The Dalai Lama once answered the question of what surprises him most about humanity by saying —
“Man … because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”
I sent this quote to a friend once in response to an email he sent me. He replied with a simple question back to me, “Do you think this is me?”
This was a very smart question, which didn’t surprise me because my friend is a very smart man. Luckily I was boarding a flight when his email arrived so I had about an hour to contemplate the answer. I wanted to give him an honest one, but that seemed to require that I make a judgment about his life, which didn’t feel right.
So I closed my eyes and I played a mental game I call, “What if there was no other?” It’s something Guru Singh taught me to do when I don’t have an answer or when I’m not sure why something has come into my life. I take a look at the issue from the point of view that there is only me, no one else, and that I have presented the issue to myself.
In this case, I considered my friend’s question as though I was asking myself if The Dalai Lama’s quote applied to me. From this perspective it’s far more difficult to be judgmental or holier-than-thou. Because the truth is that many of us on the spiritual path have a higher-than-average propensity for behaving like arrogant assholes while cloaking ourselves in spiritual righteousness. By asking the question of myself, I was forced to look myself in the mirror instead of looking down my nose at my friend.
I contemplated on the question for most of the flight. In fact, I fell fast asleep and didn’t wake until the plane touched down at the airport. When I opened my eyes I had my answer, which I typed out in response to my friend.
This quote represents us all. It is our programmed story – we spend our lives making money we say we will one day enjoy, but because our daily practice is centered around making money, we get up … go to work … get our paycheck … pay our bills … buy more stuff … so that we need to work harder…. This is all we know and we really don’t know how to enjoy anything else. And without joy we live in dis-ease. Dis-ease in the body is physical sickness and, from that sickness, the vicious cycle The Dalai Lama describes begins.
We break that mold when we develop a different daily practice — we fully engage in life, we work, we make money, we have fun WHILE eating compassionately, taking herbs, breathing, playing with our kids, holding our wives, stretching our bodies, helping others, showing gratitude, and taking the next steps in our growth by asking the kinds of questions you asked.
Every day that you wake up and do those things that bring you joy while taking care of your responsibilities, the answer to your question is, “No, the quote does not represent you.” And every day you don’t and fall into a joyless, mindless routine, the answer is, “Yes, it does.”
For me, that is the purpose of a daily practice – a series of enlightened activities that you perform day in and day out to keep your life aimed in the direction you want to go. In our home it is wake up at 6:30, roll over and kiss my wife, hug my children, do yoga together as a family, meditate, and then enjoy a nutritious smoothie together. We do this every day, without fail (well almost, truth is that every once in a while we snuggle up and go back to sleep).
It’s difficult to get too far off track with this kind of routine. It’s like a daily reset; a new, healthy beginning each morning before we set out for our day’s activities. And it works.
I once asked myself what enlightenment looks like. I don’t mean what it feels like, or what we think we know about it or what stories we’ve been told about masters who levitate, or have halos, or can tame wild animals; I mean what does it really look like in real life. The best answer I could come up with is the same thing I told my friend – it’s your daily practice, the accumulation of your moments of interaction with the world. And when those moments are promoting ease, joy, true knowing, love and freedom, that is enlightenment. And when they aren’t, well, that’s an opportunity to stop and try something new.
I really like that definition. It’s so attainable for us all. Enlightenment doesn’t only belong to The Dalai Lama or a guru in an ashram – it belongs to each and every one of us. And each day as the sun rises we get a new opportunity to practice and experience it no matter what happened the day before. This is something we can all live into, and for me, this is what enlightenment is all about – realizing the beauty that is present in us all.
Big hugs of love,