I don’t like to say negative things about the modern world in which we live. However, I do see that much of the stress experienced by most of us today is related to the way in which people are educated, which places such emphasis on competition. The idea of education for education’s sake has been replaced with education for the purpose of competing for a job, a better house, or a better car. Think about it. You have to compete with somebody else to even think you exist and you have to be the best, so that the rewards of competitive advantage are bestowed on you. This is not how life is meant to be lived.
The search of excellence is a laudatory aim. But the need to compete, to beat others is a wholly negative experience. Since no one can be the best for very long, or perhaps even at all, this causes many problems. People are constantly looking for the impossible, causing much stress and worry and despair.
Take business as an example. You may make a million, and then even a billion, but you will still see a lot of people richer than you. You will be nobody in front of them. You ask yourself what you have gained but then compare yourself to those with more, so you get upset or feel that something is missing. You try to work harder, no matter whether you can or not. You have to compete, to run after the rainbow; it is so beautiful you have to try and catch it, but of course you cannot.
Parents, teachers, even new-age gurus on YouTube are now telling you how to be better, faster, quicker or smarter. Under the guise of self-improvement we are teaching young people to compete against an amorphous idea of what is the ‘best’— and thus, creating the basis for the idea that they are not already good enough.
We should be drilling into each child’s psychology that he or she is wonderful as it is and unique and therefore a common idea of ‘best’ cannot exist. How can you compare a dandelion with a rose? In fact, how can you compare a rose with another? Aren’t they all unique? Thus, how can there be a ‘best’ rose? This fallacy must end.
You may worry that if you slow things down and listen to your heart, you may have less and you may not be able to provide so much for your family who depend on you. This is a very understandable concern that will worry many people. But think about the kind of a person that you are when you have a great deal of stress in your life: Are you kind, generous, patient and loving all of the time, or more short-tempered, frustrated and generally more absent, both in body and spirit? Are you distracting yourself with busyness, and attaining or keeping possessions, rather than being fully attentive in your life and with those closest to you?
Yes, you have to work and earn a living but this doesn’t mean you have to become a slave to this existence, you don’t have to view life only as being outside the hours of nine to five. A little more simplicity in your life and a little less expectation will give you a great sense of freedom, which will in turn stretch out time into a more relaxed pace. Don’t strive so hard that you can’t ever take a breath; walking the middle path is a quiet, deep and rich joy.
Being the best, besides developing a negative perspective, leads to demeaning of the value of others. Competition in sport is a method to push us to excel and beat our own limits. Competitiveness in the normal world is an exercise in a vicarious mode—it is an attempt at securing an enhanced idea of ourselves, which in turn only feeds the ego. Rather than attempting to be the best, try and seek the best in everything, and everyone. Make the best of your circumstances and situation. Appreciate what you have. Look for the best aspects of life and search for the best in each of the people you know and soon you will see the real meaning of striving for the essence of life. The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas