A birthday that soon flows into New Year is invariably a period of reflection. Though I never force myself to set particular goals or seek out particular answers, somewhere around the eve of November 5th questions always start to arise. Then by New Year they occupy my thoughts to the point of threatening to burst out at the first available opportunity, unless I provide them with some sort of release. This year I decided to help this process along by musing on some life lessons I have learned. And this is what I came up with.
32 lessons learned in 32 years
1 Everybody is afraid
This includes people who are financially independent. And talented. Even who are unquestionably attractive. Even the intelligent and worldly-wise. Even people born to a stable and happy family. Even people who live by the sea. The young. And the old. Those who are recognised in their fields. Those with understanding partners. People who practise yoga. And martial arts. And meditation. Those who are just starting out. And those with a wealth of experience. Even the ones who appear to have got everything right.
Everybody is afraid.
Afraid of starting again. Afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone. Taking risks. Doing something different. They are afraid for their loved ones. For their jobs. For their lives, if it comes down to it. And much more besides.
There will always be fear. No matter how much experience, practice, confidence, awareness, money or talent a person may have, every time they venture to new heights, every time they step out on stage, every time they have to leave their loved ones behind – fear will be present to some degree. It is normal. It means you are alive. And it means it is time to confront your fear and move forward, not attempt to avoid it completely.
2 There is no such thing as life without change
Stability is an illusion. The idea of a state of “plateau” is absurd. We are constantly in motion. Even this, of course, is a mild platitude, because in actual fact we are constantly aging. And I could go one step further, but that would be getting into Sylvia Plath territory. Let’s not get into that now.
We are constantly changing both inside and out; these processes do not stop for a single second. In fact, the changes can’t even be measured in seconds – these processes occur in every single instant that make up the seconds. There is no point in wondering: “To change or not to change?” Only: “What relationship do I have to these changes?”
3 Quickly is just slowly, but without breaks – Traditional Japanese saying.
There is no need to perform tasks quickly, intensively, headlong, with all your might. Little and often is enough. The most important thing is to keep a rhythm. Little by little, but consistently. Then, after a while, it will seem from the outside as though you are doing things quickly, intensively, headlong, with all your might.
4 Create more than you consume
Create or die. Hopeless consumerist lifestyles are neatly expressed in the phrase: “Everything is fine, but nothing is good.”
It is important to make something. Out of choice and out of love. This is the recipe for spiritual wellbeing. What’s more, this is the only way to enjoy consumption sustainably. You might call it the metabolism of mental health.
5 Today is the result of yesterday’s actions and thoughts, and tomorrow is the result of today’s.
This phrase needs to be repeated like a mantra until you understand that your parents bear no responsibility for your grown-up problems. In any case, they are not to blame that no one else has replaced the broken records which have been stuck in your mind since childhood. They should not be allowed to interfere with your psyche.
People who see everything through the lens of their past and their parents might feel like they are stuck in a loop, until they realise that pinpointing the reasons for failure is not as important as people think, and the question: “Why?” can take up a lot of energy without being particularly useful. You can change how you live right now, without answering to anybody.
6 There are no guarantees
All your plans and decisions should be made bearing in mind this basic universal truth.
7 The era of revelatory information is over. Now is the era of informational intelligence.
For several years now, information has not been the main currency in questions of development and living a meaningful life. The internet has given everybody discounted access. And incredible abundance. The people who will win out are those with the ability to focus their attention on the task at hand and not let their interest be dispersed in too many directions. The ability to do this is directly at odds with the informational noise prevalent today. The more mindless chatter you are exposed to, the weaker your focus will be. The more you hear of other people’s opinions, the quieter your own voice becomes. Constant presence in the online world reduces your potential for self-awareness, and perverts the concept of what self-awareness truly is.
8 Happiness and pleasure are not the same thing
We do not find happiness in a chocolate cake, a glass of wine or cigarette. We do not find happiness in new boots or perfumes. It is important to recognise these things for what they are: sources of pleasure. And this is a completely different chemical reaction. The nature of pleasure is very fast-acting and inextricably linked to subsequent dissatisfaction, boredom, over-indulgence and a desire for the next fix.
