’ power to discovering new information and creating new ideas.

Everything in our world is shaped by thoughts, and only then implemented in reality.  Therefore, if your thoughts are stuck in the past, negative and unoriginal, then you will almost certainly build a life for yourself that is slow to progress, negative and boring.  On the other hand, if you are forward thinking, positive and creative then you will likely build a life for yourself that progresses quickly, is positive and exciting.

Keep it tidy

The mind can only hold one thought at a time.  This might sound funny, but try and think about two things at the same time and it just doesn’t work.  You end up flicking back and forth between a series of thoughts at a faster and faster rate without giving proper attention to any of them.

This simple principle is important to understand because if you overload your mind with too many things and try to do too many things at once then you will lose control.  When you lose control of your thoughts, you become the passenger instead of the driver in your own life.

Therefore, you need to figure out what you love to do in life and train your mind to focus on it.  The human mind is an incredibly powerful filtering device and is always filtering out thousands of items of information that it deems unimportant and bringing a few things to your attention that seem important.  If you organise your own mind well to avoid unnecessary clutter and put the things that you love centre stage, then your metal filters will start to guide you towards the things you love and you’ll be able to work more effectively toward making your dreams come true.

Continuous improvement

Following on from the principles above is the concept that if you want a better life, then you need to focus on continuous improvement.  With an open, creative and positive mind your can move through life each day becoming a better person than the last.

In this regard it is important not to be distracted by false reference points.  Your life is your life, and no one else’s, so you should not compare yourself with others.  This will bring worry and distraction to your mind, as well as negative feelings towards others.

There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.

The key points

The lesson of the garden ends with 3 key points as follows:

  1. You must cultivate the garden of your mind to help it flourish
  2. The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your thoughts
  3. There are no mistakes – only lessons.  See setbacks as opportunities for personal growth and improvement.

The book also provides some interesting techniques that can be applied to help nourish the garden of your mind, which I won’t go into in this post.

Finally, do you want to know the secret of happiness according to the Sages of Sivana?

The secret of happiness is simple: find out what you truly love to do and then direct all of your energy towards doing it“.


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