I believe that we all are having extraordinary lives. Some of us might not be the Beatles or be astronauts, but each one of us has a great story. And only very, very bright and enlightened people can realize that every creature has an extraordinary story. We have all experienced an incredible journey from the world of the unborn into the world of the living.
For the first 30 years of our lives it’s likely that we’re going to encounter the words of the great ancient teachings in one form or another. We may learn whatever we need to hear from some of the most popular religions, from yoga practice, from the philosophies of indigenous cultures throughout the world, or from scientific information.
But at the same time we’re extremely busy. We’re going about our lives and trying to figure out what our five senses are telling us. We’re trying to pursue our careers, we’re trying to identify a mate, or we’re identifying companions so that we can avoid being lonely.
Hopefully as we get older we learn things in our life to help us get our lives in order. We learn that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that all things that we dreamed will come true or that our lives will be perfect. Life will always consist of times during which things are in an equilibrium and then periods during which things will be out of balance.
Over time we can understand the patterns of our lives and start to quiet our minds. When that happens, we might become able to see the deeper meaning of things without having to search, without having to learn, or without having to struggle.
But there are still things that many people in the world are stuck with no matter how much older and wiser they become. I like to talk about such things. I also like to think, talk, and write about philosophy, trying to relate it to workable solutions to common everyday struggles.
I’m mechanically inclined and I think logically, and these traits help me to get to the bottom of things that some individuals have difficulty with. I have various methods I use to help me when I experience negative things. For example, when I struggle with being in the present moment I first look to my feelings and try to figure out what’s going on in my emotional world. I’ll do this before I focus on the external world in efforts to fix outside circumstances.
I go about things this way because for most of my life I did things quite differently in efforts to squelch my negative emotions. I’d usually either buy more and more things or look for people to tell me that I was OK. I picked up that pattern when I was a child. I picked it up from my parents, sisters, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and society.
They were reinforcing messages coming from everywhere that suggested that I should be a materialistic person seeking to achieve things in order to validate my existence. Such messages will always come to us, and we do in fact need various things to succeed in life. And it’s also appropriate to receive praise for fulfilling duties to our society in general and our communities in particular.
As a person gets older they’ll establish a degree of status. It seems quite normal for a person to take pride in positive accomplishments. Especially positive accomplishments that center around compassionate actions to other members of our community. But there’s a difference between that and what most people in the modern world strive for when they pursue achievements and material success. Most in the modern world strive for things that serve only themselves and their own families.
This is in large part due to the way our modern societies are structured: They’re structured such that they are highly competitive and only the strong among them survive. The strong are admired, the famous are loved, and the rich are respected. And beauty is seen as a mythical power.
I suppose that throughout history there have always been societies that thought and operated like that. But there’s another way, my friends. And we must help each other find it, whether or not our societies or even our own families are behind us. It’s incumbent on each of us to take on the responsibility of awakening our minds and coming to a place where we put compassion and the quality of our character before our accomplishments. In this way we can set out into the world to do good things for both the world itself and all of its creatures (not just humans).
In this day and age, the earth needs our focused attention. This is the case not just because humanity can destroy it. It’s also the case because if we don’t take care of the earth then the earth will not support us. So there’s no question that acts of compassion must certainly include acts of compassion to the planet.
It was always our responsibility to care for the earth from the very beginning—from the age of the Garden of Eden. Mankind had a responsibility to care for the planet and all its creatures: That was our responsibility and that was our way of reciprocating for the gift of great intelligence and the highest type of consciousness.
We have the capability of self-awareness, and we also have awareness that one day we will die. It might not be a pleasant idea to contemplate, and it might not seem like a gift. But one of the positive things that we can become aware of is the origin of our thoughts. We can change the way we think and we can change the way we behave.
To a significant degree we also have control over the choices that we make. We are not driven by instinct in the way that other creatures are. We are driven by our passions and by our desires, and we are driven by the teachings that we receive in early childhood.
We create patterns as we learn things and respond to our drives. These patterns are much like instincts, but they are different from the instincts of animals. The difference is that animals’ instincts are pre-programmed. But human beings are taught the patterns that they live their lives in accordance with: They teach them to themselves, or they are taught to them by others.
To a degree, genetic material within us humans urges us to behave in certain ways. But because we are deeply cerebral thinking creatures, we can change our minds about the way that we behave. We can make choices about our behavior that can override primordial urges.
Although we can choose to behave in a certain way, events that occur throughout our lives will affect how we choose to behave. The events that affect us the most are our traumas. If we have pleasurable experiences during our childhoods, we will likely go in positive directions while living our lives. If we don’t experience continual hardship then we’re more likely to become enlightened. But even if we don’t become enlightened, we can become very happy. If a person’s entire viewpoint of the world was that they were at the center of it and they experienced nothing but love and compassion, perhaps they’d have continual happiness.
While contemplating this I asked myself two questions: What if a person never really had the mental capacity to set up mirrors inside of their mind to be able to reflect back to themselves what they’re doing, what they feel, and how they behave in the world? And if a person was limited in their intellectual and emotional capacity, what could they do to make their life as great as the life of the most enlightened guru?