Denying yourself pleasures is no bad thing, whereas not recognising true happiness is catastrophic
9 Suffering exists
The Buddha was right. Suffering exists. Everybody suffers. Those who have nothing and those who have everything. And the ones who are not particularly suffering right now will be before long, as soon as the value of the dollar changes, or there is a terrorist attack, or they discover they are disliked, or their message receives no response, or they don’t get enough money or whatever it is they desire. Suffering exists. And to no end, if we consider the final chapter of every human life.
10 Not everyone is capable of happiness
This is a surprisingly simple truth which I refused to acknowledge for a long time. We tend to put too much faith in the miracle of a happy ending, in the belief that we are unequivocally special. But can everybody run a 42-kilometre marathon? Yes, in theory, it is within the realms of human capabilities. But in practice it is only attainable for people who go through proper training.
Of course, anyone can train. But the road is long, and that is important to realise. An unfit person cannot simply do it straight away without preparation.
So, can everybody be happy? Yes, of course – in theory. In practice, lasting happiness, that is to say peace, balance and serenity, if you like, might only be attainable to those with the correct mental discipline. Because people with trained minds do not react to all the multitude of stimuli that surround them. These people can maintain a balanced contentment not only when all is well, but also when unpleasant situations arise. Otherwise there will always be endless excuses for pain, irritation and anxiety, even if it is something as little as a scratch on your car, let alone more serious problems. This is samsara, baby. The reactive happiness experienced by this kind of hounded mind is about as profound and long-lasting as an Instagram status.
11 Happiness is mental balance
If you had told me this 5 years ago, I would have laughed in your face. When you dream day and night of great love, a perfect family, stimulating and profitable work, being your own boss, adventures and travel, you feel that you have an idea of what happiness is, or at least, your own vision of happiness. OK, so things aren’t perfect, some things can really get to you, and you are suffering. That is a given. But you know what you are striving for. You know where your tangible happy-ever-after lies, and your dreams are calling to you.
Happiness is a state of fully balanced peace of mind, which can only be attained by ridding yourself of your mind’s blind (automatic) reactions. A healthy way – and perhaps the only way – for an adult to recognise (and develop) this state of mind is through deep meditative observation.
12 Fruit is not acidic, but alkaline
Scientifically speaking, fresh ripe fruit and most vegetables produce an alkaline reaction in the body and help to neutralise excess acidity, while starch, sugar, meat, fats, oils and dairy products, on the other hand, produce acid in the body. For more details see Norman Walker’s table, available through Google search.
13 “My body knows what it needs” is one of the sneakiest lies of the mind
The body of an alcoholic wants to drink, the body of a smoker dreams of cigarettes, and our bodies crave chocolate and French fries. What is this “listen to your body” idea that people like to propagate? Just as the mind reacts automatically to stimuli, hindering you from making basic changes in your life, the body is also at the mercy of habits and the chaotic impulses of desire.
14 Food affects the consciousness as well as the body
Everyone knows that alcohol noticeably alters our consciousness, making us dull and lethargic, but certain food products can have a similar effect, though in a less pronounced way that often goes unnoticed. Food can slow down and blur thought processes, thereby weakening self-control, mental awareness and clarity of thinking. A slightly “cloudy” state becomes the norm, and it is easy to forget what a normal state of clarity feels like. More “liberating” foods include fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as plant-based foods and grains, prepared in a simple way with minimal added oils, salt and seasonings.
15 You need enough money to not have to think about it
Money does not solve humanity’s greatest problems and it does not make you happy. But freedom to not have to think about it, at least on a daily basis, significantly frees up your energy for other pursuits.
16 We share more similarities than differences
The significance of personal uniqueness is greatly exaggerated and doesn’t really do us any favours. All the answers and solutions have existed for a long time, and fixating on our own uniqueness prevents us from keeping the ego in its rightful place, where it doesn’t constantly meddle with its surroundings by offering its own version of reality, answers and titbits of information.
17 Dependence is only overcome by 100 percent abstinence
You can’t drink one glass of wine if you are an alcoholic. You can’t smoke occasionally if you are trying to quit. If you do, you will fluctuate constantly. Ups and downs. Relapses. In questions of psychoenergetic “crutches” there are no half measures. And this rule applies for all types of dependency.
18 There is no such thing as being 100 percent mentally prepared for change
We will never be fully prepared for changes and deviations. There will always be a “but” and an excuse to put things off until the perfect situation arises. It is pointless to wait for absolute inner certainty; you need to make a decision based more on the “now” than on an unattainable state of utter readiness.
