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There is a single trait that psychologists have studied over the years that can actually predict the answers to all of the 5 questions: How happy are you?; How wealthy are you?; Do you have an addictive personality?; Are you in debt?; How satisfied are you with your life?
And that trait isn’t grades in school or friendliness or confidence or emotional stability or even personality in general. It isn’t intelligence or persistence. Rather, it is restraint — the ability to resist temptation confidently and repeatedly. Psychologists call this conscientiousness.
Since time immemorial all the spiritual and religious paths in the world promoted restraint. But since the 60’s the idea of restraint has become vilified and in its place is the philosophy of instant gratification, of “Just Do It!”. But if I want to become truly happy then restraint must become an important foundation for the values I should adopt to serve as My Compass for Life.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So we’re probably in the middle now, of a series that we’re doing titled My Life’s Compass. Whether we recognize it or not, everybody has some guiding principles in their life that they are following that is meant to guide them through their life. That’s what I refer to as “my life’s compass.”
But we began this series by raising the really serious question about the values that I am holding to, that I am adopting, where have they actually come from? We tend to blindly accept that which is popular, without any consideration of where it really came from, and where it’s going, and what effect it will have on us.
A good example is that in the last decade, but particularly in the last five to seven years, there’s been an extraordinary rise in mental illness and depression, an extraordinary rise in suicide and attempted suicide, particularly with people below 30 and even 25 years of age. I mean the rise is phenomenal. It’s epidemic. And the question is, why is this happening?
And it’s largely happening because of the values that we have accepted, the things that we have accepted to be true and important.
Like one of the most actually destructive things out there is social media. The people that designed social media studied the addictive behaviour and the addictive tendencies of people, and have utilized those psychological tools to hold your attention. They want you for as long as they can have you; and the tools for doing that are to appeal, often, to things that are not really good in human nature, particularly adversity. They like the shock and awe. They like feeding scandal because scandal engages people. They encourage people to troll and to speak badly to each other online. They think, personally, they think this is really cool because it keeps people engaged. “Yeah! Yep!” [Mimes energetically using a device] All these absurd reactions. And they’re just appealing to the baser instincts. And here we are being enslaved by things that actually don’t contribute to our well-being and our happiness.
So we started this series, just to make a point of that, with a statement by one of the world’s leading environmental scientists, who talked about how terrible the situation is, and how he thought previously that a decade or more of good science was going to solve all the problems of global warming and over consumption of stuff and everything. And he said he came to the realization that science is not going to solve the problem. His statement, he said:
“The top environmental problems are greediness, selfishness and apathy; and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
That’s pretty in your face and pretty blatant. You can protest all you want and try to feel good about yourself by recycling and everything, but we have a fundamental problem: the over consumption of things in this world, for no good end, just results in more unhappiness and mental disturbance and everything.
Then in the second (and just so you know, there’s a number of new people here tonight and also joining us online: the previous couple of talks we did in the series are up on either Mantra Night Meditation New Zealand or my own Youtube channel or Facebook. Yeah, I do social media! Not to consume, but to try and share something of a bit more value.)
So in the second [part of the] series we looked at, if we’re going to really consider what are the values that I should embrace, that become my life’s compass, and one of the things I’ve got to get over really quickly is my own self-importance. Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t mean it’s right. Just because I have an opinion, or I hold something to be true, doesn’t make it true or doesn’t make it right. We need to be a lot more objective and less subjective in this arena.
And so we looked at the whole—this phenomena that people talk about “your truth” and “my truth.” This is so silly, and it’s not very mature to devolve into such silly arguments. There is, either something is true or it’s not true. Two people can’t hold differing opinions about something and both be right, as a general principle.
So in part of that conversation and discussion we examined or we looked at a statement by a guy, a writer and producer of a brilliant BBC documentary series called The Century Of The Self. And it’s all about how over the last hundred years there was this monumental rise in self-centeredness and self-importance, where people are so obsessed with that, that the idea of a greater good and me making sacrifice in my life for some greater good, just it’s almost non-existent.
And in speaking about that series that he presented he’s, the writer, Adam Curtis, very intelligent person, he said it was,
“…the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
and that pretty much describes the current world and the consumer economic system and it’s not helpful.
So before we get into the foundation for the principles that I will sort of suggest that people should consider in developing a real road map based on principles that they want to govern their life, there is a little topic I’m going to touch on, and it’s the idea of restraint.
Restraint has become an evil word. Indulgence is worshipped and restraint is like a big no-no. And I’m going to give you an example in a little bit that some people might get very upset with me about. Sorry. So we had this whole phenomena—and because I’m old enough—I’m a really old dude. I’m hitting 70. I’ve seen a lot, and I was so arrogant when I was young thinking I knew so much, and time has taught me to be infinitely more humble about things. But I saw this rise. I was a product of the flower power era, sex, drugs and rock and roll, coming out of the late 60s into the early 70s.
