While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.
- Leonardo Da Vinci
The past is the past. In a very literal sense, the past doesn't exist. All that exists is the present moment, and the only thing we can change is the present moment.
But the past did exist. It was once the present moment and now occupies our mind with valuable insights. And these valuable insights can serve us, as well as others, well in the future.
I definitely have my fair share of experiences- a combination of mistakes and general challenges- that can serve as valuable insights for others.
My children are who I think of most when writing about something like this. I think about myself growing up, mostly wasting my years away in fear and reclusiveness (and then later, trying to make up for it in the wrong ways), and not wanting them to make the same mistakes that I did.
This is then, in some ways, written to my two sons. I want them to know all the things I wish I knew when I was younger. I want them to know all the most important insights I've received in my lifetime so that they can lead a fuller life earlier. I suppose my wish for this is only natural as a father.
For some time now I've planned on writing a book for them, placing in it all the insights I've received, and what little I do know about life, for them to keep with them for the rest of their lives. The more I think about it, though, it's more powerful to focus on what I can teach them when I'm with them experiencing life firsthand.
I know that they'll make their own mistakes, and I know that it's necessary for this to happen in order for them to grow strong and self-sufficient (in an emotional and mental sense). I'm totally OK with that, and I look forward to being of help to them if they decide to come to me for anything.
But I can also help to improve the quality of their lives by imparting in them what I know now. I know that this can have a powerful effect, as what our parents and those important figures around us teach us when we're growing up often has a significant effect on us for the rest of our lives.
This goes to the heart of the fact that you can create real change in the world right now if you decide to. Don't let others convince you that you can't make a difference- whether in your own life or the lives of others- that's just negativity without any basis in reality.
Take a moment to look around you and you'll find more than your fair share of stories of life-transformation and self-realization. I feel fortunate that I happened upon a more conscious path myself and was able to change my life for the better.
A Note On Regret:
It's natural to look back on our lives and think, "I wish I had known that back then." But this can sometimes lead to a strong sense of regret, a situation where we convince ourselves that we've somehow wasted our lives up until then.
But this is a misunderstanding about life at its very core. To have this regret is to be shackled by the need for confirmation of one's own self-worth. This is a thirst that will never be quenched because it's rooted in an insecurity which first needs to be overcome (and yet demands constant feeding).
If you can break the cycle of feeding, turn inward, and face yourself courageously then you'll be able to overcome this insecurity. It's your life that's at stake- you don't want to look back in another 20 years and have even more regret, do you?
The below list is one part letter to my younger self, one part letter to my children, and one part advice for anyone looking to improve the quality of their lives and realize their true selves. These are all things I'm reminded of, or live by, on a daily basis.
28 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Was Younger
1. The world is open to you
This is one of those points that I REALLY wish I knew when I was younger. You can open a business, you can write, you can go to school, you can travel, you can even study at a Buddhist monastery as a monk if you want.
You can do so much more than just go to college, get a basic degree, find a job, and live out your life in a 9-5. And this is truer today than ever before.
It might not always be clear exactly how you can make something like say, travel without a decent income, possible. But if you get creative you can find out a way to follow whatever path you choose.
Maybe it's not physically possible for you to be an NBA player. That's OK, you don't need something so specific to be happy and fulfilled, the real point I want to make is that you're not chained down like you might think you are.
I thought I had only one of a few options, and I wasn't aware of any desirable option that existed outside of going to school and getting a degree. But this couldn't have been further from the truth. Look around, get creative, talk to people, and you'll find you have more options than you think.
2. Work hard
Do you know that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing? Nothing that has meaning is easy.
- The Weather Man
The value of hard work wasn't instilled in me until I was in my 20's. All throughout school I had no concept of hard work, and never had any idea that whatever I applied myself to, however difficult, I'd be able to do.
I'd later find this out in my 20's, and it was nothing short of a revelation for me. It's not just some old played out saying, you really can do (just about) anything you put your mind to. That is, as long as you back it up with hard work.
Make sure to keep things in perspective, though. I don't mention this point so that you can be compelled to go out and work for a sports car and a mansion, as this is misguided for other reasons (if that's the case, ask yourself why you want those things).
Rather, I say this because anything of value takes hard work, even a daily meditation practice done for the purpose of removing negative self-talk and finding peace within yourself. The knowledge that not only is hard work required to accomplish anything of real value, but that with hard work you can actually do anything, is one of the most powerful lessons I think a person can learn in their lifetime.
