By David W. Jones
Does life insist on dealing you bad cards? Do you face the same messes over and over again? Does the universe seem to be conspiring to make you miserable? Then there’s a lesson you still need to learn.
I’ve no idea what it is, maybe it’s learning to be more patient, or forgiving, or grateful? Maybe it’s about managing your expectations, establishing healthy boundaries, or properly using a tool called the word, “No?”
I found that, until I learned and absorbed my life lessons, I was trapped in a cycle of suffering from something very specific. I incorporated this concept, borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism, in a talk I used to give at Kingdom Halls. Jehovah’s Witnesses may not have accepted the cycle of rebirth, but the lesson applied equally to matters of faith and tribulation.
One important part of this hit me during the death throes of my marriage. I saw myself as a victim of unfairness, so blaming others for my grief was easy and comfortable. Surprisingly, blaming my spouse or others for my unhappiness never helped me escape the misery. After much Mindfulness Therapy, I started unlearning a lot of views and attitudes that prevented me from growing, or you might say, “evolving,” out of my ruts of suffering.
In time I learned to see the cycle of rebirth differently than I ever imagined; it was right in front of me the whole time. I didn’t have to live to be 90, die, and be reborn to retry learning my lessons.
Each time I was faced with my weakness I was reborn. Each time I failed to learn the lesson I needed to make progress, I died. But there’d always be a new opportunity to learn—each and every time I was faced again with the same crud, it was a rebirth to that scenario in life.
Just as the seasons cycle, we cycle through opportunities—opportunities to learn the lessons of life.. Jealousy, anger, attachment to the mercurial notion of, “Finally I can be happy for the rest of my life,” fear of loss or weakness; everyone has some challenge they need to transcend in order to grow.
Spring is the rebirth I have each time I face the same suffering scenario (Sufferin’ succotash!). Summer is the heat of tribulation: the sweltering, draining desert of suffering that I crawl through in search of some oasis of insight. Come Fall, I face the consequences of failing to learn my lesson. Soon, Winter sets in, and my failure leads to disappointment that piles up like snowdrifts in my mind. “How could I have given into jealousy, hatred, fear, or addictive attachment?” My failure to overcome the test leaves me upset with myself. I die in a sense—defeated.
But each time that that same thing returns to challenge me, I am again reborn to the opportunity to learn.
In this way, the universe keeps granting me these rebirths, these Springtimes, that are full of the open possibility that maybe this time around, I will finally learn the lesson that lets me escape the cycle. Once learned, that challenge has less or even no hold on me.
That’s how I made my peace with the concept of continual rebirth. It’s not necessarily something that follows my physical death. It’s that I enter each new opportunity in my new form—a higher form of myself—as I gain wisdom towards the life lesson or a lower form if I become bitter and cynical.
So next time you face challenges in life that leave you suffering and ready to throw in the towel, maybe stop and look around for the lesson you need to learn. And you don’t even need to get a student loan to learn it.
David Jones has a 27-year career with the United States government. He encountered mindfulness in therapy for his endangered marriage (which had led to anxiety-based depression and dissociative disorder symptoms), and writes about the experience in his blog as well as articles in various publications. He started writing articles about mindfulness for Yahoo Voices under the brand: A Mindful Guy.
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