“You should live as islands unto yourselves, being your own refuge, seeking no other refuge.”
[Selected from the Buddha’s final words]
This is a post to empower you; to help you focus on yourself and work on something the Buddha knew only too well – that true happiness comes from within. Not from the latest handbag or large glass of wine or luxury holiday or new relationship. No, these are Western ideals forced in our face by every Hollywood movie and advertising campaign but most of all from our peers. Our friends and family can often be the most guilty for pressuring us, a person they love dearly, to conform to their ideals of what makes a happy life. It’s almost too easy to get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses but let’s be clear once and for all – you will never get there and even if you could, it wouldn’t bring happiness.
So now that we’re all on the same page that external experiences can never bring us the fulfilment that self-love and contentment can, here’s the hard part: how do we, mere mortals, achieve this? Don’t skip to the end – I’m not about to start demanding you practise yoga every day, meditate for hours or join a monastery.
I am going to suggest that this year, 2016, you put yourself in a situation where you depend only upon yourself. As the Buddha so eloquently puts it, become ‘your own refuge’. I’m not advising that you break up with your partner, quit your job or turn your back on your nearest and dearest. I’m saying that you need to rediscover your independence and your inner strength. Become empowered by bringing about your own happiness – from within.
In my case solo travel is my go-to for becoming my own refuge. Taking myself off to some deep wilderness in a country where no one is likely to find me in a hurry brings me intense inner happiness. I alone transport myself to these beautiful, secret corners of the world and I alone am there to experience them. But it’s not the experiences or places themselves which bring me contentment; it’s simply existing there, seeking no other refuge, an island unto myself.
Rediscovering this feeling when I’m not travelling is a challenge, but what is life without a few challenges? I am human like everybody else. Countless times each day I catch myself falling in to the trap of desiring something. Whether I am desiring a pair of shoes, another person or even just a cigarette I know deep down that if I get what I want it may bring me a few minutes of instant gratification but it can never bring me true happiness. Buddhism teaches that desire can never be satiated and can only bring about suffering; to avoid suffering we need to stop desiring outward stimulae and start looking within.
Try it this year; go somewhere and live as an island unto yourself. Be your own refuge, seek no other refuge. Hopefully you will find happiness there.