If I were asked to define life, I really wouldn’t know what to say. Life is one of those things that defy description. Of course, we all know what life is—after all, it’s the only reality that we have experienced. And yet, I can’t get myself to define what life as such is. But for the sake of convenience perhaps one could describe it as a series of potential learning experiences that are afforded to us by God for our spiritual evolution.
When I look back at my life—I mean the portion of it of almost 50 years that I can remember—I see it as containing innumerable experiences that, taken together, have made me the person I presently am. Every moment in those 50-odd years was an experience that I was led to encounter and pass through. One experience followed another in a continuous flow, and the way I responded or reacted to each one of them played a major role in shaping my level of consciousness.
Why I was led to encounter the particular set of experiences that I did and not any other I don’t quite know. Religious and secular ideologies have varying answers to this question that we all ask ourselves at some time or the other in our lives. Typically, we agonize about the ‘harrowing’ experiences we’ve been through that are an inevitable part of almost everyone’s life. Why me, we want to know? What did I do to deserve such pain? On the other hand, we rarely, if ever, question our ‘enjoyable’ moments in the same way. We think we deserve them, and so we ask no such questions! While I’ve spent endless hours demanding to know why I’ve had to pass through experiences that have brought me enormous sorrow, I’ve never bothered to ask myself the same about my many happy experiences. Few of us want to recognize that ‘evil’ and ‘good’, ‘joy’ and ‘sorrow’ necessarily have to go with each other in this world. This is what keeps the drama of life going. It’s all part of God’s creation plan, as they say, the full mystery of which we can probably never fathom.
Often, we pass through life—encountering experience after experience, from moment to moment—in a mechanical way, not caring to reflect on these experiences and not permitting them to impart to us the valuable lessons that each of them contains. That’s one way to lead life, and one is free to choose it. But there’s another way of living—of reflecting on the experiences that we pass through, or what is called a self-reflective or watchful life. We can try to be aware of whatever we feel, think, say and do while undergoing whatever experience we may encounter. When we remember that God is watching us every moment, that we have to go back to Him when we die and that we will be accountable to Him for our every feeling, thought, word and deed, this watchfulness can really work wonders. As we go through each experience of life—even the most seemingly difficult ones— with this awareness, we can begin to respond in a skillful, appropriate manner, in the manner that God wants us to.
Once we begin to live watchfully, we may begin to realize that every experience that we undergo—‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘pleasant’ or ‘sad’—can be for us the greatest source of learning for our spiritual evolution. Often, the most ‘painful’ experiences can, if we approach them in the right manner, become a source of great blessing in our lives. From such experiences we can learn strength, patience, tolerance, acceptance, humility, and many other virtues, and above all, reliance on God. The lives of many spiritually-evolved beings are filled with stories of the immense difficulties and painful experiences that they were led to undergo, all of which played a vital role in their spiritual evolution.
Sorrow, they say, is a great teacher. When we undergo sad or painful experiences and respond to them appropriately, we can grow spiritually in a manner that would not have been possible if we had not been made to face these experiences. For instance, by maintaining our composure in the face of provocation and not reacting in haste, we can learn to become patient and develop our inner strength. By responding compassionately to someone who has been cruel to us we can learn to become more forgiving and loving people. By not losing our cool with those we find hopelessly irritating we learn to become more accepting and less judgmental. When we lose a relative or friend, we can learn to become more detached. In a situation where we feel totally helpless, with no one to ask for help, if we turn to God for assistance we can learn to rely on Him alone for all things. And so on. Every ‘bad’ experience, then, can become for us a valuable lesson for our spiritual growth if we care to draw the appropriate lessons from it.
If we begin to view all experiences that we undergo each day, and, indeed, each moment, as potential learning experiences for our spiritual growth, the way we relate to the difficult experiences that all of us must encounter can drastically change. If we view dispassionately all the many painful experiences we have had to face in the past, we can be led to discern that all of them have been—or could have been, had we responded to them in the appropriate manner—steps in our spiritual growth, making us better and stronger persons, more connected with God. No longer would we endlessly brood over the sorrow and pain we have had to experience once we realize how important they have been in our journeys.
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