It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practiceby Bo Lozoff, Dalai Lama (Foreword by)
Here is a universal, time-tested path for finding true meaning and joy in every aspect of our lives. Drawing on his 30 years of teaching and service, Bo Lozoff shows why compassion--not success, self-improvement, or self-esteem--is at the root of happiness. In 26 intimate, inspiring chapters--each accompanied by a specific practice--Lozoff covers themes such as developing honesty, learning humility, dealing with anger, and honoring relationships. He shows how practices such as a daily vow of kindness or a simple commitment of time with others can have a profound effect on ourselves and our world. Lozoff's stories and lessons can awaken everyone to a happier and more fulfilled life.
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It's a Meaningful LifeIt Just Takes Practice
By Bo Lozoff
Penguin BooksCopyright © 2001 Bo Lozoff
All right reserved.
Waking Up from the American Dream
* * *
I feel as if I've got all the right ingredients in place for a satisfying, enjoyable life. Bet they're not adding up in some essential way. I still feel a sense of yearning for more, an absence of real joy. What am I missing?
The Buddhist tradition emphasizes an element of spiritual living translated as "right view." The idea of right view, like the old saying "Don't miss the forest for the trees," reminds us that no matter how many good components we may have for a fulfilling life, those components must also fit into a bigger picture with which our individual lives are in harmony. In other words, if we come to some idea of what life in the largest sense is about, then we may begin to understand why or how our personal life falls short of fulfillment. We may even be surprised to see that we are not so unfulfilled as we had thought. Much of our vague yearning and sense of incompleteness may be due to wrong views shaped by modern media and unrealistic expectations.
Be all you can be. Just do it! Climb every mountain. Dare to dream. These bumper-sticker philosophies of our day sound appealing on the surface, but they are tied to a consumer model of life's purpose that never brings us the wholehearted satisfaction we inwardly crave, because consumerismwhile promising satisfaction at every turnrelies on our never being satisfied. Underneath its ingeniously wholesome images and compelling slogans, this life view is about selling products, nothing more.
The two chief forces of consumer marketing are desire and fear. Eat this, drink this, do this, drive this, and you will be happy. Take this pill to avoid pain. Meanwhile, the spiritual teachings of the world point to desire and fear as the two great shackles of human existence, the two biggest barriers to our natural joy.
Of course, we all experience desire and fear. From the time we are infants, desire for what may please us and fear of what may hurt us are important navigational systems. Their existence is not the problem; it's how we respond to them that counts, how (or whether) we integrate them into a more mature navigational system guided by right view.
The sophistication and power of modern advertising and "infotainment," and the consequent globalization of consumer valueswhat many analysts have begun to call Earth, Incorporatedhave made it harder and harder to integrate our natural desire and fear into a mature navigational system, because consumerism relies on ceaseless desires and fears. Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, makes the intriguing observation that the entire world, at present, is dominated by a mentality that used to be associated with American teenage boys smoking cigarettes and riding motorcycles in black leather jackets.
Even if you and I have simplified our lives and have adopted alternative values, it would be foolish to assume we are not influenced by the same blitz of messages and perspectives that bombard the mainstream culture with the lure of materialism, superficiality, and sense gratification. Let's face it: consumerism has taken over the world because it works! When I take the first bite of a Dairy Queen cone dipped in melted chocolateah, delicious! I'm a happy man. But is there a cone in the world big enough to keep me happy for more than a few minutes?
Earth, Incorporated, exhorts us to pursue that ultimate cone with all our might (and dollars). Clever marketing has even convinced many of us that it is unhealthy not to satisfy our desires and fears. But when desire goes unchecked, it will eventually tempt us toward selfish or harmful or even criminal behavior in order to fulfill its object. When fear dominates us, we will eventually withdraw from others, or try to avoid life's natural ups and downs in unnatural ways.
Living in servitude to our desires and fears is living like the dogs who pursue a plywood rabbit around the race track. Not only do they never get to catch it, but even if they did, it's not really a rabbit, it's only painted plywood. They just run around that track all their lives for nothing. This is a truth many of us discover only when we attain everything we thought we wanted, and still feel incomplete and unsatisfied.
