|How We Think||How We Act||How We Relate To Others||How We Find Meaning|
HOW WE THINK...
Humility is the attitude of experiencing the world and what it contains with wonder and awe. It is about seeing ourselves as a small part of a vast cosmos, inhabited by people and creatures from whom we can learn. Humility is quiet strength. In some cultures it is considered quite normal to be loud and assertive about what we think and what we want. Yet there is something dignified about people who are sincerely humble. Even if they are prominent and successful, they have the wisdom and experience to understand their limitations.
A person with humility can see beyond their own viewpoint and interests. They acknowledge that we are all dependent on other people, and that we have unique and sometimes unexpected roles to play in each other’s lives. Humility shifts our perspective from ‘me’ to ‘others’ and is delighted to do so. Humility comes at the beginning of the 16 Guidelines because it is a starting point. How can we grow and develop if we think we have nothing to learn?
To practise patience is to taste the power of the mind. Life is full of uncomfortable experiences, from minor niggles and irritations to major confrontations and setbacks. When they happen, we have a choice about how to respond. We can either become agitated and upset, or we can stay calm and relaxed. Patience is the ability to control our reactions and retain our peace of mind.
Patience gives us the flexibility and strength not to be a victim of circumstance. It is like having a protective suit of armour. It doesn’t make us passive or resigned, or take away the ability to respond appropriately to difficulties and harm. On the contrary, patience makes it far more likely we can respond in an appropriate way, because we retain the ability to think clearly.
Some people seem to be born patient, just as others seem to have a tendency to get angry. However, it is also possible to cultivate patience. We can remind ourselves of the damage that is caused by uncontrolled anger. We can accept that an injury may not have been intended. We can remember that the situation will change. Patience is a learning curve that lays the foundations for a happy life.
Contentment is a state of mind that has nothing to do with money, objects, or other people. Nor does it concern itself with how much we have, or how little. Instead, it’s about finding a point of stillness within ourselves which allows us to be quietlyhappy whatever our situation might be, and to be at peace with who we are.
How do you experience contentment? It can be as easy – and yet as radical – as taking a breath in, and deciding to release everything that makes us feel anxious and dissatisfied as you breathe out. Try settling deeply and quietly in a traffic jam, in themiddle of an argument, or when tears are close. Let the commotion of the world simply come to rest. Is it possible to taste the experience of surrender and release?
Unless we learn to live in the moment, and to accept it as it is, we may never function well or feel fully alive. Contentment releases us from the restless desires that drive us blindly forward, and which prevent us from being open to the needs and gifts of others. It frees us up to direct our energy in fresh and more conscious ways. Can we discover how to enjoy contentment despite the hurry and worry of our contemporary existence?
Delight is the delicious taste we get when something good happens. Worries fade away, frustration evaporates, and anger disappears when a baby is safely born or a friend passes their exams, when a problem is solved or a conflict resolved. Delight opens the heart.
Delight can change our minds and change our lives. It is a tonic that relieves the pain of envy and shifts the blight of depression. It brings us closer to the people we love and eases the difficulties we have with those people who are further awayfrom us. It makes such good sense to practise the art of rejoicing that it is strange we often overlook it. Why is bad news sometimes more compelling than good news? Why are we tempted to dwell on what is going wrong rather than what is going right? One drags us down, the other lifts us up.
We have a choice about what to feed our heart and mind. If we can learn to dwell on positive stories and accomplishments we can quickly bring more happiness into the lives of ourselves and others.
HOW WE ACT...
Kindness says: ‘I want you to be happy.’ To be kind means to be friendly, caring, generous, benevolent, considerate, respectful, fair and affectionate. We all know in our hearts when we have received or offered kindness because of the warmfeeling it brings. Is there anyone who does not want to experience kindness from another person?
Kindness knows with exquisite wisdom when it is appropriate to say or do something. It is found in the small details. A gentle touch on the cheek or a soft support of the elbow guiding someone across the road. Sustaining eye contact for just that moment longer. Making a telephone call. Remembering the little things that please someone. If we act in a kind way, it may seem that we are putting someone else’s happiness ahead of ours, but in practice it doesn’t work that way. Being kind invariably feels good, lifts our own spirits, and nourishes us in ways that we don’t always acknowledge. Everyone benefits.
Honesty is an opportunity to move through the world gracefully without harming other people. To speak or act dishonestly is to put our own interests ahead of someone else’s. To distort what they experience to fit our needs, or to take their possessions for ourselves. This is why dishonesty causes such disappointment and pain. Whereas to be honest is to cherish the needs and wishes of someone else. It is a statement that we care about another person’s welfare.
