Practical Philosophy is to the answer the question, what is the meaning of life and what can I do practically to find the meaning of ”my life”.
Often times people who have done a lot of personal development are looking for the meaning and purpose of life. Some of those people have been successful at work but they didn’t find fulfillment. Others have tapped into different religions and teachings but still, they were not able to find themselves.
Those people often look for principles and practical philosophy strategies that can help them find themselves and their path on the life journey.
They are looking for the underlying oneness and unity that holds the key to a happy, fulfilling and peaceful life.
Practical philosophy is something that has been with us for 1000’s of years, which answers the questions ‘’what is the meaning of my life’’, ‘’how do I find my path in life’’, what is the reason for living’’.
At Wikipedia Practical Philosophy is referenced as:
”Practical Philosophy is also the use of philosophy and philosophical techniques in everyday life. This can take a number of forms including
reflective practice, personal philosophical thinking, and philosophical counselling”
Practical Philosophy from a Suited Monk perspective is Practical (Suit) and Philosophical (Monk). It’s to answer the question how do I live a life true to myself to achieve oneness, enlightenment, and peace in the Suit world that we live in today?
Practical Philosophy and Self-Knowledge
In the ancient Greek Philosophy, there is a profound saying ”know thyself”. Know thyself is one of the most important aspects and areas to explore on the life journey. It will answer questions such as ”what is my purpose in life”? ”What am I here for”? ”What is the meaning of my life”? In my own terms, I feel we have two distinct areas of knowing ourselves. One is on the Suit part, one is on the Monk part. I feel in the world today, many people say they know themselves but what does it really mean?
For example, if you look at corporate performance (Suit) people know themselves through : From a life journey point of view (Monk) people know themselves through:
Often times we focus on the Suit our external self and we forget to nurture our Monk internal self. As a result, we disconnect from our true self and feel lost and confused on the life journey. We need to learn to find alignment in life. We want to be happy and live a good life true to ourselves but also be sustainable in business or as a freelancer or entrepreneur or employee.
I personally believe that practical philosophy is a way of closing that gap. Self-Knowledge in this case goes beyond the corporate Suit. It goes into ”understanding Self” and the self refers or links to the spirit or heart. The way to cultivate self-knowledge is through self-awareness. In corporations or business schools you learn a lot of knowledge but rarely do you learn about understanding Self. In order to be sustainable in life we first have to understand the life journey and secondly close the GAP between our Suit and Monk. So let’s look at a model that explains the life journey.
Practical Philosophy – A Modern Model
The Life Journey Model is a visual representation of the journey you take throughout your life, from birth to death. It’s a practical philosophy to offer fresh insight into age-old wisdom in a visual way, giving shape to humanity’s common experiences on the journey of your life. It is presented here as a tool for you to use during your journey to help you navigate.
One man, a successful entrepreneur in his forties, told me that he found the model served as a “roadmap” for life; something he had searched for over many years. You can use the model to clarify your path to happiness in today’s world, including how to overcome the various obstacles and challenges you may face. It can help you to bridge the gap you may feel between the spiritual world of your inner monk and the everyday reality of the suit you wear.
The world’s religious and mystical traditions have led people on the journey of life since the beginning of time. In Christianity in one of the four gospels, John says that Jesus came so that “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come”.In this case, “He” is the inner monk and so in other words, they would have access to their inner monk, and thus would find lasting happiness.
Buddhism teaches that one can reduce or end suffering. The end of suffering is equated with enlightenment, which is described as a state of being beyond the duality of happiness and unhappiness. The Buddha spoke about letting go of desires and living a peaceful and happy life. In Taoism, the Chinese word tao means path or way. The Tao is not different from what I call the journey of life. It refers to the flow of the universe, which keeps everything balanced and ordered. As described in the Tao Te Ching, Taoists believe in following the Tao and living a simple life in balance with nature and the divine.
