Today we have a lesson in history!
Or perhaps I should say some personal history that contains a lesson. As I am naturally loquacious however I will give away the ending up front just in case you miss it embedded in my rambling. Ok, here it is: be true to yourself. I know, I know…it’s cliche to even point out that it’s a cliche. So, perhaps a smarter way of saying this is, know who you are, know what you do best, and then do that! I have made this point previously—most recently in the article the impact positive childhood memories can have on adulthood. I wrote that article as we often focus on the impact of bad memories, and I wanted to suggest that it might in fact be more effective for personal transformation to focus on the good memories, or at least point out the profound impact good memories can have on us in ways that we do not always recognize. But what does it mean to “know who you are, know what you do best, and then do that?” I will explain this via my own experience. So, a little of the backstory to kick us off. As many of you know before my Buddhist journey I was studying improvisational music at the Victorian College of the Arts here in Melbourne, Australia. In fact, when I first met the man who was to become my mentor—the Tibetan lama Geshe Loden—I was in the planning phase of a performance piece that would combine music, dance, and moving images—this would have been June/July 1995. The work itself was to be an hour-long live performance that told the story of the migration of a pod of whales (without there being images of whales as this would be too obvious, I recall thinking). Although I was studying music at the time (now that I think about it), even back then I was interested in telling stories with an empathetic theme. I also remember that the sounds of the whales (to be played by different wind instruments) were really a metaphor for the cry of suffering. I imagined those deep sounds that whales make represented the collective groan of all beings. This all sounds rather pretentious now but back in the day, I thought it was quite interesting. I still remember the idea behind the combination of music, dance and images were to immerse the audience in the storytelling as much as possible but to leave enough space for an individual audience member to think for themselves (are you seeing a theme here?). By having the music minimalist in tone and the dance slow and smooth I felt this was possible. Suffice it to say, it was never performed (however, some kind of multi-media live thing is still something I would like to do someday). Then in the first six months of my art degree that I left the VCA and found myself in my own immersive experience—Buddhism (the exact details surrounding how I went from the VCA to living in a Buddhist monastery are book-length, not blog length…so I apologize for the jump-cut here). I slept, ate, and dreamt about it. I read everything I could get my hands on and wasn’t all that happy when my teacher had me learning about computers, working, and pulling weeds from the garden rather than what I wanted to do, which was to study Buddhist philosophy and integrate what I had learned with meditation. It went like this for the next 13 years—wanting to do one thing and being told to do another.
However by 2007, and because of my love of philosophy, I thought it might be a good idea to get a job in a university teaching. I felt that I could combine my vocation with employment. While I won’t go into the details of how this all took place again, it’s book-length, not blog length, I have found academic philosophy far too dry and by early 2011 I was totally spent, totally burnt out! I think this is in part due to the fact that I am not a natural academic and the nature of post-grad work in Australia at this time. To be sure, I love philosophy. I love the process of thinking deeply about a topic or issue and how this relates to life. Perhaps this is the key to the level of burnout occurring in the post-grad community? That is, because academic philosophy tends to be disconnected from a framework that allows for the integration of that knowledge into daily life it is only those that are inclined to a professional academic lifestyle that tends to make it through the program (perhaps that is the way it should be?). So, philosophy as a profession?…not for me. However, it does not follow from this that academia has something inherently wrong with it. No! It was just wrong for me. Moreover, there is a need for people to go and get Ph.D’s and help others by writing academic books, doing research, and so on. Just look at the wonderful things that someone like Prof. Robert Thurman has been able to accomplish from within the Academy! Truly wonderful. Inspiring. But it is not a place that works for everyone and I found this out only after giving it a shot. This last point is important so I will repeat it. Finding out what comes naturally is often a case of finding out what does not come naturally, and this will only become clear when you go out and experience life. I do not mean some kind of hedonistic voyage into the unknown; I mean from within the worldview of transforming your mind and helping others whenever possible—everything from simply being a good friend, to helping homeless people—find out what works for you by trying different things. Go out and experience different things. If you always wanted to do something, what’s stopping you? This is what I meant by, know who you are, know what you do best, and then do that! Of course, my Ph.D. is not completely dead, and I will continue to write about philosophy and leverage the research methods I have learned over the past three or four years to ground the stuff I make into the future. It’s just that getting a job in a university is not the best way forward for me.
This is the lesson I learned. So as I sit here writing this today I feel like I have come full-circle back to where I was circa-1995. But with a great deal more knowledge than the silly young boy pretending to make “art” and thinking he was sooo important! I will finish this article off with a question. If you could time-lapse your life what story would it tell?