Honesty is a personal choice that arises every time that human beings connect with one another. Each individual has the opportunity to be straightforward and honest in their dealings with other people, regardless of their health, family situation, possessions or resources. In doing so, they help to create a culture of honesty for everyone.
Imagine a world where everyone plays fair, acts justly, and keeps their financial affairs simple and straightforward. Even the thought can make us soften and smile. It may take an enormous amount of courage and inner strength to bring this about, but why not get going right now? Honesty starts with each one of us.
In some ways generosity seems a crazy, counter-cultural way to behave. Instead of keeping our time, energy or possessions for ourselves, we give them away. There is something very powerful about choosing to do this. It is a fundamental shift awayfrom the limited world of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’
Generosity is defined by the wish to benefit someone else. It is rarely the size of the gift or the gesture that matters most, but the message that comes with it. The heart knows this, immediately and unmistakeably. We taste the uneasiness when a gift has an ulterior motive, and save our real admiration for the person who can give without seeking a return.
To some degree, everyone on the planet is likely to demonstrate generosity in some way, whether to a member of their family, a friend, or a beloved animal. The question is simply whether we choose to go further than that. Whether we want to learn how to open our hearts and hands more widely, and to share more generously whatever time, energy, talents and possessions we have. It is a critical decision about the direction that we want our lives to take.
Words! Love them or hate them, it often feels like we’re drowning in the noise they create – not only in our own ears, or on the page, but in our heads. They have the power to uplift us and to cast us down, to liberate and to entrap. They create friendships and make enemies. They can gain us great wealth and lose us everything we possess. The power of speech is so great that words cannot do it justice.
As soon as a child learns to speak, its life and relationships change. Countless daily choices come next. Whether to speak loudly or quietly, fast or slow. What words to use. When to speak or to be silent. We learn how to use our speech through trial and error, and in doing so create an image and style that will define our personality and shape our lives.
Right speech is a commitment to use words skilfully, in a way that will bring peace and happiness to ourselves and the people around us. It is about using our speech to take away fear, to bring hope, to make people laugh and feel closer to one another. This is how we share who we are and what is in our heart.
HOW WE RELATE TO OTHERS...
Everyone wants and needs respect. It is a pre-requisite for human beings to relate to each other in a positive and constructive way. Respect acknowledges that we have the same basic needs, whether physical, psychological or spiritual, and that other people’s experience and wisdom can be helpful to us. Yet there is another dimension to respect, with even more power to transform. From our earliest years, we learn and grow through admiring and copying other people.
In traditional societies this was and is a well-ordered process. Wisdom and life experience are seen as a form of wealth to be passed down the generations. ‘Elder’ does not just mean ‘old.’ Why is there now often a tendency to be disrespectful towards people who are older and have more life experience than ourselves?
All around us there are people we can respect and learn from, if we choose to do so, and if we have the necessary humility. Respect is something that we have to give rather than to demand. How do we choose the people we respect? What effect will this have on our lives? How can respect contribute to a happy life?
Forgiveness is the capacity to reclaim our peace of mind when something has happened to disturb us. As we go through life it is inevitable that we are going to hurt one another. In fact, as our world becomes more complex and interconnected, the opportunities for conflict increase. We have the choice whether to respond to these hurts and conflicts with anger and bitterness, or with forgiveness. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. It does not mean that we gloss over the harm that has taken place, or pretend that it never happened. What it does is to allow us to let go of the destructive attitudes towards the past that imprison us and the person who harmed us in a cycle of recrimination and guilt. When our desire for reconciliation and peace is stronger than our anger, disappointment or pain, then forgiveness offers the opportunity to make a new start.
Forgiveness can seem insurmountable, and has vast consequences, but in essence it is nothing more than a shift of mind. The motivation to forgive has to come from a genuine wish deep inside to relieve the pain and discomfort of ourselves and of others. It cannot be forced. Does everyone have the capacity to forgive? Can everything be forgiven? Is forgiveness something we can learn?
Gratitude celebrates our connections with other beings and our capacity to offer mutual support. It is a form of openness and generosity that strengthens relationships and heals tension, resentment and anger. Gratitude calls us to strip away unnecessary complexities, and to be simple and natural with each other. It brings peace and harmony.
To receive gratitude from others is to strengthen our confidence that we have a positive role to play in the world. It makes us feel recognised, encouraged and inspired. When we are able to offer gratitude sincerely to someone else, notice how it brings a pleasant taste in the mouth, a warm feeling in the heart and a surge of energy. Appreciation feels good.
