God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The Serenity Prayer. As children we would recite it every day in school. It reminds us that there are may things in our lives that we cannot change, that much of what we go through is predetermined. Life after life, we come into this world to face the consequences of our actions from previous lives. Along the way, we made good choices and we made bad ones.
This human life is an opportunity that has been given to us to learn from our mistakes; to spiritually evolve and acquire a clear understanding of what we have been doing wrong. In Living Meditation it is written: “To choose a positive path is to affirm one’s spiritual nature.”
A spiritual life is a call to positive action in every area of our lives. In recent times, most of Master’s answers to questions concerning problems in our daily lives tell us to do two important things: the first one is to carry on diligently with our meditation and the second one is to have a positive attitude because our attitude is the only thing we can change.
How can we define attitude? Our entire mental makeup – thoughts, perceptions and reactions – defines our attitude, which can be positive or negative.
Thinking positively should be our only choice
The root cause of our suffering is our own thought process.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Buddha, as quoted in Life is Fair
Actions follow thoughts; our thoughts and desires, whether good or bad, give shape to our lives. Finally, our thoughts and actions lead to consequences, which we call our karma or destiny.
The potential of karma always increases over time. Small seeds have the potential to produce massive fruits…. From the slightest positive action can come the greatest consequence of happiness, and in the same way the smallest negative action can bring about very intense suffering…. Just as drops of water can fill a large vessel, in the same way the smallest actions, when continuously committed, can fill the minds of sentient beings.
The Dalai Lama, as quoted in Life is Fair
The law of karma is the law of cause and effect. Our mind is the world of causes, and the world we see around us, is the world of effects. Therefore, it is as essential for us to exercise control over our thoughts as it is to control our actions. We can compare the human mind to a garden where we can choose to cultivate flowers or fruits of useful and pure thoughts and weed out all the useless and impure thoughts; that choice has always been ours. The right kind of thoughts will definitely enhance our spiritual advancement and lead us down a positive path.
Our reactions matter
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are within our control, and some things are not.
Epictetus, as quoted in Living Meditation
Circumstances, events, situations and people in our lives – none of these are within our control. They are what they are because of our past karmas. Resistance to what we encounter in life simply makes situations tougher to handle. When we accept our lot, we get the courage to face our destiny.
Dr Viktor Frankl, who was an eminent psychiatrist and author, faced a heart-wrenching incident in his life, which inspired the birth of an idea that in the years to come would develop into “logotherapy”; a form of therapy that would help innumerable people deal with their difficult situations. This incident took place at the time of the Second World War. As he was a Jew, Dr Frankl was imprisoned by the Nazis, while his wife, children and parents were all killed in the Holocaust. When the Gestapo took Viktor and stripped him down completely, even removing the wedding band from his fingers, he said to himself, “You can take away my wife, you can take away my children, you can strip me of my clothes and my freedom, but there is one thing no person can ever take away from me – and that is the freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me!” Circumstances in our lives can only affect us in so far as we allow them to do so.
What should be our perspective?
Nothing is true and nothing is false. All depends on the colour of the lens through which we look.
Ramon de Campoamor, as quoted in Living Meditation
We perceive the world based on our own inner experiences. If we see beauty and joy around us, or ugliness and pain, it is because we contain those judgements within ourselves. Our reality is only based on our thoughts and emotions. Layers of impressions accumulated from previous lifetimes form the very mind which is trying to perceive the world and make sense of it. It is because of this karmic baggage that our perception is fogged and there is no real clarity in our thinking.
Clarity in thinking will come when the turbulent waves of our thoughts settle and our mind becomes tranquil at the eye centre. This state of stillness is only achieved when we attend to our meditation daily – when our every thought becomes simran. Ultimately, it is only through the practice of listening to that celestial sound, the Shabd, that our minds will be cleansed of all its false projections.
It is important to keep reminding ourselves that our understanding of life is limited and our perception of people and situations is impaired. We get hurt because we have expectations. And this is foolish, because we fail to consider that there is always a higher law at work and that each individual is subject to this law. That is why the Master always urges us to adopt an objective and logical approach to life.
Met with a positive attitude, this world can become a source of joy, inspiring us to see the divine will in everything and to worship the Lord through his creation.
When we learn to perceive everything in life as the Lord’s will, then the Lord will surely grace us with the serenity, courage and wisdom to face life with a positive attitude.