In an interview, Lynn Jurich, the founder and CEO of the solar energy company, Sunrun, said:
Every morning my meditation is: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.” I repeat it every morning: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.”
This struck me as a deeply wise and self-compassionate saying. It also struck me as being one that’s very much in line with key teachings from the Buddhist tradition.
Normally we don’t think of all people and all circumstances as being our allies. Often we experience ourselves as being in opposition to others, and see circumstances as being against us, or at least not being as we would want them to be.
The interviewer asked Jurich whether she’d see even her business competitor, Elon Musk, as an ally. She said he would, citing the fact that he runs his own solar electric company out of a concern for the climate.
Perhaps the interview was curtailed, or perhaps Jurich thought one example was enough, but there are of course plenty of other ways that she could see Musk as an ally. For example, if he comes out with an improved solar project or a great advertising campaign, then that encourages Jurich’s own company to do better. If she feels jealous of Musk for his successes, then there’s something to learn there about the painful nature of jealousy and the need for patience.
An Old Teaching
Jurich’s “All people and all circumstances are my allies” may even have come from the Buddhist tradition. Certain Buddhist teachings emphasize the practice of meeting adversity as an opportunity to learn.
For example, the 8th century Indian teacher Shantideva wrote:
…just like treasure appearing in my house
Without any effort on my behalf to obtain it,
I should be happy to have an enemy
For he assists me in my conduct of Awakening.
And because I am able to practice (patience) with him,
He is worthy of being given
The very first fruits of my patience,
For in this way he is the cause of it.
Shantideva’s view is that without adversity it’s impossible to develop patience. You should therefore be grateful to have an enemy.
A later formulation of this principle, this one from Tibet, says, “transform all mishaps into the path of awakening.”
But Jurich’s form of this teaching is more appealing to me because it encapsulates so much, so neatly, in just eight words. It’s perfect, in fact, for memorizing and using as a “mantra.”
Creating a Meditation Practice
Jurich is a meditator, and she’s said that she’s brought “All people and all circumstances are my allies” into her morning meditation practice. This is a vital step, because we can read advice like this and get a pleasant glow from encountering the idea, but not put it into practice. To take a teaching like this on board we really have to etch it into our brains through focus and repetition.
Here’s a test: if you close your eyes right now, can you remember Jurich’s mantra, word for word? Or do you just remember the general idea? The problem is that our attention moves on, and we forget not just the form of the words, but even the message they encapsulate.
If you don’t make an effort to remember this phrase by repeating it in a focused way, you’ll forget all about it.
So first try memorizing the words. See if you can get it exact. Then leave it a few minutes and try again. Test to make sure that the phrase is actually stored in your long-term memory. You may have to do this many times before they stick.
Next, find five minutes in which you can close your eyes and turn this teaching into a meditation. Just drop the phrase “All people and all circumstances are my allies” into your mind. Let the words just sink in. Then say them again. Sometimes, as you’re doing this, briefly remember people and circumstances that try your patience. Don’t go into the whole background, justifying to yourself why you’re angry. Just remind yourself of some challenge, and remind yourself, “All people and all circumstances are my allies.” This person is not an enemy, but an ally. This circumstance is challenging, but it can help me learn and become a better person.
Making This Your Life
Let’s say you keep doing this practice for days, weeks, even years. Probably a lot of the time you’ll still get angry with people or things, and then catch yourself. “Oh, yeah. ‘All people and all circumstances are my allies.’ ” Perhaps sometimes you’ll be aware that you’re getting into a situation that’s likely to be challenging, and you’ll be able to go into it with your heart open, knowing that it’s an opportunity to learn.
I’ve only just begun working with this mantra. I’ve been memorizing it, turning it into a meditation practice, and putting it into practice. But already it’s helping me to feel more at peace with the challenges of my life. Even as I’m writing this article I’m being interrupted repeatedly by my son’s near-constant questioning. And I remember that these interruptions are my ally. They give me an opportunity to maintain love rather than express irritation. They give me an opportunity to communicate more skillfully, and to learn from my mistakes when I fail to do so. They give me an opportunity to be a better person.