Earlier this week, on Monday morning in fact, I left home to run a quick errand. I jumped into some workout sweats, did what I needed to do, and when I arrived back home, turned the key in the door to the main entrance of the house in no unusual way. Click. Nothing happens. That dreaded moment when the key just turns and turns to no end, and you realise that that tip has broken off in the lock.
I work from home, you see, so with it being around 10am, I still had a full day of work ahead of me, and my mind quickly raced to my laptop, which was locked inside of course. I messaged my housemate, asking her if any of the neighbours had a spare (not the case) and if she would be able to come home to let me in from the other side of the house. A no go too, considering she had just stepped into a sales meeting at the office, which had a tendency to last up to five hours in a busy week. The meeting had only just started. Yikes.
Taking a few deep breaths, and pausing for a moment, I realized I had my car keys with me at least, and with my brain starting to return to a normal state of rational decision making, I offered to fetch the spare key from her, as soon as she got out of the meeting. Knowing it could be five hours, but hoping it wouldn’t be, I decided to drive to her office building, which is conveniently located next to a series of restaurants and shops (something I wasn’t aware of, as I hadn’t been there before). I figured I would sit calmly at a coffee shop, waiting it out, while handling some “life admin”, like calling mom, getting back to friends who had reached out, updating the apps on my phone and generally not worrying myself too much about this, as I had absolutely no control over it happening.
As I went about trying to find a coffee shop, to my surprise I stumbled onto a bookstore, hosting a “September Sale” in fact. They had a series of books available at 50% off, which is enough to grab the attention of any bookworm like myself. The thing is, I’ve just returned from a three month stay in Brazil, you see, so cash isn’t exactly overflowing, so naturally my eyes were immediately drawn to one of two ‘bargain bins’ (or goldmines, depending on how you look at it) outside the entrance. On top of the pile of books in the bin to the left, a friendly face was staring back at me, namely, that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Art of Happiness, the 20th anniversary edition of his book with Howard Cutler, in fact, was being sold for R30 (around $2 USD) and I didn’t even hesitate to read the back cover, I just knew, for whatever reason, that I had to read it. While I was in Brazil, I had read his collaborative book with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Book of Joy), and I fell in love with their conversation, which was essentially a lesson in tolerance between those of different beliefs and spiritual paths. I’ve been curious to learn more ever since, but hadn’t quite known where to turn to find the correct piece of literature. After paying for the book and plopping myself down at the nearest coffee shop I eventually managed to find, I paged through the first chapter, realizing instantly that I was going to thoroughly enjoy it, in particular as it is a narrative between two key areas of interest for me: psychiatry and spirituality.
When I eventually got the spare keys from my housemate, earlier than anticipated I might add, I couldn’t get the book out of my mind, but had work responsibilities to tend to first of course. That night however, I ended up reading half of the book(!), finishing it no later than the following evening, while feeling slightly overwhelmed, joyful and just generally filled with so many new ideas on life. When a book is good, it’s good, and you can’t seem to put it down, and clearly this was the case. I found myself relentlessly scribbling notes and marking pages I felt were of value to where I’m at on the journey of life, and frankly, on my spiritual journey as well. While it contained many thoughts, lessons and ideas, I ended up making sixteen “dog ears” (folded corners) in the book, highlighting key paragraphs that I found fascinating, and wanted to write about and remind myself of. I really want to share those learnings with you, as perhaps it will also have some relevance to where you, or someone you know, is currently at in their lives. So here we are!
While many of the ideas in the book apply to the Buddhist tradition, what I love about the Dalai Lama, is that he also presents them in a way that makes sense to non-Buddhists, often answering these specific questions and addressing conventional scientific thought directly, as her shares his views. He does so flawlessly, without undermining other beliefs in any way – a delicate dance, if you ask me, but one he does very well nevertheless.
Here are the key takeaways I had from the delicate dance, which you will hopefully be able to connect with in some way too:
- Cultivate the things that bring you happiness, and eliminate the things that bring you suffering.
- A challenge is an opportunity. Dealing with someone you don’t get a long with, is an opportunity to practice patience and tolerance.
- Training the mind involves studying, learning, contemplation & meditation.
- Detail and try to understand your contribution to any problem you may have.
- We are all part of the community of humanity, which is 7.7 billion people big.
- The seed of compassion takes time to grow.
- The universe will guide and show you along the way. Breathe.
- Intimacy implies more than just relationship intimacy (or “the one”). It comes in many shapes and forms.
- It is unwise to attribute your behaviour and suffering to only this life.
- Explore the causal activities behind your suffering, as well as those behind your happiness.
- Training the mind, contrary to the narrow view of it being purely IQ related, also involves taking into account your intellect, heart and your feelings.
- Happy people are sociable, flexible, creative, and can better tolerate life’s frustrations.
- There is a sort of “mental unrest” in materialistic people.
- We should place more emphasis on how we respond in any situation, which can make a major difference to the outcome.
- A spiritual journey is not about self interest and showing off enlightenment.
- We should all be encouraging and promoting a spirit of exchange in every room that we find ourselves in.
As I’m writing this, I’m still astonished by the fact that something as simple as a single broken key (or a minor, irritating day-to-day occurrence) has the power to guide your day in a new direction, and in fact, lead you to something that you may never have crossed paths with in the first place. By taking a step back, and not getting overly worked up by the broken key, I managed to enjoy a totally unexpected experience with a leaning towards personal development, which not only helped me continue the personal work I’m doing around improving my general emotional maturity, but also doing so in a way that wasn’t forceful or in any way attempting to sway the way I view the world. It was a natural progression.
What’s changed for me since, is that I’ve adopted a new view towards letting each experience, bad or good, guide me in the direction I’m meant to go on as part of the journey of life, rather than getting engulfed or overwhelmed with emotion, or even falling into the “why is this happening to me” trap each time. I still wonder, and have done so late at night this week, just how often these kinds of things are happening to us, but we’re simply not paying enough attention to embrace it as part of the human experience. An experience, I might add, that we have pretty much no control over, and should be tackling a single day at a time.
– Shared in the spirit of exchange.