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For some time, I have been practising different types of meditation and yoga, and I have also tried to study a bit of Buddhism, from which I have got the main values that guide my life (I cannot say I am a Buddhist, but I believe the teachings of the little Buddhism I know have been my main source of well-being, together with the love of the people around me).

Still, I live trapped in my particular little daily samsara in which my work determines the shape of my days, and I don't see a way out of it. I live in Madrid, I am finishing my PhD in a university and planning to move for a post-doc abroad very soon. Ever since I started studying at the university, I feel like I have been in a continuous race, always moving to new goals. This has not been my decisions, but rather what I thought best at the moment to make a living. I have never had other options or I have not known how to see them. I do not have any professional or academic ambition (which makes me feel peaceful), my needs are very simple, I do not spend much money -but yet, one has to pay rent and food, and for me the PhD and now the postdoc have been the best options for a work which seemingly offered the best way to harmonize my work with my personal life. My work, however, eats away a big part of my days, and I haven't had real holidays in years. I am not unhappy, but I do not wish to be doomed to more years of this meaningless cycle of pursuing goals, working on projects and then get home drained of energy from working on something "competitive", as is academia. I do not want to earn more money, I just want a more simple life. I have no idea, however, which work could I look for, or what changes should I try. I just want to have my horizon depleted of projects and plans. I have researched, for example, how to grow my own food, which is not entirely easy on a small apartment on a city, but even so I have to pay housing, which is expensive, and forces me to keep working. I don't see to have a way out, I do not have the resources to "start a new life", and the only thing I want is to find a way to restructure my life and live a more simple life, in accordance with the Buddhist teachings I have so far gathered, not having always new projects to fight for, not having my life defined by my work. The Buddha, apparently, just went out there "into the wild", so as to speak, which is unthinkable for me. I do not even have the resources or knowledge to survive if I give up my job and house, but I would do the closest thing to that that is possible.

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    I'd take it with a grain of salt that a prince living inside a palace his entire life up and left and survived in the wilderness with no help.
    – Issel
    Mar 2 at 7:06
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    You might think this facetious and in fact, it's vital; prolly more vital than dropping the value-based comparisons in your final sentence. Start by taking the very same Question above and breaking it down into paragraphs. Having done that - even if you keep exactly the same words and "merely" add spaces - apply the same technique to everything else in life. If you doubt me, ask your meditation and yoga teaches what they think… Mar 2 at 23:42
  • "I have researched, for example, how to grow my own food" for you, is this a goal, a wish or a method?
    – Mast
    Mar 3 at 18:43
  • That's an interesting question :) I would say that, actually, it is three times at the same time: It is a goal (something I am approaching), a wish (something I want / I consider desirable and enjoyable) and a method (a method for the greater goal of a simpler, more peaceful and more sustainable life)
    – Qwertuy
    Mar 3 at 22:11
  • My answer is small. Despite the many insightful suggestions I think there is one thing you may still need to consider. The solution is to do it. After much analysis and asking of advice you have all there is . Whether it is starting a new garden or a new life, all that remains is for you to do it. Of course I'm not saying it's easy. I'm still hoarding advice and looking for more. But at some point you will need to take steps, small or large, and make some changes. . Blessing on you.
    – Elliot
    Mar 6 at 2:14
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Beautiful question, one of the best questions I ever encountered on this site - at least for me, because I can relate to it in my own life, too.

Without going into too many personal details, aren't most of "successful" people in the modern "West"-style society defined and driven by their jobs and careers? And wouldn't it be nice if life were simple and pure, oh dear.

For me, an answer to this most important question of "what are we living for", an answer I was seeking for years, an answer I slowly matured into, is that the pace, the color, the overall atmosphere and the very meaning of our life are not defined by our job or location but only by our attitude, our personal mental/emotional stance so to speak.

You see, I have studied Buddhism for a quarter century now, and to my surprise what I came to realize is that being in authentic harmony with one's own values and indeed with one's heart - is the unquestionably highest pinnacle of the most advanced parts of the Buddhist teaching.