3. Value your friendships
I never fully appreciated the friendships I'd made growing up, and at one point I really grew to regret that. A few years after high school I was all but alone and had not a single soul I could call even a decent friend (except for old best friends, which I didn't know at the time, but you always maintain some level of connection with).
That was a real bummer. The feeling of loneliness took a while to shake off, but I vowed never to make that same mistake again.
I'd later reconnect with many of my old friends via Facebook, and in some ways redeem myself. It really felt great to connect with old friends again, even if it was mostly online. This reminded me of the power and importance of friendship.
It's not easy to find a genuinely good friend, but when you do, hold onto them with dear life. Treat your good friends as family, and above all else do not hesitate to let them know just how much they mean to you. Opening up in this way strengthens bonds, and sometimes, when emotional storms appear overhead, this can make all the difference.
4. Believe in your own ability
This one might sound obvious or played out, but for my younger self this would have been one of the most powerful points on this list.
Developing belief in oneself is so important, I really couldn't exaggerate it's importance if I tried.
Why didn't I word this point "believe in yourself"? Because that's too vague. Everyone says, "believe in yourself", but what do they really mean? To believe in yourself means to believe in your own ability. Your ability to carry out difficult tasks, your ability to overcome challenges, and your ability to persist in the face of adversity.
Developing belief in yourself is a gradual process of building up or "stacking" little victories. The best way to do this is with an exercise I call "The Path of Progressive Accomplishments".
5. No matter what you do, you'll make enemies (so learn from them)
And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble, So if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!
- The Dalai Lama
Even the Dalai Lama has enemies. Don't sweat it, it's just the way life is. People will see things in you that they want, that they wish they were, or things in you about themselves that they hate and project it off on you.
And then there's ignorance, the greatest source of all enemies. All of these things lead to people hating others, and naturally becoming some sort of shining light leads people who have something within themselves that they need to let go of want to unload that issue off on you.
There is a silver lining, though- you can grow more from your enemies than you can from most of life's other experiences. Compassion, patience, and understanding are all qualities that are tested and therefore can be developed by experiences with our enemies, and these are some of the most valuable qualities a person can develop.
So don't shy away from enemies, welcome them with compassion, love, and understanding. Use them to transform yourself and be an example to them of what real greatness is.
6. Be careful who and what you surround yourself with
Think about the way that the mind works for a second. Your thoughts are one of the most powerful forces in your life because each thought is essentially a message being transmitted to your brain.
The more you think about something, the more you reinforce a particular belief about yourself or the world around you (depending on the thought), and these beliefs affect literally everything you do.
Your associations, the people you associate yourself with on a regular basis, work very much the same way. Just as a thought is a piece of information being transmitted to a section of your brain, the words and actions of your associations are pieces of information being transmitted to your brain in much the same way.
And just as your thoughts loop and develop themselves into beliefs, and similar thoughts reinforce a general belief, the words and actions of your associations reinforce certain ideas and develop beliefs in you as well.
And the same works for everything else: watching T.V. and videos online, social media, reading, and any other information you absorb. Be careful who and what you surround yourself with- because it affects who you become.
7. Don't stop living your life because of someone else
I embarrassingly admit to being victim to this myself. OK, maybe I was just in high school, but the lessons was still served.
I had planned to go to a private high school after my last year of middle school. I finished the sign up process, took a tour, and did the first session of the necessary community service hours (some 8 hours or so, since we couldn't afford the ridiculous tuition), and ended up deciding to go to my cities public high school because I didn't want to be separated from my girlfriend at the time.
Looking back, I just laugh at the experience. That was fool's love for sure, but it taught me a really valuable lesson, a lesson I saw a lot of my friends make later in high school:
Don't stop living your life because of someone else.
I saw it time and time again: two people would get together and they'd stop all personal goals and plans altogether. They would, in a very literal way, stop being themselves.
Many of these people, including myself to a small extent (although luckily, not as bad as some people I knew), would even begin distancing themselves from their friends. This always turned out to be a bad mistake, even if the two people stayed together.
This isn't the only way you can lose yourself in someone else, but the most common especially when you're younger. Don't lose yourself in other people, or you'll come to regret it.
8. Be self-sufficient
This has a very wide meaning to me. By this I mean know how to take care of your mind first and foremost, but also how to take care of your body and how to survive on your own in the world.
Becoming self-sufficient is important not only for your own well-being and overall life, but also it's important to the lives of others. To be able to live self-sufficiently means that you're, in large part, able to take care of yourself. This requires you to depend on others less and consequently help support others more.
