Do we experience life to the fullest or do we suffer through life because of our thoughts and how they affect us?
To help us understand this, we are going to take a brief look at a Korean monk that lived centuries ago and was on his quest for enlightenment. His name is Wŏnhyo. He is a beautiful person who truly found out what life is all about. He began his quest to live life to the fullest, studying books of enlightenment in Korea. Yet nothing seemed to work for him. He felt he could find better books and teachers in China and set out for that country.
One night on his way, Wŏnhyo was caught in a gigantic storm and found shelter in a cave. He was extremely tired, worn, and thirsty from his travels. In the dark cave, he found a bowl, and in that bowl there was water. He drank that water, and it tasted wonderful. In the morning when he woke up, he discovered that it wasn’t a cave that he was in but an old tomb. Some people had excavated this tomb, and the bowl he had found of was actually a skull. This skull had dirty, black gunk inside it, and because of the rain, it had water in it. When he saw this, he realized the answers he had been looking for! He realized that how he looked at things completely changed their reality. It wasn’t the reality that truly mattered, but instead, it was how he looked at things. With that insight, he didn’t need to go to China and decided to return to Korea, knowing he had truly found the answers he had been seeking. Wŏnhyo became one of the greatest teachers in Korean history.
Like Wŏnhyo travelling in a tempest, perhaps right now we are going through some very difficult things. Maybe our marriage is ending, or we’ve been diagnosed with a frightening medical issue. Maybe we’ve lost our job, or we’re struggling with aging. Whatever it is, we are like Wŏnhyo in his storm. We are going through the tempest of life, and we need to find shelter. This shelter can be anything that’s happening right now and finding something beautiful in it, in the moment, in the now, in whatever is happening right now.
For example, most of us will experience a parent dying. We can look at it in many different ways. It’s like entering Wŏnhyo’s dark cave and finding a bowl of refreshing cool water. Now some may see it as something dark and horrible. But if we look at it in the light of Wŏnhyo’s moment and see it as something refreshing and beautiful, it becomes something positive in a sense. For example, maybe we see that the death of our parent is ending his or her suffering from an illness or debilitating disease, or we see it as our parent’s time to be in a paradise where we will someday meet. We can view it as a lesson for us about impermanence; we were blessed with having this parent in our lives, and now we realize we are the parent, the grandparent to our family, and we can focus on that.
There are many ways we can find beautiful, fresh water even in the midst of a storm and even in a dark cave. When we find that beautiful fresh water, even if everyone around us sees it as dirty, dark water in a skull, we will be refreshed by it. We will experience this dark time as something beautiful. We can do this, no matter what is happening in our life. If a relationship ends, if we are diagnosed with something horrible, or if we’ve been in an accident, there are so many ways in which simply changing the way we think about it and seeing it in a different light completely changes our reality.
The deep truth here is that there is no absolute reality. Whatever we create in our minds will become our experience and our reality. If we create darkness, if we create dark stories, then we will suffer. If we focus on the light and stay present, then we will be refreshed and we will find beauty in anything and everything. If we find fresh water even when it appears to others and perhaps even to ourselves as being dark and work towards changing the way we see things, the suffering will stop and we can find beauty in anything.
Like Wŏnhyo, we have to realize the power of our thoughts. It’s all about how we look at things. If we choose to suffer, we can. If we want to have a good life, if we want to live in the present moment free, ecstatic, and peaceful, we can have that too. But to have that, we must pay attention to what our thoughts are doing. We have to watch them, and when they get dark, it’s important that we don’t judge them but instead gently work towards changing them. We simply change the focus of the bowl being the skull with dirty water in it to being the bowl with clear water that is so incredibly refreshing. It can be either, but our mind will create whichever reality we let it.
If we put our energy towards seeing our life full of bowls with fresh water available to us at all times, then our lives will become something magical, something beautiful. It’s available to any of us, no matter what’s going on and no matter how awful things can be right now. All we have to do is work towards changing the way we see things, and then things will change to however we see them.
One person loses his job, and he stays stuck and suffers for the rest of his life; another person loses her job, and she finds something new and exciting to do and enjoys her new career path so much more. One person is in a relationship for many years that ends, and she dives into a deep depression; another person is in a relationship for many years and it ends, but he moves on and finds something better. Maybe he meets someone who is a better match or finds happiness in himself without needing someone to hold onto as he grows in his life or finds another person who is an experience for learning without suffering.
We can always find something beautiful in life as long as we put the effort towards seeing how important our thoughts are, watching our thoughts, and working towards gently changing them.
Like Wŏnhyo, let’s remember to drink the refreshingly clear beautiful water when it’s there—and it’s always there.