Ten things life has taught me
Posted on 01 February 2011, 10:55
I was recently asked by a magazine to do a ‘Ten things life has taught me’ piece.
And here below is what I wrote. You will know these things well, of course; but for a beginner like me, they all seemed strangely fresh:
1) Life is difficult. Sometimes things go well for me, but most days bring problems large or small. I am learning to allow and accept difficulty as part of life, like day and night. What is the problem telling me? I like the story of St Francis meeting a slug. ‘Ah, Brother Slug,’ he said. ‘What message to you bring for me today?’
2) Everyone’s an explorer. Columbus set off in search of Asia, but failed – he only found America. But this is the thing about exploring; you don’t know what you’ll find. The best explorers seek truth, treasure whatever they find, but know also that the adventure is never over.
3) How you travel is where you arrive. Some people are in a mad rush for ‘answers’, thinking there must be something out there which solves everything. The wise, however, attend only to the journey, looking ever more deeply into their daily experiences. A journey of such awareness is a constant arrival.
4) Make a friend of impermanence. Much unhappiness is caused by my insistence that certain things last forever; it helps me feel secure and in control. But only impermanence is permanent so we learn how to let go gracefully.
5) The road side dandelion is under-appreciated. Sometimes we are so busy with our plans that we notice nothing else, which is a shame. As the poem says, ‘What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’
6) Abandon all labels because they make people less human. How could any label capture you? Once we label someone, we devalue them; and once they are devalued, we feel more justified in hurting them, as history shows.
7) Stay present. The practice of mindfulness is concerned with bringing our consciousness into the now, the only healthy place to live from. As I put it in one of my books, ‘Yesterday is stale bread, tomorrow is no bread, today is fresh bread.’ Those who live in the moment are wonderfully present to people and circumstances; those who live in the past or the future are in a dream, emotionally absent and unavailable.
8) My thoughts make me mad. There’s a difference between having a thought, and a thought having us. Our monkey-minds have thoughts all the time, but sometimes we are kidnapped by one, and poisoned by its convincing illusion. When we are mindful, we notice our thoughts but do not identify with them. As the Swedish say, ‘Thank you for coming, thank you for going.’
9) The path is kind and can be trusted. When we don’t trust the path of life, we become negative and a cul-de-sac of rage or complaint. I’ve discovered trust late, and travel all the better for it. When I lose it, I don’t travel so well.
10) Remember the wave. If a wave is to rise high, another wave will need to dip, and vice versa. So there are no celebrity waves; for each individual wave is a communal activity. And of course in the calm they are all one and all made of the same wet.
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