Even modern writers have explained the journey of life. For example, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung revolutionised his field by introducing two main concepts: the collective unconscious, which suggests that we are not all separate individuals; and synchronicity, which suggests that we can’t understand everything in life through the mind alone. According to Jung, when you are on your life journey, “your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart”. He further counseled that those who look to the external world live life as if in a dream and only those who are able to look within will awaken.
Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist whose ideas relied heavily on the theories of Jung, wrote about the journey of the hero in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. On this journey, the hero—who can be anyone among us—conquers challenges, meets his love, and finds his purpose.
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote The Road Less Traveled, which became a bestseller in the 1980s, to describe his vision of spiritual evolution. He famously said of the journey of life, that “greater awareness comes slowly, piece by piece…. The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning…. The experience of spiritual power is basically a joyful one”.
Novelist Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist about a boy who left his home and went to Egypt. There he conquered many challenges, listened to the universal teachings, found love, and returned home a rich man. This novel explains what religions teach, but does so through story and metaphor.
It is important to me that this model not be identified with any particular belief system, religious group, or culture. I designed it so that it respects people from all beliefs and cultures. If you choose to work with it as a practical philosophy, know that you don’t need to give up or modify any of these aspects of your personal background to get the full benefits it offers.
Overview of the Model
When you try to discover who you are—whether through time-honored religious scriptures or through contemporary works of fiction—you may find inspiration in the words of others. One important question is: “How can you apply that wisdom and practical philosophy in your own life?”
How to apply such wisdom may not seem obvious because universal truths are mysterious in nature. They are spiritual or mystical and often they are formulated in ways that seem obscure or incomprehensible. We have busy jobs and families to take care of, but we don’t have time to sort all these things out—or so we tend to feel.
The Life Journey Model shows you how to bridge the gap between your external world (which is everything contained within your current reality, and everything you see, hear, think, and believe about the world around you; in fact, everything that is important to support the ego) and your internal world (which is your spirit, your purpose in life, and your deepest desires; that is, everything that nourishes your heart). Each of these worlds is represented by an arc in the diagram. The arcs correspond to our progression through the various stages of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
If you look at the model and follow the arc of your external journey, you will see it moves in the direction of the ego; that is, toward the personality and sense of self you put forward to the external world. For this reason, I also refer to it as the “suit” you wear in the world. If you focus exclusively on the suit you are wearing you can have great success, but your inner world may still feel empty.
The arc of the internal journey, on the other hand, moves in the direction of the heart or who you are in your innermost being i.e. your inner self or inner monk. Focusing on your inner monk will invite awakening to the experience of deep and lasting peace and happiness. Of course, for that happiness to be truly lasting, the suit and the monk must be fully integrated.
For now, to summarise, the ego/suit is characterised by the experience of separation from others, the world, and even your own self. The spirit/monk is characterised by the experience of oneness and the sense of being complete and whole within yourself. The practical philosophy that I teach will help you bridge both worlds.
External Versus Internal
The external and internal worlds are diametrically opposed. For example, everything in the external world is subject to change. Whatever you experience in the external world can be finished or ended, such as a job or a relationship. The core of your internal world, on the other hand, is eternal. When you experience something fully in your internal world, it will always be there for you. If you find true happiness within yourself, no one will be able to take it away from you. In fact, this is how you know whether you have found true happiness. If someone criticises you causing you to lose your feeling of happiness, then that feeling was part of your changing external world, but if the happiness remains no matter what anyone says or does, then you know it comes from the core of your internal world and it is eternal.
We deal with the external world primarily through our mind, beliefs, and fears, while constantly attempting to shield our ego. In the internal world, we learn to rely on intuition and surrender. By surrender I mean simply allowing things to happen as they are, without trying to force them to be the way you think they should be. In other words, going with the flow, rather than forcing your own agenda. When you surrender in this manner and don’t limit yourself to what you already know, you open yourself to greater possibilities and more of them. It is through these unanticipated possibilities and the many unexpected opportunities that come your way, that you are able to discover and nurture your inner self.
