Friday, August 10, 2007

Always Begin Again



Of New Beginnings and Commencements

In our colleges all around the globe our graduands, or graduates to be, have been informed of their results. They have arrived at a significant stage in their lives, a goal achieved, or better still a significant milestone on a journey that may lead to further academic or life achievement. For modern humankind graduation ceremonies or commencements have become a singular rite of passage, a particular acknowledgement of progress, a statement of “Well done young man, or young lady, you are growing up and becoming an important key to the progress of our modern society.” When I was at college many years ago I was chosen to give the address on behalf of the graduating students in response to the speech of the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Dermot Ryan. It was a particular honour and privilege for me to do so. I have always loved public speaking since then and have done quite a bit of it in the meantime – it’s a skill in itself that is learnt very much in practice and by listening to others.

Anyway, why am I reminded of this? Well, a good number of my past pupils graduate each year and it brings my mind back to commencement speeches. Also I was reading lately a little about that great entrepreneur Steve Jobs who is the founder and CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios. Not that I was ever a computer head mind you, rather I look on my p.c. as I do my car merely a means to an end. Also I have a dislike of Macs as I’m too p.c. oriented and find them a little awkward to use though Darren Wogan (a past pupil) and I managed to conquer Quark 4.1 on an iMac for publishing our School Yearbook two years back. I swore I’d never touch a Mac again. Apologies to all you Mac users out there, and indeed to Steve Jobs, and to all you graphics people - it’s my own ignorance I know! What caught my attention with respect to Steve Jobs was his persistence in the face of complete failure, his refusal to give into such failure and his starting anew from scratch to become a millionaire, or billionaire rather, for the second time. Also what riveted my attention was his rather Buddhist take on life, an appreciation of life that is close to my own heart.

Steve Jobs was chosen to give the Commencement address at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California USA on June 12, 2005. His marvellous speech is on the internet, the theme being quite simply “Find what you love” and take it from there. This is excellent advice for all you graduands out there. Here is a brilliant quote from Steve’s commencement speech:

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

This is exactly what the Buddhists mean by acknowledging Death or making friends with death. It is far from being morbid. Once one acknowledges death as part of life, not as the end of life – rather part and parcel of living only then do you begin to embrace life and to live it to the full. Steve went on in this speech to tell about how he had been diagnosed with cancer and how he fought back and is now fully recovered.

Then he made the following profoundly meaningful comments, also Buddhist in tone:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I don’t normally quote at such length in these pages, but aren’t the two paragraphs above mind-blowing? Of all the books I have on meditation my favourite is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Rider, 1992) by Sogyal Rinpoche whom it was my privilege to hear speak on meditation and Buddhism at DCU in early summer 2006 about which I wrote in these pages around that time. It appears to me that Steve Jobs has swallowed whole Rinpoche’s wisdom, the wisdom of beautiful Tibetan Buddhism. You will find Steve Jobs’ speech along with many other commencement addresses at Humanity

Above is a picture of Steve Jobs giving the commencement address at Standford University, 2005

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