“Do not be afraid of improving slowly. Be afraid of standing still,” popular Zen master Leo Babauta tells us.
Many in our society believe that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and once we reach it, life becomes easy.
Others believe that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We’re just the way we are and nothing will change us.
These philosophies, however, run in stark contrast to traditions that have fostered greatness for thousands of year. Monasticism, regardless of the religion followed by the men or women living in the monasteries, requires not only time for prayer, but time for continual learning and personal reflection.
Some of the greatest minds in the history of humanity have come out of these traditions, as well as some of the greatest books. Monasteries are essentially the model upon which the modern university was built, with the mission of the continual quest for truth.
Why would we ever think that such a quest would end for us as individuals?
Yet we call adults ‘grown-ups,’ implying that they’ve arrived at their destination. We have to ask ourselves if this is indeed a healthy mindset.
Research now suggests, for example, that meaningful activity actually extends life expectancy.
Research also suggests that older adults who engage in continual learning have a lower risk of developing depression, dementia and general cognitive decline often associated with aging.
When we go into bookstores, we notice a section labelled “Self-help.” Many of us walk past and say, “I don’t need that. I’m doing fine.”
Yet have any of us reached the point where we no longer need to grow? Do we know so much that we no longer need to learn? Perhaps ‘self-help’ isn’t the right term to use. Perhaps the better term to use is ‘personal growth.’
A CNN report noted that those who are among the happiest people in the world take time every day to invest in their personal and spiritual growth. These include Buddhist monks, who take time every day to engage in deep meditation on themes like compassion and love.
Another study focused on Christian nuns living a monastic lifestyle and found consistent results.
It’s unrealistic, however, to expect everyone to adopt this kind of a lifestyle. Monasticism may not be for everyone, yet it teaches all of us valuable lessons.
Stephen Covey, for example, discusses the importance of “Sharpening the Saw,” taking time for renewal to regain strength and focus as we pursue our goals. This is actually the seventh habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the best-selling self-help books of all time.
The bottom line is that it’s necessary for all of us to invest time and resources into our well-being and continual growth. We’re not designed to stagnate. Trying to stand still will only cause us to move backward.
The fortunate thing today is that there are so many resources to choose from. It could be a good book, a meditation series, audio programs, a college or university course, journalling, an exercise program. There is a plethora of choices, we only need to find what suits us best.
Continual growth is one of the greatest joys of life. Though few of us are called to be monks or nuns, we’re all called to become our best selves.
As Canadian leadership expert Robin Sharma tells us, “Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life, it will improve the lives of all those around you.”
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.