In a time of “life hacks” and all the alluring conveniences we see cropping up in every corner of our lives, it becomes ever more important to step back and reflect on what we’re doing and why. To put it simply, we want to ask ourselves, in reaching for convenience, what is it that we actually get?
Does the convenience give us more time for the important things in life?
Or does it allow us to ignore or side-step important opportunities for growth?
The truth is that a lot of opportunities for growth are not packaged in a neat, happy package. Much of growth is wrapped in things that we do not want – many times, pain can be a precursor to growth, choose to make it as such.
We can see in the age-old wisdom of the sages, there is a certain caution against the easy things in life. In the Christian scriptures, Romans 5:3-5 extolls the virtues of suffering and the potential it carries in making us better through the hardships:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.
Similarly, in the Dhammapada of the Buddhist tradition, we see the comparison of becoming a person of character as a process that might be like that of tempering metal:
By degrees, little by little, from time to time, a wise person should remove his own impurities as a smith removes the dross from silver.
While most people are probably unfamiliar with the process of producing fine metals, it is the most intense heat that produces the best silver and gold. When we consider this, we might want to ask if the price of convenience – the automated teller machines, the opt-out button for anything and everything, the “set it and forget it” mentality – might be costing us more than we bargained for.
In fact, the Quran of the Islamic faith extolls the beauty that awaits one behind the pain of growth in that it brings one closer to God:
O man! Verily you are ever toiling on towards your Lord – painfully toiling – but you shall meet Him…
And in the Jewish Talmud we see the benefits of the struggle that comes with the inconvenience of something that we moderns might deem inconvenient or incompatible with our daily, busy lifestyle: the continual effort to refine one’s character:
The study of Torah leads to precision, precision to zeal, zeal to cleanliness, cleanliness to restraint, restraint to purity, purity to holiness, holiness to meekness, meekness to fear of sin, fear of sin to saintliness, saintliness to the holy spirit, and the holy spirit to life eternal.
From Hinduism, there is the caution against turning a blind eye from the challenges that life will inevitably come our way. By accepting my own personal responsibility to make the tough choices in life to grow and become the people we are meant to be, we become our best friend instead of our own worst enemy:
Man should discover his own reality and not thwart himself.
For he has his self as his only friend, or as his only enemy.
A person has the self as a friend
When he conquered himself
but if he rejects his own reality,
the self will war against him. Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6 (Hinduism)
And last but not least, Confucius reflected on the process of learning through his own life as one of training in order to become truly free:
The Master said, “At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty I had planted my feet upon firm ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with a docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.”
All of these passages from the different wisdom traditions point to this truth about our human potential as rooted in the Divine. From this, we can deduce that the pivotal role personal growth – of our hearts, character, maturity, habits whatever pain that might come with it – helps us in fulfilling our divine potential.
So in the many different choices, decisions that we come up against in our everyday lives, let’s begin to acquire the habit of asking: which are the choices that make us become better, help us to bring out the best in ourselves and which are the easy outs?
To put this lesson into practice today follow these steps:
- Start thinking about lifestyle habits, daily practices that you know will help you to better connect, align with God, the divine and energy of the universe. Properly done, any practice that helps you do that, were you to do them every single day it would make you better and your life better.
- Thought of a few or even many? Great, write those down. Keep this list.
- Pick out one habit, perhaps the smallest, easiest one that you know you can do without any problems, starting today.
- Commit to making that a habit in your life – start with trying to keep it for one week (perhaps mark your calendar with a star on the days you were able to keep it.
- This small promise to yourself helps you to build the relationship and alignment with God that we all need to sustain us and keep us focused and doing the kinds of things we need to be doing to reach our fullest potential.
Once you’re able to master that first habit, you might begin to build confidence and trust in yourself. And then you might start to think “what else can I do?” Go back to the list you made in step 2, add to it as you go along, it’s meant to guide you in the long haul journey of growth and spiritual development.
This could be the first step in a personal transformation that can impact not only your own life but that of your family, community, nation, and world. Take it seriously, but take it slowly – one day at a time!