Relaxing with Rob

Commencement Wisdom

April 26, 2020 Rob Sepich Season 1 Episode 45
Relaxing with Rob
Commencement Wisdom
Show Notes Transcript

You don’t have to attend a graduation ceremony to benefit from commencement speakers. 

Here’s a link to Anne Lamott’s 2003 address at the University of California, Berkeley that explores mindfulness and compassion with humor and insight. I believe that in 2020, her comments have become even more relevant.

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[ music ] . Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. I like commencement addresses that dare to say more than platitudes like, "The past is behind you; the future lies ahead." You know, ones you can learn something from, that stand the chance of improving your life. When you're sitting in the audience, whether it's in a cramped arena or under a hot sun, you're probably focused on other things than the speech. But if you can later read it or watch it online, it stands the chance of sinking in a bit more fully. In episode 39, "Joy of an Average Day," I mentioned Conan O'Brien's address at Harvard in 2000 that I read about and then I went online to read in its entirety. I really liked his idea about success that I paraphrased. Here's his quotation: "Success is a lot like a bright white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it." Well, my favorite address so far is from an author I've always admired, and I got to attend one of her readings: Anne Lamott. In 2003, she delivered the address at the University of California, Berkeley. Since then, I would ask my students to read it for our last class each semester, and we'd talk about her ideas as they relate to what we covered in the course. I freely admit my confirmatory bias for why I chose it, because she so closely expresses my beliefs. She just does it with more eloquence and wit. So today, I'd like to share some of her ideas with you. And although I don't think I can improve upon them, I will offer some applications. And if you like what you hear, please read her full speech. And I've placed a link to it in the show notes. She mentions that the culture tells us a lot about what to value, what to consider "success." You know, how to look good, how to create the illusion that you have power over people or situations. How these external measures of success will save you. But it turns out, in her words, that "the culture lies." Regarding what most of us seem to spend our lives looking for, in her opinion, [quote], "You can't buy it, lease it, rent it, date it, or apply for it." She believes that what you're looking for to feed your spirit is actually already inside you. She insists that, "you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how you did in school." The most powerful affirmation I've ever taught students is only three words long: "I am enough." This definitely flies in the face of our culture. So one application of this is for you to say this a few times a day and see if you can start to believe it. Maybe not completely, but I think that if we can accept this to any extent, we become at least somewhat inoculated to the lies that our culture tells us about what's important. We might not become immune to them, but we can at least recognize and evaluate them more critically. Lamott talks about many ways we can find what she calls "spirit." And she says that [quote], "We can see spirit made visible in people being kind to each other, especially when it's a really busy person taking care of a needy, annoying person. Or even if it's terribly important you, stopping to take care of pitiful, pathetic you. In fact, that's often when we see spirit most brightly." Well, to me that's an outstanding definition of self-compassion. Many of us, myself included, have an easier time extending compassion to others than to ourselves. We talked about that way back in episode 3, "Tend and Befriend." When I learned from a student in Zumba how to allow others to support me for something I was going through. It felt risky, but it was so worth it. And I remain grateful for that lesson. Lamott talks about common themes of different spiritual traditions, and she notes that taking care of the poor is one of them. And she doesn't just mean financial poverty. She's referring to people who are poor in spirit. People who are, in her words, "worried, depressed, dancing as fast as they can, whose kids are sick or whose retirement savings are gone. There is great loneliness among us, life-threatening loneliness." And since we don't have to go far to find them, we do what we can, [quote] "what good people have always done: You bring thirsty people, water; you share your food, you try to help the homeless find shelter. You stand up for the underdog." So an application here is something a young professional I admire routinely does. Instead of feeling guilty or fragile for her white privilege, she uses it to advocate for the needs of people who don't have her power. And if you can relate, don't downplay your privilege. Put it to good use. And you might remember just last time in episode 44, "Simplify," when I suggested what to do with people who drain you of energy. Well, Lamott concurs when she says, "You may need to upgrade your friends. You need to find people who laugh gently at themselves, who remind you gently to lighten up." With experience, I've learned to reduce stress by laughing at myself. My mistakes are a constant source of entertainment for me, as well as for those who notice them. So I hope that you too can "gently lighten up." Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon. [ music ]