A while back I heard from a woman who seemed concerned that my life as a Buddhist must be very dull — just meditating and “being good” all the time, I guess. I think she thought I’d be a very boring person to hang out with, and maybe she was expressing her own fears about getting drawn in to Buddhist practice.
Tonight I just came back from a comedy improv show, where I was blown away by the humor and good humor of the performers. I had a blast: not perhaps what this woman had in mind.
I wrote and told her that for me, Buddhism is a set of principles and guidelines for living your life, not a set of rules. I said that I could boil down some of the guiding principles of my life as something like:
- Be in your body so that you don’t get lost in your head.
- Don’t believe everything you think. Not all the stories you tell yourself are true.
- If your stories disempower you and make you suffer they’re probably not true.
- Take responsibility for all your thoughts, actions, and feelings.
- Realize that you have a choice in every moment about how you respond.
- Keep asking: “Is there’s anything I’m doing that’s suppressing my happiness and wellbeing?” And see if you can stop doing that thing.
- Remember: Life is short. Be kind.
- There’s always something you can appreciate in any situation.
- Stay in touch with your heart, but check in with your rational mind because feelings can be misleading.
- Give yourself the same compassion you give to people you love.
- Be true to your values; it’s not your job to please people.
- To be honest is often the best way to be kind to yourself and others.
- Apologizing when you’ve done something unskillful is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Keep asking: “Is what I’m about to do conducive to my long-term benefit and welfare?”
- Helping others is usually more conducive to happiness than focusing only on your own needs.
- Don’t try and define yourself. You’re not definable.
Together, these principles almost amount to a statement of personal philosophy. Any such philosophical statement includes the principles by which you live — or at least aim to live — your life. I’m actually going to print this list out right now, because I need to keep reminding myself of how I aspire to live my life. It’s not about rules, or “being good.” It’s about living life in a way that brings a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, and connectedness.
What would your top three or four guidelines for life be?