Life: A User Manual
From the moment we are born we are taught rules about the way the world works. Our parents teach us rules to keep us safe, our schools teach us rules to keep us under control, and society teaches us rules of what success looks like and how our lives should look for us to be happy. These rules form part of our subconscious and then go on to direct the way we act and live our lives. As we grow we begin to modify these rules as we have different experiences that lead to different understandings of the world. But here the important thing to remember- these rules that others have imposed on ourselves, and we have taken on, are mostly lacking in reality. They exist in our thoughts only, not in the outside world.
The vast majority of these rules are just like figments of our imagination; they have no basis other than the thoughts which have been stored in our brains and reinforced over time. As we move beyond the unhelpful language in our minds, we may not be able to change it without some considerable effort, but we can stop listening to it and acting on it. We should try and make some attempt to recognise the garbage rules and unhelpful thoughts we hold as law in our lives, and we should try and make them more helpful and realistic. This is always however possible as sometimes these thoughts are too ingrained. For example, many of us have been brought up with a rule to "worry about what others think'. Even though we may know this is a 'fake rule', the thought can be thoroughly ingrained and may pop up time and time again despite acting against this thought for years. If we have to get rid of a thought to stop acting on it, we would probably live a life inconsistent with the way we truly wished to live. So the aim isn't necessarily to change our thoughts, but rather to know which of our thoughts are unhelpful, know how we truly wish to live our lives and act in a given moment, and then ACT despite these thoughts, so we are living consistently with our values and goals, rather than by the garbage that often floats around in our minds.
7 Helpful Rules to Live By
1. NO CONTROL: We cannot control much outside of ourselves. We cannot control people, situations or events around us. We can try and influence them to try and get them to go our own way, but there are few means of real control. Trying to control the world around us is like using our hands to hold back a wave crashing down on us. Struggling against this is futile, draining and will make us feel overwhelmed. All we can do it make decisions and act on them, but we should never hold too tightly to expecting a certain outcome in the world around us.
2. IMPERMANENCE: Everything around us dies and decays. Nothing remains the same. Things come and go in our lives and we need to understand this normal flow. We have to accept this normal flow in life and not fight it. On one hand we are going to experience loss and pain, and this is a normal part of life. On the other hand, when things are difficult, this too shall pass.
3. YOU CAN ONLY LIVE IN THE PRESENT: We can think about the past and the future, but the only place we can actually act and live is in the present. We mustn’t waste too much of our present looking at the past or thinking too much about the future. There is a time and place to evaluate the past and plan for the future, but we must ask ourselves whether we are ruminating unhelpfully. We must take the time to plan, build actions and goals around our plans, then let go of the outcomes. What will be will be. All we truly have in the now. We must ask ourselves- if the present is all we have, are we living it consciously and purposefully?
4. WE ARE MORE THAN JUST FORM AND NARRATIVE: We have a body and we have labels we may call ourselves: child, woman, man, mother, father, lawyer, receptionist, dental technician, pianist, artist, teacher, etc. But if any of these things changed we would still be us. If we lost a leg or eye or arm, we would still be us. We could have a heart transplant and still be us. We are something that goes beyond form and the story we tell about ourselves. Finding out what we truly are is part of our journey that only we can experience. This path is a map, but never confuse the map for the actual landscape. You need to experience this for yourself.
5. WE CREATE OURSELVES: We must take accountability of our actions. We cannot control our environment particularly, and we often cannot even control our thoughts. We an however learn how to control our actions and at all times we must be accountable for the things we do. The choices we make can create suffering or create meaning and purpose. Through building meaning and purpose we create space for happiness in our lives.
6. DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK: Just because you have a thought about something doesn’t make it true. Ever seen 2 people argue about the best sports team? Both will passionately believe their arguments, but both cannot logically be true. We all filter facts differently, and hold some things as important, and other things as less important. We all have different narratives about the world and who we are. We filter facts, make assumptions, and form beliefs- all resulting in experiences that seem real but in fact just images and thoughts in our mind. Our thoughts can very helpful, but at times they can be our worst enemies. When our thoughts create suffering we must question whether our thoughts are realistic and helpful, or irrational and unhelpful.
7. DO WHAT WORKS: Many people complain they aren’t happy with their lives, but don’t actually do anything to make a change. If you feel there is something off about your life, you aren’t living it fully, you are unhappy, overwhelmed, or constantly worried- do something different. Keep on trying new things until you figure out what works. When you figure it out keep on doing that, until it stops working- then go back to searching and figure it out again. I have spent my life searching, finding, losing and finding again. Living is in the journey and we must always remember the principle of Impermanence. We don’t stop growing till we die.