Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Monday, 4 May 2009

How to celebrate the Buddha's birthday

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- President Nelson Mandela, in his inauguration speech (quoting Marianne Williamson)

Minor enlightenment - the view from the back deck

I've spent this weekend at my brother's place in Cambridge, Canada taking some time out of a hectic travel schedule. Today while we had a BBQ I sat on the back deck in the late spring sunshine and listened to the radio. I noticed that every song crooned about how happiness is found, lost, or lost then found again in the form of another person.

Songs with lyrics like I can see forever in your eyes and Everybody wants to know they're not alone and You're everything I need repeatedly made the point: we're all incomplete as we are and need someone else to "make us whole". In fact the only song that didn't offer solace and happiness in external sources pleaded Chuck me in the shallow water before I get too deep...

Now perhaps I'm insufficiently taking on board the warning offered by that last chorus, but I'd like to offer an interesting point of contrast.

Happy Birthday Buddha

This weekend in east Asia is the date when the Buddha's birthday is celebrated in 2009.

About 2400 years ago (give or take a few decades) Siddhattha Gotama was born and was destined to live the luxourious life accorded him as prince of his people.

Various accounts suggest that he had his fill of earthly pleasures and was certainly shielded from the harsh realities of the world by his protective father the king.

Perhaps he became tired of a life in which his every material was fulfilled, perhaps his pampered upbringing resulted in greater shock when he was finally confronted with the realities of illness, old age and death - whatever the combination of factors, the rest of his story is well known.

He escaped the palace, lived an ascetic life in his quest for Truth and, after long meditation under the Bodhi Tree, he achieved Enlightenment.

Am I suggesting this is the path for everyone to take and that Enlightenment should be your single and only goal? Not exactly. Let me share with you the insight I had while sitting on the deck today.

What if I told you that you were inadequate?

If I told you that you were incomplete, inadequate, and in need of propping up in order to function in life and be a whole person...well, you might justifiably have a variety of responses to offer me - and I bet none of them would be very pleasant!

Yet we are continually bombarded with these very messages - you are incomplete until you have the product or person that will help make you complete - not just in the lyrics of pop songs but throughout the media and marketing machines that surround us every waking hour.

What these messages represent is a superficial answer to a deep and fundamental truth about human beings, namely: we are all born whole and complete, then in the course of our early life development and interaction with the world we learn to devalue or disown those parts of ourselves that don't seem to "fit in" or fail to get us what we want.

Each of us is like a complete picture which then has a few puzzle pieces removed. It's important to remember, however, that those pieces don't go away forever; they're still within our reach. Sitting under his tree, the Buddha realized this fundamental Truth: we are all complete just as we are and have access to all the means we require to take care of ourselves.

Through the effective application of what Buddhists call the Middle Way, we can steer our lives along a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification

What that means is: rather than cloistering yourself up to gain spiritual awareness, you can still hold down a job and function in the world - though by paying some attention to certain fundamental questions, and by rejecting as false the empty lyrics and marketing messages preaching your inadequacy, you can find a path leading to greater personal satisfaction, happiness and achievement of what's important to you.

Turning the Middle Way into the everyday

Practically speaking, in my work I frequently help people in all kinds of fields to dissolve the crises and tensions that arise from this constantly-reinforced message that they are not OK as they are. I do this, I hasten to add, not by fostering dependency on me as yet another external "quick-fix" but by enabling them to locate those helpful energies and resources that already exist within them. In this way they can continue their own personal journey long after our work together has tapered off or ended entirely.

So think about how you will choose to celebrate the birthday of this extraordinary individual, the Buddha, not just this weekend but in the days and weeks to come as you continue your own life's journey. And remember: you already have within you everything it takes to be just as extraordinary, if you'll just let yourself be so.

With apologies to the pop music industry, I'd suggest that learning to dance to your own tune may change the course of your whole life for the better. It will help you to engage with others not in a needy and dependent "please complete me!" way but as a productive and independent person who's capable of entering and sustaining an equitable relationship for the long term. Worth thinking over, under a tree or by the BBQ on the back deck...

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