October 14, 2019

This David Foster Wallace Commencement Speech offers a Profound Spiritual Teaching.

Wikipedia outlines the essence of Maitri as follows:

“It is believed that through the practice of Maitri, the establishment of love, benevolence, kindness, unconditional friendship, and perfect virtue of sympathy towards oneself will manifest into the same for others, and ultimately for the universe as a whole.”

The late David Foster Wallace was an American author whose works in the form of dark, often scathing satirical perspectives on American culture, captures the intrinsic need for more benevolence, kindness, and conscious awareness of the needs of others.

In a 22-minute commencement speech entitled “This is Water,” delivered to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College, Mr. Wallace presents the possibility that as we experience the mundane, tedious, anxiety-provoking elements of adult life, we could view it as an actual opportunity for sacred contemplation. He also implores the graduates to challenge their pre-conceived notions of the value and purpose of their education. Is it a superficial enabler to financial security? Or has it given them (us) the tools to teach us how to make meaningful choices when it comes to how we think? How consciously do we go about our lives?

He posits that the degree to which we do so does nothing less than give ourselves the unique opportunity to make a choice as to how we view the world during these challenging moments.

The choice we make (if we are living consciously enough to perceive there is an actual choice to be made) defines the lens in which we experience life, and ultimately directly impacts our level of contentment, connectedness, happiness, and adaptability or, conversely, our feelings of despair, frustration, anxiety, and loneliness that we will carry in our soul as we walk through this journey of life.

Hearing these words and the way in which Mr. Wallace presented his ideas moved me in a profound way. It has powerfully reinforced both the teachings I have grown to love by such wise teachers as Pema Chödrön, and the benefits that meditation offers us to be truly present and aware of our thoughts, breathing, and our heart center, so as to enable us to truly observe what life experiences (be they painful or blissful) may be trying to teach us.

I sometimes lament that had I heard this speech from Mr. Wallace at my commencement some 30 years ago, it would perhaps have saved decades of my tendency to drift into unconscious, mechanical, “sub-optimal” living.

No matter. For, as Pema so wisely invites us to do, “Start where you are.”

So, I invite you to listen to the audio.

My wish is that the next time you are faced with a challenging life experience, be it a potential life-altering trauma or the experience of a typical tedious, stressful day, that you can bring forth the mantra, “This is water. This is water,” thereby empowering you to make a conscious decision on how you choose to react to it.~



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