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Lessons From the School of Life

Learn the greatest lessons that life is always teaching us. John Butler takes us on a journey of reflection as he looks back on his life of 80 years.

How to get the most out of these Wisdom Quotes:

  1. Put aside everything you think you already know.

  2. Open your mind and heart to receive something new.

  3. Take your time going through each point.

  4. Return to any points that particularly touch you.

  5. In the coming days, listen carefully to the wisdom within you.

* All quotes are by John Butler, from the video: The Truth of Who You Are

1. Watching the Changes

Image: John Butler

"Particularly in old age, it’s natural to look back. We see a whole series of things that we’ve done and been. For example, I remember my childhood, my schooldays, my longing to be a farmer, my long, happy years as a farmer, the journeys I’ve made, numerous fallings in love, and then the long, gradual process of moving from not being a farmer to being something else, to being something else, to being something else, to being an old man.

Am I an old man? Or doesn’t that also come to pass? And what is it that knows all this anyway? I look in the mirror and I see an old man but, actually, I’m ageless. I’m not old at all.

So, what was this thing we call life? Was I a child? Was I a boy, a strong young man? Or were these all, as Shakespeare described it: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. We have our exits and our entrances. One man in his time plays many parts.”

And what happens when the show’s over?"


As we grow older, the transient nature of life becomes more and more apparent. At times we can barely recognize who we see in the mirror. There you are, seeing yourself through those same eyes that you had as a child and young person, but looking so very different now.

  1. Consider all the different stages of your life thus far and all the different roles you've played. How many changes have there been?

  2. As someone who has experienced all these changes, and is still going through them, is there anything constant in your journey of life?

  3. Are you the person who is playing in the theater of life, or the one who is observing it all? Who is the real you?

2. Lacking Nothing

"The false self doesn’t give us what we want. It doesn’t fulfill us, so we’re still searching. We get little bits of love, little bits of peace and happiness, but they pass. Finally, we grow old, we get ill and we die.

I’m not even sure I belong in this world of multiple personalities. I come back to feeling this stillness, this nameless, formless presence, where I actually feel more at home these days than anywhere else.

I recognize that’s actually what I am. I’m not this mortal creature of 80 years old, soon to pass on to something. I’m actually more like the observer of this life-long performance. I’m not really of this world at all. I’m free.

The amazing thing is, I’m actually much happier. I’m actually complete now. I’m not looking for anything. I’m complete in a way I never was when I was this or that, a transitory performance in the world, always searching for something.

I don’t search for anything now, except to enter more deeply, totally into that reality which, amazingly, is always present now. It’s timeless. It’s spaceless. It’s always now. It’s pure consciousness. It’s Spirit. You can’t see it, it’s invisible, but it’s everywhere."


How much searching have we done over the years? Searching for a better life, better relationships, better jobs, and circumstances, always hoping for the ultimate fulfillment in something out there.

  1. Are you still searching for something? Is happiness still eluding you? Where do you think you'll find it? Be honest with yourself.

  2. John says that, now, the only search he has is to enter more deeply into the present reality and stillness, where he feels at home and complete. Could it really be that simple? Can the present moment and stillness hold the key to everything our heart longs for?

  3. Are you destined to continue searching for happiness and fulfillment in the future? Or are you open to realising it now?

3. Recognize the Eternal in Others

"This is life that in-forms everything else. It’s like the air in balloons. We are like the skin of a balloon, and when this life floods into it, it expands, it becomes something and then it deflates and goes back to dust again.

But that life, that’s what I am - life, alive, alive as I’ve never been before, even though I’m going to die soon. But I’m not really going to die. I can’t die. I’m immortal.

Strangely enough, we may catch glimpses of it when we look deeply into someone’s eyes. We see something that is hardly related to the body at all, a sort of instant recognition that often brings a smile to our face; a knowing. And often it’s just instant love, instant recognition. It’s difficult to say of what, but you know, and he knows.

Sometimes you just pass someone in the street and it happens, someone you’ve never met before. Just a glance, like that. Often it’s the most meaningful moment of the day, and you remember it, sometimes all your life.

I met someone, really met them."


We have grown accustomed to being the container of life and often forget that we are also the content, life itself, being lived out and expressed in this particular human form.

  1. Have you ever had an encounter with a stranger, as John describes?

  2. Have you noticed how some people have an open energy and are easier to connect with, whereas others are distracted to the point that you feel they're not with you, even when they're talking to you?

  3. What is being described in the quote above is a meeting that is beyond the mind, aptly described as a recognition. Perhaps this is the closest we can come to actually knowing one another in the deepest sense.

