Wisdom and levity on the path to wellness

- June 23, 2017

Ajahn Brahm speaks on campus. (Matt Reeder photo)
Ajahn Brahm speaks on campus. (Matt Reeder photo)

Anyone who attended Ajahn Brahm’s talk at Dal on Monday could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled into a stand-up comedy performance rather than a lecture on finding happiness.

The British-born, Australia-based Buddhist monk, author and teacher treated the 100 or so people gathered in the Rowe Building’s Potter Auditorium to nearly two hours of his unconventional wit and wisdom.

The lecture, formally titled “The Noble Eight-Fold Path to a Happy Life,” was presented as part of Dal’s Work Well strategy — a three-year initiative launched last fall aimed at bolstering wellness resources and supports for faculty and staff.

Brahm’s talk centred mainly around stories from his own life, many of them delivered for maximum laughs. In between the many jokes, though, he delivered insights drawn from Buddhist teachings into the ways people can learn to live more happily.

He spoke about the usefulness of lowering your expectations, the need for more kindness and compassion, learning how to feel (rather than think) more, the perils of perfectionism, and the wisdom of admitting your own mistakes.

The power of mistakes

To illustrate the latter, Brahm told a story about the time he built a brick wall that is now part of the monastery he runs in western Australia. He had taken great care with each brick along the way, but when he stood back to take a look at the whole after completing it, he noticed two crooked bricks. Too expensive to fix, he had to accept the imperfection and move on.

Later, after telling that story at a construction conference, Brahm said someone came up to him and joked that there is a secret in the building industry: whenever a builder or a brick layer makes a mistake like that, they tell their clients it’s a feature and charge an extra $3,000.

 “I thought, ‘that’s a beautiful end to that story because mistakes are just features. They make you lovable, they make you real, human.’ That’s the wisdom and virtue to notice that life is kind and good if you don’t try to be perfect.”

As light-hearted as many of Brahm’s stories were, he also addressed some heavier topics such as euthanasia and abortion during a question-and-answer period following his lecture.

Brahm is the author of several books on mindfulness and meditation, including Bear Awareness: Questions and Answers on Taming Your Wild Mind, Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy, and Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook.

Organized by Biology professor Arunika Gunawardena, Psychology and Neuroscience professor Dennis Phillips, and Human Resources’s Janice MacInnis, last week’s talk marked Brahm’s second time on campus. He delivered a series of four lectures here in 2014.

Words of wisdom

"When you demand of life what it can't give you, you are disappointed."

"Too many people in the world are going somewhere."

"If you're wrong, admit it."

"When you want some more, you can't enjoy what you have."


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