You have to learn how to put yourself into a neutral position with respect to the things that don’t matter. Throughout our daily lives there are things that we encounter which we like and other things that we encounter that we don’t like. How should we respond to these two different eventualities? The answer may seem intellectually trivial but putting it into practice takes effort. That is, if action would move us closer to our goal then we should take it. If action would be irrelevant to our goal or would set us back, we should refrain from taking it.
Just for information purposes (i.e., not so that we can lament our mistakes), why not reflect on how well we adhere to this advice? To what extent do our daily actions align with our objectives? Three answers could ensue. We could believe that our actions typically lead to the results we want, we are typically not satisfied with our results or finally we don’t know the result we want. Clearly, among these results, the third is the most debilitating. Why? Because if we don’t know what we want we have no idea how to alter our behaviour so it will always be as if we’re fumbling around in the dark.
Starting with the easier problem first, if we know what we want then our solution is simply a matter of training and practice which can be of a mundane kind (i.e., non-spiritual) or it can be a spiritual practice. Insight meditation is a good practice to ensure that we remain devoted to our true objectives. However, there is no philosophical problem there. Our challenge is one of motivation but once we have that motivation we know what needs to be done.
The bigger challenge is the one that arises from not knowing what we want. This, like the easier problem, needs to be solved with training and practice but the result we’re seeking is a different. We are specifically seeking insight into our true objectives. This is strictly a spiritual problem with obviously important philosophical implications. The only way to solve this kind of problem is a spiritual practice, and according to the Buddha’s teaching, insight meditation — i.e., structured introspection — is the main practice that can lead to answers.
Therefore, if we want to become satisfied with the results of our actions we need two things. First we need to know what satisfaction would look like for us and second we need to devote resources towards that outcome. Investing our time into a meditation retreat is therefore an invaluable activity because it sets us on a path to both spiritual and material satisfaction.