One of the major themes of Enduring Learner is that all of the work we are doing, all of the self improvement, the learning, the development, and finding directions, it’s devoted to one thing. Living Well.
Living well is the ultimate end that we keep in the back of our minds through all of our endeavors. Being the compass that guides our decisions, whether we are aware or not, it gives its two cents through each action we take. For some, the compass points in a solid direction, the only thing left to do is walk the path. For others, the compass just spins, giving no aid. Exploring is the only choice for those who have yet to find the direction.
For those that have found the path, how are they following it? And those that have yet to find it? What is it they are looking for?
The Noble Truth of Suffering
Siddhartha Gautama, before he was known as the Buddha, sought to solve the problem of suffering within the world. He assumed the life of an ascetic, a person dedicated to religious ideals by practicing different forms of self-denial and self-mortification, in order to find the solution. Later seeing the errors of this way of living, he went his own route, and meditated on these things in light of this new perspective.
Suffering, he believed, was not something you threw to the side, hoping it would disappear. Just as hunger comes and goes throughout daily living, suffering is a part of life, something that comes and goes with each day. The man who wanted to live well is a man who lives with this idea in mind.
People live and die. Things are built while others fall. Some relationships end while others are blossoming. What the Buddha wanted us to pay attention to is that in order to live well, we must realize that life is ever changing. Just as happiness doesn’t last forever, neither does suffering.
From this it is evident that it is no question of optimism or pessimism, but that we must take account of the pleasures of life as well as its pains and sorrows, and also freedom from them, in order to understand life completely and objectively. Only then is true liberation possible.
~ What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula, pg. 19
Importance of the correct way of thinking is key. Living well begins with seeking a view of the world which is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but one which is realistic. Our perspective must allow us to see that problems will always be at our doorstep; it is up to us to know how to handle them correctly.
A correct approach to thinking starts with the relinquishing of ignorant expectations. The interpretation of Buddha’s view on this describes it as “thirst.” We constantly desire more, and we desire things to go our way.
…’thirst’ includes not only desire for, and attachment to, sense-pleasures, but also desire for, and attachment to, ideas and ideals, views, opinions, theories, conceptions, and beliefs.
~ What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula, pg. 30
Relinquishing our ignorant expectations means being aware that sometimes we are wrong and we must not be so headstrong to hold on to a false belief when all it does is cause suffering.
Living well takes an individual who is able to think correctly about specific problems. Paying attention to novel problems and adapting to them is the hallmark of the person who is capable of continued wisdom. Living well, is just that, living. It is a verb which is always in action, and as such to be able to live well means having a correct way of thinking about the process of living.
The Correct Values
Putting your stake into things that could so easily change, then, is not the path to living well. Putting all of your energy into a single task, only focusing on the fleeting aspects that task has to offer will only see you left without anything when those things are gone, and someday they will be gone.
Focusing on values beyond the situation itself leads to more strength against tough times. While one works to get his first car only focusing on the car itself, the day that car breaks down he will suffer greatly, unable to cope with his loss. The other who works realizing the value of hard and smart work while striving, may still suffer after his loss, but he moves on, knowing that hard work continues. He pays attention to the process and not the final end.
It is this kind of evaluation of life that leads to living well. Some “thirsts” are quenched, while others leave us yearning for more. Paying attention to what we get out of daily strivings beyond the material or fleeting leads to building a character which is able to withstand and change with the ever-changing world.
Acting With It All In Mind
Living well, like has been said, is an ongoing verb. It is not escape from suffering, or pain, or death, or sickness. It is acting with the correct perspective. It is thinking with the right values in mind.
When you act with all of these things in mind, you begin to drift towards the kinds of activities that you truly enjoy. Enjoyment comes not from what the what comes out of the activity, but from the process of it. Two men live completely different lives. One lives the life of a playboy, constantly searching for the next rush, using his massive amount of wealth to fuel his desires. Another lives a quiet life, going to a job he loves each day and solving significant problems.
The playboy lives only for the rush, only happy in the few moments he gets it. The quiet man lives happily and peacefully everyday, and while he encounters suffering of his own, he knows that it is part of the process. He continues living well, while the playboy only lives in bits and pieces.
Coming to an initial view of what it means to live well, we see that it is understanding and acting in accordance to the fickleness of the world. This takes an ability to see the most important values any situation has to offer us. It takes being able to handle the notion that things happen beyond our control and that they continue to do so throughout our entire lives.
And while there is much more to living well that hasn’t been said here, I think we are off to a good start.