Lessons Learned in the School of Life

All of life is a school. What makes something right or wrong in the school of life is simply whether it brings one closer to one’s innate divinity, and therefore the joy one seeks, or further from one’s divinity, away from the joy one seeks.

Since humanity has the potential to experience joy, whatever keeps it from that experience is error. The opposite is, of course, true also. Those thoughts and actions may be considered right which bring one more joy, or at least an increased sense of inner peace and mental clarity.

In Living Wisely, Living Well, Swami Kriyananda points out an important lesson: In our realm of duality, life inflicts countless disappointments on everyone… Accept pain as a corrective to mistaken directions in your life.” The laws of nature are impersonal. They are based on the law of cause and effect; and were put into place for man’s welfare. To put it simply: if one goes against their soul nature, which is goodness, they suffer; and if one lives in harmony with their soul nature, they are uplifted. Nature’s laws are “warnings to the unwary, Yogananda explained, that, although certain attitudes and actions may at first seem fulfilling, the end of the road for anyone pursuing them is not happiness, but pain. And yet, misunderstandings are apt to cause mistaken actions, and mistaken directions in life. The cause of ignorance is simply error.

I can remember many times in my life that I have held erroneous views, and have erred because of them. Kriyananda, however, offers these words of encouragement: “Identify yourself with your high potential. Not with your mistakes. To identify yourself with weakness, even in the name of self-honesty, is to accept weakness as your reality.” Everyone has a gold core, though it be covered by many years of mud. The “mud” with which it is covered is people’s erroneous beliefs that keep them seeking abundance outside of themselves, rather than the limitless source within. Thoughts are a powerful force that can take one toward the gold of their essential nature, or away from it.

Thoughts are things goes the ancient adage. It would be helpful for all seekers of truth to emblazon this in their minds.

I remember an experience of this in my own life, several years ago. It was during a time when I was a Marine on deployment in Afghanistan. There are three squads to each infantry platoon, and three teams to each squad. I was in team three of the third squad, and found my team leader’s conduct and way of leadership highly repulsive. Latent within me, I held many negative thoughts toward him. Not realizing the above truth, “thoughts are things,” I went on with the negative thought patterns, bewildered by his intense anger toward me, when I had done nothing outwardly to cause such behavior. Swami Kriyananda says to Love all men. If not for themselves (many human traits, after all, are in themselves not lovable!), then for the pure joy of giving love. Everyone is seeking, he adds, whether blindly or with clear sight, final fulfillment in unending happiness.

Why, I finally reasoned, should I waste my energy on thinking negatively of him, instead of accepting him as he is. Surely, I have attracted—and in some way deserve—the circumstance I have been given. Outward situations, moreover, will never arrange themselves perfectly. Only in myself, and my perception of life, can there be any lasting change. I resolved from then on—to the best of my ability—to stop harboring negativity toward the man. Instead, I endeavored to see only the positive side of things. Soon thereafter, his demeanor toward me was no less than transformed, and harmony was restored. Frustration and intolerance became acceptance, and ill will became mutual understanding. This was a great lesson in my life. Thoughts, I learned, truly are things, and one must take care to direct them rightly. For, as Kriyananda expressed in Living Wisely, Living Well, If you emanate peaceful thoughts, they’ll surround you with a protective aura, and create a barrier against all negativity. Any agitation around you, then, will no longer be able to touch you.

The world, for each individual, is as though a mirror of their own perceptions and preconditioning. It smiles back at those who smile, and appears sad for those who sorrow. 

Objective conditions are always neutral. It is how you react to them that makes them appear happy or sad… You will never be able to change things outwardly in such a way as to make them ever pleasing to you. Change yourself. —Paramhansa Yogananda, How to Be Happy All the Time

A good rule to live by, Yogananda said, and one that will take you sailing through many tests in life, is, under all circumstances, to remain even-minded and cheerful. An essential practice in the yogic scheme of life is this: to endeavor resolutely, even in the face of great trials, to remain emotionally unshaken. Remaining even-minded and cheerful is the fastest path, Yogananda taught, to attaining joy. Even-mindedness, he proclaimed, is the most important condition for lasting happiness.

I have found this to be the case in my own life. There was, for example, a time in the Marine Corps when I was in a leadership course. Each day I was being pushed harder than the one before, and yet each day, and every fresh challenge, seemed to bring an increase of joy, and a feeling of purification. As my body strengthened, so also did my mind and power of will. Willingness was a key force that helped me endure, for the mind rules over the body, and there is no limit to what the mind, harnessed to the power of will, can accomplish.

The will acts directly upon the flow of energy… the greater the will, the greater the flow of energy. —Swami Kriyananda, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

A strong force of will acts as a shield amidst adversity.