4. Knowing Ever-Present Peace

"How we all long for security, for the love that doesn’t change. We’re not satisfied with transcience. Eventually, I think it’s mostly by a process of elimination, we simply grow out of the transcience in life and we come more and more to recognize what lasts.

What is true? What is there here now that is true? What is here now that doesn’t change? Certainly not you or me. We’re here today and gone tomorrow. So what doesn’t change?

If we’re still, and we sit in stillness, this stillness is unshakable. All the bombs in the world could go off and it doesn’t move at all. The world as we know it can come to an end - this stillness is still there.

Now, stillness may seem nothing to those who haven’t delved into it, but one of the consequences of meditation is that it familiarizes you with this dimension of invisible being, this stillness.

And really, by a matter of elimination, you come to realize that this is actually what I am.

If we live in that consciousness of ever-present peace - you can call it peace or stillness or presence, the presence of God - then life begins to make sense.

You begin to realize what I am and with more confidence, let go of what I am not, which is this theatrical transcience that causes so much trouble."


We are all familiar with the temporary, transient nature of life, and experience the constant coming and going of people, things, and circumstances, yet we still resist and suffer the changes.

  1. In all this movement of life, where is the stillness that grounds you?

  2. In all this movement of life, where is the truth that guides you?

  3. Living in the consciousness of ever-present peace doesn't depend on the condition of our mind, body or the world. Rather, it is the essence of your true nature and always available in this moment.

5. Recognizing the Eternal in Yourself

"Often, the more still we are, the more we see. There are many clues to this unchanging self. We arrive at it in many ways. We get glimpses throughout our lives.

One with which I’m very familiar - even as a child, I loved what I called the wide open spaces. I loved to climb mountains. Anything that was high, I would climb it.

Instinctively up there, you feel better, you expand out of the mundane troubles of every day into something where you experience freedom, something more about what one really is. You sometimes feel more right up there.

Many other things touch us in this way - great beauty, the experience of love, falling in love. You enter into a new existence for a while until it settles down.

So there are many clues that we receive in life. Some people read something in Scripture for example that changes their life - they realize there’s more to it.

And so the search is taken step by step and, looking back, I feel now that life was a great lesson, a great school in which those early insatiable longings for love and freedom have gradually been fulfilled.

Now I’m in that blessed state - I’ve never been so happy, not because it’s coming to the end, but because it’s opening up to something even better, which is the truth, that completion which life in the world never is because it always comes to an end. Everything does - the happiest marriage, one of you dies, holidays come to an end, everything comes to pass in this world. It’s transient, that’s its nature, and something of man demands more than that."


Life is transient in nature, always changing, and something inside us demands more than that. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the heart of man. Don't we all long for what is permanent, for a love and peace that are eternal?

  1. What gives you the feeling of freedom? For John, it was climbing and reaching high places, where he transcended "the mundane troubles of every day."

  2. Notice the clues life has given you - those moments when you have been 'beside yourself' with awe at the view of a stunning sunset, transfixed with the smile of a beautiful baby, or lost in a world of new-found love. In all these things, you experience "something more about what one really is." These emotions are shadows of the reality of love, but they are wonderful nonetheless.

  3. Read the last paragraph again, and listen to what John is saying about coming to the end of his life.

6. Leading With the Heart

"Until we get some glimpses of that higher being, any talk of it seems pretty remote and airy-fairy, and really not in our experience. We have to function from where we are and, to begin with, our understanding is very small.

Education may liberate it to some extent or it may just foul us up with more transcience. I think that’s why these pure experiences of climbing a mountain are actually probably more helpful than a head full of facts.

Take the example of cherry blossom - the beauty conveys much more than a whole encyclopedia full of facts about what it is and how it’s made.

In a way, that’s what science does, it dissects things so that you end up knowing more and more about less and less. Whereas the heart instinctively looks at cherry blossom and just expands into joy, beauty, and thankfulness.

I’m afraid words don’t always serve us very well in this respect. I think that’s why I feel most comfortable these days just being silent. Silence speaks louder than words."


Always be aware of the difference between a head full of facts and concepts, and the direct heart connection with life. Remember John's example of the cherry blossom.

  1. "The heart instinctively looks at cherry blossom and just expands into joy, beauty, and thankfulness." Today is full of opportunities to experience such heart-expanding moments.

  2. John describes climbing a mountain as a "pure experience." Consider what pure experiences you can incorporate into your life. Perhaps you're not a mountain climber, but what about a simple walk in a park full of trees, or sitting in your garden and watching the clouds?

  3. Never forsake the silence, nor underestimate its preciousness. Make space for it in your life. Become familiar with it. Look and listen with your heart and discover the deepest contentment. Today.


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