And during this period, when a lot of people that had been part of hippiedom decided they needed to earn a living, and so they chose the easiest route, which was the academe. And many of them went back into the academe and started teaching sociology and psychology and… but with it they were teaching values and ideas that they had picked up along the way, and one of them was this idea that you should never feel guilt about anything, that you should be able to, without any restraint, do anything you want that gives you so-called pleasure.
Of course we’ve talked about the reality that you can stimulate your body and mind and have endless so-called pleasurable experiences and yet still feel suicidal. And that’s because actual happiness is not connected at all to how much you stimulate your body and mind and have so-called pleasurable experiences. There’s no connection—zero! But we’re told that there is.
And so during this period of the 60s we had this rise in the idea that people should be free to do whatever they want without any hang-ups, and the idea of restraint became vilified. It was like Oh my God! that’s from the Middle Ages or something. Now we’re modern, and we’re free. And John Lennon was wailing, “Why don’t we do it in the road?” and then along came Nike with the all-time great slogan that epitomizes consumer economics: “Just do it!” Don’t think about it. Don’t exercise any thought process. Respond to your urges always and forever, and this way you will find happiness.
But look where we are. Why is there such a massive rise in in depression and mental illness? Why is there such a massive rise in suicide? There’s something wrong with that formula, that formula that everybody has been accepting. And we see that when you accept that formula you have the problems that we have today, like with climate change and all the things that we’re looking at that’s making the earth not look so good as we as we go forward.
So there was this idea that religion is inherently bad because it makes people guilty and it tells them, “Don’t do this,” or “Don’t do that,” whereas I should be free to do anything I want, no hang-ups. I’m sorry, that’s what animals do. That’s not human life. Human life is means a life of responsibility.
And if you want to be happy, if you actually want to be happy, more than anything you need a purpose, and if your purpose is so shallow as to just follow this influencer—or I mean the idea that you’ve got “influencers,” people that—
I mean, somebody showed me this hilarious video of people that had gone and taken pictures of “influencers,” where they’ve come out to a protest, maybe, and they’ve got all their gear, and they’re sorting through it and getting all organized, and their banner, and they unroll it, and then they look for the best person to be next to, and then they go up and stand next to them, and then their friend’s taking the video, and they’re chanting and everything. Then as soon as the video’s off they roll up everything, and thank you, and off they go. And it was just like a whole series of these absolutely ridiculous things, which everybody doesn’t see or recognize. We just look at the influencer’s video, “Oh, that’s so responsible. That’s so being socially involved. Oh it’s wonderful.” You don’t know what’s going on. Half of it’s crap. Maybe more than half.
And so the need to be a little bit deeper than to be so shallow and just follow along with the herd, is not going to bring you to the position of actual happiness that you deserve. Part of your inherent spiritual heritage as an eternal spiritual being is to experience the highest transcendent happiness and love, but you’re not going to do that by adopting these sort of shallow lifestyles.
I saw—James here, he shared with me something that they’re studying at Uni, or something that was used as part of a program they’re doing, and it was about the Dunedin experiment (is that what it’s called?) I mean it’s famous all over the world. Dunedin, famous throughout the world! Because they conducted the most astonishing social experiment ever. They took all of the people that were born in Dunedin in a particular year and committed to follow these people through their life. And the people have pretty much all agreed to participate, no matter what. And then they look at the people’s journeys and their outcomes, their health, physical health, their mental health, what sort of educational attainment, what sort of social attainment they have, the degree of happiness, all of these things are studied. And now all over the world universities are involved, and have affiliated, and are studying these things.
So I read an article by one of the psychologists from America that was dealing with these things, and I’ll just read it. It said,
“While self-control has often been related to positive outcomes in life such as higher academic achievement and better health, recent insights reveal that people with high self-control may even experience greater life satisfaction or happiness.”
And that’s just like, “What?!” This is the opposite to what we’ve been told, that if you have less control and you indulge and go for it, commit, then you are going to become happier. And the opposite is being proven to be true. Then he raises five questions,
“How happy are you? How wealthy are you? Do you have an addictive personality? Are you in debt? and How satisfied are you with your life? There is a single trait that psychologists have studied over the years that can actually predict the answers to all of these five questions, and it isn’t about grades in school, or friendliness, or confidence, or emotional stability, or even personality in general. It isn’t intelligence or persistence, rather it is restraint, the ability to resist temptation confidently and repeatedly. Psychologists call this conscientiousness.”
The massive conflict of course exists between the “just do it” consumerist world and this idea of restraint. There’s a monumental conflict.
