The term ‘best practice’ in business and commerce means the distillation of what works best across the board – in other words, the most reliable and effective approach. In self-development, there are so many different topics and approaches that it is impossible to study and master them all. Therefore, it makes sense to find a path that works for us and develop some key practices along the way.
In the course of teaching others, I often get asked about either the most important thing to focus on to the exclusion of all else, or the minimum we can do and still progress. The answer I give is always the same. It comes down to understanding how we are designed and learning how to operate our being from that understanding. Even within that simple framework, there are practices that are so universally effective, we can benefit from them even if we don’t understand the wider context of why they work.
The first of those is detachment. All of us feel challenged at times throughout our lives. For most people, some form of discomfort is a daily occurrence. If we don’t learn to respond effectively to discomfort, we can get caught up in it, and compound the experience. Everyone is familiar with the feeling of being dragged around by their thoughts and emotions against their better intentions. The practice of detachment helps us to observe discomfort without buying into assumptions about what it is trying to tell us. We can try this out in our own experience. Just let your conscious attention take in information from your inner life and your surroundings, but don’t respond (or mentally comment) on what you are noticing. Very quickly you feel a sense of spaciousness, you feel you have more room to operate – things are less pressured and urgent. Detachment is not a lack of care or compassion, nor a desire to avoid the truth. Far from it. The ability to sit back and see the influence of our thought-life upon our experience is an education worth having. It is often said that event + response = outcome. Detachment creates a necessary gap between event and response so that we have a chance to change the outcome. Without it we operate on automatic pilot with little chance to intervene and change course.
The next practice that works as a universal panacea is kindness. Again, like detachment, it is something we can all do. In fact, we would go further and say that kindness is something we are designed for – but that’s a conversation for another day. There is no effort, study or preparation required – absolutely no downside. Kindness is lovely to give and lovely to receive. Showing kindness is not dependent on weighing up someone’s deservedness before we express it. It is a choice to be that way regardless of how others behave. And all of us are capable of demonstrating it. Kindness brings with it respect and consideration of others - a recognition of our essential humanity. True kindness cannot be faked. It is often accompanied by gentleness and lightness in those who practice it sincerely. But the real beauty of kindness is the effect it has on the recipient. We know when we have been touched by it, and we open up to its delightful presence. Certainly, the world needs more of this precious quality.
The last universally beneficial practice that we will highlight today, is trust. Many people find this hard to practice. They get tangled up in their thinking minds trying to work out if it is safe to trust. We wonder if trust will make us vulnerable to deception or harm. Some believe that suspicion is a more reliable protection than openness. To practice trust, we need to let go of the mind’s insistence that we are unsafe, or that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable place, because this kind of thinking causes us to pull in away from life, cutting us off from its inherent gifts. Trust as a quality is not dependent on favourable outer circumstances, nor meant as an armour to shield us from disappointment. In its purest form trust signifies that we are willing to believe in the inherent goodness of life. If we sit quietly for a few moments and allow the notion of inherent goodness to inform our perception, we feel a sense of connection. It is this connection that joins our individual experience to the greater whole of which we are part. It is this connection that supports us when we need to dig deep. It is this connection that transports all the nourishing qualities for a meaningful life. Without it we can feel alone, adrift, overwhelmed. For we cannot truly know ourselves or life itself if we cannot develop trust in the source that gives rise to them both.