The easiest way to think about it is that you're a shining light. Depending on how bright your light is, you can either barely light yourself, often needing assistance from others, or you're so bright that you can help light others around you as a lit candle helps light unlit candles.
To see the true importance of being self-sufficient isn't just to see the importance of tending to your own well-being, but to see the truth of your interbeing with all other beings.
9. The internet is an invaluable tool, learn how to use it
If the internet were a country, it would be one of the world's largest. I remember 10 years ago people used to scoff at the idea of finding legitimate answers to real world problems on the internet. Now? It's the first place people look.
But while most people know how to use Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to entertain themselves, and Google for the occasionally stumped brain, many people don't know how or don't realize they can use it to find solutions (or the gateway to a solution) to many of their more complex problems.
Nowadays, there's a blog or website out there with valuable insights to just about every topic imaginable. Do a little searching around and you can find helpful information for a lot of problems you'd be otherwise stuck figuring out on your own or depending on old means to figure out (and the primary old mean to solving a problem or getting an answer, books, the internet makes way more convenient with eBooks).
10. Be careful who you take advice from
To accept some idea of truth without experiencing it is like a painting of a cake on paper which you cannot eat.
Don't take advice from just anyone. A lot of people will try, but you need to be careful who you go to regularly for advice, especially important life decisions.
Everyone has an opinion, and a lot of people will think their opinion is the right one (and they really want to tell you about it!). But your own personal experience and insight as a result of that experience are what's most important.
Do some research, see if the advice initially makes sense and if you think you could really benefit from it. If you think it's a good idea, test it out in your own life.
Those personal insights from your own experience are what you should really base your judgment off of, instead of just accepting what others say at face value.
11. The young life is temporary
The state our life is in can often be so encapsulating that it never occurs to us our lives could change completely in an instant. We go on almost thinking the way we live will last forever.
But this is often a cruel trick that life plays on us because the reality is the entire landscape of our lives often changes every couple of years. This isn't a bad or a good thing, there's equal positive to negative, it's just the way things are.
It's easy to lose yourself when you're young and living the party life. But when the dust settles, the only thing that will matter to you is what state your life is in and what you need to do to get yourself together.
There's nothing wrong with having a little fun, but don't forget what really matters. Don't get caught up partying, drinking, and everything else that comes with the territory, or you'll end up regretting it.
This is not a "you're older and don't get it" kind of thing. Don't mess your life up, seriously. It's not worth it. Besides, you'll find there are far more enjoyable things in life than partying and being reckless.
12. Let go
You have a mass of ideas about the way that the world works that are absolutely and utterly wrong. What we call "common sense" isn't common sense at all, it's often just unquestioned information which has been fed to us from generations ago.
The most important of these wrong perceptions is the wrong perception of a separate self. A separate "you" which exists unconnected to the rest of the cosmos.
Start the gradual process now of peeling those wrong perceptions away or risk suffering a lot of pain in your lifetime as a result. Be willing to let go of everything you once thought true. Question everything, look deeply, and live with greater awareness and you'll find the answers you're looking for.
13. You don't have to go to college
I floated semi-consciously through school, ultimately half-assing my way through a year of community college before I quit because I had no real direction in my life at the time.
It's because of this that I regretted how I took my shot at college for granted and was almost too demoralized to think about it. When I considered going back, or just thought about it in general, I'd remember just how much work had to be done, and how behind I'd be compared to my former high school peers and friends.
This really weighed me down and kept me from taking action. But I'd find out later that there was a larger problem with this: I had the idea that I needed to go to college to do anything of significance.
When I finally realized that this couldn't be further from the truth, I felt completely relieved. Sure college can be a great experience. And depending on what you want to do with your life college may be necessary. But for the most part, it's not. And many of the greatest opportunities have little, if anything, to do with college.
I don't have anything against college, quite the opposite. I still to this day wish I could have experienced a university when I was younger and look forward to visiting some campuses in the future if nothing but for a fun visit, but I know better now. College is a tool, but it's not a necessary tool.
14. Everything in life is impermanent
You're not going to live forever, your dog isn't going to live forever, you're not going to have that job forever, you're not going to be angry forever, you're not going to be heartbroken forever, and everything else in your life is going to change at some point or another.
The way I see it, this is cause for celebration. Celebrate life now in all its beauty and understand that tomorrow everything can change. The great part about that is, it not only means you should cherish those things which you enjoy and make the most of each moment but also that any hard times you're going through won't last forever.