You may think surrender has a negative connotation. For instance, you may equate surrender with giving up; feeling defeated; or worse yet, submitting to someone else’s will. The kind of surrender I am talking about feels more like stepping outside your own objections and temporarily suspending your own judgement about why something may or may not work out.
Having faith is important when it comes to surrender. Faith means being willing to act even without evidence that what you are doing will turn out the way you want. On the life journey, one of the things you will learn is to have faith in, or trust what you discover in your internal world.
The external world brings us the experience of rejection, while the internal world generates acceptance. This is because the external world increases stress, while the internal world has the power to reduce it. We experience this all the time in small ways, though often we aren’t aware of it.
For example, suppose something unpleasant happens at work. You naturally tense up from the stress and do your best to escape (i.e. reject) what is happening. Even if you feel you can’t escape the actual situation, you can sit down for a few minutes and close your eyes and feel what’s going on in your inner world. If during these moments you really allow yourself to feel and embrace what’s going on without trying to change it, you may discover that calm acceptance is possible. You relax because you are living in the present moment, not thinking about what happened ten minutes earlier or what will happen when you return to work. In this state of peace, it is easier to accept what is happening and respond to it from a place of inner calm.
Greg, the CEO of a large logistics company, was consumed by a desire for money, power, position, title, and the need to get ahead. You could say he completely became the suit he was wearing. He always thought he had to beat the guy next to him. All this fed his ego, and for a while it worked. But as he achieved success after success, the opposite began to occur. Instead of feeling satisfied, his ego only got hungrier. It was as if he was in a never-ending race that had no finish line, and yet he didn’t stop to question what the point of making another million dollars was if he was just going to feel more disconnected from his children and wife.
Then Greg started to work with an executive coach and tap into his own purpose and heart. He decided to integrate this into his decision-making process. Together, Greg and the coach crafted a personal strategy that would give him fulfilment, joy and high levels of satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the things that fed his ego didn’t even make the top ten items that he said brought him happiness. He discovered that what he loved most was to give, to delight people, and to create stories. Of course, he continued to focus on his business and creating wealth, but it was against a completely different backdrop—one driven by his internal world. In terms of the Life Journey Model, Greg was moving from the external to the internal arc, and integrating what he discovered in his internal world with his life in the external world.
In life, most suffering is linked to our obsession with things in the external world. That’s why the external world arc in the model is lined with references to negative experiences. Similarly, lasting happiness tends to stem from the positive experiences that originate within ourselves. If you look at the model, you will see these positive experiences on the internal world arc. Of course, some degree of excitement and pleasure can be found in the external world, however, these experiences are not to be confused with lasting happiness as they are temporary in nature.
We tend to meet the challenges of the external world through a screen of fear and self-interest, which only leads to further pain and suffering. Among the challenges of the internal world are uncertainty and doubts. If we handle these through surrender and by following our intuition, they can turn into assets. When we accept that we can’t and don’t know what is going to happen, we open ourselves to the flowing possibility of all things.
It’s really important that you do not fall into the trap of judging the external world as bad and the internal world as good. At any point during life, we may place greater emphasis on one world or the other; however, being able to live with both in balance is most desirable. Often, an accident, burnout, or another crisis occurring in the external world serves as a catalyst for a shift to occur. Through a process of awareness and healing, we are able to move from external to internal; from separation to oneness.
The model shows the two arcs growing farther apart because most people choose one arc. Most people choose to walk the external journey, and when they do, they forget to nurture their heart. As a result, the gap between their ego/suit and their heart/monk increases as time passes. Those people who listen to their heart and choose to follow their intuition decrease the gap. For them, the experience of a life based solely on ego becomes increasingly distant.
Keep in mind that although the model shows the external and internal worlds as opposites and oneness as the property of the internal world only, when we fully embrace the internal journey, these distinctions dissolve. In the state of oneness, instead of two arcs, the external and internal worlds are seen as integral parts of one whole.
