Selections from Self, Gautama Buddha
If a person holds oneself dear, let one watch oneself carefully.
The wise should be watchful during at least one of the three watches.
Self is the master of self; who else could be the master?
With self a well-controlled a person finds a master such as few can find.
Bad actions and actions harmful to ourselves are easy to do;
what is beneficial and good, that is very difficult to do.
By oneself is wrong done; by oneself one suffers;
By oneself is wrong left undone; by oneself is one purified.
Purity and impurity come from oneself; no one can purify another.
Daniel Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. Dan’s 2007 book, Stumbling on Happiness, spent 6 months on the New York Times bestseller list, has being translated into more than 30 languages, and was awarded the Royal Society’s General Book Prize for best science book of the year. In 2010, Dan hosted and co-wrote the award-winning PBS television series This Emotional Life, whose premiere was watched by more than 10 million viewers.
He gave a recent Ted Talk entitled: The Psychology of Your Future Self.
He claims that all of us are walking around with an illusion:
“an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end, that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives.”
To prove that claim, Mr. Gilbert provides some data from studies with thousands of people. Gilbert and his researchers asked half of them to predict how much their values would change in the next ten years; the other half they asked how much their values had changed in the last ten years. So in essence, they were comparing the predictions of people who were about 18 years old with the reports of people who were 28. Here’s what they found:
The common view that we often hold is that change slows down as get older. Gilbert’s study found that change does not slow down nearly as much as we think. People from age 18-68 in the study vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. For example, 18-year-olds anticipated changing only half as much as 50-year-olds actually do. And it’s more than just change in values. It’s personality change and it’s likes and dislikes, too. What music do you like? Who is your best friend? What is your favorite hobby? People in the study thought that these things would not change in 10 years, but they were almost always wrong.
They did change.
This season of Lent [40 days] is about self-reflection and about change.
I’ve been asking you to hold this question closely:
What does it mean for me to be truly myself?
So as we continue to ask that question, let’s look at a story in Luke’s Gospel that challenges us to consider that change is really a part of who we are.
The story begins with a reference to Galileans. These “Galileans” were most likely pilgrims in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate, a Roman leader, had mistreated these Galileans, and violence filled Jerusalem. Jesus then asks a question of the crowd gathered there:
“Do you think that these Galileans were bigger sinners than all the Galileans because they had suffered this?”
Meaning: something really bad happened to these Galileans, so did they deserve it?
This of course is the old-school, sad but commonly-held view that if someone does things right, things will go well for her; if bad things happen to her, it’s because she is bad. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t believe this for one second.
So he refers to another old story about the tower of Siloam falling down and killing 18 people. And once again he asks: did these people do something bad to deserve that fate?
Both stories are attempts to change people’s perspectives about sin and debt. The commonly-held belief was that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. This cause and effect, reward and punishment mentality was and is severely limited. Instead, Jesus calls the people in the crowd to repent, a word that does not mean feeling sorry for a sin or something bad you did. Repent means turn around and move in a new direction.
Change in perspective that leads to change in your life.
Finally, Jesus of Nazareth tells the parable of the fig tree.
A vineyard owner comes to a fig tree looking for fruit, but finds none. The owner is ticked off about that and lets the gardener have it. For three years I’ve been looking for figs, and nothing! Get rid of it—it’s taking up too much space! But the gardener says leave it alone. Coincidentally, the Greek word there [aphes] means forgive. The gardener is not ready to dig up the fig tree. In spite of its history of not bearing fruit, there is still the possibility that the tree can change and eventually be productive, finding its place in the vineyard.
Have you ever considered that change is part of your natural makeup–that you are not meant to stay the same? That goes for your perspectives and your life practices.
As Dan Gilbert’s studies found, we over-invest time and energy in our current preferences and perspectives because we think we won’t change and so we overestimate their stability. Why does this happen? Gilbert and co. are not sure. But one hypothesis is that it has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.
The owner of the vineyard couldn’t imagine the fig tree having any use, because the owner only saw a tree without fruit. But the gardener had an imagination.
Friends, I’m sure that most of you can remember who you were 10 years ago, right? But how hard is it sometimes for you to imagine who you are going to be?
Don’t assume that due to your lack of imagination, who you are going to be, i.e. a change, is not likely to happen. When we say: “I can’t imagine that,” we are simply expressing our lack of imaginative perspective, but not the unlikelihood change.
Yes, changing your perspective right now will help. The present moment can be, as Gilbert points out, a magical time.
It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves.
So no matter what age you are, or where you are on life’s journey, remember this:
We are all works in progress. We are not finished.
The one constant in our life is change.
And when we change, we are truly ourselves.