I have found affirmation to be a powerful shield also. One such affirmation for drawing more energy amidst trying times is this:

Within me lies the energy to accomplish all that I will do to. Behind my every act is infinite power. —Swami Kriyananda, Affirmations for Self-Healing

Affirmation has been, in fact, one of the strongest tools for self-improvement in my life. An affirmation is a statement of truth which one aspires to consciously absorb into their life. In other words, affirmations are suggestions to the mind that one already is that which one wants to become. It is important, Kriyananda explains in The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, to avoid as much as possible, any influences that might suggest the opposite to your mind.

Affirmations are effective because of the power of thought over objective reality. As a person thinks of themselves, so they become. All of life, it could be said, is a manifestation of one’s own consciousness. An affirmation, in fact—when practiced with energy, faith, and deep concentration—can help one overcome bad habits and old thought patterns that are harmful to their happiness and well-being; even those deeply entrenched in the subconscious mind. The same energy that animates an old, bad habit, Kriyananda writes, may be made to animate a good one. In this case, no repression will result. The important thing to remember is that the more your energy can be directed into positive channels, the greater will be your sense of inner freedom and joy.

Inner freedom and joy is the essential goal of life. “Bliss”, Yogananda says, “is the cure all men are seeking, whether consciously or unconsciously. It is not a side issue, unrelated to suffering.” Indeed, on the path to the mountain pinnacle of bliss, pain is nothing less than inevitable. The most important thing is that one accept it when it comes, for it is through combat that a warrior gains his strength.

A good rule in life, Yogananda suggested, is to tell yourself simply, ‘What comes of itself, let it come. A way for one to accept whatever comes is to see every trial as a gift of love from Life itself, given for one’s own betterment.

The four years of my life following high school graduation were spent in the United States Marine Corps. Though it was one of the greatest struggles of my life, it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. The lessons it taught me, and the opportunities it gave me to grow, will surely last a lifetime. There are many opportunities in life, and pain is one of them. When pain comes to us, whether the pain is of a physical, mental, or emotional level, we have basically two options: to gratefully accept it, and thereby grow from it; or to think it unfair, and crush under its pressure. Happiness is being grateful for the hurts one receives, recognizing them as channels of understanding and wisdom.

Everyone is seeking to find happiness and avoid pain. It is in everyone’s highest interest, therefore, to accept gratefully the pains of life, seeing them as an opportunity for growth and self-expansion. Trials, when faced cheerfully, soon lose their gravity. Even the greatest obstacle can be turned into a great opportunity; and the greatest failure into an even greater success.

The law of life is designed to teach us how to live in harmony with objective Nature and with our true, inner nature. —Paramhansa Yogananda

Life on earth is a school. Everything that happens in it has an inherent lesson. Pain teaches one that they have erred, just as a young boy feels pain when he touches fire, and gets burned. And yet, because of that experience (one at least assumes) the young boy will choose, from then onward, to avoid touching fire. The burns of human existence are there to guide us aright. If our ignorance didn’t cause pain, man would lack the necessary incentive to start the rocky climb toward perfect wisdom.

If one lived in a closet their whole life, and never saw the light of day, it is likely that they would accept that as normal, and feel no reason to seek the light. Upon seeing the light, however—and the limiting condition one allowed their self to live in—they would rush toward it! The same is true for pain. It is by the contrast of pain from joy that spurs mankind to improve, and to break through the self limitations. For man self-imposes limitations on himself by remaining within the closed walls of self-involvement. I am ever grateful for the suffering in my life, for without it I would have never sought the spiritual path, nor would I have sufficient yearning to continue progressing toward the realization of my true self.

Patanjali, the ancient exponent of yoga, defined the goal of yoga as smriti: divine remembrance. Remembrance of what the soul is in truth, Satchitananda: Ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss. Pain is a stern reminder of our separation from that bliss, the ever-new bliss that exists at the heart of all creation; at the heart of every individual; and at the heart of every experience in life, whether seemingly good or bad. Just as there is stillness at the center of all movement, so there is joy at the center of all pain. One just has to open their heart ever more completely to that divine treasure within.

Life demands action of us. Whether one knows the right next step or not, one must act. Though the path ahead may seem clear from where one is standing, the very next step may take one flat on one’s face. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have taken that step. People must have the courage to do their best, even if their best falls short of other’s expectations. Even when one puts forth their best efforts, they can still stumble. They mustn’t, however, identify with their mistakes. What is simply is, and cannot be changed. Yoga teaches that when people identify a thing with themselves, whether good or bad, success or failure, wealth or poverty, they are limiting themselves. If, instead, one forgets their self through joyful service to mankind, and acts with a spirit of self-offering, there is no longer a “post” of limitation for pain and pleasure; failure and success; heartbreak and elation, to be tied to.

The soul is ever untouched by outward circumstance. As Kriyananda says in the The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Weapons cannot cut the soul; fire cannot burn it; water cannot drown it; wind cannot whither it away! Nothing can destroy the light which dwells equally in all. The more people dwell in the light, and live wholeheartedly for truth and joy, the more life will lead them through ever-expanding vistas toward its ultimate attainment. Such is the divine birthright of everyone on Earth: bliss infinite; eternal love.

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