When I was in high school there were 500 people in my graduating class. Out of those 500 people I had two best friends and five other real friends. So I had a true connection with seven people and did not have a true connection with 493 people. Now I create stories and hope that 500 out of 500 people will appreciate the work. That is impossible. I don’t love most things I see or listen to, why should they? The truth is I should be happy with seven people being touched or amused by my work. I think it is okay to accept the fact that most people won’t get you. We don’t need to like each other so much. We need to be kind and respect each other.
Every day I live by only one rule, be a good guy. I am proud of the fact that for the most part I have tried to make the world a better place in small and large ways. I am even more proud of the fact that for the most part I have not ruined the world. I haven’t committed any acts of extreme violence. I don’t litter. I don’t hunt endangered species for sport. I support politicians who appear to want to make the lives of the less fortunate better and who are concerned about our environment. Most of them still make it worse a fair amount of the time, but they are giving it their best shot. I think that is all we can do–give it our best shot. Don’t be a jerk. Try to love everyone. Give more than you take. And do it despite the fact that you only really like about seven out of 500 people. Being cool to the other 493 people is a great thing to do because you want those same 493 people to not give you a hard time when you run into them while ordering your burrito at Chipotle or on an airplane or during an international conflict or just a potential road rage incident. Life will be better for all of us if we want all 500 to be happy.
There is no received wisdom in Buddhism, nothing we must accept purely on the basis of somebody else’s spiritual authority. The Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism must give up any belief that modern science disproves. The Buddha himself famously said, “Be a lamp unto yourselves,” and told his students they must test everything he said against their own experience. But it is easy to misinterpret this advice. Our modern egos are keen to take advantage of it.
While we shouldn’t accept what others say at face value, this doesn’t mean we should just accept what we tell ourselves. We have to test the teachings of Buddhism against our direct life experience, not against our opinions.
And while modern science can prove or disprove old beliefs about astronomy or human physiology, it cannot measure or test the nonmaterial. Buddhism values the rational mind and seeks not to contradict it in its own sphere. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Finally, it is the rare person who can navigate the spiritual path alone. While retaining our self-respect and judgment, we must be willing to accept the guidance, even leadership, of those who are further along the path. In a society that exalts the individual and questions the hierarchy of the teacher-student relationship, it is a challenge to find a middle way between too much self and not enough.
Art, instead of being an object made by one person, is a process set in motion by a group of people. Art’s socialized.
Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.
Once there were five hundred monkeys, one of whom thought he was very clever. One night this monkey saw the reflection of the moon in the lake. He proudly informed all the other monkeys, ‘If we go to the lake and collect the moon, then we will be the heroes who saved the moon.’ At first the other monkeys didn’t believe him. But when they saw with their own eyes that the moon had fallen into the lake, they decided to try to save it. They climbed a tree and held each other by the tail so they could reach the shimmering moon. Just as the last monkey was about to grab the moon, the branch broke and they all fell in the lake. They didn’t know how to swim and they all struggled in the water as the image of the moon shattered in the ripples. Driven by the hunger for fame and originality, we are like these monkeys, thinking that we are so clever in discovering things and convincing our fellow humans to see what we see, think what we think, driven by ambition to be the savior, the clever one, the seer of all. We have all kinds of small ambitions, such as impressing a girl, or big ambitions, such as landing in Mars. And time after time we end up in the water with nothing to hold on to and not knowing how to swim.
An idea comes — and you see it, and you hear it, and you know it…
We don’t do anything without an idea. So they’re beautiful gifts. And I always say, you desiring an idea is like a bait on a hook — you can pull them in. And if you catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful, beautiful day. And you write that idea down so you won’t forget it. And that idea that you caught might just be a fragment of the whole — whatever it is you’re working on — but now you have even more bait. Thinking about that small fragment — that little fish — will bring in more, and they’ll come in and they’ll hook on. And more and more come in, and pretty soon you might have a script — or a chair, or a painting, or an idea for a painting.
[They come], more often than not, in small fragments.
It’s about having a strange combination of high expectations for yourself, but for the things you’re capable of doing. It’s kind of unreasonable for you have high expectations about things that you have no business even trying, for example: “I’m mad at myself because I tried to run a marathon today and it didn’t work out.” There’s no reason to think that you would be able to do something that other people have spent years preparing for. It’s not realistic, yet you beat yourself up about it, so then you feel incapable of doing other things.
Go a little easier on yourself, and in so doing, be prepared to make and do things that might seem silly at first. Just keep moving: don’t ruminate and stare at the wall. Don’t just play with your phone: go out and produce something.
It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.
When an artform is created, the question is, how do you come to it? Not, how does it come to you. Beethoven’s music is not going to come to you; or the art of Picasso won’t come to you or Shakespeare. You have to go to it. When you go to it, you get the benefits of it.
What we hate in ourselves, we’ll hate in others. To the degree that we have compassion for ourselves, we will also have compassion for others. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at. Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to.