<May 13/12> So, I went for a walk in the woods this Mothers’ Day 2012 morning. I’m away from home & not seeing my children this Mothers’ Day & for some reason what came to me was the idea of nailing down 5 or so life lessons for my kids. So this posting is sort of dedicated to them, especially.
I might also point out that these lessons have been pretty hard-won. They represent a lot of years of experience, some of it not “fun,” exactly – all of it bracing, I suppose you might say. They may or may not be of interest to anyone else.
# 1. Our suffering is what leads to our growth (a lesson taught by sages much wiser than I, from the Buddha to Eckhart Tolle). Call it spiritual growth, or just personal growth. Whatever. It’s a tough nut to swallow; this I know! Suffering isn’t fun, & we do our best to avoid it (duh). But it’s pretty much inevitable that each & every one of us is going to do some suffering of one kind or another, & since we’re all going to do so, we might as well learn along the way to learn & grow from it…right?? (Karen Kaiser Clark said “Life is change, Growth is optional. Choose wisely.”)
I’ve heard it said that “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.” Also that “Wherever there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure” (Rumi) &, in Buddhist thought, “Lotus flowers grow in the mud.” In other words, out of yukky things, good things take root & grow. (Of course sometimes it takes quite a long time for any of the “good” things to become apparent...)
# 2. We are each in charge of our own happiness. No one else can create or engineer it for us. Full stop. Abe Lincoln said “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Agnes Repplier said “It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, but it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” Carlos Castañeda said “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” Gary Null said “Happiness isn’t a state, it’s a skill. It’s the skill of knowing how to take what life throws your way and make the most of it.” I’d say some of us seem to be firmly wedded to our misery, pain & unhappiness. For sure, no one can pry us away from it against our will! Another useful insight is, it is our thoughts that lead to our emotions. We have to kind of take charge of the conversation inside our own heads (again, who else can do this on our behalf? No one.) Or, as Eckhart Tolle says, “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” Finally, as Victor Frankl (a death camp survivor) said, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” (btw, just recalled an essay I posted 3 years ago called ‘Happiness – An Inside Job.’ Btw too, there is a whole list of happiness-related quotations here)
# 3. There is lots & lots of wisdom in the world, & a ton of things we can learn from other human beings &, in particular, within relationship & in conversation with others. It’s also true that each of us has our own sense of intuition...our own learnings & wisdom & intelligence. We can look up to others, learn from others, occasionally ask for advice from others we trust. But ultimately (once we are adults & outside the “control” of our parents & families, & on this note I could say more, but let’s leave that aside for the moment), we are each our own boss – even our own “guru”! It’s taken me decades & decades to understand that I need to follow my own wisdom, intuitions & knowings – because pretty much inevitably, when I don’t, I trip over my own darn feet. Sometimes pretty messily. The very, very wise & compassionate Thich Nhat Hanh has said “Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with the truth.” And this certainly appears to be so!
# 4. Everywhere you go on dear old (sadly damaged) Planet Earth, you will find the same old kinds of things happening. Pain, loss, neurosis. Generosity, kindness. Joy, conflict. Etc. etc. Human drama everywhere you go. Someone wrote a book called Everywhere you go, there you are. I haven’t read it, but I sure do love the title! It isn’t just that everywhere you go, there you are, there you will also find all the usual human stuff, too. Greed. Lust. Selfishness. Arrogance. All of it. Wherever you go. You can hide yourself away at a retreat, or assume that your “spiritual community” will be free of the more “negative” or challenging human emotions & dynamics. Good luck!! I’m pretty convinced you’ll find the human condition in all its glory (& tawdriness) pretty much everywhere you land up. This has certainly proven to be the case for me. Sometimes to my grave disappointment. But hey! It is what it is, hmmm?
# 5. We human beings are all gloriously potential-filled creatures. We’re the best! We’re all also full of shit sometimes. We’re the best, & we’re also the worst (big duh on this last part, hmmm?) One of my very favourite quotations of all time is this fine, fine one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Well. I guess there are other truths I could tell.
One teeny-tiny one more that does seem important to me lately (I wrote about it at length in the post ‘Crosses, Circles, Resurrection’) is that I think a dynamic we are ever caught up in is that of finding a balance between the I/me/individual – & the collective us/we/community.
In North America, we don’t seem to handle this too well. Slight understatement here. We have tons of individual “rights” – & maybe not nearly enough responsibilities. I think you probably get what I mean. It may be worth pondering on, some. Or even a lot…
Shall I just conclude that life seems to be a delicate balancing act, pretty much all of the time. & we don’t always seem to do it as well as we might.
Yet this life/Life is still a grand & glorious adventure – deer flies, poison ivy, & oh-geez-my-tent-is-COVERED-in-pine-gum (& oh dear, we are having a drought here in Ontario; all the plants are drying up like crazy!?) notwithstanding.
Onward ho! One day at a time. Or, truthfully, one step at a time...hmmm?
‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The great end of life is not knowledge but action.” – Thomas Henry Huxley
 I wrote this 2 months ago, but have more recently been reading Gabor Maté’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters with Addiction. Which helps me to understand that some of us don’t have as much, mmmm, shall we say dominion, over our thoughts & actions. I do still believe more of us could rassle our thoughts in a more positive direction if we tried. We have to want to, of course…