We all look up to someone.
That person could be a teacher or mentor, friend or family member, or someone else from afar.
Whoever it is, we wish we could be more like them.
For me, for many years this was Brandon Boyd of the rock band Incubus.
In high school, I sang in a band with a couple of my good friends (yes, I sang...don't laugh. OK go ahead...but only a little).
We were never very good, because we didn't work very hard, but we really enjoyed playing together (I didn't learn the value of hard work until years after I left high school).
I didn't just want to be like Brandon Boyd, I practically wanted to be him.
His voice was amazing, the band's music was incredible (I still love the band, even today), he lived in a way that he expressed his creativity in everything he did, and he openly expressed and stood up for values that mattered to him.
This was the first time I really took to writing of any kind. As the singer and lyricist I wrote the lyrics for our band Samsara.
Yes, our band was named after the Buddhist principle of the cycle of birth and death. I know, you don't have to say it...awesome (half-joking).
Being pretty shy and reserved growing up, it was really the first time I felt that I had the opportunity to open up about things that bothered me as well as things that mattered to me.
Brandon did the same. Whether it was hinting (and even sometimes being pretty straightforward) about his unhappiness with the current president (this was during George W.), opening up about the way someone tried to throw their negativity onto him and how he wasn't going to engage in it, or just questioning establishment in a healthy way, he did that same thing song after song. And I greatly admired that.
What I've learned about the way we admire others
Looking back, I see both good and bad in this.
We need to understand that when we have such a strong desire to be like someone else, there's often a lot of ego involved, and that means our desire is at least partly misguided.
When our ego is involved, it means that we're really just puffing ourselves up, or at least trying to puff ourselves up, and that won't every truly help us in any way.
So long as we attach to this desire to be like someone else, in any way, we're telling ourselves that we're not truly happy and rather have something else than what's right in front of us (another form of rejecting the present moment and living in our heads, never a formula for peace or happiness).
But there's another aspect to this kind of admiration: respect.
On the other side of desire and inflating the ego to give us a greater sense of self-worth is a very genuine and authentic respect for the universal values we hold dear which that person exemplifies.
In my case, I genuinely appreciated the way that Brandon lived his inspiration. In every moment he expressed his creativity. He lived completely free, unbound, being himself in every moment.
While attaching to the person, and as a result in some form rejecting reality (which always creates friction), leads to us harming ourselves, genuine respect and appreciation for qualities such as this in others is very healthy.
To see this personified tells us that it's possible, it gives us an example, and the reality is we live off of these examples every day of our lives. If we didn't have these examples we wouldn't have anything: we wouldn't know how meditate, we wouldn't know how to drive our car, we wouldn't know how to start a business or do our job, and we wouldn't even know how to tie our shoes. We wouldn't know how to live.
So in this way, we should celebrate and appreciate these positive examples in our lives, so long as we stay wary of the attachment that can happen as a result.
What would _____ do?
Having cleared the air so to speak, making it clear in what way we should look up to and value others and how that's beneficial, we can use these examples in our own lives to make incredible positive change.
This is simply the practice of asking yourself, "What would they do?", and it's very much a meditation on living the qualities we most value in every moment of our lives.
It's easy to practice. Just ask yourself "What would they do?" throughout the course of each day, or even just occasionally, and see how that instantly changes the way you behave for the better.
You could do the exercise:
- Throughout your daily activities
- In the morning before your day starts with regards to your overall activity for the day or specifically with regards to an important event
- Or at the end of the day in reflection to see how you could have handled yourself better.
Nowadays, I'd use a different example of virtuous action and qualities I'd most like to emulate, but Brandon's honesty and open creativity still inspire me.
If I'm sitting down to write, I can ask myself, "What would Brandon do?" and be reminded of his openness and honesty during the creative process and in turn be reminded to not hold anything back (but still being kind and compassionate in the process).
Nowadays, I'd use an example like the Buddha or Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
As I go about my everyday life, interacting with strangers, loved ones, coworkers, and doing various tasks, the question, "What would the Buddha do?" completely shifts my perspective and brings clarity to my actions.
In any given moment, we have a choice. That choice isn't so black and white, but it often truly does come down to doing what's nourishing and wholesome versus doing what's harmful to ourselves or others. In these moments, we truly make the choice to be person A vs. person B.
With this exercise, combined with the light of mindfulness practice, you have the ability to stop and make a conscious choice, and "What would the Buddha do?" can guide you towards what's wholesome and nourishing.
Now, obviously, we don't know exactly what they'd do. But that's not the point. In this way, you're not so much guided by them as you are your own intuitive wisdom, a type of wisdom which we all hold within us. It's a sort of conscious, or mindful, wisdom.
When we begin to realize this, we can start to gain a great sense of confidence towards ourselves. A healthy, non-ego based confidence which will stay with us forever and can be cultivated further with practice.
So, ask yourself "What would the Buddha do?" to bring you clarity, unlock your own intuitive wisdom, and nourish your sense of peace and joy in everyday life.