The second question:
Can you really learn from everything and every situation in life, as the Desiderata says?
Certainly. Sometimes it may appear like “What is there to be learned in this situation?” That only shows that your awareness is not deep enough, otherwise no situation is without a lesson, no situation at all. All situations are pregnant, but you have to discover…it may not be available on the surface. You have to be more watchful, you have to look at all the aspects of the situation.
Desiderata is absolutely right – this is my own experience. I have learned from every situation possible.
One of the great Sufi Masters, Junaid, was asked when he was dying…his chief disciple came close to him and asked, “Master, beloved Master, you are leaving us. One question has always been in our minds, but we could never gather enough courage to ask you. And now that you are leaving there will be no more opportunity to ask, so all the disciples have forced me to come to you and ask. Who was your master? This has been always a great curiosity amongst your disciples because we have never heard you talk about your master.”
Junaid opened his eyes and said, “It will be very difficult for me to answer because I have learned from almost everybody. The whole existence has been my master. I have learned from every event that has happened in my life and I am grateful to all that has happened, because out of all that learning I have arrived. But I did not have any single master. I was not so fortunate as you are,” Junaid said to them. “You have a master.”
I can understand Junaid because this has been the case with me too. I never had any master; you are far more fortunate. I had to learn the hard way: from every experience, from every event, from every person I came across. But it has been an immensely rich journey.
Junaid said, “Just to satisfy your curiosity I will give you three instances. One: I was very thirsty and I was going towards the river carrying my begging bowl – that was the only possession I had. When I reached the river a dog rushed, jumped into the river and started drinking.