Archive for June, 2008

Love and understanding

What is the relationship between love and understanding? Both are streams from the same source, but whereas love flows through the heart, understanding flows through the mind. Understanding helps us see the truth, and love causes us to act on it.

Understanding assists love by helping us recognize ourselves in others, and helping us see that for all our superficial differences, we are of the same essence. Without understanding, it is all too easy to be judgemental. We see someone acting selfishly, and a barrage of anger and criticism arises within us. Understanding helps us see past their behaviour and to recognize that this seemingly selfish person seeks love and happiness, just the same as we do. Rather than judging that person as “bad”, we view their selfishness as ignorance, and we feel compassion for them. Understanding makes us more accepting, less judgemental, and thereby removes some of the impediments to love.

Love, on the other hand, is the quality that makes us try to understand another person in the first place. It is what makes us willing to reach out and touch them, to put ourselves in their shoes. Love is what stops us from rejecting or ignoring those whom we may otherwise recoil from. Whereas understanding is helpful for love, love is absolutely essential for true understanding. It is the faith in humanity that causes us, when we see someone acting nastily and we do not know why, to have compassion for them anyway. Only with this compassion can we even begin to think about why they act the way they do. Only with this compassion can we come to understand them and to love them completely.

Therefore, when we come to love and understand a person or thing, the first impulse is from the heart. The love comes before the understanding. However, from this point on, they each boost each other. Without understanding, there is a danger that the love will go away. Understanding is what maintains the love and helps it expand to encompass all. Yet without love, the understanding is empty. Love is not merely understanding a person, but feeling compassion for them, wanting to help them, and holding them in our hearts.

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How to enjoy life’s hardships

We spend so much of our lives either in pain and hardship, or in fear of pain and hardship. We dread the first sign of illness, we lament our lack of time and money, we try hard not to think of that inevitable day when either we or our loved ones will die. It seems so easy to find something new to worry about or fear. It seems so hard to see life as perfect. What is the solution to all this? Can we transform our attitude towards life?

Although our lives are defined by the search for the “good” and the avoidance of the “bad”, there is really nothing in life that is inherently good or bad. Such notions are relative – the “good” cannot exist unless we can contrast it with the “bad”. It is easy to conceive of lives much easier than our own, just as it is easy to conceive of lives much harder. Thus, there is no way to say whether our lives are easy or hard. What is more important is how we relate to our so-called hardships.

When we go to the gym to lift weights, we likely experience a lot of pain. However, this pain does not bother us because we know that the harder we push ourselves, the stronger we become. We see the pain is a good thing, taking pleasure in our ability to push ourselves further and experience greater hardships. Similarly, if we were to climb a high mountain, we would enjoy the struggle involved – it would give us a feeling of accomplishment and pride. It becomes a challenge.

What is it that makes such striving a source of enjoyment and accomplishment? The key difference is that sense that we have taken it on voluntarily. If a student sets herself a goal, such as taking 10 courses in a semester, she enjoys the challenge and relishes the difficulties. On the other hand, if she were forced to take this many courses, she has a different attitude. She may complain and feel that she were being treated unfairly. To enjoy life’s hardships, we must stop resisting them and stop seeing them as unfair. We must embrace the situation, and take pleasure in the difficulties.

It is not enough to merely climb the hills – we must come to love the hills. When we take on challenges with this attitude, whatever the situation may be, the difficulties no longer bother us. It does not make the pain go away, and life does not become suddenly easy. However, by fostering that sense of challenge and adventure, we give up that limiting belief that life is supposed to be easy. Instead of pining for something easier, we learn to enjoy the parts that are hard.

Featured in The Seventeenth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.

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