When I had the honor of teaching at Jordan High School in Long Beach, I made a sign and posted on the wall right above the whiteboard at the front of the room. It was a statement that I have found to be true throughout my 27 years of recovery. It said “The only thing that separates the person you are from the person you want to be, are the actions you take.” I wanted my students to be their own voice in the world and to remove and obstacles that prevented them from becoming the person they wanted to be.
I often tell people that am fortunate to have had so many of my dreams come true. Coming from homelessness and addiction, my life has been transformed into a meaningful one that tries to benefit others. I was able to reunite and raise my daughters, become a counselor, get a graduate degree, take low-income kids to Europe, teach, become a monastic, and cultivate a meaningful spiritual life. In essence, though I have a lot of work yet to do, I have become a person I want to be. I have stopped being a drain on humanity and become a contributor (though a small one).
Clearly, if you have seen my picture, this transformation was not due to my good looks. Nor was it a result of brilliant mind and philosophy. I did not happen because I got the message, or because I was willing to learn. Wisdom, understanding and good advise are helpful, but without action they cannot transform a life. My life changed because I listened to the good advise and then was able to transform that into action. I somehow walked through my fear, suited up, showed up, and did my best to follow through with the actions I thought were healthy and helpful. There is a saying in the recovery programs “You can’t live yourself into right thinking, but you can live yourself into right thinking.” This puts the emphasis on action. Now mindless or impulsive action is not beneficial for change. What I am talking about is mindful action. It is becoming willing to and then actually doing the things that we know will improve our life.
I believe that we all have the ability to become the person we want to be. Anyone of us can easily make a list of 5 things that we could do that would improve our life. That list would not even take long to complete. Though often deep inner wisdom is challenging to uncover, you will find that making this list is not. What is difficult for so many of us is actually doing the list. We may start and even make some progress. However, that can soon fade. Why are so many of us resistant to do the very things we know would improve our life? The answer to this I believe is one of the great purposes of our lives.
To remove the obstacles (in Buddhism we use the delusions) that prevent us from living a meaningful life is usually a lifetime/s work. However, it is possible to make progress that is tangible relatively quickly. For me it was possible with daily commitments and taking small, attainable steps. I would take a little time every morning to set my intentions for the day. Then I would to my best to follow through with them. At the end of the day I would review my actions and see which were beneficial and which were not. Without judging myself, simply looking clearly and honestly at them. If some of my actions were unskillful (this includes speech), I would try to see a more productive way of handling the situation. If I did something I need to make amends for or correct, I would note that and do it as soon as possible. All of the positive actions would also be noted and reinforced for their benefit. Then in the morning, I would simply review, set my intention, and do my best to follow through with productive actions that I hope will be of benefit to myself and others
I make mistakes everyday. I have so much work to do. However, my experience has been that when I combine action with good intention, I sometimes arrive at skillful means. It is that skillful means that has given me much peace and real meaning in my life. I am reflecting on this now as am mindful that my personal practice is not simply meditating quietly in my room, it is in every action I take. I need to remember the lessons I once taught if I am going to live a meaningful, mindful life that can be of benefit to others. This life is a true gift – as are all of you my precious brothers and sisters. It is with a heart filled with gratitude that I thank all of you for your kindness.