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In the Buddhist way of life, the Buddha taught his followers to study in order to gain wisdom to guide their life. And what did the Buddha advise them to study? He advised them to study two sources: – the first source from which to learn is the outside world, which means that they learn from each other; – the second source is the inside world, which means that they learn from their own physical and mental life.
The Buddha explained that the outside world consists of six sense objects: physical objects; sense objects such as sound, smell and taste; tangible objects and mental objects. By the inside world he meant the six sense doors; eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. The two worlds that we live in are wonderful. If we understand them, we can live life happily and peacefully. Without wisdom or understanding the two worlds can turn into hell. Unless you know yourself first, you really can’t achieve much in life each one has immense potential to create amazing things and find lasting happiness.
Most of us don’t even scratch the surface of knowing who we really are, let alone figuring out what we have the potential to become. We are so confused that we keep oscillating between overconfidence and low self-esteem. One minute we are filled with a definite purpose for life and the next we are completely desolate. How can anyone hope to find lasting happiness in this state? The answer to this is asking the right question to yourself. There are 3 major questions which everyone should ask themselves: Who am I? Who are my friends and foes? Who will I become? These 3 questions will make you think about yourself, the environment and people you are associated with and your future. Who am I? It is the most important question to anyone who is seeking the answer to a better life. This question has intrigued the best of the best and has elevated many to success who have asked this question to themselves. It might seem very daunting to answer these simple question but once understood the value of it, it becomes a life changing experience. There is no other person on this planet quite exactly like you.
For just a moment, quit focusing on what you are not, what you wish to be, or what others expect from you and find out what is the one thing you already have that makes you special. Identify your “special”-ness, acknowledge it, respect it and make it central to how you carry yourself. Do people see you for the special person that you are? Do they appreciate your unique abilities? If not, what is the reason? How can you change it? Maybe a quote by Henry Longfellow — “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” — has the answer? How can you bridge the gap between what you are uniquely capable of being and the person that you currently are? Write a book? Become a singer? Grow a beautiful garden? Spend more time with your family? Take your time. Feel free to daydream. Once you have the vision in your mind, think of what is the one thing you can do now to move just one step closer to that vision. When you have a vision and start taking action, the universe will conspire to make it a reality. There is nothing deep about this question. It really is as simple as it sounds. If your answer matches (or will lead you towards) what you answered to the previous question, you are on the right track. If answered “Become a writer” above and “I am an engineer” to this one, you need to figure out how bridge the two.
Maybe you can start a tech blog. Or a series of (blockbuster) books about the adventurous engineer or the vampire engineer. Whatever. Figure it out. How long did you have to think to answer that question? If you answer was not immediate – if the images of your family and friends, your health, your ability to see, hear, walk and talk did not come to your mind instantly, you should start looking into developing an attitude of gratitude. Remember the quote – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” I don’t want to sound morbid, but it’s true — you really could die tomorrow. Have you lived a good life? Have you left good memories to last your kids a lifetime? Have you forgiven everyone who has wronged you and have you asked for forgiveness from everyone you have wronged? If you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend watching the last lecture by Professor Randy Pausch.
The human mind responds strongly to narratives, so the story that touches you the most is the one that can tell you a lot about yourself. Or the one that you aspire your life to be like. What is the story that you don’t mind watching/reading over and over again? What is the underlying theme/premise of the story? Everybody has a story — what is yours? Would the story of your life be filled with melodrama, self-pity, hatred, anger or frustration; or would it be a story about inner peace, happiness, love, growth, joy and transcendence? If you are happy with your answer, keep doing what you are doing. If not, a quote by Maria Robinson may be of help — “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Who are your friends and foes? A lot of us don’t even realize who the most important people in our lives are. We constantly try to impress random people who hardly care about us, at the expense of neglecting those that matter the most to us.
Are you aware of the handful of people that really mean something to you? Are you treating them right? Now, flip that around — who are the people that have you on their list of most cherished people? You don’t have to have led a life that warrants a national holiday when you die (though, that would be good!), but are you leaving behind a legacy that at least a handful of people will cherish? Why will these people miss you when you are gone?
Will they read out your eulogy out of rote and move on with their lives, will they choke up unable to continue, or will they smile all the way through because you showed them life is to be celebrated? Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – this is just an exercise to get you to know yourself better. Again, look at all the people around you – who do you wish was not there? The people who surround you have the power to lift you up or pull you down. How many people can you afford to have around you that you cannot stand, or that bring you down? Is there someone whose life is made sadder because of your presence? Life is too short – is it worth continuing to be a pain in someone’s life? Who will you become? The source of a lot of misery in our lives is because we keep comparing our worst moments with the best of those around us.
The only way to break out of this is to change your reference for comparison. Are you a better person today than you were before? Are you on a path of growth? Are you moving forward, standing still or slipping backwards? When was the last time you helped someone carry groceries to their car, or just smiled at a stranger who looked like he could use one? When did you last give something in spite of knowing that it’ll never be paid back? What goes around does come around – what will come back to you? (For some real stories of inspiring random acts of kindness, Now, multiply that number with 2.5, and that is the number of years of your life you are wasting away, assuming you live to be 80 and discounting the first 20 years of your life. (X hours/day * 365 days/year * 60 years) / (24 hours/day * 365 days/year).
Agreed, we all need some time to unwind – but, are you OK with the number you came up with, or does it boggle your mind? (On the flip side, those of you with kids, how many hours a day do you actually spend with your kids without distractions like TV, phone etc.? Multiply that with 0.75 and that is the number of years you actually spend with your child assuming that they live under your roof for 18 years. Will you be so distraught that you will want to end your life? Will you be so angry and frustrated that you won’t be able to think straight? Will you be sad but eventually recover? No doubt, you will always need money. But as long as you remember (and believe) that you are the master of the money and can make some no matter what life throws at you, you will be able to roll with life’s punches and thrive in spite of them. On that note, you are the master of your life as well. But a lot of us find it much easier to give up that power and make circumstances, or worse, the people around us, the masters of our lives.
Do you ever find yourself saying “I’m not happy because…”? It does not matter what comes after the because… that because is the way you hand over your power. Watch your thoughts, watch your words and reclaim your power over your life. Are you worried about looking old? That’s like fearing sunsets…. why be scared of something that is guaranteed to happen and is very dignified if you just change your perspective?
Are you worried about not having money or close family? That’s like having a cow in your backyard and worrying about milk…. spend your time building up a bank balance and nurturing your relationships now. The same goes for being sick and frail – as long as you take good care of your health and don’t abuse your body now, you will be able to hold a lot of diseases at bay when you are older.
Stop being scared and live your life now in such a way that you can continue to celebrate your life right into a ripe old age. Finally, what is your life all about? Are you just sleepwalking through life or are you marching forward with eyes wide open, filled with joy and vitality? When you choose the latter, irrespective of how “regular” or “boring” your life may seem at present, you will have opportunities to make little differences around you that can change the course of history!
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