By Jaya Ramesh July 1998 To know yourself, you must love yourself. For it is only when you are filled with love that you can share this gift with the world SEIZE TODAY AND CHANGE TOMORROW Write down five actions that you have been putting off, such as giving up smoking, going to bed early, resolving your overweight problem, reconnecting with someone you cherish Against each action write why you have been putting it off Write down all the pleasures you’ve experienced by procrastination Write down what it will cost if you don’t change now. Describe the fallout in terms of emotional damage, loss of self-esteem, financial losses and relationship dents Now write down all the joy that you will receive by taking each of the actions Take a decision now, implement it and stick to it If someone were to ask me: ‘What is the most difficult challenge that you’ve faced in your life?’ I would unhesitatingly reply: ‘To be myself.’ To be oneself in all situations is often an impossible job that calls for effort, courage and brutal honesty. But, to be myself I need to know myself. And to know myself, I must love myself. Most of us hate to describe ourselves as self-loving because we have been told that this is narcissistic. That there is an element of wantonness in admitting: ‘I am a wonderful person and I love myself.’ Years ago, steeped in unhappiness and envy, I had sourly asked Antara Kumar, a very close friend, what made her such great company. Her unabashed reply was: ‘When I look into the mirror, I am happy with what I see. I never allow my imperfections to neutralize what is best in me. I accept myself without conditions.’ Dale Carnegie, the best-selling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, tells the story of a woman, Edith, who, as a child, used to be sensitive, shy and overweight. She never went to parties, never had any fun and always felt that she was different and undesirable. Later, she married a man several years her senior. Her in-laws were all outgoing, poised and confident people. But that did not affect Edith’s shyness. She felt she was a failure and feared that if her husband found out the truth, it would be the end of their marriage. So, Edith put up a show of gaiety, while deep within unhappiness eroded her. One day, she overheard her mother-in-law say, referring to the secret behind her children’s poise and happiness: ‘No matter what happened, I always insisted on my children being themselves.’ Almost overnight Edith changed. She began a search for herself, building on her strong points, accepting without apology her weaker points. Striving for authenticity in thought and action is the first mature step in self-evolution. We feel alienated from others because we don’t show our real selves for fear of rejection. The result is internal dissonance. We can connect with our inner selves only when we peel off all masks. To accept the totality of our being, we must become compassionate towards ourselves. Accepting our negativity is an integral part of the human experience; we can then extend this to others. This is true compassion. The American philosopher, Emerson makes a valid point in his essay On Self-reliance: ‘There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.’ Ironically, we spend a major part of our lives with a begging bowl, pleading for love from others. We believe that we will feel better if people love us. But the love I want begins with me. I can experience real love only when I fill myself with love and am willing to give it to others. The more I give, the more I receive. All our life’s experiences comprise an endless learning act. We merely need the willingness. We must all learn to bypass the cacophony of the world to reach into the silence of our soul. In order to love, in order to be happy we must learn to be present in each moment. Don’t keep your happiness on hold. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Now is the only time we have. Let me tell you about an incident in my life. After going through a period of severe disappointment and hurt, I devised an almost foolproof method to insulate myself from pain. Brought up on a diet of superstitions, I began carrying a piece of wood in my purse. I touched it furtively every time I laughed because I feared that happiness might soon give way to sorrow. Somehow, my fears were always actualized. One day it occurred to me that nothing remains the same. From then on, each time I found myself depressed or elated, I whispered to myself: ‘This too shall pass.’ If we work for them, all our material dreams can be achieved. But if what we seek is something beyond, something that endures within us, we must give priority to love and happiness. We are willing to invest time and money in the pursuit of material gains. But, we don’t do the same to establish love, happiness and peace of mind. If only each of us could pray to alleviate the pain and suffering of others, we could make that vital connection with the real us. In his book Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav asks his readers not to pass value judgment or censure anybody. If we do so, we in turn will be judged by the universe and penalized accordingly. Judgments build walls between people, create hostility. When negative thoughts intrude, break its flow by repeating to yourself words such as love, joy and harmony. Words weave patterns in our lives. Build up a vocabulary of words that have positive connotations. Tomorrow really never comes. We have only today, maybe only this fleeting minute. So let us be grateful for every moment that comes our way. Many successful people began and ended their day by an act of gratitude. The universe, God, Gohonzon—call it what you will—has been magnanimous with us today. So let us close our eyes, recall every happy moment that we have experienced, and thank this power with all our heart. As gratitude and appreciation grow and fill your life, you will learn how to sincerely love yourself for what you really are. There is not a single person in this universe who leads a problem-free life. Yet we encounter people whose lives appear dynamic and joyous. What sets them apart? The answer: they do not allow themselves to be immobilized by little things. They respond to problems with ease, change things that can be changed and accept those that can’t. In the process, they come closer to the wisdom of discernment. In this harsh, inconsistent world where people’s sense of esteem stems from degrees of workaholism, there is an intangible, sinking feeling of emptiness. We need to fill this with a sense of inner quietness. But inner peace and an outer, perfection-obsessed attitude are incompatible companions. Contemporary wisdom would have us believe that packing each day with things that need to be done is the secret of success. But life isn’t all about getting things done as much as it is about enjoying each step along the way. Many a marital discord erupts from couples’ obsession with getting everything done in record time and to perfection. If, on the other hand, I ask myself each night: ‘Has my life made a little bit of difference to at least one person?’ and hear a resounding ‘Yes!’ in reply, all the things I haven’t managed to do over the day would not matter at all. Decision was the source of Martin Luther King Jr.’s power as he gave voice to the aspirations of a long-suffering people. Your life changes the moment you make a committed decision. ‘I will be happy today,’ is perhaps the best decision you can make. Happiness is a decision. The degree of our unhappiness is the distance between the way things are and the way they ought to be. At some point, every individual would have experienced the urge to say: ‘Had this not happened, I could have done this.’ This is a big fallacy. Marcus Aurelius once said: ‘If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it.’ As we mature, we come to realize that our understanding of what causes pain and what gives us pleasure is a quantum leap in our evolution. They affect many of our decisions. So we must use the understanding of these two emotions to change virtually everything in our lives.More than actual pain, it is our fear of pain that torments us. Similarly, we feel happy not so much by actual pleasure as by our belief that taking a certain step will lead to pleasure. In effect, we are not driven by reality but by our perception of reality. If we honestly want to unfetter our lives we must learn to manage our fears by overriding preconditioned set of responses and transform our fears into power. This is possible if we live our lives in the present and respond to things that are real, not to our fears of what once was or might someday be.
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