Part of the test that was done in what it was shared with me by James: you have these little kids probably what? Four or five? Some are younger, but four or five years old sitting, and that they sit and then somebody comes in and tells them we’re going to put a marshmallow on the plate if you don’t eat it right away and you can wait for, and I can’t remember how long it is, 15 minutes, I mean not that long, 15 minutes we will give you two, but if you eat it right away, I’m sorry, you only get one. And then they leave. And then the kids are kind of like sitting there looking at it. And some of them just instantly reach out grab and stuff it in their face. Then others kind of like looking at it, and poking it, and touch the finger, and just like… and then you’ve got those that make the decision, I’m better off with two than with one. And so then they try to like, “Whoa…” and then they’re making noises, and doing all kinds of things to try and distract themselves, little kids, thinking, “I’ve got to get my mind off this so I can hang out.” They’re doing all these weird things just to be able to get the reward of two. And they talk about children as young as four or five years old that already display the trait of being able to resist these kind of things, to show restraint, they always do way better in life. The people that have no control often end up with addiction problems. They end up with death. They—because their life is driven by the idea of instant gratification.
And I’m gonna give you an example of how bad this idea of how people think that instant gratification is so important. I’m going to use the example of sex, because it’s like front and centre. Nowadays in sex education classes throughout the world, (I’m not sure what it’s like in New Zealand here but throughout the world) the idea that you should teach young people restraint is bad. What you need to do is be responsible and teach them how to be responsible in their sexual pursuits.
And that’s just like crazy land, because you have all these psychological studies that have been done, that when people at young ages get involved in heavy relationships, and particularly sexual relationships, since their own brains are not so well developed yet, they’re not reached maturity, you set young kids up for a lifetime of failed relationships. And there’s all this psychology behind it. In England they’ve done really far out studies on the subject.
But the idea that you should teach somebody to perhaps wait until you’re a little bit more mature, develop some emotional maturity, and learn how to deal with relationships, that’s just like, whoa! that’s bad. What you’re going to do is teach them how to roll on a condom, or where to get a pill from, and they should be allowed to just do anything that they want.
Is that not more or less the idea that’s promoted? Maybe over simplifying it but more or less? But if we examine that, and we think about that, and we think about the topic that we’ve just been talking about, about the importance of learning to exercise restraint and the effect that it will actually have on your life, then it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to consider.
So yoga wisdom fundamentally teaches that restraint plus spiritual practice, a spiritual practice primarily founded on meditation, it will lead to actual self-realization. And that’s why it was considered important.
When you don’t practice restraint, when you are simply constantly giving in to the urges of the mind and the body, you will never come to discover your actual spiritual identity, who you truly are. Your life will pass by, your body will age, you will find yourself in an old age home or on your death bed questioning, “What the hell was that all about?” and you will find little value in your memories of all your so-called good times, because you’re now confronted with something that is far more serious.
And so there is this fundamental reality, that from the yogic perspective feeding appetites—and I’m not saying people need to live completely weird monastic kind of lives, not at all. We’re talking about moderation. We’re talking about restraint. We’re talking about responsibility and having a purpose-driven life that actually produces happiness. But if one throws that to the wind and lives a life without any restraint they will become, as a result of that, more deeply covered by what in Sanskrit is called avidya. Avidya means ignorance, the idea that this body that I have on is me, that its desires, if they are fed, then I will truly become happy. This is not true there is no evidence to support that idea.
And so this may be a little bit of a roundabout way of getting there, but next week I want to talk about some of the guiding principles. They were known in in the ashtanga yoga system as as the yama and niyamas, and they were like guiding principles for people to come to a point of of perfect happiness, and they do involve restraint. But rather than just jumping to that I just really wanted to establish the point that just from an ordinary materialistic point of view restraint is demonstrated to be the key thing to make it so people’s lives will be better.
That’s it folks. Any question?
Audience: In that study they actually said they could predict people’s success based on…
Acd: Yeah. They have demonstrated that by running some certain tests on children at a young age that they can predict how successful, how happy they will become in their life, just based on these things that they manifest, particularly in relation to restraint. And of course some people come into this world more equipped than others. It’s the whole thing connected with reincarnation. But the principle that is established by studying young children tells us that it is actually critically important to teach children at an early age the principle of restraint and of moderation, because you will improve the outcomes in their life by doing it, And what we’re going to deal with is not just the material outcomes but the spiritual outcomes in life.
Okay? We good with that? Is this of interest? Or no? Yeah? A little bit? I think this stuff is really important, obviously. You can see how strongly I speak about it, and in speaking strongly I really hope that I’m not offending anyone. My intention is not to offend anyone. I desire, probably more than anything, that all of you will come to experience a high degree of fulfillment in life, and happiness, and spiritual realisation; and I’m trying to share that with the knowledge that I’ve received in this regard.
So we’ll sing the mantra Aum Hari Aum.