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To log off computers and shut down the constant distraction of social media, and simply sit still in the serenity of a silent room and reflect upon one’s life, can bring more mental health than most think.
It is most rewarding to engage in philosophical thought on existential topics: What is the meaning of my life? How to I acquire equilibrium and mental balance so that I can be of help to others who suffer? How do I attain inner peace in a world so filled with turmoil and chaos? How do I overcome the constant stress and tendency toward dissatisfaction that characterizes modern life? Which mental exercises may help me reach an inner state of humility and peace? To this question, world religions often have similar answers in pointing at certain virtues that may help man overcome his inner difficulties.
In “Nicomachean Ethics,” the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) recommended the “golden mean” – or the middle way – as the road to harmony. It is the middle ground between asceticism – the practice of strict self-denial, rejecting the comfort of the physical world – and hedonism – the moral philosophy that highlights physical and sexual enjoyment as the best passage to a good life. Aristotle believed that both these extremes were in error and recommended balance and moderation as a better path. He spoke of courage as a virtue, but if taken to excess, it can imply recklessness. On the other hand, a lack of courage can easily foster cowardice. Philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) pointed out that Christian morality is very much consistent with the ideal of the golden mean. It provides constructive guidance to attain an accomplished, spiritually satisfied and balanced life.
According to traditional Islam, submission to God is key. The Quran discusses both the internal and the external jihad, holy war. The struggle against man’s inner tendencies toward evil is regarded by most Muslims as the most important form of jihad. One is to work diligently to become a good person who has much to give to others in need. The inner, evil tendencies are to be fought and overcome by the help of God, thus bettering one’s life in preparing for life after death. Muslims say that man should dedicate his life to submit to God in humility, care for the family, protect women, the elderly and give help to the poor. These are essential criteria for reaching the Islamic paradise, Jannah, described as a beautiful garden with indescribable fruit awaiting.
Buddha also taught of the middle way, a path between the extremes of religious asceticism and, on the other hand, self-indulgence. The paradise of Buddhism, the ultimate goal, is known as nirvana, which means “the great awakening.” It is achievable as the result of the extinction of cravings, ignorance and, thereby, suffering. Consequentially, a life without the practicing of virtues leads to a lack of compassion toward all living things.
Engaging in excess sexual pleasure, fulfilling one’s every sexual desire, is a cause of inner imbalance and prolonged suffering, explains Buddhism. The toxins of the mind, the self-inflicted poisons that taints and darkens the human soul and causes it to lose its healthy mental balance are: greed, envy, hate, theft, violence, intoxication, arrogance, as well as being dominated by desires. When one removes the cause of suffering, harmony is the natural result. The aim is to cultivate love, self-discipline, patience, perseverance, wisdom and concentration.
In Chinese Confucianism, the doctrine of the golden mean has a similar meaning and institutes a general guidance to perfecting oneself in the community with others. The ideal is for a person to follow a path of duty, fulfilling one’s obligation to the family and society at large. This is defined as the path to happiness, working to perfect virtues such as moderation, objectivity, sincerity, honesty and propriety.
The guiding principle is that moderation and self-control will lead to a more fulfilled life. It becomes an educational life-long process toward greater understanding of how to retain mental equilibrium.
The renowned Greek Orthodox elder St. Paisios of Mount Athos (1924-1994) sums up the Christian answer to these questions in his book, “Spiritual Awakening,” saying that “the meaning of this life is to be prepared for our homeland, for heaven, for Paradise. The most important thing is for man to grasp this most profound meaning of life, which is the salvation of the soul. When man believes in God and in the future life, then he understands the vanity of this present life and prepares his passing to the next.”
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