I remember wondering many times, as I grew up, what life was about. Why do we exist, is there a meaning to life, why do some people suffer so much? Especially as a teenager I remember spending many hours talking with close friends about these subjects. We had the questions and the curiosity but we had no one to turn to for answers, so we grew up, entered the adult world and began to loose our yearning for understanding.
This must happen to so many people, but without a wish to find some meaning and understanding we will not discover anything or grow in any way. So this should be our starting point we need to recapture some of our wonder and curiosity about life. We need a strong wish to find a way to overcome our problems and find meaning in life otherwise nothing will change..
Everything begins in the mind with a wish. All the great achievements of mankind began with a wish. Columbus had a wish to discover a new world and he did, although many thought it impossible. We had a wish to walk on the moon and one day we did, although many thought it impossible. Great buildings begin their life in the mind of the architect, advances in medical science begin in the minds of doctors or scientists. Acts of cruelty come from an angry mind and great acts of kindness come from a compassionate mind. Whatever we do with the rest of our life will begin with a wish in our mind.
If our wishes are ordinary we will achieve ordinary results, if our wishes and dreams are special we will achieve extraordinary results. This simple choice can determine a complete change of life. It takes a real pioneering spirit and a lot of courage to dream of and begin a new way of life in a very ordinary world. Often our environment and the people around us have a huge influence on the way we see ourselves and the way we feel we ought to live.
By the time we reach adulthood it can feel that our character is set and change is at best difficult and at worst impossible. Other people become used to the type of person we are and they reflect our self image making the possibility of personal and spiritual transformation more remote. Often we need a life changing event, perhaps in the form of illness or bereavement, to glimpse the possibility of change.
These initially traumatic events can help us to break the mold or shell that we have created and can help us toward a richer life. Difficult situations can become meaningful when we have the wish and the wisdom to transform them in to learning experiences.
In my own experience of illness it often seemed there was no great purpose, just suffering and if we look around the world we see people experiencing all kinds of extreme difficulties like famine, poverty and war. Human and especially animal lives are often short, painful and bleak. Many people might disagree but suffering can be more meaningful than success.
It can make us more mature, stronger, more empathic and compassionate toward others, more humble and less proud. Fame, money and success can often just feed our ego making us feel superior and creating a childish and selfish mental state. If this was not true all rich and famous people would be deeply happy!
When I began to read books that encouraged a positive approach to illness I became inspired to change my attitude. However I often found that progress was sporadic, two steps forward and one back, and with no clear direction but at least I felt I had made a start. After a while I realized that what I really needed was clear guidance, a clearly explained path that would take me step by step away from suffering toward a stable and lasting sense of happiness and inner peace.
I new this might not be easy and would involve a certain amount of discipline and hard work but if I found such a path I could work my way along it at my own pace, not expecting deep results in one week but just gradually enjoying progress over the rest of my life, maybe over many lives.
After about five years of illness I was introduced to a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who seemed to be a very special example of what a human being could become. His teachings were clear and practical and his presentation and example were completely inspiring. Although I had read some books on Buddhism and felt completely happy with this spiritual approach to life for some reason it had not struck me that this might be the path for me. But listening to this teacher made a huge difference.
It seemed from his teachings that we can become a special almost holy being in this life. By following a simple step by step approach we can reach a level of consciousness or state of mind that is beyond suffering and we can do this with a special motivation to benefit others that brings great positive energy in to our world. The main message I was getting was that ‘we can solve our problems and we can make a difference to our world and this is how you do it’. No one had ever promised me this before so I could not resist the challenge of checking this out for myself!
Human beings have such a special opportunity to do good, to lead a good life, to learn, to grow, to become something special it doesn’t have to take millions of years for us, we can evolve in our own life time because we have free will and choice. Unfortunately most of us live our lives in a very small way, we try to gain wealth, popularity, recognition, we build homes and raise families and by the end of our life often our mind has degenerated rather than grown in wisdom and understanding.
Children especially need to know they have a special opportunity to develop and grow, a chance to discover the secrets of the universe from within their own mind. If we teach our children to put all their effort in to developing the external world we will not solve the problems of this world and human beings will never evolve beyond our present limited state.
As adults we need to start again, to try to view our life from a fresh perspective. Look at where we have gone wrong and gradually try to live our life as we would like our children or the future people of this world to live. As individuals we have huge power to touch the lives of others if we live in a special way, especially if we have a difficult illness or disability to live with. If other people see us living in a kind and positive way despite our difficult circumstances this can be so inspiring.