The Model Describes Your Life
Every element in the model can be experienced in different “time zones” in your life. For example, even though happiness is shown at one point on the arc, it can be experienced at any age, whether you are young, middle-aged, or older. Similarly, unhappiness can be experienced at the beginning, middle, or end of your quest in the external world; again, it all depends on the journey you take.
You can use the model to help you understand your journey in life and the decisions you have made, as well as to help you make better decisions in the future. Joyce, whom you met in the last chapter, felt she “woke up” when she saw the model. It confirmed to her that she had made the right choice in deciding not to leave her job. The model enabled her to realise that money alone was not the determining factor. She saw that money was on the external arc of her life, but what she valued more—being part of a community and having a sense of meaning and purpose—was a reflection of her internal world.
You will see how to bridge the gap between your external and internal worlds, find greater peace, and discover your own path. You will also find explanations for the remaining elements of the model, such as acceptance/rejection, future/past, unconsciousness, and external wants and needs. You will learn how to apply these laws in your internal world to find happiness, meaning, love, purpose, and joy.
After running seminars and coaching in Asia for over 10 years I see more and more that there is a big GAP between practical philosophy in life and practical philosophy in business. A business is typically run based on performance, shareholder return, market share, innovation and growth. When I talk to an HR department or Senior Leadership these are typically the targets for training and development. Sometimes the focus is on communication skills, or developing a Global Mindset or sales skills to ultimately enhance employee performance.
A few years ago I was running a workshop for a global Fortune 500 company with the Asia-Pacific Leadership team. During the seminar I asked them, ”what is the purpose of a business”? 80% of the people said ”to make money”. I was shocked by the response. If the purpose of a business is to make money you can start unethical practices such as cheating, taking bribes just to make money. The other 20% are the rare leaders who had already transcended their own self and their success. They believed that a business is to solve a problem and do good for people and society. And making money is just an outcome of the purpose you serve.
And this is where practical philosophy kicks in.
There are two kinds of leaders in the world today:
they focus on developing and nurturing the Suit (Ego), performance and job title for their own success. They don’t care about purpose or doing good. It’s all about focusing on the self to live a ”good life”.
these leaders focus on the alignment of the Monk (spirit) with the Suit (Ego). Purpose goes hand in hand with success, values with performance, intuition with data in decision making. They also want to live a good life but in addition do good for people and society.
I am well aware that group 2 and a business like this is ”ideal”, and we don’t live in an ideal world. There is a mismatch between the external world that we live in today and the realization and understanding of life. This is a GAP that has to be closed through self-awareness and wise leaders who look beyond personal gain. Wise leaders are leaders who understand the bigger picture and the meaning and purpose of life. They transcend their own ego to do good for people and society. Typically those leaders are on their path in life. They have integrated their true self both in life and business. They indirectly apply practical philosophy that is important for them.
(”add the article on the meaning of life here” + video)
There are a few modern practitioners, all of who are on the journey of self-realization finding their own life path and then practicing and sharing their thoughts on the lessons they learned towards their journey of self-realization. For example, Steve Jobs of Apple, Jack Ma of Alibaba, Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani, to name just three.
In fact, these modern thinkers share the common message that I mentioned earlier a balance and alignment of your internal and external worlds is the key.
Although I see these commonalities, in my ten years running seminars in Asia, I’ve seen a big gap between classic philosophies and most modern real world practices. Many people struggle with finding the meaning in their life.
Ok, very few people stumble on their path and follow it through to an awareness of their inner self. Yet many people I know remain completely unaware, and subsequently unhappy.
Modern society tends to focus on our external achievements and appearances, with our internal values and happiness pushed to the background. I feel it’s time to switch it around.
Now what does this mean practically for you?
This is what I refer to by aligning your Suit and Monk / The Suited Monk Philosophy. In essence, it’s the coming together of your internal world, the Monk, with your external world, the Suit.
And when working towards this balance, you are on the journey of self-realisation. Throughout the whole journey, you gain an understanding and insight to the answer to that ultimate questions, ‘what is the meaning of life?’