An answer came to me. I became convinced that people who live lives focused on service to others—other humans, other animals, and plant life that exists on earth and keeps our ecosystem in balance—live as if they are very enlightened. They may not even be aware of a higher consciousness. They may not be aware of the divine. But their lives nevertheless reflect higher consciousness and a degree of divinity. People who live like that and have a positive outlook on life will usually experience happiness as a result of living the way that they do. Who could ask for more?
Some people have an intellectual bent, and they often intellectualize things to a degree that’s not necessary or helpful. They like to think deeply about things, constantly looking to solve problems and puzzles, and they often overthink things. I consider myself to be among them.
But I don’t want to be remembered that way. I want to be remembered for being a person who said that the highest philosophy of all things is compassion to young children and innocent creatures. In my mind, all the creatures in the world are as innocent and as pure as our children and they deserve to be protected.
Protected from what?
Nature is pure. The creatures do not need protection from the mother. Earth is extremely compatible to all the creatures that live here, and she is extremely giving and cooperative. The creatures need protection from humans. Sadly, our brothers and sisters have often gone astray for various reasons. In doing so they’ve harmed humans and other creatures who inhabit the earth.
It’s not just that people are confused about proper behavior. It’s also the case that there are people in this world who have gone mad and spread darkness throughout the world. It’s happened time and time again and continues to happen. Groups of individuals wage warfare, blow up things, burn down forests, ravage the land, and murder men, women and children.
Some people murder for vengeance and some people murder for pleasure. Entire societies can be complicit in this behavior. We’ve seen this throughout the entire history of humankind. But we need not regress into that state of mind or that type of behavior.
We live in the fallout of our societies’ bloodshed from the last several thousand years of our history. There are bloodstains everywhere in our world, and in fact our societies are built on oceans of bloodshed.
It would be foolish for anyone to deny this. It’s unpleasant to consider. But it’s important to recognize all of the widespread destruction that mankind has caused for both itself and the other creatures on our planet. It would be of no value to go into a dark depression while thinking of this. But we must recognize that this destructive behavior is a problem in order to stop doing it.
The golden rule of self-help is that in order to solve a personal problem it’s necessary to admit that the problem exists. Mankind’s violent misbehavior and mistreatment of the planet are such that they are problems for each and every one of us. I believe that change has to take place and I am optimistic (perhaps cautiously optimistic) that it will. But we must realize that it’s necessary to accelerate that change and that we have the power to do just that.
However, we usually are predisposed towards the attitude that pursuing change is futile. When we’re young, we feel helpless. But we’re no longer helpless. And we need to fight tooth and nail against the thoughts that steer us away from aggressively pursuing change for mankind’s betterment.
I’d like to provide an example. You might ask yourself, “Why should I spend the day picking up trash on the beach when the beach will be filled with trash again tomorrow?” The answer is that you do things such as that so that you gain personal habits that make you part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And you set an example for others. Many don’t strive for society’s betterment because they don’t see others doing so.
Someone may see you picking up garbage and think that you’re a fool. But someone else may see you doing it, respect you for doing it, and begin doing it themselves. The image of you picking up garbage will burn in someone’s brain. That will make it seem to be more doable for them to take the trouble to pick up trash from the floor, the street, the beach, or the hillside. Others will witness them doing it and follow their example in turn. This positive behavior becomes infectious. It can turn into a movement within one generation.
This philosophy is the essence of cause and effect. To keep it simple, think of your favorite beach or large public park area. Go there and pick up 500 pieces of garbage. They’ll then be 500 fewer pieces of garbage for you to step over when you go there the next time.
Maybe after a few years of picking up garbage you’ll have more of a message, and perhaps you’ll find yourself writing a book on recycling and management of waste. And you’ll write with empathy because you experienced garbage removal yourself. And your book may very well have widespread positive effects on others, who may keep their neighborhoods cleaner, recycle their trash, and perhaps set up recycling centers wherever they live. So, by your actions that began with your picking up a few pieces of garbage, you change the world for the better!
Service to others is the very best self-help action that one can take. It leads to enlightenment, contentment, and inner peace. Sometimes in our lives we feel stuck, though. We might be unhappy, we may feel boredom, and we might feel depressed or fearful. We might not be in love with ourselves, we might hate our bodies, and habitually we might be carrying some really difficult burdens around.
So where do we begin? What comes first, positive thinking or positive action? It doesn’t really matter, but in a sense it depends on the individual. Some may need to think positively to stir them to positive actions, and others may need to experience the positive effects of their actions in order to think more positively moving forward. And as far as positive thinking is concerned, it can be viewed as “performance art”: Even if we don’t believe in the positivity at a given point in time, we have to work on spending time creating positive scenarios in our own minds.
There are an infinite number of actions that we can take, accompanied by positive, compassionate thinking, that will result in change for the better. We can improve ourselves, we can encourage our loved ones to strive for positive change, and we can even make our world a better place for future generations.
Let’s do it!