We are all leaders, in that each of us is leading our life.
We have no choice. We are making decisions moment-to-moment, even if it’s to butter our toast. To lead our lives well, we need to be intimately involved with our own journey.
It’s healthy to meditate because it’s a way to move forward and have vision. We can take the proper posture, let ourselves be, and get in touch with the unconditional health of the mind. That is meditation.
Even in the beginning, as we struggle less with thoughts, emotions and sense perceptions, we experience a glimmer of inherent nonaggression that allows us to be at peace. When we feel upset, depressed, or frustrated, this feeling of space and accommodation is challenged, and our relationship to it shifts. Meditating is an unbiased way to strengthen our confidence in it.
Such confidence in our inherent nonaggression cannot be acquired, but only uncovered. If you feel that you have to create it, you are experiencing a tinge of aggression. We’re talking about aggression that manifests as an innate feeling of disharmony and uneasiness. It is a dualistic root that requires us to struggle. We are somehow not content with what we are experiencing.
The notion of gentleness in the Shambhala tradition is that we do not have to manufacture an aggressive state of confidence. In this case, confidence is something we already have. The Tibetan word is ziji. Zi means “glory, brilliance,” Ji is “splendor.” This word describes the inherent radiance of the human heart. Although having confidence in yourself can be helpful, ziji is different. This confidence embodies our natural radiance and naturally extends to others.
Ziji is a sign that we trust our own being, which allows us to embrace life fully. It dissolves the veil between the spiritual and the genuine. That means we’re willing to put our nose a little bit further into the wind of complete non-knowing. The Shambhala teachings call this “living in the challenge.” People who are comfortable with that sense of not-knowing are able to do heroic things. When they look at challenges, solutions arise.
From the Buddhist point of view, nirvana is attained through suffering, but for that to happen, we have to develop our minds, and we have to connect with others. Both are challenging for different reasons. It’s challenging to connect to our own emotions because they can be destabilizing.
The mind is a vast place, easy to get lost. Relating with others provokes us, and sometimes people are just difficult. We have to connect with how they feel. In order to do that, we have to know how we feel. To suffer is unavoidable, but it is hard to lead when you’re trying not to get hurt. Great lives are led fearlessly by applying the loving kindness of an open heart and mind. That’s how we can be both resilient and helpful.
Living in the challenge means that it is easier to accept making relative mistakes. If we are able to keep a little bit of psychological distance and accept a mistake as a healthy part of the journey, we are able to learn from it and move on. Those mistakes are like the sharpening stone of the sword. If we want the sword to be sharp, we always need a sense of what it’s rubbing against. That’s where self-reflection comes in. We use it to establish our intention. When you awaken, you take time to reflect on areas in your life to develop or improve, including relationships with friends and family: How will I lead my life today? The more you can appreciate your fortunate existence, the fresher each day will be.
Confidence in our forward movement infuses life with curiosity, wonder, and play. Such splendidness comes from a mind that is doubtless about its inherent peace and strength. Such trust transforms selfish tendencies into selflessness, which is naturally expressed through a light-hearted attitude, a sign of an open mind, a spacious and gentle environment in which we can see more clearly. That is the meaning of the word enlightenment: “full illumination.” When something is fully illuminated, we see everything. Partial illumination is essentially ignorance.
When our confidence is obscured, engaging in life is a process of hope and fear. If we can release ourselves from this claustrophobic trap, we have vision. We can imagine success. We become fearless warriors who see where they are going. When we believe in human dignity, we can imagine a good human existence. Imagining success, we are riding the tip of the arrow for all humanity. Not only can we lead our own life in an uplifted way, we can also uplift the lives of others. This is windhorse—inherent trust in the fundamental goodness of what’s happening, as opposed to the attitude that things are only going to get worse. It is hard to have vision when we’re afraid to look up. In that case, instead of radiating confidence, we tend to spread anxiety, hesitation, and fear.
In order for fearless vision to occur, we are not afraid to acknowledge space. First, in meditation, we experience a sense of complete fathomlessness that is always available. This space by which everything can be accommodated is saturated with nonaggression, a natural part of our being. When we accommodate everything, we appreciate everything; no detail is inconsequential. Familiarity with that space gives us precision and power in leading our life.
Sometimes we become too myopic to allow ourselves to experience our own vastness. That is how we create prefabricated tunnels through which we run around endlessly. These psychological tunnels are what we call habitual patterns, and they have no jail-keeper but ourselves. When we “think vast,” they disintegrate in the face of compassion and brilliance.
Our space and radiance are happening all the time, but habitual patterns are usually obscuring them. Meditation and self-reflection are the keys to revealing them. Whether you feel inspired, uplifted, or in the dumps—just look at the quality of your mind and heart. Recall the moment when someone inspired your decision not to escape from life, but to lead it genuinely. Then relax, and allow your brilliance to occur.
As meditators, we cannot simply hide away in our own realization. That inward personal experience is sacred, but just by being human, we have a responsibility to lead. Whatever the phase of our life and practice, we can perpetually develop our leadership skills, the ability to genuinely engage with our lives and inspire others. If we can open our minds, we can open up to what is happening right in front of us. That’s how we gain knowledge and realization.
As genuine leaders of life, we are able to uplift any environment by connecting to our own magnanimity and letting other people into our field of experience. We need to be humble and bite off what we can, and at the same time allow ourselves to think bigger. Whenever we are able to contact our own confidence, we are also creating a sense of community: we are touching that timeless quality in everyone.
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Author: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Editor: Travis May
Photo: elephant archives