Sometimes mentoring is about teaching very simple techniques and helping a person turn them into habits. Its not that someone is unable to see what would be very productive or have the insight and energy to try a new way. Often it’s just a matter of bringing a new eye to the situation and offering the steady support that makes the change become the new normal.
Pretty catchy title, don’t you think? Don’t you ‘instant gratification’ types get too carried away. I am going to tell you about a ten minute exercise that will change your life. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is a daily exercise. You’ll have to find ten minutes each and every day for the rest of your life and work hard to convert this exercise into an enduring habit. For some of you ten minutes a day will prove too high a price for the possibility of changing your life. For others, and I hope most, it will be a small price to pay for a huge step forward.
Taking time to reflect – consider – learn – is one way to make your life richer and more fulfilling. It isn’t hard to do – you don’t need some gadget or prop – you just do it. But most people don’t do it – and they suffer lost fulfillment because of that – and remain completely unaware of the loss.
So, it’s not like a vaccination. You don’t get one shot and then you’re good to go for the rest of your life. But the only time that will ever be true is the second just before you die – and who wants to wait that long to achieve enlightenment?
When I first arrived on Wall Street, I became fascinated with people who seemed to be much better organized and focused than the other people around them. I was attracted to these people because they made much better partners and much more reliable participants in teams that I put together. They seemed to avoid the ‘muddling through’ that characterized the daily lives of most of the others.
Some years later, as my Buddha nature began to emerge; I sought out a particular monk and asked about the relationship between my life and what I understood about it. The teaching which ensued helped me to understand what I had observed on Wall Street. Over the years the gift I received from this particular monk has become a habit – a highly productive and useful one. I’d like to pass on that gift to you if you’re willing to listen, consider and learn.
The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates
Examine Your life: Old Socrates sure had that one right. To leave a day without giving a thought about how that day has been lived is to waste the time and effort of living that day. It is more tragic than having lived a decade without reflecting on how that decade was lived. It is much more tragic than living a year without reflecting on how that year was lived. It is only slightly less tragic than living a moment without reflecting on how that moment was lived. What is the point of going into tomorrow if you haven’t learned the lessons of today? The truth is that, if you don’t learn, you end up going back into yesterday all over again! Remember, it never gets to be tomorrow – by the time it comes, it’s today all over again!
A person is condemned to confront the same challenge over and over again until they master it. Then they get to go on to the next one. Those of you who have been paying attention will find this statement a judgment on those who have not learned Socrates’ lesson. I was, of course, referring to those ‘deer in the headlights’ types that you meet all the time. Much like a TV soap opera, they can pass out of mind for years and, when they return, their continuing lives seem like just more of the same. Making the same mistakes over and over is a sign of inattention – a sign of being asleep.
The simply ridiculous thing about the insight which Socrates delivered to humanity those many centuries ago – an insight which lies at the very core of Buddhist teachings – is that, like most fundamental truths, this enlightenment is more a matter of dedication to simple actions than to mind bending mental gymnastics over Byzantine logic and convoluted theories of existence. But for the well educated amongst us, the latter is always easier than the former.
By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. Confucius
The view from above: I will admit that there is a trick to all of this. The trick is that you must cultivate the ability to view your day while avoiding the tendency towards self-justification – from above. If you can’t manage that ‘out of body’ perspective, the sessions are likely to descend into a mire of self-congratulatory self-ratification.