Four Important Lessons of Life

life and freedom

by Jayaram V

Life teaches us many lessons. We learn some from experience and some from others. We learn them by intuition or observation. Sometimes, they also manifest in our lives from nowhere as a chance occurrence, subliminal message, a dream, a passing remark or a memorable experience. You may consider them the lessons taught by God or providence. They come to you in various guises, according to your knowledge, understanding and receptivity.

Even a painful experience, an adversity, or a serious illness can be a lesson. Think of a person who becomes habituated to a certain unhealthy lifestyle, ignoring all the warnings. At some stage, his body gives away and refuses to cooperate. It is a reminder that if we do not learn the lessons which life teaches us, we will end up paying a much bigger price.

It is what karma is. It is a great teacher who extracts both pain and pleasure in return. Karma is the sum of all the lessons we either learn or chose to ignore. As a perfecting mechanism, it helps you improve your life and overcome your weaknesses and past mistakes. You can benefit from your past deeds and establish a stronger foundation for your future, or you may waste away a lifetime learning nothing and letting life fall into an abyss of painful existence.

Learning is thus inherent in the process of living. It is by learning from your mistakes, weaknesses and failures that you progress in life. You are lucky if you learn from others and avoid the mistakes they make, or if you are proactive, anticipate problems and take care of them. By practicing mindfulness, paying close attention, and being sensitive to the world within and without, you can learn quickly and prevent many problems and mishaps.

All the lessons that you learn in your life are important. They can be specific to your situation. Learning may not always be a pleasant experience. Sometimes you may have to learn harsh lessons that involve lot of pain and suffering. Chances are if you do not learn from your lessons and keep repeating old mistakes or problem behavior, you may suffer even more. People become stuck in their lives because they do not learn from their experience or refuse to learn. How can you change, if you are not willing to change your ways which keep you unhappy and unfulfilled?

In the following discussion we will focus upon four important lessons, which I believe are universal and which are applicable to almost everyone and to every life situation. You may call them the lessons of life or the lessons for peace and happiness. There may be other such lessons which are foundational to a better life. However, here we will focus upon these four only.

Appreciate the value of your life and time

By this, it means one should not live frivolously or die for frivolous reasons. A lot of it depends upon your choices, discretion and decisions. Do you appreciate your life? Appreciation means whether you value the time and the opportunities you have to make yourself a better person and live with specific aims and purpose. Your life is the sum of your thoughts and deeds, and perhaps chance and providence. Do you appreciate what life offers to you to improve your knowledge, relationships or your financial wellbeing? Do you value the freedom you have to live consciously, enjoy your blessings or focus on what matters to you? Life offers you immense possibilities to be and to have. How you progress through that long journey of unexpected twists and turns and chance encounters enriching your life greatly depends upon which battles you pick and which ones you choose to ignore.

However, not many people really appreciate the very experience of being alive and here. They do not consider life a precious gift. Imagine how many random events must have conspired to make your random existence possible upon earth. In this vast universe, on this tiny planet, it is a miracle that you manifested and you have an opportunity to experience the greatest wonders called life and consciousness. This opportunity cannot be bought or sold to another. It is yours forever. It is non-transferable and non-negotiable.

The question is, are you appreciating and valuing what has been bestowed upon you by the forces of the universe? You may spend much of your time in public service or professional work, or debating some frivolous matter with total strangers on the Internet, while you may remain ignorant of what has been going on in your own life, career, your family or in the life of your children. It happens when you do not appreciate your time, sort out your priorities or chose right goals.

To appreciate life, you must value your time. You must respect the very process of living and the opportunity to be alive. Every moment is valuable and every breath. Every conscious moment which you spend here matters because they cannot be lived again. You must live with the awareness that your life is limited and in that limited lifespan certain opportunities, abilities and experiences are age specific and will never repeat once the time has passed. Life has its own rhythm. You cannot draw from it what cannot be repeated or recreated. You cannot have certain strengths, privileges, abilities and opportunities forever. They pass with time, like your youth or your looks or the opportunities to choose a profession, relationship or experience. If you wisely spend your time and make the best use of your resources to better your life, you will have fewer regrets later.

To appreciate your life, you must live in the present and be in touch with the reality around you. Since ages, Indian monks and ascetic groups devised a wonderful technique to ground themselves in the reality of the world and appreciate the current moment. They would meditate upon death. By reflecting upon it they would remember what were important to them, which in their case were peace, happiness and liberation. As a worldly person you may have other goals. What is important is to reflect upon death, so that you can avoid wasting your life, knowing what is important to you, where you want to focus your energies or in which direction you want to progress.

Free your ego bound consciousness

There are two fundamental aspects to your existence, you and your world. Your life is largely shaped by how you relate to the world, and with what attitude you will deal with it. If you are like most people, you will be primarily concerned about yourself, and your survival, success and wellbeing. You do so because you bind your whole consciousness to you and use it mainly to further your interests, agendas, desires, goals, relationships and possessions. You build walls around that consciousness to keep it bound, customized and personalized.

In other words, you treat your mind as if you are its master and it is your slave to ensure that it serves none but you. You keep it bound to your desires, expectations, likes and dislikes and curtail its freedom with restraints, dependence and conditioning. This is the “I” and “Me” approach, which is selfish in its intention and purpose and with which most of us are familiar. It is largely responsible for many of our problems, difficulties and conflicts in life.

In its original state your consciousness is pure, without any identity or personality. It is like a blank slate upon which you write your name and your story and thereby making it limited to you. To some extent it is justified because is necessary for your survival and wellbeing. However, you must know where to draw the line and keep your consciousness free from egoism and the limitations which you impose upon it.

