I’m enjoying these ‘How to pieces’. Writing them comes easily because they are questions I ask myself every day. I want to be kinder, more generous, and uncompromisingly compassionate towards all sentient beings. A lofty goal with no end to it, but one that has thus far made my life worthwhile and fulfilling.
So, how do we go about being an Awesome Human Being?
Find a role model:
To determine how we want to live in the world, it helps to have someone we see doing this already. I don’t consider such a person someone to ‘look up to’ so much as someone to aspire to emulate.
The reason I say we shouldn’t consider them someone to look up to is because this puts us at risk of forgetting their humanity. Seeing them as some flawless example we should follow is dangerous for a few reasons.
1. It could lead us to believe we can’t achieve what they have. We see them as naturally talented, rather than skilful. Skills can be learned and developed whereas talent is seen as inherent. Very few people are inherently talented at anything. Even Mozart was merely trained well enough from an early age that his skill was superb when he was very young.
2. When we disallow someone’s humanity we become hyper critical of mistakes. If we find someone that models the sort of enlightened behaviour we would like to emulate, we could get all starry-eyed about them to our detriment. As soon as they show their humanity by making a mistake or acting carelessly, we could then judge them by that mistake, giving it more weight than any virtuous or kind things they have done.
I see this a lot and it’s very sad to me, how we seem to consider missteps and harmful acts to be more significant or weighty than virtues or positive contributions.
I would like to call on Pema Chodron as a beautiful example of someone who found a teacher to aspire to emulate, whilst also being critical of their behaviour. Ani Pema is probably Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s most well known student. She trained with him for many years until his death in the eighties.
When she speaks of him she is quite aware of his questionable behaviour and conduct. She does not dismiss it as not important, but she also doesn’t let it get in the way of the value his teachings gave her. The most profound thing she noted about him was his ability to be kind to everyone he met. She never saw him write anyone off. It was his consistency in this regard that she admired and has spent her life training to emulate.
Make friends with yourself:
A lot of the stuff we say we ‘feel’ about ourselves are actually judgemental thoughts. I started doing a practice to understand this better and I’ve been stunned to realise how damn judgey I am of myself. This is a revelation because I’ve had an eight year practice of making friends with myself and I’m still not able to do it much of the time.
That is not a judgement.
So what’s the different? That’s me acknowledging where I still have skillful means to develop, humbly, because I see that attempting to ‘make myself a better person’ by being super aggressive towards myself just doesn’t work. We can’t transform our mind by using the same state of mind that got us where we are.
We have to learn how to extend kindness to ourselves, to see ourselves as works in progress and worthy of our own kindness and consideration.
Remember, no one does anything because they want to feel worse:
When we examine our own motivations we begin to see that everything we do we do because we want to be happy and comfortable and have an easy life. No one wants to feel frustrated, irritated, annoyed, bereft, downtrodden, anxious, angry, hurt, sad, lonely, picked-on etc. etc. etc.
Remembering this, we can have compassion for the biggest asshole we know.
It’s not about making an excuse for poor behaviour but acknowledging that everyone experiences suffering on some level and no one wants to.
It’s important, however, not to fall into the trap of pity. Pity comes from thinking we’re some how better than someone else, rather than equally as confused about what helps and what hurts. We might not be confused in the same particular way as someone else, but to think we aren’t just as human - just as flawed and challenged by the inconsistencies of life - would be arrogant.
The idea is to see that we’re all in this together. So no, we don’t keep someone in our life if they are causing us harm, but in cutting them out we are doing it from a place motivated by compassion rather than hatred or anger or righteousness.
These are three things I've found beneficial and crucial for my sanity and effectiveness in the world: find examples of the sort of person I want to be, be kind to myself, be kind to others. Seemingly simple and perhaps also obvious, but if it was everyone would be doing it.
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.