Twelve Essential Life Lessons

Twelve Essential Life Lessons

Jung, like the ancient Greek mathematicians, believed that number was sacred. Specifically that number was the first and most fundamental archetype.

It is in that spirit that I list the 12 most important things I have learnt about life. Things which have made my life richer, more meaningful and have helped me in the quest to understand the meaning of life.

Socrates said that we cannot teach anyone anything; all we can do is help them remember. Do you remember any of these?

1. God Exists.

Actually a friend of mine the philosopher Cary Winograd says God is a concept which is beyond existence and non existence. (Which I agree with). Nevertheless language limits my ability to express truth and so I say: God exists.

This is a painful admission for me because I am at heart an atheist and am very sympathetic to French Existentialism, in particular Camus and Sartre who preclude the possibility of God.

Nevertheless experience has taught me otherwise. Like Jung, in answer to the question ‘do you believe God exists ?’ I must say, I have no need of belief, I know God exists.

 

2. Love is the Most Important Thing

The most important thing we can ever learn in this life time, or in even a million lifetimes, is love. Specifically how to love. There is something unique and wonderful about becoming a parent, you experience true love.

When you have a child, it is as though everything you believed about love is trivialised and only then do you discover what love is.

This is the love I’m referring to. And I think once you get it, once you understand what love is you have the opportunity to express it in the world. Not only with your children.

If any one of us can learn that how to relate to the world through love, true unadulterated love, in this lifetime, then I think it will be a life worth having lived.

3. The Hand of Providence is Uneven

Did the potters hand shake when he made me? – Omar Khayyam

Life is not fair or just. The sooner you learn that the better. For in a sense the pursuit of justice in a patently unjust universe is itself the greatest injustice. But it is self inflicted and you can let go of it.

If there is justice in this world it is beyond the comprehension of man. However the realisation of this truth, the absence of universal justice, is very liberating. Once you stop questioning why and you get on with living, things go a lot better.

4. Love Yourself

They say charity begins at home; well it is the same with love. Love begins with learning to first accept and then truly love yourself. Husband your life and care for yourself. This is a scared responsibility which should not be confused with selfishness.

Learning to be your own parent, lover and child is an integral part of our journey to discover our own humanity.

5. You Don’t always Need to be Right

Letting go of the need to be right in the face of argument or adversity is life affirming and liberating. Conversely, holding onto the need to be right gives you just that- being right, but not much else.

When we learn to let go of the need to be right we open ourselves up to the world and ourselves. We do not stint our own learning and are able continually evolve- which surely is the purpose of our lives.

6. Choose Your Friends Carefully

We can only be as much or as little as our friends allow. Choose friends that promote your sense of well being and self worth; and at all costs avoid those who seek to reduce you. The people that we surround ourselves with have a far greater impact on our lives, and our sense of who we are, than we imagine.

7. Be Present

Frequently in life we are inclined to become overly absorbed in thoughts, hopes and anxieties. To the extent that we fail to live in the moment which is ultimately where we are called on to live. Frequently we seek to distract ourselves from simply being.

Being in the moment, being in our lives, being ourselves.

Since I became aware of this, one of the ways in which I try to be present is in company. When I meet someone socially or in business for that matter- before I launch froth on my own agenda, I make a conscious effort to simply be, be there, and to acknowledge the presence of the person or people I am encountering.

Another way in which I practice this is when I eat. I take the time to be present, to acknowledge and to appreciate the gift of nourishment. Possibly that is the innate wisdom in the act of saying grace before we eat- to bring us into the moment and to make us mindful of the privilege of eating.

I heard an interview with an Afrikaans storyteller who had studied for many years under a master herbalist. She lived with him in his home which was in the middle of nowhere. He was an old man and did not indulge in any of the modern media forms TV, web etc.

This was naturally very challenging for her coming out of our world of the constant information and entertainment feed. Nevertheless he challenged her further when he found her reading as an escape from the difficult intensity of being constantly present in this very simple and quiet world.

Why are you reading, he asked her? You are exactly where you are meant to be, doing exactly what you are meant to be doing. Stay here; don’t let your mind run away.

Admittedly not easy advice to follow, for we live in age where we are so easily able to escape, that we have formed a dependency on this way of being in the world. Nevertheless, in as much as you can, bring yourself into your life, here and now.

8. Understand that Other People are different from You

The classic error of youth, the assumption that everyone else is fundamentally the same as us. They are not. And this is something we need to realise, be mindful of and learn to respect.

The error of believing others to think and feel as we do, leads not only to a breakdown in communication but is frequently the cause of prejudice. I am so convinced that only those like me have value that I seek to destroy the other.

However it is the diversity of humanity that results in its richness not the uniformity.

9. Acknowledge Your Religion

You may consider yourself to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist (to name a few of the religious orders). However I challenge you and say that that is your creed not your religion.

Your religion the way you give is expression to and commune with the divine, is what you spend most of your attention and energy on. This is your true religion. This is also your legacy in this world.

For many people this is what they do for a living, but not always. It is that which occupies your heart and your mind. It could be your job but it could just as well be your hobby or even your lover. But I’ll bet the moment you read that you knew what it was in your life that consumes you more than anything else.

Now don’t get me wrong because I’m not suggesting you are being untrue to your traditional creed or faith in this regard, unless what occupies you contradicts that creed. But I think it is important for all of us to acknowledge our religion and ask if it is a religion we can stand up for and acknowledge.

10. Amor Fati

Amor fati, the love of fate, it is here, in this place, in this time, in this arena, that we are called on to live our lives – James Hollis

Although in one sense obvious- yes naturally this and now is the life we are called on to live, in practice a lot of energy is wasted bemoaning our lives, as they present themselves to us.

The acceptance of our life, with all its vagaries and vicissitudes, is incredibly life affirming, liberating and constructive. If we do seek change and evolution and want that desire to be meaningful it needs to come from a place of acceptance not denial.

This gift of life we have been given is infinitely precious, fragile and lasts but a short while. Try not to waste that time wishing it was a different life and a different you. Rather rejoice in this gift, embrace it and life with as much passion and sincerity as your heart will allow.

As the technologist Dr. Gino Yu once said to me, after having spent many years studying the phenomenon of Satori or self realisation across many different disciplines, in an attempt to distil their message, It’s good to be alive…right now.

11. Don’t Leave the Child Behind

We are either busy being born or busy dying. If you choose to be in the former, rather than latter, state, independent of age, then the child needs to present. Children are our greatest example, our greatest inspiration and our greatest teachers.

But don’t forget that each of us was a child once. That child lives inside your heart and speaks the language of your soul. The more you attune your inner ear to hear that child’s voice and the more you attune your heart to feel that child’s hope, fear and wonder- the more meaningful your life will be.

You are now that child’s parent and you are called on to care for it and nurture it. And most significantly to live a life which is true to that child.

12. The Truth is a Story

One of my greatest realisations after decades of study and meditation on the central question: what is the meaning of life? came to me in the Arizona dessert in April 2008.

There is no ground to truth, meaning or reality.

We are the truth, the meaning and the reality- there is nothing which exists outside of us. And how do we define those three things for ourselves and the world?

Through the stories we tell.

On that note I bid you adieu. I hope that either one or more of these lessons have reminded you of one of your own lessons; or that this post stimulates you sufficiently to write down your own list of central life lessons.

Until next time.

Go in peace,

Stephen

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