19 Life is a book, the first chapters of which were not written by you
More often than not, the same goes for the next chapters as well.
It is the models and beliefs of the world around us that make us who we are. By this I do not mean the world in an abstract sense as planet Earth, but the specific building, office or house where we spend our time. The friends, colleagues, parents, shop assistants we encounter every day. The feed you read on your social network sites and your so-called friends on Facebook. We absorb different views, stances and opinions without realising. They are in the air we breathe, and we come to believe them, or else reject them, but both reactions can be equally automatic. This process is particularly uncontrolled during childhood. The core of our personality is formed by other people, and informed parental input (assuming there was any) is by no means the predominant factor. Our self-image and, according to certain psychologists, what we most fear losing, is all nothing more than the beautiful mosaic of our surroundings. There is nothing to lose. In my opinion, this is fantastic news. You can transform everything in any way you want.
20 Results are obtained through numerous attempts
And not one well-aimed shot. Certainly not when it comes to long-term success.
21 What helped you during one phase might become an obstacle to overcome in the next phase
The capacity for radical change is characterised by the ability to avoid certain things. But not only obvious obstacles. Sometimes it is essential to let go of things that helped you in the past. For example, the rules for small businesses don’t work for mid-sized businesses. It is impossible to grow without giving up some of the things which helped you reach where you are now. The same goes for the human personality, its paradigms and plans.
22 Beyond the comfort zone lies the discomfort zone
Life is not just a box of chocolates.
23 There is no such thing as a life without goals
Just as there is no such thing as a state without change. The only question is: are you setting yourself unconscious goals out of blind instinct?
24 There is no such thing as laziness
There are unpleasant tasks, insufficient energy levels and lack of ambition, all of which can take the wind out of your sails when faced with new prospects. But this is not laziness.
25 You cannot find yourself, but you can create yourself
There is nothing and nobody to search for. You are always here and now. Your path is nothing more than what is beneath your feet at this very moment. It is followed by simply being aware of your steps, thus paving the way for tangible, albeit small, goals. When these goals are determined by other people or they arise chaotically from “duty”, then there is no path, only a random collection of restless episodes.
26 You don’t need alcohol
27 Unrealised potential is painful
It is futile to try to avoid this fact by choosing comfort or a beautiful philosophical concept, or stories of femininity, motherhood etc.
Every talent makes demands
28 Banks should pay you, and not the other way round. This is the only way to fiscal health
It is never ever worth buying something you have not earned. Never. Not if you ever plan on making serious changes in your life. The bank takes more than just our money, it takes our freedom, until there is practically no scope left for risk and progress through adventure. This is an extremely difficult situation to break out of (and achieving a new financial status is especially difficult).
29 Two skills you need to master as soon as possible: how to exert yourself and how to relax
Any kind of progress will require exertion at some point. If you perform the task reluctantly, just out of necessity, it will take twice as much energy: partly the effort itself, partly the mental strain of dealing with the internal conflict. Hence you need to learn how to exert yourself at will, and enjoy it. If you can willingly exert effort, it becomes an entirely positive experience and the amount of energy expended will be significantly reduced. You will achieve better results, more easily.
On the other hand, the ability to relax, to accept reality how it us, to let go of your own expectations, to break free from your hang-ups, to release physical tension through yoga and breathing techniques, for example, is the second tenet, without which effort alone would not go far.
30 Two words you must learn to use as soon as possible: “Yes” and “No”.
Say “yes” to situations and people despite the lack of guarantees, perfect mental readiness and varying external circumstances. Say “no” first of all to yourself – to your weaknesses, fears and inner immorality. And only after that can you say “no” to other people.
31 Doing something for fun is not the same thing as truly losing yourself in your art
True artists differ from mere talented people by their ability to put their work before themselves, thereby dissolving the ego. They perform their task consciously and lovingly, and not out of necessity or a sense of duty. In this way, a marketing manager can be more of a genuine musician than a so-called musician who has spent their whole life in the industry.
32 Every sign you meet along the way could have at least 3 interpretations
1.It could be a genuine sign! 2. You might be delusional and twisting the facts. 3. It could be a test: a red herring and an attempt to lead you away from your chosen path, like a trial for the sincerity of your decisions and strength of will.
Changes come and changes go. Thank you for reading.