“It’s not a bad life if you know how to live it”
The first time she asked me this, I didn’t understand what she was asking me. Then, I realized she wanted some kind of slogan to focus on between sessions. So, I would just make stuff up or spout some cliche like “Keep calm and carry on.” She’d laugh and seem satisfied and I would wonder what her question was about and how might better provide what she was seeking and asking for..
Recently, I have come across the Zen Buddhist practice of Lojong. Lojong is a mind training practice from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition which is based on aphorisms which are used to train and control one’s mind. I realized that I have been using this mind focusing practice for most of my life without knowing it.
We all probably have our favorite aphorisms which we learned from our grandparents or parents or teacher or someone we looked up to. These aphorisms may stick with us for a day, a week, a month, a year, or sometimes a lifetime.
Lojong is not about spouting a catchy quote or quip but about having a phase which guides our thinking, feeling, and behavior in a deep and ongoing way. The Lojong phrase becomes an important part of our life which provides guidance, inspiration and support in a deeply meaningful way.
Historically, Lojong is based on major tenets and principles of mind training in Tibetan Buddhism. There are seven points or principles which are groupings for 59 sayings.
Based on the idea of Lojong from Tibetan Buddhism, I thought about making up my own set of aphorisms which I have used throughout my life of 74 years. I will be sharing one slogan, aphorism, cliche per week. Mull them over. Apply them in your daily life. See what happens.
The first aphorism I remember saying to myself as a young boy of maybe 8 or 9 is “It’s a good life if you know how to live it.” I don’t know where this aphorism came from. I don’t remember anyone telling me this. I remember it welling up from inside, perhaps from the Holy Spirit, when I was upset and concerned with how some things were going in my life and what I was witnessing in the lives of others around me. Of all the aphorisms that have guided my life, this one has been the most important. It has been a navigational north star and a source of inspiration and motivation.
“It’s not a bad life if you know how to live it” presumes that you, indeed, know how to live it. It is addressed to the questions of “What is the good life? What will make me happy?” As a young boy, I was already realizing that an unexamined life is not worth living as I was later to learn was a famous idea of Socrates. I also came to learn in my 60s that the fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism is to affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
I now, at age 74, laugh when I realize I have been living the fourth principle of UU my whole life.
And so, “it’s not a bad life if you know how to live it” presumes that you know how to live, or, at least, open minded and curious and willing to find out. It also is hopeful that living the good life is a matter of learning how. When one wants to learn, one is always looking for teachers. I have always been a lifelong learner and as Socrates said, the more I learn the more I learn how much I don’t know.
What are the aphorisms and slogans that have been helpful to you in living your life? Leave them in the comments below.