We relate to life through our experiences. The more conscious this relationship is, the better we understand ourselves and our experiences. But when our relationships exist at the level of unconscious or instinctive reactions, we don't understand what happens to us, and we don't learn from life.
The type of relationship that we establish with our experiences determines the dimension we give our lives. Life can be a matter of simply enduring whatever happens to us, or else it can be an opportunity to learn, to unfold, to expand our possibilities.
We understand the significance of our experiences depending on the degree of consciousness we have acquired, so in order to deepen our relationship with life, we need to expand our state of consciousness. That is, we have to constantly redefine the meaning of life until our definition encompasses all of reality.
When the expression "my life" is reduced to what happens inside the small nucleus of my personal interests, my relationship to life is limited to my particular circumstances. When "my life" includes the society in which I live, my relationship to life expands to include that society. When "my life" is all the reality human beings can comprehend with their consciousness, my relationship with life embraces all of humanity and the entire universe.
But let's put all this in practical terms: what difference does it make whether I define “my life” in one way or another?
As long as our view of life is reduced to our personal circumstances, we identify with the things that happen to us: we fear the future, we hold on tightly to our possessions, and we suffer in our ignorance. When experiences cause us to suffer, our relationship with life might become bitter, resentful and pessimistic. Yet, when we do succeed at something or we experience an unexpected happy change, even for a moment, we might feel that life is wonderful and full of significance. When others suffer, it matters to us only to the extent that it affects us personally. We see the evils of the world as something foreign, outside of ourselves, "out there." The problems that come from natural causes or which all human beings endure become personal tragedies when they happen to us. Misfortune takes us by surprise and makes us think life is meaningless.
Even when we are not suffering from anything in particular, when we have all we could ever need, we might still think that our lives are meaningless. Self-enclosed as we are, we do not know what to do with the blessings we have. Our idea of happiness is an illusion-we think that to be happy is to avoid the laws of life: not to have to face adversity, uncertainty, decline and death.
A harmonious relationship with life leads to a universal outlook which includes simultaneously the particular and the general, the personal and the whole span of reality. With such an outlook we are able to distinguish between the aspects of life that human will can control and those it cannot. When we have a conscious relationship with life, we learn to take what happens to us as a means of participation. This means that instead of interpreting something painful as a curse or something pleasant as a deserved privilege, we come to see the experiences of life as a means of sharing with all human beings. We accept each experience as an inseparable part of an event, which is, simultaneously, a universal, social, familial and personal happening. We place our painful experiences within the suffering of all humankind, and we discover happiness in what is good for everyone.
With this expansive relationship with our experiences, we learn a new way of facing our difficulties. We no longer react against life as being unjust, but remember that, like any other human being, we are subject to the uncertainty of the future, to deterioration and death. We also come to recognize that not everything we suffer is life's fault-many of our problems stem from our own behavior. In order not to repeat the same mistakes, we look to human history and to our own past, facing the consequences of our previous decisions and discerning the results of those we are about to make. This attitude brings peace, well-being and plenitude.
The direction we give our lives depends on our frame of reference. If we limit our world to our daily interests, we are disconnected from reality. We won't be able to understand our experiences or make decisions that take into account their effect on the whole. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as an integral part of a whole, we change our attitude: instead of asking, we learn to give; instead of wanting to win, we act impartially; instead of wanting to possess more and more, we direct our energy to necessary and creative activities. We no longer want to control others; we work to master ourselves. We want to consciously integrate ourselves with the world and life through total participation.
There are virtues which help us to expand the definition of our relationship with life: humility, disattachment, participation and reverence.
Humility makes us conscious of our limitations, helping us to recognize that our view of reality is partial and temporary. We are open to learn from everything and everyone.
Disattachment makes us conscious of the temporality of an individual life. We know that when we have a great desire to possess, our relationship with life becomes a struggle against time, since nothing outside ourselves is permanent. Disattachment from the results of our efforts allows us to stop depending on what is external and transitory and to discover the eternity inherent in continuous becoming.
Participation makes us conscious of the human condition, helps us to extend the boundaries of the personal and to become one with the surrounding reality. This integrates the particular with the general and unifies life.
Reverence toward the things that transcend human understanding makes us conscious of our real possibilities. Reverence for the Divine keeps us open and permeable to the message of life, helping us to improve our interpretation of events and expand our view of reality.
To the extent that we harmonize the way we live our personal life with our global view of life, we gradually understand the stages of our lives and the teaching provided by both sorrow and happiness. We distinguish between fleeting moments of joy-the result of passing experiences-and lasting peace and happiness-which arise from understanding, acceptance and participation. Being aware of the message in each experience unifies our lives and leads us to the fulfillment of our spiritual ideal. Moreover, the integration of our individual lives with universal life awakens a sense of eternity.
The more harmonious our relationship with life is, the more profound is our understanding of its message until life, the Divine and our very selves are seen as a unity.
It is good to make a habit of remembering the aspects of life we usually overlook in daily life-for example, that everything is transitory. A pain is experienced, but it passes. A spiritual realization is without doubt a big step, but challenges remain. This exercise helps us to put our experiences in perspective. It shows us how to overcome sorrow and unmask the illusions that keep us from attaining our highest possibilities.