Gratitude is grounded in the wisdom which accepts that we are neither independent nor self-sufficient, but part of an extraordinary continuum of events and beings on this planet. It encourages us to welcome reality, rather than to fight it – both what seems good, and what seems bad. Learning to appreciate every single thing that happens as a potential source of insight and growth is one of the key ingredients for a happy life.
When life is going well, it’s easy to forget that change happens in an instant. It is the nature of the universe. In an uncertain world, a sense of loyalty and mutual responsibility is often the glue that holds families and friendships together. It can be the lifeline that helps us to feel safe and supported and enables us to function well.
We all want to be accepted for who we are. Not for what we can buy, what we look like or who we know. When we cannot rely on the loyalty of each other, there is anxiety and insecurity, loneliness and heartbreak. It is logical to feel loyalty towards the people we feel close to, especially if we want them to be loyal to us. But can this feeling of closeness go further? Is it possible to extend the same warmth and support to people outside our inner circle? What can be done to develop an attitude of loyalty and solidarity towards the wider community and, ultimately, towards the entire planet? Some great people seem able to do this. What would the world be like if we could each extend our sense of loyalty in this way?
HOW WE FIND MEANING...
If we were each given a blank sheet of paper, how many of us would be able to list the principles that guide our lives? Day-to-day living makes so many demands that sometimes it feels more than enough just to react as best we can to whatever happens, hoping it will all turn out OK.
Yet most of us have plenty of principles, even if we are not aware of them. What is it that angers us or gets the fire churning in our gut? Getting upset is often the sign that a principle we hold strongly has been breached. It touches on something that says ‘No!’ We may be surprised by the passion and strength that is alive in us.
Principles give us strength. They provide the foundations from which we get the power and energy to make a stand about the things that matter to us. They keep our aspirations on track. Like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, they give stability and help us move forward in a purposeful way.
Aspiration is the profound longing for purpose and fulfilment, joy and happiness, which lies deep – and sometimes buried – in our hearts, and in the heart of every living being. It is the voice inside that urges us to use our life well and to make the best of whatever gifts and passions we possess. The way we choose to respond to that voice will determine all the other choices we make in our lives. Aspiration is the fuel of change. It feeds on our hope that life could be better or more meaningful, and our willingness to do something differently to make this happen. It is a call to action.
Everyone aspires to be happy, and it is a natural human quality to include others in this aspiration. We want our family and friends to be prosperous and content. We want homeless people to find shelter, hungry people to have food, sick people to have medicine. We want the world to be at peace. The happiest and most contented people are usually those who have found a way to put their aspirations for self and others into practice, and have thereby played an active part in creating a better world. This is the common characteristic of all the role models in this book. Their life stories may seem daunting and out of reach. In hindsight they are towering figures. Yet everything they did consisted of small choices and steps, many of which are possible for anyone.
Service is the outer expression of a wish to benefit others – to increase their happiness. At its best, it is an expression of caring, sharing, and delighting in each other. When it arises effortlessly and spontaneously, it is beautiful to watch. Service can also be experienced as a duty. Instead of being light and joyful, it feels heavy and burdensome. For most of us, learning how to serve – and to be served – is a lifetime’s task.
In every moment there is an opportunity to make someone else’s life a little bit easier or nicer. Every thought, word and action that flows from us in a loving way has the potential to create happiness. Are we willing to find within ourselves the sensitivity and intelligence, the clarity and conviction that this will take?
The rewards are huge. As we discover and deepen our wish for other people to be happy, we also find the key to our own happiness. Nobody gets left out of the equation. This is the golden rule of heart-felt service that underpins the great spiritual and wisdom traditions of the world. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself.'
Courage is about stretch. It’s about seeing, feeling or realizing that something more or different can be done, developing the determination to do it, and then carrying it through despite all obstacles. We know in our bodies when we’ve been courageous. There is a glow of satisfaction and relief. Something has shifted, and we have grown in size.
Courage is not defined by what we do, but what we overcome within ourselves. It comes in many forms. It is found in a steady approach to everyday difficulties as well as in the single spontaneous gesture. It is happening quietly all around us as well as in the news.
Courage involves acknowledging our fears, but not being deterred from offering something that goes beyond our own immediate needs and comfort. Most courageous people have decided that the well-being of others is more important than their own, and have allowed this decision to drive their actions and the way they live. Invariably, they seem to find their own happiness in the process.