Keeping our heads on straight in this day and age requires conscious and persistent effort. One way to look at our pursuit of an appropriate state of happiness is to break it down into two parts:
1. What is my biggest view of life and my place in it? That is, what are my primary values?
2. What steps or behaviors are necessary to bring my daily existence into harmony with that view?
The gap between our sincere values and our actual behavior is the source of all self-hatred. And self-hatred is the antithesis of personal happiness. So it makes sense to ask these questions at the beginning of each day, or at least fairly often, and to spare no effort in bringing our behavior into line with our values. Nothing is more important. We will not find happiness while we are divided between the two.
I have also found that scrupulous self-honesty helps a great deal in integrating our fears and desires into a mature sense of happiness. For example, many of us, including me, have had some measure of problems with drugs or alcohol. When I lecture now at recovery centers, I try to point out that one part of me would love to smoke a joint at that very moment, or drink an ice-cold beer in a frosted mug. If I pretended that I hated being high and had no nostalgic pulls toward smoking or drinking, I would be at much greater risk of backsliding, because I would be living in denial. When I talk about these things, you should see the relief on the faces of recovering addicts who had been wasting a lot of energy trying to pretend there was nothing they missed about their old ways.
We can acknowledge our desires while at the same time not indulging in them. In fact, this is the essence of free will. In my life, drugs and alcohol come with too many strings attached, so I choose not to fulfill my desires for them. We cannot avoid some of the desires that come into our minds, but we can choose to fulfill them or not. Spiritual practices contribute greatly to the strength of our free will, so that we may choose to respond to our desires and fears in keeping with our deepest values.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that only the person who possesses self-control over desires and fears is on the road to happiness. Another requirement for being on that road to happiness, also expressed in the Gita, is giving up trying to control things outside ourselves. You know the feeling: going through each day like a bowler who has already released his ball but is leaning this way and that way, waving his hands toward a strike, shouting and nearly falling onto the floor in gyrations that have no power whatsoever over the ball or the pins. How often do we wave and shout and gyrate over things outside our control? I've got to find a parking space. Desire. No, no, don't let this be a flu coming on; I don't have time this week for the flu! Fear.
True happiness, or what we may call joy, is internal, not external. It does not result from finding parking spaces or avoiding illnesses. It comes from taking responsibility for the things under our control and learning to embrace even the unpleasant things that are not under our control. Superficial happiness is the illusory pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, while joy is the whole rainbow right in front of our eyes.
Another difference between superficial happiness and real joy is that joy can coexist with sorrow. Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has used the expressions "joyful sorrow" and "sorrowful joy." When we are feeling down for any reason, we remind ourselves that life is still essentially good underneath whatever is troubling us, so our sorrow does not necessarily go away, but exists with an undercurrent that is positive and grateful. Joyful sorrow. Conversely, when we are feeling wonderful, it is good to remember how much suffering and struggle continue to go on all around us, so that we may always bear compassion in our hearts for those who do not share our blessings. Sorrowful joy.
To be sorrowful with no sliver of joy is to be blind to the big picture, the transcendent and unified. To be happy with no heartfelt sorrow is to be blind to the little picture, the suffering and despair among the people and nations of the world.
But does it work to search for these states of joyful sorrow or sorrowful joy in the first place? Is that how they are found? The happiest people I have ever met have been people who gave up their search for happiness and just lived according to their highest beliefs and biggest view.
Michelangelo said that a sculptor doesn't create anything; he sees something of beauty within a block of stone, and then begins to chip away at everything that hides it. If it is true that real happiness and joy reside within us, then we simply need to keep chipping away at whatever it is that tempts us toward a smaller, more self-centered view of life.
Ah, the Joy, to discover there is no happiness to be found in the world!
Wei Wu Wei
* * *
A Practice: CLARIFYING YOUR MOTIVATION
As basic as it may sound, very few of us take even a few seconds each morning to remind ourselves of who we are, what we believe in, or what we hope to do with our lives on this particular day. The mind is a powerful repository of the messages it takes in. If we begin each day by reminding ourselves of our right view and our best intentions, we will gradually find it easier to see through the contradictory messages and temptations we encounter during the rest of the day.
Script directors talk about a "throughline"a theme that moves from the beginning to the end of an entire script, even though many auxiliary events and subthemes may occur along the way. Clarifying our motivation is one practical way of keeping a spiritual throughline all day long.
