To achieve true happiness, we must develop wisdom out of compassion for ourselves and others. Together, wisdom and compassion complement each other and are two tools that can bring peace to our lives. They cannot be untangled; it is because we have compassion that we seek wisdom and because we are wise that we are compassionate. Wisdom dissolves negativity by changing the way we look at things, while cultivating compassion can directly dispel negative emotions. Developing wisdom begins with truly knowing ourselves, just as loving others begins with loving ourselves.
Wisdom is invaluable in opening our hearts to others, and it is because we value relationships with others that we choose to be wiser. Our ability to love and care for people is directly limited by our self-understanding. If we are not very emotionally mature, how can we understand, empathize with, and help a friend in need? But for those of us who have suffered greatly, we might know how a new, stronger person arises from the grief. We also might know what types of activities or shifts in thinking are conducive to healing our friend. Even without such personal experience, we can still offer a loving ear or a hug. But we lack the direct knowledge to understand and end our friend’s suffering. Therefore, when we experience hardship, we can view it is as an opportunity to help us grow as a person.
The key to learning from experience is to approach the events in our lives with interest and to be keenly aware of how we react. Understanding our inner emotional workings gives us the ability to deal with problems in a healthy way, without projecting our issues onto the people around us. If we can become more aware of our emotions as they arise, we can consciously determine why we are feeling a little angry, sad, or irritable before these negative emotions influence our behavior. This is difficult to do, but by training ourselves to be mindful of everything we do, we may become more in tune with our automatic emotional responses. Once we notice that something negative does arise, we need to work through the issue, either with a friend or by ourselves, so that we may understand why it arose. It is crucial not to ignore the problem and go on with our day-to-day activities, but rather to address whatever is bothering us. Let us sit down with a friend and honestly talk about what is going on. Just by doing this, most things will be resolved. Although the outside world might not have changed, we will have come to terms with our situation. From there, we can choose to take action. Have you ever felt excited, bubbly and happy for no apparent reason? This is our default state of being when we aren’t bogged down with problems.
In addition to personal experience, we may also gain wisdom through learning. Help is offered by books, friends, professors and spiritual leaders. Reading and listening exposes us to new ideas and ways of thinking that might be applicable to our lives. Acquiring new information is only the first step. For the concepts to become relevant to our habitual thoughts and behavior, we must contemplate them and understand them on a deeper, emotional level. For example, in Buddhism we learn that relationships, by their very nature, cannot last. Conceptually, this is not difficult to understand, since we know that people must die at some point, if no other factors end the relationship before death. But if this idea were really incorporated into the way we thought about our relationships, each moment shared with others would take on a whole new level of appreciation and significance. It might be worthwhile to contemplate this idea more thoroughly to truly value the people in our lives.
Once we have thoroughly meditated on and understood an idea, we can then apply it. Though we judge the validity of a particular idea throughout the process, its effects are most clearly evaluated at this time. When we accept an idea and apply it to a specific problem in our life, how is our mood affected? Let’s say someone is stuck in traffic and is quickly becoming impatient. Realizing that their blood pressure is rising, they decide to change the way they are thinking. Instead of just being angry about the speed of travel, they think for a moment about all the other people who are fuming in their own cars next to them. They breathe in the discomfort and irritability they feel, and know that many others have experienced, are experiencing, and will experience the same exact emotion. As they breathe out, they cultivate a calm peace and wish that all who know the same type of anger may come to subdue it.
By developing a greater understanding of ourselves and by opening our hearts to others, we may gain a sense of peace. The dullness and emptiness that can sometimes pervade our months is conquered by wisdom and compassion. Wherever we may be mentally and emotionally, we must begin to value the good stuff in life. At the end of the day, we will have made many mistakes, but if we understand them, we can be sure to avoid the same traps tomorrow. True happiness comes after patiently enduring the trials and tribulations of life.