This is one of the great truths of life, and the sooner you come to realize this the sooner you can find greater peace in your everyday life.
15. Everyone you know might disagree with your future life-changing decision
Most people are quick to judge. We hate the unknown and like to think we've figured a thing or two out about life, and we also just like to talk and attract attention whenever we can.
Because of this, when you have that amazing and possibly life-changing idea, it's highly likely that everyone around you is going to look at you like you're crazy and not support you in your decision.
It doesn't mean you're wrong, it just means that they don't see what you see. Don't be discourage by this. If you believe in something wholeheartedly, if you think you have an idea that can change your life and bring something positive to other people, then go for it.
16. Take care of your mind (not just your body)
Don't neglect your mind or body. Both the mind and body, two sides of one whole, need regular nourishment. For this, a daily practice which nourishes your mind and body should be adopted. In fact, there are few things as fulfilling as a practice such as this that brings mind and body back together and grounds your being.
Most of us know to take care of our bodies, but few of us know how to take care of our minds. Towards this end, a daily practice of sitting meditation is key, and mindfulness in one's everyday life is a direct extension of that.
Another important practice is the practice of looking and living deeply. This is the practice of seeing deeply into the things you eat and drink and the various other actions you take in your daily life. Realizing your own interbeing (living interconnected with all other beings) is a big part of this.
17. Your most important work is to achieve peace
Striving to find peace within yourself and to live in peace with others is the most important thing you can do in your life. Nothing else even comes close.
When it comes down to it, to live in peace is the ultimate wish of all people, whether they realize it or not. This is because inner peace is the happiness we all truly wish to have.
Strive diligently towards your own inner peace, and live with compassion, love, and understanding towards others and you'll be rewarded with a joyous and fulfilling life while laying the seeds for peace with others.
18. Appreciate your pain and suffering
Don't run from your challenges. If it weren't for them you wouldn't be able to find peace and wouldn't even know what joy was. This is because pain and suffering and peace and happiness are two sides of the same coin. Without one, there wouldn't be the other.
Everything in life has an opposite correlation with something else. This is simply a truth about the way that the world works. The sooner you come to realize this the sooner you'll discover the true way to finding peace. To rest in peace, you must be able to live not just with the good but with the bad as well.
You don't need to erase the challenges in your life to find peace and happiness- in fact, you couldn't even if you tried- you simply need to learn how to live with those challenges and transform them.
19. Compassion is the bridge that connects people of all positions, colors, and beliefs
You won't always agree with everyone you meet, but that doesn't mean you can't get along with them. By striving to express compassion and understanding towards all living beings throughout your life you'll lead a trail of peace and cooperation.
We need to learn to live with compassion and understanding for others and stop trying to constantly convert everyone to our side of thinking. Just as there are two sides to every coin, these opposite views naturally bouncing off of one another are a part of life as well.
It's through these very differences that we find ourselves. If it weren't for the differences between us, we'd have no idea who we were. You can try a simple meditation on compassion, also called loving-kindness meditation (or LKM for short), here to begin cultivating love and compassion for others.
20. You're basically good
You're not bad, you're good enough. You're not evil, messed up, or lacking- you're perfectly whole. If you've ever, or do ever, question this about yourself then quiet the thought right now.
At the very heart of "you" exists a basic goodness that can't ever be shaken. It's a part of you so deep that it's at the very core of your being. No matter what happens, this basic goodness will never go away.
Never tell yourself that you're not worthy, that you're not deserving, or that you should be punished. Mistakes are mistakes, and in a real-world sense if you do something wrong then there will be consequences for your actions, but this basic goodness lives inside of you and will never disappear no matter what happens.
It's a part of your very essence, and during tough times you should revert back to it and remind yourself of it.
21. Strive to live with mindfulness
If I seem to talk about living with mindfulness, or greater awareness, a lot, it's because of how important it is. It was a cornerstone of the Buddha's teaching and continues to be a cornerstone of all Buddhist teaching around the world.
There are different levels of mindful awareness, and you should use them all to make it as easy as possible to adopt mindfulness into your everyday life. You can't always focus your mindfulness as intently on your steps when you're walking out of the grocery store as opposed to when you're doing walking meditation in private, but you should still rest in greater awareness.
Living with mindfulness shines a light on the negative self-talk that binds us in place, makes it rise to the surface, and allows us to transform it. It gradually breaks down the various wrong perceptions held within our minds and brings us back to the present moment- reality itself.