In other words, if you live contrary to this principle, no matter how successful your outward life and career is - you will be unhappy. It's a mathematical law, there's no happiness when you are in conflict with yourself. And vice versa, if you don't have any inner conflict at all, which is to say if your every step and every word and even every breath is an expression of your true authentic being, then no matter what shape your external life takes, your actual living reality will be peaceful and harmonious.

In other words, the answer to your question is already right there in the title. Slow down and live according to your values, there's nothing else that you need, you just have to find the guts to live like that every second of every minute of every hour of every day, regardless of circumstances. You don't need to move to the Himalayas, you must create Himalayas in your life by being who you really are in the midst of your current situation.

In practice this means that when you face a choice between living according to your authentic being and bending over backwards to satisfy a requirement of the samsaric flow - you must choose the real thing, even if it means failing on an external commitment or losing your job or whatever other "scary" thing that could happen. The circumstances will change accordingly, the things you don't need will fall-off, and what is left will be in harmony with your being - because that's what you'll keep on choosing.

I swear I spent years scrutinizing every Buddhist teaching I could lay my hands on and this is what I came to. I mean, there's being a good person, good karma and all, there's non-attachment, there's emptiness - all of these things are valid and true. But being fearlessly True and Authentic despite the constant pressure of everyday things is the real Enlightenment I have found.

If I could do it, you can do it. I promise you won't regret :)

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    This is a very raw, honest and human answer to a question that shares the same qualities.
    – Max
    Mar 1 at 21:46
  • 1
    And one last thing: it's not something you can/should expect to be able to achieve in just one moment. To get that level of consistency and character requires practice and more practice, just as with any other excellent skill. Mar 3 at 14:22
  • Thank you for a beautiful hope-giving answer :) It is not only helpful and wise, it is also kind and warm. I think (I hope) I am on a path towards what you describe, and for that I feel peaceful.
    – Qwertuy
    Mar 3 at 18:19
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My work, however, eats away a big part of my day...

Try viewing your work not as something that takes you away from a peaceful life but as part of that peaceful life itself. Your work is the work. Try living your slow, peaceful life while you are working. Notice what your breathing is like while you're working. Notice anything that takes you away from that peaceful feeling. Meditate before you begin work for the day so that you have a baseline with which to compare.

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The Buddha was a monk, which means he went on alms round for food. His society allowed him to do this because he could live in forests and because there was a culture where people offered food and other requisites to monks. Therefore, the Buddha did not actually "go into the wild" because there was always a safety net in terms of receiving material requisites from the religious society.

The Buddha also advised laypeople to develop a profession to earn a living. You should finish your studies to prepare yourself to earn a living. Surely, your studies will end in the near future rather than go on forever. They will not be permanent. Earning a living is part of the Buddha's noble eightfold path.

  1. "Vast learning, skill in handicrafts, well grounded in discipline, and pleasant speech — this is the highest blessing.

  2. "To support one's father and mother; to cherish one's wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupations — this is the highest blessing.

Maha-mangala Sutta

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Andrei's answer is wonderful & spot on and I'd like to elaborate on it by sharing my own interpretation:

You describe a sense of meaninglessness, which over time can easily turn into depression and a great deal of pain; You've learned that the fast paced, achievement oriented nature of much of the world does not interest you and so in some sense, you seem bored/uninterested/disgusted with it. Similarly, you've learned that you would rather live a simpler slower paced life.

But essentially you are trying to find out what to actually do about this, how to make it happen - It's difficult to just get up and make that lifestyle change, seemingly impossible from where you currently stand.

It's good to have this goal in mind and if that is really what you want, you can try to make it happen, all the while, you need to learn how to make peace with your current situation, otherwise it will drag you down and hinder your ability to do what you want in your life.

How to actually make peace with it? You need to make space inside yourself for your current lifestyle. Welcome it, see the positive in it, learn to love it in every way you can. If you find yourself making conflict with something in your life, see if you can immediately welcome it instead, welcome that conflict, accept it, play with it and see if you can make friends with it.

Make a home inside you for all this meaningless stuff and see how long it wants to stay; It won't stay forever.

