If I had one piece of advice for people everywhere, it would be this: think critically more often. Try to spend some time every day thinking critically, examining yourself, your life, your relationships, your own deeds and words, your basic assumptions, your conscience and your principles. Be a more reflective person.
My second piece of advice would be to try to spend some time every day reading something of substance. Not just something that affects you emotionally, but something that makes you think, that makes you go wow! or a-ha! or I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Books and reading are too often abused; intellectually we Americans consume far too many books that only entertain us or that only speak to our biases.
My third piece of advice would for people everywhere would be to learn to deal better with criticism.
I don’t mind criticism. I really don’t. The rejection part of it still stings, but nowhere near as much as it did at one time. I learned these things about criticism (and dealing with it) long ago —
“Don’t mind criticism; if it’s untrue, disregard it; if it’s unfair, keep from irritation; if it’s ignorant, smile; if it’s justified, learn from it.” — unknown
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” — Winston Churchill
I’ve found that the best way to deal with criticism is to make the decision to detach emotionally from it and instead think critically about it.
Criticism rarely is the enemy; our reactions to it more often are an issue; once we learn better how to deal with ourselves and our emotions and calm and soothe and talk to ourselves (talk ourselves down), then we become much more inwardly peaceful and much better able to deal with criticism.
If you’re not being criticized, you’re not really living. A person can easily avoid criticism by saying nothing, doing nothing, standing for nothing, being nothing. (I think a quote similar to this has been attributed to Aristotle).
Or as Winston Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” The same goes for criticism: You’re being criticized? Good It means maybe you’re standing up for something.
Or it means that maybe you’re in the wrong and you have something to learn. Either way, it’s a win for you if you can reign your ego in and not let it get in the way of things.
(And here’s a link to a blog post that might be helpful. — http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-criticism-well-25-reasons-to-embrace-it/)
My last piece of advice to people everywhere (including myself) is this: whether you are young or old or somewhere in between, get your house in order.
Living constantly under perpetual threat of dying or of losing those around you, or of losing your health, can be exhausting, not to mention highly unnerving, anxiety-producing, and panic-inducing.
But what other option is there really? Ignoring all of this? Living in denial? Only thinking every once and while about our own mortality?
If we don’t reflect at least occasionally on our own and others’ mortality, we tend to live badly, without much appreciation. We tend to take other people and life and our own health and the good things we have in our life for granted. Reflecting on death is one of the surest ways to cut through the morass and muddle and get to what matters most.
Of course thinking too much about death can completely unnerve us, cause us to take too many chances, live desperately, do rash things.
So what’s the solution?
Find an optimal balance. Think about / acknowledge death just enough so that you don’t go off the deep end (or too far off the deep end) and live foolishly and recklessly, but think enough about death so that you don’t take life and those around you for granted, so that you live in a more deliberate but not desperate way. Live in a way so that you focus on the things that will matter the most to you in the end. Death is inevitable for each of us and for all of those whom we love and rely on. This is not negotiable. It’s a hard fact of life—the hardest, if we’re honest. But how much time we and those around us each have is a bit more of a mystery, and it’s this leeway that tends to get us each in trouble. We tend to play games with ourselves and others because of this leeway—taking them and ourselves and our health for granted, or we numb ourselves, we don’t live from our highest and best self, we don’t live a very examined life, we go through life on autopilot, we don’t live deeply and passionately and intensely enough, and we don’t live in such a way that we put our house in order.
Thoreau’s oft-quoted words about life and death still make for some very sound and good advice—
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms. . . .”
Bonus point to ponder:
“The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive.”
How awake are you?
How awake do you want to be?
How much discomfort and unsettledness are you willing to endure to become more awake?
And is it possible to live a very meaningful life if one is not very awake?
Camus wrote, “everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.” Great spiritual masters and leaders have spoken throughout the ages of human beings tending to go through life asleep, blind, deaf, and needing to “wake up.” What if awareness is where it’s at? And what if the more aware we are—the more we see and feel and think about—the less settled and less comfortable we are? How aware are you willing to be?