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The Buddha at Work - "The 'Me' Plan and Chris Guillebeau's 'The Art of Non-Conformity'"


The “me” plan is tempting, isn't it? That's what Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche calls samsara in his book, Ruling Your World. It's the idea that satisfying all of one's desires will ultimately bring happiness. We all feel this way from time to time. When I get that car, when I have the perfect relationship, when I get the newest iPhone, then I'll be happy. But deep in our hearts we know it's just not going to do the trick.

Why is it so hard to believe that happiness will come from serving others? We know that the “me” plan doesn't work. Clinging to our possessions, grasping after new ones, getting angry when we don't get our way––has this ever made anyone genuinely happy? We receive praise, and we're elated, but then we're criticized and we're heartbroken. We buy a new car, and we're thrilled for a couple of days, until we see a nicer car on the road.

We think that if we hold on tight enough, we can manipulate the world to make 'me' happy. We've tried being angry and desirous hundreds of times. Has anger every brought genuine happiness? Has desire ever resulted in long-lasting satisfaction?”

I just finished Chris Guillebeau's The Art of Non-Conformity, a book that teaches powerful ways to live an unconventional life. He cites example after example of people (including himself) who have dropped out of their conventional paths and taken on their lives as adventures.

But what good is non-conformity by itself? Though Guillebeau points out that there is enormous opportunity to change the world, without making a difference for others, each country we visit is simply another acquisition. It's just another form of materialism.

I have serious concerns about his statement, “As long as what you want does not cause harm to others, you never need to apologize for pursuing your own dreams and big ideas.” There's an implication that jetting around the world in pursuit of learning and fun is just fine, as long as you're not actively harming anyone else. But are you using fuel? Is your lifestyle damaging the environment? The food you eat, the electronic devices you use? And how did you get this fortunate lifestyle in the first place? Who had to suffer, and currently has to suffer for it to be possible? It's pretty close to impossible not to do harm to others on a daily basis, so we need to be even more aware of our responsibility to minimize that harm, and to work for the benefit of others.

Regardless, Guillebeau is, through his traveling and writing, opening up new ways of thinking to thousands of readers. He's genuinely contributing to them. And he does point out, “Once you've done some thinking about what you really want to get out of life... you'll likely want to move toward thinking about how you'll make the world a better place for others. This is because while you can do almost anything you want, in the end you probably won't be satisfied with a life that completely revolves around you.”

Well said.

Want some real non-conformity? Try getting off the "me" plan. Try seeing your work, your travel, and your everyday life as being in the service of others. Guillebeau, to his great credit, gives us some clear advice on how to do just that.

Right now, it's the start of another work week, and all kinds of “me” concerns are on my mind. And yet, even though I know better, I can't help but think about how much money I'll make, or whether things that are going well will keep going well for me, or whether others will be upset at me for something. I'll be upset when I don't get what I want, get annoyed at the people who don't agree with me, and frustrated that I have to travel this week.

This is nothing new, but because I know that the “me” plan just ain't gonna work out, the only thing to do is to practice. I'll have these reminder cards on my desk this week:

From Chögyam Trungpa's book, Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness

All activities should be done with one intention.

"The one intention is to have a sense of gentleness towards others and a willingness to be helpful to others––always. That seems to be the essence of the bodhisattva vow. In whatever you do––sitting, walking, eating, drinking, even sleeping––you should always take the attitude of being of benefit to all sentient beings."

Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.

"The point of this slogan is to begin and end each day with twofold bodhichitta. In the morning you should remember bodhichitta and take the attitude of not separating yourself from it, and at the end of the day, you should examine what you have done. If you have not separated yourself from twofold bodhichitta, you should be delighted and vow to take the same attitude again the next day. And if you were separated from bodhichitta, you should vow to reconnect with it the next day.

The slogan is a very simple one. It means that your life is sandwiched by your vow to put others before yourself and by your sense of commitment to twofold bodhichitta. When you get up in the morning, as soon as you way up, to start you day off you promise yourself that you will work on twofold bodhichitta and develop a sense of gentleness toward yourself and others. You promise not to blame the world and other sentient beings and to take their pain on yourself. When you go to bed you do the same thing. In that way, both your sleep and the day that follows are influenced by that commitment. It's quite straightforward."

So have a great week, and when you find yourself on the “me” plan (like I know I will), practice, practice, practice.

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this is so excellent. i'm going to be borrow these "reminder cards."

also a fan of Chris writing

And love this review - anything that gets us thinking about how to live more authentically in accordance with our values and talents is a good thing by me.  It is funny to me that all the awesome lifestyle design stuff online is kind of what we used to call "backpacking" dressed up for intershizzle.

Thanks man!

I really appreciate you taking the time to review the book. You're doing great things over here. And yes, I certainly agree that we should minimize harm and work for the benefit of others.

Yours in World Domination,



That's what I want! Off the 'me plan'.


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