Those feelings of meaninglessness are coming up to bother you, to try and get you to do something about it, to go live that simpler life, which fine, if you go do that, you might be happier and you might be happier for some time, but there's no guarantee that life there won't become meaningless too... it's a gamble. There's a phrase - "Wherever you go, there you are".

So, welcome those feelings instead, try not to them bother you, and just watch and see how over time, those feelings don't stick around for as long. They aren't getting from you what they want, so they will just leave and try again another time. After a while, those feelings will be so starved from your lack of being bothered, that they will have no reason to keep arising and will eventually just fade away.

If you practice in this way towards your feelings, making peace with them, making peace with your living situation, you can still live that simpler life somewhere else... or maybe at that point you'll realize that you are already living it.

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The point is to learn how to feel.

You are aware of your values but find it hard to live them, in a difficult world, because you cannot feel those values, you only know them.

Once you have taken your values into you feelings, you will have no choice, but to find a way, because your feelings will react against anything that is not coherent with your values.

However, learning to feel is not easy, it means turning to face all the idiosyncrasies, peculiarities, insanities and difficult things about yourself - the things you probably started meditating to try to overcome - getting to know you, in the flesh, the impure, as well as you in the purity of the mind's ideal.

The mind is a contradiction, to realise your ideal you must face in yourself what is far from ideal, in fact probably intolerable. The nature of the mind is contradiction, and the mind finds those contradictions intolerable, which is why we must face them.

We must face the intolerable contradictions to be able to feel, and most importantly, live, the true beauty we are looking for.

2

Some tips from my own experience (somewhat in similar shoes, though I am a few decades past your point in life):

  • First of all, what you are trying to describe seems to be Secular Buddhism, i.e. the techniques and philosophies, but without the more traditional eastern religious aspects. This is useful and good - even just the meditation and mindfulness techniques from Buddhism are great without any kind of religious beliefs at all. That stuff works, period, no matter what you believe (and you can prove/experiment with that for yourself easily to verify it).
  • Unless you find a way to live without money, make it so that what you are doing to get money is something that you like to do. This might mean finding something out of academia, but it might also just mean to change your mindset a bit. Meditation can help with that. It should not be the whole semester that is weighing you down, it should be just the situation right now that should be on your plate.
  • Find ways to be, well, relaxed, even when you are pursuing a goal. For me personally, whenever I feel that I am getting hectic, I start writing things down, so I can forget them. In the distant past, we had something like "getting things done", which was a science in itself, but these days you can just get a beautiful fountain pen and nice little booklet, and keep a "bullet point journal". That's beautifully low-tech and relaxing and can be almost meditative in itself.
  • The main point of the previous hint is to only have very few items that you need to have in mind "now", which directly leads into the Buddhist/meditative idea of caring about the now, not the past or future. And ruthlessly strike away things that are somehow on your TODO list but not something you want to do.
  • You complain about the circular way of things, the endless cycle of pursuing goals. That's literally life. The goals are only "heavy" for you because you give them more meaning that they need to have. The problem is not that there are goals, but that you are worrying about them all the time. The goal is to not worry, but just do what you are doing right now. As soon as you let go of the idea that goals have any meaning, you can be much more happy, while still eventually ending up at them. Even the purest solitary monk deep in the Thai forrest needs to have the daily goal of finding something to eat; his mind will be in a state where that does not matter at all, but he will still do whatever needs to be done.
  • Finally, there are jobs out there which are mindless and rote, where you can punch in and out, and never worry about anything. Nobody keeps you from looking for one like that and switching careers. Many of them have a bad image but are not actually that bad, which makes it not unlikely that you might actually get a position... look around a bit.
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I'm not a Buddhist but, for me, it is the best of religions. In my twenties (I'm now in my mid-seventies), I found myself in a similar situation to you. I had permanent muscle tension around my neck and shoulders and rushed everywhere. By luck, one of the professors was a Buddhist and held informal weekly lunchtime chats for about half a dozen interested students.

