In the 19th century, the hermit Patrul Rinpoche wrote, Be like a cow. Eat, defecate, and sleep. Everything else is none of your business. After almost 200 years, this easily understood philosophy of life has evolved into complex (and sometimes bizarre) thoughts, bloated by want-to-be gurus, espoused by television personalities, and shrouded in mysterious words such as “presence,” “enlightenment,” “self-realization,” “holistic,” “meaningful,” and “authentic.”

When we read these words in books, or listen to friends and renowned speakers, there is always the assumption that everyone should know what the words mean. So, we often nod our heads knowingly, or say  “Oh yes, yes, of course that makes sense,” not having the foggiest notion of what the speaker means, but unwilling to admit our ignorance.

Occasionally, we also use the words, assuming that those listening to us should also know what they mean, and if they don’t, are just as reluctant as we are to question their meaning.

As a speech-language pathologist and university professor at San Francisco State University for thirty years, I respect the use of single words and short phrases to convey lengthy explanations. It’s so much easier saying “aphasia,” rather than “a neurological accident resulting in damage to Wernicke’s area of the brain.” But for fundamental issues of living, I prefer the simplicity of my mother and Patrul Rinpoche.

My mother, a first generation Polish immigrant, didn’t know what “new-age” meant and thought Buddhism was a term used to describe a strange form of sexual encounter. Her advice since I was a child was, “Be nice and don’t hurt people.” Not enough to fill a book, but a thought as profound as any in Patrul Rinpoche’s The Words of My Perfect Teacher.

And me? As someone who relished five dollar words for thirty years, I now side with my mother’s and a hermit’s reliance on words that can be immediately understood. The importance of simplicity was reinforced when, as a hospice volunteer in the San Francisco Bay Area, I saw what happens when communication becomes transparent.

As my patients came closer to death, I didn’t hear words that were carefully weighed or made ambiguous on purpose. In my experience, nobody who is near death searches for words to impress or obfuscate. They wanted people to know exactly what they are thinking and feeling. In eight years of serving those who were dying, I never heard anyone use the terms “presence,” “enlightenment,” “self-realization,” “holistic,” “meaningful,” or “authentic.”

Rather, what I heard were simple words and phrases such as, “I’m ready to die,” “I’ve lived a good life,” “I hope I made a difference,” and “Please forgive me for anything hurtful I did to you.” Within the simplicity of their words was a profound understanding of life and death, all expressed with twenty-five cent words.

Maybe it’s time to take a lesson on the importance of clearly saying what we mean and feel. So, here are 10 suggestions for living that don’t contain any buzz words. A few are mine, but most are from my hospice patients, a Tibetan hermit, and a first generation Polish immigrant.

10 Suggestions for Living

1. If you throw hot coals at your enemies, you’ll burn your hands .

2. Give because it’s the right thing to do. Expecting something in return is a business contract.

3. Forgive the unskillful acts of others; they probably did the best they could.

4. Ask for forgiveness for your own unskillful acts. You probably did the best you could.

5. Don’t wait. We never know what will come first, tomorrow or eternity.

6. Compassion is a universal elixir that heals both the giver and the receiver.

7. Think less and do more. Life is known by doing, not through contemplation.

8. Welcome grief, it’s the price we pay for joy.

9. Listen more and talk less. Wisdom comes from listening, not filling the silent gaps.

10. Be nice and don’t hurt others.

(To read my poem, You’ll Like It, that is related to this article, press here)

20 Responses

  1. Mary Hamilton

    And your Mother would be proud, Stan, how you have mastered the importance of simplicity in these 10 suggestions. It’s amazing what you can learn by listening more and talking less, isn’t it? Thank you for giving of yourself and your values so freely to us; so that we, too, can know and understand exactly what you are thinking and feeling. You share it so unconditionally. You always leave us (me) hanging with much to ponder, but more importantly, anticipating and waiting enthusiastically for your next writing.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for you kind words. Unfortunately, I’m much better at understanding the importance of simplicity than I am at practicing it. Oh well, I need to keep trying.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  2. Jane Price Lieberman

    Wishing you many “tomorrows”— partly because we all need to continue to hear your wisdom (or at the very least, the compilation of wisdom from those you follow… and that of your mother.) She did good.

    Thank you for sharing this exceptionally wonderful post. Clearly, we would be wise to follow your suggestions — more so today than ever — when so many are over-extended, exhausted or otherwise stressed from the constant “noise” that follows us 24/7. Having cared for my post CVA aphasic mother for seven years til she passed, I recognized how important it was (and is) to be able to look into someone’s eyes and hear them (maybe #11 to be added to your already thoughtful list. Her forced silence, although far from golden, was a life lesson — one I actually learned as a child from a kind, introvert father who spoke volumes through his eyes. Little did I know how valuable that lesson would be.

    Thank you for sharing your insights, life experiences and wisdom with all of us. I follow you on Twitter as “soUnvelope” and will continue to do so. Live and be well, Stan. There are many who need you to do so.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks for your kind words and wisdom Jane. I always feel a special connection when I read the words of someone who has “been there.”

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  3. Esther Wright

    Just discovered the 10 Suggestions. I LOVE them!! May I have permission to include them in my Holiday cards and wishes this year?? I will credit you for them.
    Esther
    Portland, OR

    Reply
  4. Henry Shen

    Stan: seems your 10 adages cover all I want 🙂 They are poignant, powerful and concise. #1, #2, #5, #7 and #9 hit my heart more. I’m 40 years old and I know they are very true, from my experience. And unfortunately, many people have failed on them. For each line, I guess we can write a book or more 🙂 Each line may be powerful enough to save a country or the whole planet, not to mention all 10 combined.

    My version of “2. Give because it’s the right thing to do. Expecting something in return is a business contract” is “Give because you NEED to do …”, sounds OK?

    About #8, I just read the field of merit and refuge part of Patrul Rinpoche’s “Words of My Perfect Teacher”, and here’s some words from Longchenpa I found there:

    “Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dharma
    And find the way to liberation. Thank you, evil forces!

    When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma
    And find lasting happiness. Thank you, sorrows!

    Through harm caused by spirits we discover Dharma
    And find fearlessness. Thank you, ghosts and demons!

    Through people’s hate we discover Dharma
    And find benefits and happiness. Thank you, those who hate us!

    Through cruel adversity, we discover Dharma
    And find the unchanging way. Thank you, adversity!

    Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dharma
    And find the essential meaning. Thank you, all who drive us on!

    We dedicate our merit to you all, to repay your kindness.”

    It’s just so powerful! What a big heart!

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Henry,
      Some thoughts are eternal, we just dress them up a little to make them more acceptable to the current audience.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  5. Lynne

    “2. Give because it’s the right thing to do. Expecting something in return is a business contract.”

    I was just having a discussion with my two boys (ages 6 and 8 years old) about this very concept last night! It’s amazing how we can forget to practice such simple concepts in our own lives…Thanks for the great reminder.

    Reply

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