Here's my 10 steps to contentment

Matt Padwick spent his 20s travelling the world, chasing fulfillment as an adrenaline junkie. He eventually found it through meditation at Dzogchen Beara retreat in West Cork

1 The first step towards contentment was recognising my confusion. I was an adventure travel guide — my dream job — but I was not happy.

It was only when I slowed down, and stopped chasing rainbows, that I realised that inner peace and contentment were the goal, and that the greatest adventure of all was not ‘outside’ in the world-of-things, but within me.

2 I learned to relax and to feel more comfortable in my own company.

Science has confirmed this is possible, that the adult brain is capable of forming new cells and pathways, and that it reshapes itself in response to environment, experience and training.

This rewiring is called neuro-plasticity, and confirms what the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago — that meditation is the path to inner peace and well-being.

I followed a trail left by generations of meditation masters, who had perfected their art and entrusted it to their students with the heartfelt wish that it relieve them of their frustrations and bring them happiness.

3 To sustain ourselves we have to eat — every day. I had the taste of meditation, but I had to practise it — every day.

There was no quick-fix, but I experienced the benefits from the beginning. When I sat still, my mind jumped around.

The meditation taught me to bring my mind into my body. Here. Now.

Every time my mind escaped to another place or time, I brought it home again. Here. Now.

When I did this, I found meditation was not staring at nothing; it was developing an appreciation of everything.

4 We tell children to take a breath and count to ten. Being attentive to breathing is a popular and powerful method of meditation.

Simple, yet profound — it can wipe the mental slate clean.

When I was aware of my breathing I was not wandering between memories from the past and fantasies of the future. I was here, now.

There was a feeling of space and clarity, but nothing about my situation had changed — except my mind. Again, I would be carried away by thoughts and emotions and, again, I would come back to my breath.

5The mind can be compared to the surface of a lake. If it is calm and still, the reflection is true and clear; if it is disturbed, the reflection is confused and chaotic.

All of our sensory experience — everything we hear, see, think and feel — is filtered through our mind.A ‘good day’ or ‘bad day’ can have more to do with our mind than what is going on around us.

So, if my day is going pear-shaped I bring my awareness back to my breathing.

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6 Being mindful of my breathing helps me to become more present in everyday activity.

Of course, I needed to remember lessons from the past, and plan for the future, but not at the expense of missing the present.

The expression ‘count the pennies, the pounds will count themselves’ applies here. If I took care of the present, the future took care of itself.

7 We kid ourselves that by multi-tasking we are saving time, but it’s impossible to divide our attention — to do two-or-more things well at the same time. It’s stressful to try.

So much of my time was spent correcting mistakes. Better to do it properly the first time. Think before I speak. Listen before I decide. Pause before I act.

So, I try to remember to do just one thing at a time. In this way, occasionally, I experience the stillness of meditation in the midst of activity.

This sometimes happens by accident — then we may call it ‘peak experience’ or being ‘in the zone’ — but, through meditation practice, it can become a way of being.

8 Meditation led to insights that helped me in my life. For example, the truth of impermanence. I was encouraged to reflect on how nothing stays the same, that everything is changing.

No-one is safe from the ups and downs of life. Nobody has only pleasure; nobody is without pain. No person has the praise who will not one day receive the blame. And no-one will always lose and never gain.

And anonymity is all that is left after fame.

When I realised nothing is forever, instead of stressing and struggling against it, I could ‘go with the flow’.

I was ready to appreciate when things were going well, and make the most of it while it lasted. And be less disappointed when the good times came to an end, as they must.

And to be more patient and courageous in the face of challenge and difficulties. I was once advised: ‘if you don’t like what is happening, wait five minutes.’

The world is a more interesting place when I remember that it will never be like this ever again. Remembering impermanence makes me wiser.

9 Then, there’s the truth of interdependence.

Everything is interconnected. An object like a tree is only possible because of the sun and wind and rain and soil and insects and time.

And an event — like a child’s birthday party — takes so much careful preparation and organisation for it to go smoothly, yet if one minor element in the plan backfires it can have a big impact.

That’s interdependence.

In those moments, it’s tempting to feel helpless, a victim of circumstances. But it works both ways. My thoughts and words and actions have consequences. I can change my life.

This is not just optimism, it’s a universal law.

10 Last, but never least — I try to remember to be kind to myself, to be gentle and to encourage myself. It is called a ‘spiritual path’ for a reason.

Each moment, we can begin again.

Matt Padwick is bringing New York Times best-selling author and renowned meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, to Ireland. She will speak on ‘Resilience, Heart Advice for Challenging Times’, at Cork’s Triskel on Thursday, April 30.

Matt’s autobiographical novel, Running Contra Diction is available on Amazon. www.facebook.com/running.contradiction 

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