I came up with a solution for myself: Whenever I had a coffee break, I would change mode. If I had fifteen minutes I would see it as a long holiday. I would relax at the start and drift through the time. I don't mean being lazy, I mean I would remove all pressure and simply do the things I wanted to do as though unhurriedly drifting along a river that happened to be going in the direction I wanted. I found that, subjectively, a 15 minute break could seem like an hour of almost bliss. With practice I could switch this state on and off almost instantly.

I would urge to to learn how to do this. Step in and out of the river at will, even for a few seconds at a time.

Now that I'm retired, I can look back and see that, although I never had the desire or even the willpower to sit and meditate, these periods of moving meditation made a huge difference.

Important: The best parts about my retirement are

(1) I used some of my earnings to build up a modest pension. My material wants are not huge but I can buy things and get things repaired easily when needed. I constantly see homeless people on the street who have not provided for their old age. I'm glad I didn't go that way.

(2) I have overcome my fear of death. This would take more than a paragraph to explain but it is very much related to understanding that "I" am living now - not in the future, not in the past. I die every second and am reincarnated every instant. This relates back to the lesson I derived from those informal Buddhist sessions 50 or so years ago. Nevertheless be compassionate towards the future you and make sure they will be able to have a comfortable life.

Advice?

You don't have to have a high-pressure job. You can do something mundane 9-5 with no out-of-hours working or responsibility. Then you can leave it behind at the instant you leave the premises. Live simply and put a bit away each day for old age and in case of sickness.

0

I have to give you a contrarian answer.

The orthodox Buddhist path diverges into the lay householder path, and the path of the renunciate (anagarika / "homeless ones", samanera / novice, bhikkhu / monk). Please see this answer.

The path of the lay householder is in accordance with the five precepts and Right Livelihood (AN 5.177). It involves working in a profession or doing business, growing wealth and may include having a family. Please see the question "Can a Buddhist own and run a billion dollar business?".

The renunciate typically joins the monastic community (which typically is not in the "wild", but usually a suburban or rural monastery near civilization) and observes the eight precepts (as a anagarika / "homeless ones"), the ten precepts (as a novice monk / samanera) or the monastic rules of the Vinaya (as a full fledged monk / bhikkhu).

The renunciate is like a full time professional practitioner of the teachings. The "holy life" is basically the monastic life focused full time on the study and practice of Buddhism, aiming to reach enlightenment.

From the Dhammapada XI:

  1. Those who in youth have not led the holy life, or have failed to acquire wealth, languish like old cranes in the pond without fish.

  2. Those who in youth have not lead the holy life, or have failed to acquire wealth, lie sighing over the past, like worn out arrows (shot from) a bow.

So crafting an easy and relaxed lifestyle of your choice, which is neither the holy life, nor the productive lay life, is not in accordance with orthodox Buddhist principles. Beware not to mistaken an idyllic, relaxed, retired life for Buddhism.

Please see this advice by Ven. Ajaan Fuang from "Awareness Itself", to a lay person:

Another student disappeared for several months, and on her return told Ajaan Fuang, "The reason I didn't show up is that my boss sent me to night school for a semester, so I didn't have any time to meditate at all. But now that the course is over, I don't want to do anything but meditate — no work, no study, just let the mind be still."

She thought he'd be pleased to hear how intent she still was on meditating, but he disappointed her. "So you don't want to work — that's a defilement, isn't it? Whoever said that people can't work and meditate at the same time?"

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  • My answer is small. Despite the many insightful suggestions I think there is one thing you may still need to consider. The solution is to do it. After much analysis and asking of advice you have all there is . Whether it is starting a new garden or a new life, all that remains is for you to do it. Of course I'm not saying it's easy. I'm still hoarding advice and looking for more. But at some point you will need to take steps, small or large, and make some changes. . Blessing on you.
    – Elliot
    Mar 4 at 3:55
  • @Elliot Did you intend to write this as a separate new answer instead of as a comment to my answer?
    – ruben2020
    Mar 5 at 4:09
  • Yes, I did. I just joined to put this in but did not have enough points(?) to make an answer. I missed that it was a comment to your answer. Thanks
    – Elliot
    Mar 6 at 2:14

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