David Nichtern is the founder of Dharma Moon. His recent blog post, Redefining Success Through Mindfulness, draws on Buddhist principles to redefine success.
How do you define success? What makes you feel successful? What makes you feel satisfied in life?
I know I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I notice that I feel more satisfied when I’ve had a productive day. Why would that be? One aspect seems to be the need for growth. When we’re productive, we grow. Our work is producing something as we connect with others in collaborations. But there’s another side to it. If my ego needs to be validated by being productive, then my satisfaction is dependent on external events. That means my satisfaction will be “up and down” based on my productivity.
David was interviewed for this blog by MJ Ruff, an Oglala Lakota Indian from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. See what you think about these points they discussed:
What drew David to Buddhism was a recognition of connection. Connection? …to what? Connection is multi-faceted. We can develop healthier and more complete connections with ourselves, others, and nature. I think we can see the value in this. How quickly we forget though. What value does connection have in your life?
David says that through Buddhism, we learn that a career can be fueled by Dharma, which points us to a truer nature of reality. Dharma can elevate the principles that inform how we conduct ourselves. One aspect of true reality is connectedness, such as in relationships. How could we create careers fueled by this truth?
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was one of several people who brought Buddhism to America. David learned from and was influenced by him. Two things he introduced to David were spiritual materialism and Shambhala warriorship.
- Spiritual materialism describes the negation of spirit that upholds the material world as superior.
- Shambhala warriorship is about bravery, confidence, and authenticity; it has nothing to do with violence. Rather, it’s imbued both with gentleness and fearlessness.
Don’t we all get lost in spiritual materialism? When we do, we can feel lost in life. Why? Because it’s illusory. A truer reality is found in the spirit. Shambhala warriorship moves us in that direction. Developing the bravery to face our lives leads to connection and a truer reality. We find our authentic selves. Can you be gentle and fierce at the same time?
Living in an in-between state:
“Bardo” means in-between. For example, it’s how to negotiate an in-between state, between life and death, toward truth. Another type of Bardo is the kind we experience in our everyday lives through the numerous experiences of transition we experience everyday. David says that the Bardo is a tremendous opportunity for us to experience reality as it is. It creates a gap in the continuity we feel and forces us to look at things with fresh eyes.
I’ve found that the ability to live in an in-between state is an extremely important quality for warriors to develop. At a fundamental level, it’s a state between grasping for comfort and rejecting stress. Can you live in such a state? If so, what would it look like?
Failure or success:
David emphasizes that how we treat failure is very unproductive. They demotivate us. Surrendering to the wisdom of failure offers us an opportunity to learn and grow into warriors. If we learn from our failures, then how can we see them as defeats? David clarifies that surrender doesn’t mean “giving up” or “that we’re not worthy”. Rather, by “surrender” he means “opening”. If we surrender properly, then our heart opens. We don’t surrender to the ego; we surrender to compassion and wisdom.
Surrendering as an opening, opens us to the possibility of success. An incredibly important aspect of warriorship is changing our relationship with failure. It is an opportunity for growth. How have failures informed and directed your life?
MJ says the ultimate goal for Lakota people is simplicity. They pray that people “get simple.”
David shares that within Buddhism, the highest state of mind is called the “ordinary mind”. I also like the Zen idea of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Simplicity and valuing the ordinariness of life can move us beyond spiritual materialism toward more meaningful lives. Can you see the extraordinary in the ordinary?
Practice Tip: Warriorship
How can you apply all these qualities in life? Here are some ideas and questions:
- Connection: Constantly tell yourself you exist in relationships. You have a relationship with the air you breathe, with the chair you sit on, with the person you have a conversation with… How does a focus on relationships connect you to a truer reality?
- Warriorship (fierce gentleness): Can you be fierce and gentle at the same time? Yes you can. Be fierce by confronting others about your needs, but do it with gentleness, kindness, and caring. Can you be both fierce and gentle?
- In-between: Notice your tendency to grasp for comfort by wanting to resolve stressful situations quickly. Notice your tendency to reject stress when it occurs. Don’t grasp or reject; remain in-between. Relax into it and breathe. Can you be patient and see what happens?
- Redefining failure: You will make mistakes and fail many times as you learn. How could it be otherwise? Redefine mistakes and failures as necessary for your growth. Can you welcome them?
- Simplicity: Why are you striving for complexity in your life, surrounding yourself with so many material possessions? Are you tying your self-worth in it? What would your life be like if you simplified it?