If you are too preoccupied with fulfilling your desires and impose limits upon your thinking and vision or if you solely limit your energies to selfish pursuits, you lose the opportunity to see your existence from a broader perspective as part of a universal whole. You become a prisoner of your own mind, while your consciousness remains enslaved to you. It is evil to be selfish or live entirely in the pursuit of your own desires and dreams. The Vedas do proclaim this truth. It is why karma arises from your actions and why it leads to suffering and rebirth. Karma is caused by desire-ridden actions, which in turn produce the evil impurities of sin, egoism, delusion and ignorance.

If you want to be free, you must first liberate your consciousness from your egoistic hold. You must free your mind from selfishness and egoism. The best way to do it is by letting go of things to which you cling and practicing detachment. To be free, you must transcend your limited aim to live only for yourself. You must mold your consciousness to see yourself as a spiritual being rather than a physical being and view your current life from the broader perspective of a soul’s long journey through a succession of births and deaths.

Another effective way to do it is by showing consideration, compassion, empathy and friendliness to others and value your relationships as opportunities to learn and grow rather than to impress, control or dominate. Virtues such as nonviolence, truthfulness, contentment, charity, generosity, honesty and integrity also help you to free your consciousness from the shackles of egoism and selfishness.

Practice moderation to maintain balance

The essence of balance is staying the middle course by avoiding the extremes. A person who spends too much time or too little time  in the pursuit of a goal is at the risk of losing peace and happiness. It is the same with those who starve their bodies to lose weight or eat too many unhealthy foods without any consideration for the consequences. Life exists upon earth because it is neither too far away nor too close to the sun and the temperatures upon earth are in the safe zone. If the earth loses the balance, life will be extinct forever.

There is an important lessons for us to learn from this. Our worlds will collapse if we ignore the importance of balance and moderation and resort to extreme lifestyles. Society should be neither too conservative nor too liberal. Otherwise life will be shackled, painful or chaotic. Over regulation kills our creativity and freedom while too much freedom lead to anarchy. Whenever the humanity plunges into the extremes of life, it leads to destruction and untold misery to millions of people.

In quantum physics we learn an important lesson. Reality arises from the interaction of particles in the atoms which may otherwise remain nonexistent. By that, probably the universe conserves its energies. Thus, at the quantum level, reality manifests only when necessary, when the particles interact or when they jump from one state to another. At other times, it is as if nothing exists and nothing happens.

Life is more enjoyable when we stay in the middle of things rather than becoming stuck with things. Extreme negation of life is as detrimental as over indulgence. Whether it is in material life or spiritual life, the ideal is to avoid the extreme and keep the balance. Our seers recognized this problem long ago. Hence, they prescribed the pursuit of four chief aims for the householders namely, dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (sexual pleasure) and moksha (liberation). The four aims ensure that a human being leads a balanced life. A person should resort to the extremes of ascetic life only when he wants to let go of his clinging and sacrifice his life for the ultimate liberation.

You will find a similar type of advice in the Isa Upanishad. The Buddha also suggested the same by recommending the middle path. Moderation in all aspects of life keeps you in balance. You may have challenging goals, and you may push yourself to achieve them. However, in doing so you should not subject your mind or body to extreme discomfort, pain or emotions. The same holds true in personal relationships. However good or intimate your relationships may be, you must know how to stay within your limits and let others live their lives. Many relationships are damaged when people do not keep their boundaries or respect other people’s opinions or privacy. Even when you communicate, you should know when to speak and when to remain silent, what to reveal and what to conceal. Creation itself is part manifestation and part concealment, part creation and part destruction. Without these dualities existence cannot continue.

Be yourself and express your individuality and uniqueness

There is certain honesty and satisfaction in being yourself and letting your life and experience shape your thinking and behavior. It is better than living according to unverified truths as learned from others or blindly follow them to win their approval or acceptance. You cannot be yourself without knowing who you truly are. It means you must observe your own thoughts, feelings, and attitude towards yourself and others and pay careful attention to how you feel in different situations without being too self-centered. It also means you should not try to be another person.

Being yourself does not mean you have to be defensive, rude, aggressive or demanding in your relationship with others or attitude towards them. It is not a question of whether you are in control or assertive, or whether you live a life of negation, but whether you respect your rights and boundaries and let others respect theirs. Your existence is not meaningless,. It is part of a larger sum. Its purpose is fulfilled only when you play your dutiful role and express your uniqueness and individuality. You may free your consciousness from the shackles of your ego as suggested before, but at the same time, you should do your part and fulfill your personal obligation as part of your essential Dharma.

In the pursuit of your goals and performing your actions, you must express your individuality, overcoming your fears and any resistance you may face from others, minimizing the conflicts to the extent possible, but never letting others unduly influence your mind. If necessary, you should avoid those who do not want you to be yourself. You should aim to enrich your life and relationships by knowing yourself, being yourself and letting others have the same freedom, without being a discordant note in the symphony of life. By cultivating an attitude of mindfulness, you will become even more sensitive and considerate to others as you understand their feelings and behavior just as you understand yours. A sage sees himself in everyone one. Hence, he is not disturbed, nor does he disturb others.

Life is a precious opportunity to be alive and part of the wonderful existence. It is indeed a miracle that we are born upon earth and have this great opportunity to consciously experience life and shape our destinies with our thoughts and actions. No one can take away that gift, which Nature has made possible through a random process. You cannot throw away the gift of individuality and inner freedom to keep other people happy or live according to their values, lessons, beliefs, priorities and preferences, unless you are honestly and genuinely in harmony with them and accept them out of genuine understanding and agreeableness  rather than fear or coercion. Your life is the only precious thing which you can truly claim as yours. Everything that happens outside is not you but what happens to you. Therefore, honor thyself and live according to your best judgment, benefiting from the lessons you learn and the values that you find to be inspiring and harmonious.

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