The Dalai Lama offers us a key to being mature.
Do you respond maturely even in the most challenging situations?
Or, as many people demonstrate, are there times when you just lose it—and you tell yourself “that’s the way life is?”
I will suggest to you that “losing it” is just another form of immaturity. Yes, I know . . . some of you are losing it right now in response to what I just said. Go ahead, quit reading this article or send me a nasty email in an act of rebellion. Better yet, throw your computer against the wall—and then you can’t send me a nasty email.
Okay—here’s a quiz. Imagine this . . . you are walking barefoot across a wooden floor, heading from one side of a room to the other side. You step on a nail that is sticking up through the floor. It goes right through your foot. What do you do? You scream, “F # @ K”!
Next—imagine this. You are walking barefoot across a wooden floor inside of a monastery where you are attending a meditation retreat. The Dalai Lama is teaching. He also is personally greeting the students one at a time. As you approach the Dalai Lama, just as you take your last step before kneeling in front of him, you step on a nail that is sticking up through the floor. It goes right through your foot. What do you do? You inhale quickly and as you exhale you say, “A h h h h . . . your Holiness.”
I just did this. Well, not exactly, but more or less. I was walking with my wife, Hannah, on the beach in Hawaii. We were wearing bathing suits and no shoes. We saw a man and woman sitting with a very young boy who had a puppy in his lap. We went over to say hello to the puppy. I bent down to pet the puppy, flexing my legs so that I could kneel on the sand. But right under my knees, the sand was covering some very sharp lava rock. As I transferred all my weight onto my knees the lava rock cut right through my skin on both knees—three deep cuts on my right knee and one on my left knee. It really hurt. I just let out a loud, “Ahhhhh, wow, what a cute puppy.” No one knew I was hurt until I stood up and revealed two bloody legs from my knees to my ankles.
Here’s my point. We have a choice in how we behave, even in moments of pain and disappointment. But, as a culture, we seem to say that it’s okay to lose our tempers or raise our voices or throw tantrums. We have all sorts of metaphors we use to justify our immature behaviors. We talk about our “brains getting hijacked,” or “flipping our lids,” or “losing our cool,” or the “runaway train.” Each of these metaphors is a way of saying, “But I was upset and therefore my immature behavior is acceptable.”
Now, I’m NOT saying we should suppress our emotions. Cry when you need to cry. Get angry when you need to get angry. I’m saying that we can express ourselves in mature ways or immature ways. We have a choice. It is actually possible to override our immature emotional outbursts if we think it is possible.
By the way, my ideas about the Dalai Lama are not completely fabricated. Years ago, when the Dalai Lama came to Vermont, the monks attending to him lived with me in my home. During this period in my life I was a ski instructor. When the monks had time off to enjoy themselves, one of my responsibilities was to teach them how to ski. I still remember watching them—largely out of control—skiing down the mountain in their flowing purple robes. Even when they fell, they expressed themselves maturely.