The Emperor’s questions: focus on what is important

I love reading. I mainly read books on spirituality as that is my real area of interest. For books that are a little deeper, I make time to sit down, undisturbed and take in the meaning and full context of what is being said. I like to absorb the material and relate it to my own life and experiences. But I also like to read books that contain short stories that pack a bit of a punch. These are the type of books I read when I have only a few minutes to spare or, most often, before I go to sleep.  I like to think that while I sleep, my mind is making sense of the story and relating it to various areas of my life. Then, when I am having a relevant experience, I remember the lesson of the story which allows me to behave differently at that moment.

Currently, before I go to sleep, I read stories from a book called ‘Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?’ by Ajahn Brahm. It contains wonderful little stories that are often presented in a light-hearted manner but contain a powerful message. Last night, I was reading a story based on ‘The Emperor's three questions’ and I must say that it hit home.

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The Emperor’s three questions

The story is based on an Emperor who wanted some wisdom to help him do the best job governing. After searching for this wisdom, he came up with three questions that would help him to rule in any situation.

1. When is the most important time?

A great deal of our time is spent experiencing the worthless emotions of guilt and worry. We experience guilt about things that happened in the past which we would like to change. Conversely, we experience worry about things which we fear will happen in the future but are far from guaranteed.

The major problem here is that we can no longer do anything about the mistakes of the past. That time has gone and we need to let it go. In most cases, the other people involved will have let it go. I remember once apologising to a lovely young girl whom I had met on my travels. I had said something which I felt really bad about and it haunted me for a few years. I eventually tracked her down and offered her my apology. She didn’t remember the incident that I had been worrying about. She had good memories of her time with me. My guilt had been pointless.

The future is another time where we cannot take any action. Not only is it a case that what we are worried about might never happen but, the future itself may never happen. It can be hard to remember the foolishness of focusing on things that may never occur, fearing the worst and taking us out of the present moment.

In case you are wondering, the most important time is NOW! The present moment is the only time where you can do something. No matter what you want to do, the only time you can do it is now. Sure there are times where we can make amends for the past but even then, we can only do that in the now. And, it can be helpful to make some plans for the future but we can only get to that future by living in the now.

‘There is nobody better than me but I am no better than anybody.’ A simple maxim by which to build and maintain great relationships.

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2. Who is the most important person?

We are living in a world where fame is craved. Many kids no longer say what they want to do for a living when they are older; they just say that they want to be famous. We put certain people on a pedestal and others are ignored, demeaned, or just plain forgotten.

My mother raised us with a wonderful old belief:

There is nobody better than me but I am no better than anybody.’

Most people love to hear the first part of that saying but many struggle with the second part. Deep down, we all know that we are equal but do we understand what it means to be equal?

Because if you truly understand what it means to be equal then there is only one possible answer to the question of who is the most important person. The answer is the person whom you are with at that moment. The only person whose company you can enjoy or, whom you can help is the person you are with. Too often, we are with one person while thinking about someone else. Even worse, while we are with one person, we are playing with our phone either checking for communication from others or, actively communicating with others.  We are telling the person we are with that they are important to us unless someone better comes along. Think about that for a moment.

When you understand that the person you are with is the most important person, you end up giving your very best to everyone that you encounter. You make them feel important but you also benefit too from being at your best.

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3. What is the most important thing to do?

Variety is beautiful and one of the wonderful things about life is that everyone is different. Every person you meet will want/need something different from you.  It may be that they just want a brief conversation or they may need some help. Either way, there is usually something small you can do to brighten the day of those whom you meet.

Because of this variety, there would seem to be no one answer to the question of the most important thing to do but that is not the case. The correct answer is quite simple – care. When you care about the person whom you are with, you help them to understand that they are loved; that they are as important as anyone else.

When you care, you become attuned to what they need. You can pick up on their needs either by hearing what they say or sometimes, hearing what they are not saying and gently encouraging them to open up.  You can listen to what they have to say, enjoy a friendly conversation or help them, either directly or indirectly by directing them to someone more qualified to assist.

There are few things more joyful than enjoying the company of others and where necessary, helping them. And, all you have to do is care.

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When you understand and apply 'The Emperor's questions' you are adhering to your values.


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Conclusion

The Emperor’s questions are a beautiful reminder of what is truly important in life – our relationship with ourselves and our relationships with others. When we remember the answers to the Emperor’s questions we are guided to be our best self which benefits us and those whom we encounter. If we could all remember to live in the now, give the greatest importance to those whom we are with, and care; the world would be a much nicer place for all of us. It’s not too much to ask.