No one has ever become poor by giving. ~Anne Frank
Recently I completed my first Shambhala class, Ruling Your World, based on Sakyong Mipham’s book of the same name. The class is a wonderful teaser on the Way of Shambhala, including an introduction to the four mythical creatures encountered on the path to enlightenment. We learned about cultivating the contentment of the tiger, the delight of the lion, the clear-seeing equanimity of the garuda, and the playful wisdom of the dragon in harnessing windhorse, the wish-fulfilling jewel, where real confidence and competence originate.
The book and the class begin with a contemplation of the “me” plan, essentially the way we interact with the world from the moment we awake in our attempt to have our needs met and to achieve happiness:
When we are confused about the source of happiness, we start to blame the world for our dissatisfaction, expecting it to make us happy. Then we act in ways that bring more confusion and chaos into our life. When our mind is busy and discursive, thinking uncontrollably, we are engaging in a bad habit. We are stirring up the mud of jealousy, anger, and pride. Then the mind has no choice to but become familiar with the language of negativity and develop it further.
When desire of anger takes our mind and says, “You’re coming with me,” we become paupers. The pauper wakes up each morning with the thought “What about me? Will I get what I want today?” This meditation resonates through our day like a heartbeat. We think, “Will this food make me happy?” “Will this movie make me happy?” “Will this person make me happy?” “Will this new sweater make me happy?” “What about me?” becomes the motivating force of our activity.
This significantly increased my awareness of just how devoted I am to my own “me” plan. I’m talking Bette Midler in Beaches “But enough about me, what do you think of me” here. Just one example is how I approached drinking. Basically every time I took a drink in hand, I was on the “me” plan. My mind was singularly focused on whether this drink (or the next, or the next) would make me happy, make me more likeable to those around me, improve my experience of the world. While I seemed to be interacting with those around me, I lost actual awareness of them and withdrew into my own world. And the result was always the same.
As the Sakyong points out, the “me” plan is actually the origin of all suffering and conversely, getting off the “me” plan and contemplating how we can benefit others is the (perhaps counterintuitive) path to happiness. He encourages us to take this on for just 10% of the time.
For 10% of the day, we can consider how to be beneficial to others. Like continually retuning to the breath in meditation, when the craziness of life sweeps me back to the “me” plan, I (attempt to) return my awareness to benefiting others.
One way I decreased my dedication to the “me” plan was to stop drinking. But, since the class, I began to explore other ways, from the extreme to the miniscule, that I could benefit others. Here is a working list; feel free to add to it:
- Call, Skype, text, tweet, Facebook, or smoke signal a friend who is going through tough times (and who isn’t these days?)
- Or, if silence and solitude is what someone needs, being generous enough to give that to him or her
- Volunteer: anything from an hour at a homeless shelter to giving up my seat on the subway to someone who needs it more
- Making a donation to a charity or cause I believe in
- Dedicating my meditation or yoga practice or run to the benefit of someone else
- Stopping myself the moment I am about to gossip, criticize unproductively, or trash talk
- “Flashing” compassion toward someone who normally causes me to shut down
- Telling someone I love him or her
- Forgiving someone (really)