A slight deviation from travel posts, lately I’ve been doing a lot of introspection and reflection on life in general. Whenever I’m travelling, I always feel so alive and in love with the world, but once I return to the daily grind, it’s so easy to get caught up with life’s struggles and fall into mediocrity. How does one keep up the good vibes and positivity towards mankind?
Over the years, I have read countless self-help books, inspirational quotes, poignant fiction, blogs, you name it. I have read my favourite verses in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the “wise” books of the Bible, thousands of times.
After all this time, I’ve come to see that the wisest people and philosophers throughout the ages always come back to the same conclusion. They may say it in a slightly different way, or come at it from a different angle. Their concept of God may even be different. But in essence they all boil down to the same few key pearls of wisdom on how to live life to the fullest.
I’ve decided to summarise all my favourite teachings, some which have literally changed my life, into seven core maxims. When life hurts, when things don’t seem fair, when I don’t know what to do, they serve as a reminder to shift my perspective. I hope they offer some solace to you too, whatever you may be going through.
1. Live in the now.
I’m pretty sure every wiseman, sage, guru, new age teacher, etc. emphasises this principle. This is also one of the core teachings of Echkart Tolle, one of the most famous modern day spiritual teachers. He extols it repeatedly in his bestselling books, including The Power of Now and Stillness Speaks.
“Ultimately you are not taking responsibility for life until you take responsibility for this moment – Now. The is because Now is the only place where life can be found.”
“When you are suffering, when you are unhappy, stay totally with what is Now. Unhappiness or problems cannot survive in the Now.”
– Eckhart Tolle
The concept is also Biblical; Jesus stresses the importance of living in the moment in the famous passage in the book of Matthew.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Matthew 6:34
Basically, the only moment we are guaranteed is now. So make plans for the future, but don’t treat the present moment as just a means to an end. Actually be present and live it.
Let go. Let life happen. There are so many things in life we can’t control – how people feel about us, if we get chosen for such and such, what happens in the future, when we die. And life is full of things we wish hadn’t happened, or things we wish we had done differently. “If only…” are two of the most painful words to utter. So just don’t. You can’t change the past, you can only learn from it. So don’t torture yourself with regret. You did the best you could, with what you knew then, and that’s all anyone can ask.
“Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.”
“True freedom and the end of suffering is living in such a way as if you had completely chosen whatever you feel or experience at this moment. This inner alignment with Now is the end of suffering.”
– Eckhart Tolle
You can’t help feeling pain, but suffering is a choice. You suffer when you resist what is. Change what you can, and surrender to God what you can’t. There is no need to suffer.
“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”
– Thomas Merton
Control is an illusion. Life, in its essence, is nothing but uncertainty. The only thing we really have control over is our thoughts and attitude.
“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is!”
– The Minds Journal
“We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”
– Proverbs 16:33 (NLT)
3. The more something upsets you, the more it is meant for you.
Once it no longer upsets you, the lesson is complete.
As the classic quote goes, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” While this is often used to elucidate how not to behave with someone you love, I feel it can also be applied to dealing with something you hate. The best way to deal with something that upsets you, or someone unpleasant to you, is to be indifferent to them. It doesn’t mean you pretend you don’t care or stifle your emotions. It just means you accept how things are, however much you dislike it, and don’t let things outside your control bother you. Once you can reach the stage where it no longer bothers you, or creates an automatic negative reaction within you, then the issue will miraculously resolve itself.
Asking “why me?” is pointless. Why not you?
“How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”
– C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed)
4. If it frightens you, do it.
Or another way of saying it: If you feel fear, act. This doesn’t mean you meaninglessly push yourself to do things that put your life in danger, but rather that you challenge your limiting beliefs.
Remember, growth only occurs outside your comfort zone. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got. If you’re unhappy with where you are in life, then you have to push yourself to do something about it, even if it is uncomfortable or scary.
If what you are doing isn’t working, try something different. Be willing to let go of what you have, so you can get what you want.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
– Unknown, often attributed to Einstein.
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
– Tony Robbins
5. Whatever you do, do it 100%.
And when you do decide to take action, don’t be half-assed about it. If you’re not going to do something properly, don’t bother doing it at all. You’re just wasting yours and everyone’s time.
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”
– Colossians 3:23 (NLT)
Do not be afraid to fail. Failures make you reassess yourself in a way successes never can. Remember, there are no mistakes, only learning experiences. And even if you are afraid, see point 4 above.
Coming at it from another angle: Expect 100% from others as well. Don’t settle. Because every time you settle, you get exactly what you settled for.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
– Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower)
6. Nobody owes you anything.
Once you become an adult, you are the only person on this planet responsible for your needs, wants, and happiness. If someone is willing to help you in any way, then that’s a real blessing and you should be grateful for it. If you decide to help someone, you should do it without expecting anything in return. If someone refuses to help you, or treats you less than nicely, you shouldn’t take offence at it, just let them be. Because how someone treats others is more a reflection of their character than yours. And you can’t control anything anyway (see points 2 and 3 above).
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”
– Luke 6:35 (NLT)
By the same vein, if you get into a relationship hoping the other person will “complete” you, you are on your way to Disappointment Town. You have to be the best version of yourself before you can even think of sustaining a relationship. If you seek only your own fulfilment, it will crumble before long, because you are trying to withdraw without inputting. Which brings me to the last point…
7. Give what you seek.
Whenever you feel people are withholding something from you, instead of getting hurt and upset, try giving it to them instead. For example, praise, appreciation, loving care, etc. Even if you don’t have it, act as if you do and it will come.
“Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you already have, but unless you allow it to flow out, you won’t even know that you have it.”
– Eckhart Tolle
This concept is once again Biblical. Jesus encourages us to be generous because we can never outgive God. Call it karma, law of attraction, or whatever you like. But I truly believe that if your heart and intentions are in the right place, then you can never lose out.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
– Luke 6:38 (NIV)
“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
– Mark 4:25 (NIV)
And it of course also applies to love. Everyone wants to be loved, it’s a fundamental human need. But the next time you find yourself craving for love, try finding ways to express it instead.
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
– Mother Teresa