So, let’s start with your Monk, your internal world. Everyone has a Monk within. The problem is that most of us have never been given the opportunity to listen and cultivate it. Instead we got educated on what a successful life looks like, how much money you make, your car, your house and your job title. We got disconnected from an early age in life and we feel unhappy and lack meaning and purpose. What you need to do is to re-build a relationship with your inner self, embrace your true self. Learn to listen to your intuition. Understanding your values and making decision based on them. Cultivating your purpose and passion in life and finding your true path.
When you learn to cultivate the Monk you can build your Suit around it. So you can be happy internally and successful external whatever success means to you. Think of The Suit like your career, your job title, the money you make. It’s that external armour that we all wear in the real, everyday world. In this way you will find alignment between your internal and external self.
Remember, striving for the balance is key. Your Suit and job may look good but if you don’t listen to your Monk when making decisions, well, you’ll have an imbalance. Such an imbalance will avoid the journey towards self-realization.
Now, the good news is, you can close this GAP. If you align the following Suited Monk criteria you can be happy internally and successful externally. This is the journey towards self-realization.
And remember, you don’t have to be a copy of Steve Jobs or Jack Ma. You just have to listen to your own inner Monk and find your true path in life.
If you want to know ‘’how do to find your path in life’’ you can watch my youtube video titledd ‘’how do I find my path in life’’
Understanding the meaning of life doesn’t have to be difficult. The only thing you need to do is to cultivate your inner Monk, that is the journey towards your own self-realization.
Practical Philosophy Closing the GAP
In order for us to close the GAP we need to understand how the GAP affects us. The idea is very easy to understand and apply. Whenever you take action which is not in line with your Monk (heart), a Gap is created. For example, you take on a job offer which your heart doesn’t feel passionate about. Or You fail to speak up when the shopkeeper gave you extra change. Or simply when you agree with something you actually don’t agree with. In all situations like this a Gap is created. Your mind and Suit feels good , but your heart and Monk feels uncomfortable. In between the heart and the mind is a feeling of discomfort.
Career success, identification with the egoic self, the need and desire to have things, the search for pleasure—all these collectively drive your focus toward things in the external world. This is normal because it’s how we are conditioned as we grow up, however, there is a huge downside. When your focus is on the external world, you become increasingly disconnected from your true self, true desires, and purpose in life.
Why do so many of us strive for external success when it ultimately fails to give us the fulfillment we’re seeking? Again, most of us are simply unaware of our choices. It’s as if we’re living on autopilot. Most of us were conditioned early in life to associate certain outcomes with success. When we achieve such an outcome, we are praised. That praise only spurs us on to seek more recognition. First you start walking and your parents cheer you on; then you are awarded a prize for winning a race at school; then you receive praise for getting your diploma; then you are promoted at work and congratulated by your co-workers. The need to receive praise again and again is always there, and somehow you always feel you need more as this feeling of wanting never ends. Thus, from an early age, although we’re not aware of it, most of us begin looking for external success. We think money, power, fame or status will bring us a state of freedom and happiness.
In sum, the way you are brought up predisposes you to experience the Gap. From an early age, your parents, teachers, and society in general place so much focus on the external world that a Gap is created between your inner self, and the part of you that longs for and feels it cannot live without an increasing number of possessions and accomplishments. I’m not saying it is bad to be successful or have a lot of money. This is fine if it comes from following your true purpose and not from trying to feed a hungry ego. If you find your true purpose first—what you love to do, what you are born to do—and then make money out of accomplishing your purpose, no Gap will be created between your self and the ego.
In each of us, it is the Gap that determines how we feel. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, how famous you are, or how poor you are, the way you manage your Gap makes all the difference when it comes to your experience of happiness or unhappiness.
