Life offers us endless opportunities to learn lessons from our experiences, right up to our dying day. Our ability to learn from our surrounding environment as well as from those with whom we interact is critical. Unless we can learn from our failures and mistakes, we can’t grow mentally and spiritually. Wisdom comes from experiences that carry meaningful messages required for life’s journey. The following are the lessons one must learn to lead a happy and meaningful life.
Impermanence – the ultimate reality of life: The most fundamental aspect of all existence is impermanence. The concept of impermanence (anicca) forms the bedrock of the Buddha’s teachings. Reality is never static. For instance, in our physical bodies, billions of cells die and are replaced by fresh cells every day. Most parts of our body are changed in about 10 years. Likewise, everything in the universe is in a constant state of flux. Our life’s conditions are also changing all the time. However, we generally don’t notice it. Whenever there is change leading to disruption in our life, we resist. We don’t accept changes easily if they are not suitable and favourable for us. When we resist or react automatically to them, suffering starts. This is one of the biggest causes of suffering in our life.
Our life’s journey is like a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs: No one escapes the inevitable vicissitudes of life. Even small and insignificant incidents can morph into major events. This is called the butterfly effect. The idea is that a small change can make much bigger changes happen. Every day our newspapers are filled with stories of accidents and unusual happenings. People lose their lives through no fault of their own. Our behaviour, thinking, and the way we take action are all highly complex, their outcomes not often in our hands. We decide one thing and something else may very well happen. No one – not even kings and queens – can expect life to be a magic carpet ride.
Ego is the biggest impediment to our spiritual growth: Ego is self-image that we have built over time; it’s another name for self. We create our self-image by all the labels that people pin on us. There is a very strong sense of self-identification: “THIS is what I am.” Ego, as we age, may become greedy, fearful, limited, and increasingly self-centred. All of our emotional and psychological problems arise from this largely false idea of ourselves. Many people keep on accumulating material things in order to satisfy their ego, which, by its very nature, tends to inflate if not held in check. In this process, we also forget our true nature. However, for creating a deeper sense of satisfaction and happiness, we need to “dissolve” – or at least tame! — our ego. Until this happens, it’s almost impossible to grow spiritually .
We are what we tell ourselves, each moment of the day: Lord Buddha very rightly asserted that “We are nothing but thoughts.” We are what we think about ourselves and the world around us. Thoughts lead to choices, which in turn become our actions and fodder for further thoughts. Then our actions make our destiny. There is no reality beyond our mind and the thoughts that are generated throughout the day. The outer world is the mirror of the inner world, and vice versa. If we entertain positive thoughts and block or defuse distressing and toxic ones, we are happy persons. Heaven and hell are nothing more than the constructs of terrified minds. Therefore, it’s imperative that we observe what kinds of thoughts we harbour from moment to moment. Ultimately these very thoughts will determine our future, our destiny.
Invest in yourself: Maximum possible returns are to be expected when we make a strong investment in ourselves. Whether this investment takes the form of money, energy, and/or time, it’s the best choice. Whatever the purpose or purposes of our life may be, they cannot be realized unless we grow in life. Even more important than physical development is our mental and spiritual growth. Without it, life becomes stagnant, even robotic Obviously, such a life offers little to no satisfaction and is sometimes characterized as a “living death.” Therefore, whenever and wherever possible, we should invest in ourselves, so that we may continue to grow.
Life is a solo journey; barring a few friends and family members, no one travels with us: Each one of us is generally lost in his or her own very busy world. We are perpetually “on the go,” pursuing our goals and passions. In our highly materialistic world, there can be stiff competition among ourselves for available resources. “Success,” however one defines it, is often the prime motive. Many see success in terms of having more money and power, higher status in society, and more creature comforts. However, we humans are social animals, interacting and sharing with others all the time. In this digital age, we are connected with large numbers of “friends” on social media. However – and perhaps as a partial consequence — true person-to-person, caring friendships appear to be becoming more rare. Studies (and personal observations) show that people — especially those of the younger and elder generations — are becoming lonelier in modern society.
We learn best from our own experiences, especially failure. We can’t learn the hard lessons necessary for growth unless we experience failures and commit mistakes in life. Failure is an essential part of learning. Life generously offers a series of lessons that we keep on learning and assimilating. Our lifetime experience is a cocktail of failures and successes, suffering and joy, ups and downs. Studies have established that our best learning comes not from our classes in school, but from real-life experiences and failures. In their “85% rule,” researchers use that percentage to account for the things we learn through experiences. They further suggest that people who fail 15% of the time learn the fastest. Though it’s difficult to generalize, it’s true in most cases that our greatest learning and personal growth comes through failure. We can then plan more wisely and meticulously. When we stumble under pressure, we become attuned to our weaknesses. Unless we are “brought up short,” we don’t seriously pay attention to our weaker areas. Behind every defeat and mistake we experience, there is something important to learn.