We tend to think of daily life as a monotonous grind. Too bad that its ordinariness takes up most of our time and robs us of so much of our precious existence. When we were children everything was an adventure; with a little imagination we were princesses, knights, or robbers, before everyday life and its responsibilities swallowed us up. Now perhaps there's just enough free time for a bit of pleasure or a holiday, then we're back in our boring rut of troubles, worries, and frustrations. What has happened? What's the matter with us?
A new day begins. Our first thoughts spring to mind, perhaps our dreams linger. We get up — we've got things to do. We go to work or get on with our errands and tasks, interact with our fellows, get tired, and then retire again for the night. But let's look more closely. How do we wake up? What are our first thoughts? Which dreams still captivate us? How do we get up? What's on the agenda? How do we work and interact with others? Why do we get tired, and how do we retire? We can make our everyday lives our own theosophical adventure, and our days will no longer be ordinary. Let's each be our own director and leading actor. And now, curtain please, for our first performance in the adventure of everyday life . . .
Rudely awakened by the alarm, there are the remnants of a dream, strange — oh well, rubbish. What have I got to do today? So much, and it's so nice and cosy in bed, another five, another ten minutes — oops, I fell asleep again for half an hour. OK, up now, come on. After a shower, the news. Goodness, all this fighting going on everywhere! There's another person who got rich at public expense while we all have to pay our taxes, and they keep a close check that we do. Why don't they take action against that? Haven't they ever got anything positive to tell us? Didn't tidy up again yesterday, now where was that bill I have to pay? Getting dressed, a button falls off; no time to sew it on now, look for other clothes. I should have left by now. A man pushes in front of me on the subway. Hey! Where's your manners? What nerve! Oh, now I've got to run. My desk is full of unpleasant mail and things to finish, and the first person to cross my path is the colleague I can't stand, the one who's always sniffling.
That's how it could go, and no prizes for guessing how this irreplaceable day will probably continue. We've harbored a lot of unpleasant thoughts and even expressed them when we've had the chance. We've discussed politics and how gloomy everything looks. All in all, we've missed no opportunity to put our foot in it. And then, when we finally lock our door in the evening, perhaps we're far too tired to take heart from spiritual thought. We quickly gulp down something, drop into bed, and fall asleep straight away in the knowledge that tomorrow isn't going to be much better.
Dear friends, that's not how we imagined our life, our truth. Let's have a look at some other directors' notes. When Katherine Tingley met H. P. Blavatsky's teacher, this is what she learned:
To throw the mind, on moving out of sleep into waking, directly upon the outward things is to lose half the life of the day. One should awake in the morning with a beautiful thought, reminding himself that the battle for the day is before him and that the god within desires a moment's conference with the mind before the arduous duties of the morning begin.
You know, the atoms of the human body become weighed down as a rule with the burdens of the mind — the irrelevant ideas, the preoccupations and anxieties. — The Gods Await, pp. 127, 124-5
And in Wind of the Spirit Gottfried de Purucker gives no end of practical tips on daily life:
A man by thinking may change his character, which means changing his soul, which means changing his destiny, which means changing everything that he is or becomes in the present and in the future. — p. 8
Let a man realize that . . . what he sows he shall reap, and that what he is reaping he himself has sown, and see how the face of the world will be changed. Each man will become enormously observant not only of his acts which are the proofs of his thoughts and his feelings, firstly upon himself, but perhaps more important, of the impact he makes upon others. — p. 9
. . .
So you have made yourself; and in your next life you will be just what you are now making yourself to be. You will be your own heritage. You are now writing, as it were, your last will and testament for yourself. When a man realizes this wonderful fact, he no longer blames others, no longer sits in judgment upon his brothers.
. . .
If I could read the heart of my brother who has wronged me, read back into the distant past and see what mayhap I did to him to wrong him, perhaps I would realize that he now is as unconscious of the wrong he does me as I was then of the wrong I did to him. I shall not increase the treasury of virtue and happiness and peace in this world by taking up the gauge of battle and injecting more fury and hatred into a hatred-ridden world. — p. 11
. . .
We should strive at all times to weaken the merely personal and selfish bonds which cramp the winging flight of our souls into higher regions. For such selfish desires and bonds cause, by conflict and friction both with ourselves and with others who hold the same views and who act similarly, the larger part of the human misery and moral degradation in the world. — p. 21
. . .
Is your conduct in your daily life such that when you lie down to sleep at night, you can review the events of the day just closing and say to yourself: this I have done well; that I might have done better; that was not well done? — p. 151
All these stage directions seem simple and plausible enough, nor are they new. Other people before us have given it some thought, too. Growing up I received the following advice:
Hidden talents to make use of: Laughing, sharing your good mood with others, being cheerful, comforting others, being content, smiling quietly, making jokes, cheering someone up, recognizing someone's loneliness, helping someone without show, giving understanding without needing explanations, putting your arm around someone, protecting someone, giving strength, inspiring others, always thinking the weather is great, enjoying life, being lucky, being peaceful, forgiving, being there at the right moment, recognizing beauty, being fearless, speaking the truth, giving hope to others, and being brave enough to be happy!
And the talents best hidden: Putting your foot in it, worrying, getting your fingers burnt, being pessimistic, jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, falling off ladders, missing the bus, arriving too late for everything, making a fool of yourself, running someone down, getting on people's nerves, causing discord, telling fibs, going green with envy, being a real gossip, snorting with rage, thinking up spiteful things to do, and being unhappy for no reason!
These two lists sound just as reasonable as Dr. de Purucker's. What I miss, though, is the reason why it's worth my while to follow this advice, an explanation of why it's better to laugh when actually I feel like crying, or why I should comfort others when no one comforts me, why I should give someone strength and yet no one helps me, and why I should forgive people when everyone holds everything against me. It's a real challenge and requires constant attention to put good advice into practice, which is why I need a good reason for even attempting it. Purucker states clearly that "It was because of these facts that The Theosophical Society was begun: to try to change the thoughts of men and women towards better and higher things; to arouse inspiring and benevolent ideas in the minds of individual men and women" (ibid., p. 47).
So it's all been said already. Teachers today, and so many before them, have concerned themselves with us and our everyday lives. What no teacher manages, however, is to fill a pupil with enthusiasm if the pupil isn't interested. It's for our benefit, but it's a big effort. We can change our character only by changing our habits. And every second brings new opportunities. So let's not miss the chance to write the script and make the film of our own life. We'll be astonished to find that our everyday life is the biggest adventure we've ever had.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)