One of my coaching clients is a man who lives in Shanghai. He is married with a child, has a house in Europe, is very successful in his career, and generally enjoys a good life. Nevertheless, he feels deeply unhappy and a long way away from living the life he truly desires. At one point, he told me his inner pain was so extreme that he was considering suicide. Here is a man who apparently has everything life could offer, yet is so unhappy that he wants to give up his life altogether. How is this possible?
It is possible because a Gap has been created. His external and internal worlds have become so separated that it is as if he has fallen into a huge crevice between the two. We all have a Gap to a certain extent. So we need a way to close that GAP. We need to find the alignment between our internal and external self.
By embracing your inner monk and walking your internal journey, your GAP will greatly reduce. And this is the journey of life. The journey towards self-realization.
If today you feel a lack of mental, emotional, or spiritual balance, you can take this 2-minute questionnaire designed by Prof. Dr. Mike Thomson from CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) that will help you identify the Gap between your internal and external worlds. Take your free check-up here now.
Here are 6 Strategies to apply practical philosophy in your life:
1. Action (Suit) and Patience (Monk): Lao Zi used to say ‘’Leave all things to take their natural course, and do not interfere.’’ Action and non-action have to work in alignment. It’s only through action that life or the universe can put the things in place to support you on the journey. Today you write a blog post, take a step back and see what happens. Who will read it, which person will reach out to you?
2. Follow your Monk in the Suit world: Intuition is the key to find your path in life, to find your way. Each of us has a unique path in life, by following your Monk and intuition you will find your path in the Suit world.
3. Become an observer of your Suit Mind: we are not our minds, we are our hearts. The mind and thought is an illusion. René Descartes used to say the famous quote ‘’I think therefore I am’’ which is not correct, it’s supposed to say ‘’I think therefore I am not’’. The mind is an illusion, by thinking you are attached to the illusion. It’s only by observing your mind that you operate from your Monk and true self. Learn to detach from your Mind in order to be an observer.
4. Learn to Connect the dots on your life journey: everything happens for a reason in life. Recently during one of my talks in Shanghai someone said ‘’everything is happening FOR YOU’’ not against you. I like that thought, it’s meant to say that all negative experiences, emotions, pains and struggles are there FOR US, to help us grow, to help us expand. And things bring us back to the question ‘’what is the meaning of life’’. Expansion and growth.
5. Take action based on insight and foresight: when you become an observer of yourself you create insight and foresight. Insight is an idea in the ‘’NOW’’, foresight is a perspective in the ‘’FUTURE’’. NOW is taking action today based on what feels right. When you act upon what feels right, you will get one step closer to foresight. Insight is typically more practical, foresight is typically less tangible. Foresight is more like a vision, insight is the action to be taken to achieve and get closer to that vision.
6. Being with Self and self: both mind and heart are tools to help you on the journey. The Mind / Ego can be used to work out a practical pension plan, investment and business. The heart or mind is a tool to help you find your path in life. In your life be with Self and self, the heart and mind with the heart coming first and the mind second.
Applying practical philosophy in life is the art of cultivating yourself and shaping the real world according to your path in life. It’s principles are a guiding tool to help you create insight, foresight and careful action in the world we live in today. Understanding yourself and understanding life happens through the process of self-awareness. Self-awareness leads to understanding yourself on a deeper level. This is not a quick fix, it takes a whole life journey to get to know oneself.
If you’d like to use the Suited Monk Philosophy to get a deeper understanding of yourself and life, you may join the Suited Monk Community on Facebook. Leave your thoughts and questions about the life journey and through discussion and sharing we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and life.
If you would like to use The Life Journey model as a guide for teaching about life, you are welcome to do so.
If you enjoyed this article and still want to know more about the philosophy, you may want to look at the books The Suited Monk and Suited Monk Leadership to help you close the GAP in life and leadership. Both are available on amazon.com.
Raf Adams – The Suited Monk, is a practical philosopher helping leaders find mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.
He has been living in China for 12 years, doing workshops and seminars, and is the author of The Suited Monk and Suited Monk Leadership.
Want to learn more about the Suited Monk? Click here to get one of Raf’s books