We have the power to change the future of this world by living in a relaxed and positive way, and always looking for and enjoying opportunities to grow and learn and develop our mind. This way of living is special if we do it for our own good so we can experience some inner peace and personal growth but it is especially powerful if our motivation is to benefit others. If we try to feel that all human beings are part of our family and their happiness is our responsibility this is a very mature way to live, a sign that we have the beginnings of a great, wise and compassionate nature.
Even if we cannot honestly live like this everyday we can keep it as an ideal to aim for in the future, because if we cannot even imagine the kind of person we want to become we will never achieve it. At some point we have to use our imagination to create a blueprint in our mind for the type of person we would like to become in the future.
In Buddhism it is said that of all the countless worlds and universes and types of living beings that exist a human life is one of the rarest and most difficult to obtain, it is even rarer to be human and to have an interest in the spiritual path and then even rarer to find an authentic spiritual teacher. If this is true we have no time to waste!
No matter how old we are we can begin this special journey now, in fact if we are older because of our life experience we can learn deep lessons more swiftly because we understand failure and success, happiness and suffering. Whatever strong habits we die with shape our personality in the next life.
If we end our life on a high, spending time developing our understanding and experience of the spiritual path, this tendency will carry us forward to a life of spiritual growth. If we have a positive and flexible outlook and try to make the most of life it is easy to die and let go of this life because we have no regrets. A happy death is a great achievement.
Youth is a state of mind. Some old people have a very youthful heart and many young people grow old before their time, often due to a childhood full of trauma. But if we have a little wisdom we can use whatever difficulties we encounter in life to become stronger, kinder, wiser people. Although often it is trauma and pain that make us feel old if we learn a new approach to life these same conditions can be the cause of eternal youth.
Keep wondering, keep young, always feel new, try to develop a happy flexible mind, let go of things when it is time to let go and always try to benefit others. It’s when we let our mind get heavy and we think too much about our own suffering and happiness that our mind gets small and life gets tough.
Often people with serious illness feel that life has let them down but ironically we might be the lucky ones, we can be like pioneers on the verge of a new world. Man will go further in to outer space but this is not the final frontier. We will not solve the problems of man kind or realize our potential for infinite happiness out there.
We must journey within. Buddha said that ‘illness has many good qualities’. Initially this seems like a strange point of view as we all wish to avoid illness and any kind of suffering but hard times are never wasted time if we know how to transform them.
We need a strong mind to be able to deal with very challenging situations and come out the other side a more whole and healthy human being. A strong mind means it possesses qualities like flexibility, happiness, peacefulness, patience, understanding and wisdom. But we can only develop these qualities by gradually learning to embrace and use challenging situations to power our personal and spiritual growth.
A mountaineer cannot climb without the mountain! Although the mountain causes great hard ship to the climber, sometimes even injury and death, because he views the mountain as an opportunity it actually becomes the main cause of his success. The sight of the mountain drives his desire to succeed. If we want to grow, we need a mountain. Illness, difficult people, poverty, failure or any other difficult aspect of our life can provide us with perfect conditions for growth giving us the chance to realize our special inner potential. Whatever is making us unhappy can be transformed in to the main cause of our happiness, just by changing our attitude!
What is spiritual growth? It is about inner transformation, becoming a different person, changing our attitude, transforming our world by transforming our mind. It does take time and effort to change on a deep level so like a mountaineer we have to be practical, we have to train gradually and steadily, we have to learn to conquer small mountains before we can move on to the larger ones. But we can sometimes make big advances quite quickly simply by learning some simple techniques to change our view of our situation.
For example think of something you are having difficulty with at the moment, it might be an illness, a relationship problem, a problem at work. Find a few minutes to sit down and relax or go for a walk in a quiet environment, bring all of the aspects of this difficult situation to mind. As soon as you start to think or feel negatively slowly repeat to your self ‘this situation is a mountain, it is an opportunity to grow’ or use a similar phrase that works for you. After a while you will notice a positive attitude start to grow in your mind.
You have created a new mental environment. Now you know from your own experience that you can change, this might be a very small and fragile start but it can feel very encouraging. From this experience it doesn’t take much to realize that if small inner changes are possible in the short term then so are big ones in the long term, all that is needed is commitment and over time we can develop that as well.
Stay tuned for part II…
About the publisher:
O is a symbol of the world, of oneness and unity. O Books explores the many paths of wholeness and spiritual understanding which different traditions have developed down the ages. Our books bring this knowledge in an accessible form, to a general readership, providing practical spirituality to today’s seekers. Find out more at: www.o-books.net
It will look like this: Everything Begins With A Wish