The present moment is where peace exists, nowhere else. By learning to live with mindfulness you'll be able to unlock the peace and joy that exists from being present for this moment.
22. Sometimes, it's important to gain perspective
At times, we can get so enveloped in our own problems that we feel like they're bigger than the world. This happens throughout life, but I think more so when you're younger and you haven't had as many varied life experiences.
Because of this, it can be very beneficial to take a step back from time to time and remember just how vast the world you live in really is.
When you do this, the opposite effect happens: your problems begin to shrink back to their true size. This makes them feel manageable and greatly reduces the mental burden associated with said problem.
I wrote a post about a simple but powerful meditation you can do for this purpose: meditating on the cosmos.
23. Live simply
I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind.
- Albert Einstein
Adult life can get really complicated, really fast. People grow up at different speeds and go through different things at different ages, but unless you make a conscious effort to thwart it, eventually modern life will put on the full-court press.
When this happens, without efforts to combat it, you're liable to develop a lot of added stress, confusion about your life's path in general, and become distant to those things that will bring you peace and happiness.
Make the conscious effort to live simply (or rather, the simple effort to live consciously). Living simply will ward off the complications of modern life and bring you peace.
Imagine you have an internal GPS system. This GPS system keeps you in control of yourself and aware of where you are and where you're going.
When the typical complications of modern life take hold, your internal GPS system is thrown for a loop. It goes completely haywire and until you calm the chatter, you'll feel lost and disoriented. Simplify your life and you'll gain back control of your internal GPS.
I don't mean necessarily move to the mountains and live in a log cabin off of the land or anything, but I do mean to control your relationship with technology, make sure to connect with nature regularly, learn when to say no, ward off clutter, slow down, and quiet your mind (among other things).
24. The condition of your mind and body is directly connected to the condition of your breathing
Learning how to breathe is one of the most important skills you can learn in your lifetime. This isn't an overstatement either, your breath literally controls your state of mind.
Most of the time, simply becoming mindful of the quality of your breathing is all you need. In the instant that you become mindful of your breathing, you'll often notice that it's fast and shallow and that by simply staying aware of your breathing your breath naturally slows and deepens.
Even just this simple trick is life changing, as it can calm our nerves, bring peace in the face of anger, and help us regain our center. Our breath has the ability to reunite mind and body as one force and bring us peace in any situation. Never forget your breath and you'll never lose yourself.
25. Productivity is not what's most important in life
Depending on your profession, at some point in your life, you're likely to become concerned with your productivity. It's only natural, and the thought itself shouldn't be cause for concern, but you do have to watch yourself.
It's really easy to become obsessed with productivity, and an obsession with productivity usually means you're sacrificing everything around you in order to accomplish it. This includes your peace of mind, your relationships, and your health.
I know how it feels, I was this way myself. But I learned that you don't have to sacrifice these things to become more productive. In fact, by living in a way that you're constantly mindful of your well-being, you tend to unlock greater creativity and efficiency in everything that you do, and end up becoming more productive.
Even so, don't make productivity your highest priority. Always put your well-being, and the well-being of your loved ones, first before anything else. Doing things faster isn't what life's about. Never forget that.
26. What others think of you doesn't matter
One of the most debilitating fears that exist is the fear of what others might think of us. At the heart of much of what holds us back in life is this very fear, so it goes without saying that overcoming it can be life-changing.
How can you begin to overcome it? By identifying it in yourself. Practicing mindfulness in your everyday life is the key to identifying where the fear has rested its prickly hands. If you can begin to identify the fear, you can defeat it by resting with it, and the issues it arises from, in meditation.
I also wrote about it repeatedly in my post series on the top 5 regrets of the dying, where it came up time and again as a source of many of the top regrets.
27. Don't Blame
Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience.
- Byron Katie
Don't blame others when something crappy happens to you. Don't blame yourself when something goes wrong. Don't blame anyone, ever, under any circumstance.
Blame is destructive as well as absolutely and completely unproductive. Even blaming yourself gets you nowhere. It's not strong to turn blame you would point at others off on yourself, it's damaging and degrading.
When something wrong happens, no one needs to be blamed. Blame doesn't have to exist in your life, in any fashion. Sure, identifying where a problem exists so that you can fix it can be beneficial and productive, but associating blame isn't.
OK, perfect world, I know. But the point is to make your best effort, not to be perfect. Will you blame someone else for something during the rest of your lifetime? Yeah, you probably will. But as with all good intentions, they're just that- intentions. Intend to do the right thing in any situation, and don't kick yourself for not being perfect.