An Important Lesson from a Most Unlikely Source (Tibetan Monks)

Filed in Living by on February 25, 2016 2 Comments

Tibetan Monks 2

As you know, I’m a big fitness buff. I’ve always just really enjoyed going to the gym. I like feeling and looking good, and I also enjoy the camaraderie and banter with the guys.

Throughout the four decades I have been weight training, until fairly recently, I had never taken any pictures of my physique because it just didn’t seem necessary. I didn’t feel I needed any evidence of what I had accomplished. I enjoyed the process of what I was doing and was confident with my body and myself, and that was good enough.

Then, about five years ago, all that changed. I was in my early fifties, and I began to become insecure about my body. I guess I was starting to feel my age and worry about my mortality. Certainly I wasn’t as fit and strong as I was in my 20’s and 30’s, and had lost quite a bit of muscle mass, all due to the normal effects of aging. But I began to anxiously project forward, that in another decade or two my body would be just a shadow of its former self. The effects of further aging would certainly continue to take their merciless toll.

So I started to freak out.

Since then, I admit, I have been borderline obsessed with taking pictures of my physique. But the problem is, the pictures never seem good enough. So then I train even harder, eat even cleaner, and take more pictures, but still remain unsatisfied.

This has been repeating itself, over and over again, for five years now. I feel like I’m chasing a damn ghost!

But recently I had a revelation.

A few nights ago I was watching an episode of House of Cards, a political drama starring Kevin Spacey as the President of the U.S. During this particular episode, there was a group of Tibetan monks who had been invited to the White House as part of a cultural exchange. They were creating an intricate piece of sand art, by slowly and painstakingly scraping grains of sand to form a large, colorful mosaic. It was going to take two months to complete. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey’s character), in his typical cynical fashion, had no patience for this and derided it as complete and utter foolishness.

When the mosaic was finished, it was absolutely breathtaking, in its design, color, and detail. Even jaded Frank was impressed.

However, what happened next was what was most fascinating, and for me, instructive. Once the monks had finished their exquisite work of art, rather than framing it and hanging it somewhere for all to see and admire, they instead used their hands to sweep the mosaic’s sand into a big pile, reducing it to a brownish-colored blob! Then they put the sand in a vase, went to a local river, and emptied the vase’s contents into the waters, and that was that. No evidence whatsoever remained of their work of art.

I was dumbfounded. How could they come to the conclusion that this was what they wanted to do with their beautiful creation?

Now, when I go to the gym each day, I’m again doing so just for the pure and simple joy of being in the gym. I am no longer feeling the need to capture it for all of posterity, because I realize this is folly. And you know what? I’m having a lot of fun again. I have reclaimed the joy I always had for the gym and working out.

Are you trying too hard to capture something, and in so doing, robbing yourself of all the joy of the experience? Maybe you coach a kid’s team, and are too concerned with winning a trophy that can be displayed for all to see, when the time spent teaching and interacting with the children is its own best reward. Or are you too focused on raising perfect kids, so that all of society will praise you, rather than enjoying the very brief time you have with them when they are young and innocent?

Take a tip from the Tibetan monks: prizes and trophies are overrated. Enjoy the journey.

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

Comments (2)

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  1. Lynn Crotty says:

    Tim,
    I, too, am a fan of House of Cards. I remember the episode with the monks and the sand. I was mesmerized with this activity. Thanks for offering an even deeper meaning.

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