THE BIG CLARIFICATION
To catch your mind when it is most open and quiet, do a clarification before you settle into all the nooks and crannies of your personality for the day. Either while you're still lying in bed or at the beginning of your morning meditation session, train yourself to bring thoughts such as the following into your awareness. Select just two or three at the most, and give each one time to sink in to your deepest motivational centers.
I am a seeker of truth on a spiritual journey. I believe life has sacred meaning and purpose.
May my behavior today express my deepest beliefs.
May I approach each and every task today with quiet impeccability.
May I be a simple, humble, kind presence on the earth today.
May I see the Divine Nature in all beings today.
May I be grateful today to those who came before me, and may I make the roads smoother for those who will travel them after me.
May I leave each place at least a little better than I found it today.
May I truly cherish this day, knowing that it may be my last.
May I remember, remember, remember, not to forget, forget, forget.
Feel free to add to this list, but please notice there is a significant difference between this type of clarification and a host of popular affirmations that tend toward the superficialall the "I am special" and "Share my gifts" kinds of stuff that are ego-boosting rather than soul-nourishing. You don't need to boost yourself; life will do that if you but remind yourself of who you are and what a good human life is about. Such simple reminders each day can make a major difference in the way our minds function.
REVIEWING AND REDEDICATING
YOURSELF FOR TOMORROW
If clarifying your motivation each morning is the front door, then looking back at the end of the day is the back door. Either at the end of your evening meditation period or when you're lying in bed before drifting off to sleep, take a few minutes to look back really honestly at the day you've just lived. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes it this way:
In the late evening, look back on the day to see if you really spent your day as you pledged in the morning. If you find something positive (beneficial, helpful), then good, feel happy! Reinforce that determination by rejoicing in your own good actions and by resolving to continue such activities in the future.
If you find you have done something negative (harmful, destructive) during the day, you should feel remorse for those wrong actions committed ... reflecting on how these same negative actions, committed in the past, are the reason why you are still experiencing undesirable consequences Think that if you continue to indulge in such activities in the future, this will lead you into similar undesirable consequences again.
This last step is important, because now with compassion for yourself, you can rededicate your commitment for tomorrow so that you don't have to feel bad tomorrow night as well. Be honest but gentle, firm but forgiving. I'm humbled by today; may I be more consistent tomorrow for my own happiness and the happiness of all beings.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, motivation is extremely important. Clarifying your motivation can be useful even for the smallest issues of daily life. A well-loved monk in Tibet named Geshe Ben was especially known for his scrupulous self-honesty and holding himself to task for impure motivation. At a dinner for monks, Geshe Ben watched as the server moved down the table filling each monk's bowl with delicious-looking sweet curds. When the server finally arrived at his bowl, Geshe Ben put his hand over it and said, "I cannot have any, thank you. I have enjoyed much more than my share already!"
As you reach for something to eat, ask yourself, "What is my motivation? Am I hungry or bored or looking for a particular taste in my mouth?" As you turn on the television, ask yourself "Am I hoping to see something of value or just to be distracted?" In conversation, occasionally inquire of yourself, "What's the purpose of saying what I'm about to say? Is it to share, to inspire, to help, to give, to learnor just to compete for attention, impress others, put my two cents in?"
This process of clarifying motivation should not be confused with psychologically analyzing ourselves to death. When clarifying, we are looking for a here-and-now realization of what is actually going on. We are applying our powers of observation, not our intellect. Clarifying motivation takes a moment or two. It is not concerned with why we may be using food or television as a distraction, just that we are; and it reminds us that we do not wish to continue such habit patterns.
As simple as it sounds, this is a solid beginning for living a happier, holier life. We can change enormously. We can become happy, peaceful people no matter what we've been through, or what we feel like right now. And we can begin very simply by clarifying our reasons for doing what we do, from big to little, every day. Like Michelangelo, every day we chip away a little more of whatever obscures the radiant inner self. Ah, the joy ...
Excerpted from It's a Meaningful Life by Bo Lozoff Copyright © 2001 by Bo Lozoff. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Bo Lozoff is a spiritual activist and co-founder of the Human Kindness Foundation, which sponsors the Prison-Ashram Project (founded twenty-five years ago with Ram Dass), a quarterly newsletter, and Kindness House (a spiritual community that is open to visitors). He holds an honorary doctorate from the Chicago Theological Seminary. He has lectured in hundreds of prisons, universities, churches, and spiritual centers around the world and his work has been featured in many national publications. He lives outside of Durham, North Carolina.
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