Life is a series of lessons, big and small

We can’t always be perfect but we can always try to do our best – not just in what we do but in how we do it. Striving to reach goals and aiming high for outward signs of success is all well and good, but I have become far more interested in just striving to be the best version of me that I can. I’ve noticed that there’s a small fraction of a difference between less than ideal, and terrible, between average and fantastic. It’s the details that count.

It’s those few words which are spoken or that decision to be there for someone when you really need to be elsewhere. It’s the seemingly slight changes we make to our diet which either contribute to a feeling of self-confidence or self-loathing – emotions which then often lead to us making further good or bad choices and entering into corresponding cycles of positivity or negativity.

Sometimes it’s the colossal events and momentous decisions that we take throughout the course of our lives that trickle downwards and affect all that is to follow – the partner we choose to marry, the children we plan to have (and which may or may not then materialise), the relocation we decide to accept. Such roads might lead us to a happier place, or not, an easier state of mind, or not, a fulfilling lifestyle, or not. We never know where those big choices will throw us out along life’s path, but we do know that we can try to be the best we can no matter where we end up.

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The lessons we learn as we mature can, and should, be utilised to help us achieve a goal of bettering ourselves. We can, if we examine our histories, recognise patterns of behaviour that have not worked in our favour. We might identify upon close retrospection what triggers certain, less-than-perfect actions. The time we spend alive can be perceived as a series of tutorials, a lifelong system of education, where each year is filled with mistakes that we can employ for creating a brighter future.

We probably won’t get everything in life that we set out to get. There’s bound to be disappointments and pain and suffering around the various corners we turn. What we dream of as children is likely never to come to fruition – at least, not all of it – but we can appreciate the bad stuff for teaching us where we went wrong.

If we begin our journeys through life as though we are a malleable ball of putty, then every knock and let-down, every exciting and happy occasion, each moment of pride and self-satisfaction that we travel through, shapes us further, until, in our old age we represent a lifetime of moulding, of experiences; a sum total of the human experience. Of our own personal human experience.

Emotional Intelligence & The Importance of Self-Love

We have layers of emotions, and the deeper they run the more challenging they are to catch hold of. This isn’t scientific – it’s just my experience. I thwarted my emotional growth by drinking alcohol too frequently and in too large a quantity thus by the time I reached my early thirties I wasn’t so different mentally to how I was at age fifteen. Not that I was aware of the extent to which my emotional maturity was stunted when I quit drinking aged thirty-five. However, I’ve learnt a few things in the last three years; I have grown and developed my self-awareness, and I now consider myself to be reasonably emotionally intelligent, or at the very least, my emotional maturity is now in line with my age.

I believe we have the immediate response, an instant reaction to an event or situation, and the one that we can draw on should we possess the ability to stand back and think things through a little. The deeper we dig into our emotional reserves, the happier and more content the person we will become. At least, this is how it works for me. The less obvious feelings are sometimes fleeting and I have to really focus on pinning them down, analysing and then utilising them. The surface response might be anger or jealousy and my subsequent actions would be influenced by these immature and ill-thought out emotions, should I choose to tune into them. But if I can step back and search within myself for the more complex, compassionate and difficult-to-reach understanding of the situation, it will almost always result in a happier outcome for everyone involved.

I was utterly unaware of this when I drank alcohol. I didn’t know I had those inner reserves, the ‘better’ person inside who was able to rebuff more negative reactions and replace them with kindness, self-sacrifice and understanding. I didn’t know anyone had that, and assumed we were all the sum total of our instantaneous, knee-jerk reactions.

It takes effort to find more humanitarian solutions to problems. But like the Dalai Lama said, ”I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.” Often these more commendable qualities do not present themselves immediately. Conversely, it takes effort to draw upon them and, in turn, to demonstrate a more compassionate, less selfish attitude towards the people around us.

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Having the ability to do that means possessing emotional intelligence – not reacting like children do, stamping feet and throwing tantrums, but thinking things through. Not acting in the way that we might initially feel inclined to, but searching within ourselves for the kinder, more mature and more compassionate response.

All of this, of course, applies equally to the way we treat ourselves. We can only change our outward behaviour if we alter the way that we handle internally the situations life throws at us – dealing with things in the same way as we always have will simply provide us with identical results. But drawing on our inner emotional strength, believing that we have the power to change, and to think and act differently to how we have routinely thought and acted in the past, takes huge amounts of courage. It also requires a monumental leap of faith.

It’s worth remembering that compassion begins with each one of us, personally. When we are able to master self-love, we will then naturally begin to exercise a more compassionate response to the people around us. Often, if we have misused mind-altering substances like alcohol for any length of time, the process of learning to love ourselves begins with recognising that we too deserve to feel like real human beings. Saying no to a craving and realising that by doing so we are demonstrating compassion towards ourselves, is the very first step in getting there.