Video: Imitate a Spiritual Master. Who Is Your Spiritual Master?

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — this month’s focus is Eternity. Last week’s resolution was to Clear a surface. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

In the hubbub of everyday life, it can be easy to lose touch with the things that really matter. Finding a way to incorporate transcendent values into your ordinary day will make you happier — but it can be challenging to do that.

For that reason, this week’s resolution is to Imitate a spiritual master:

Who is your spiritual master? How do you imitate him or her in your everyday life? Post a reply here, or even better, post a 1-2 minute video on YouTube. I’d be fascinated to hear other people’s responses to this question, and I’m sure other people would be, as well.

If you’d like to read more about this resolution, check out…
Imitate a spiritual master.
“The Office,” Pam and Jim, and the Mystery of Love.
Have you ever been upset by a well-intentioned gift? Acted ungratefully?

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* I love to read, so am always looking for sources for good recommendations. I had a lot of fun cruising around Book Club Girl — and got lots of reading ideas.

* Please subscribe to my spiffed-up YouTube Channel. Check out the new design! To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
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  • I saw the Dalai Lama speak several years ago and I was struck by how light-hearted and playful he was. He kept smiling and laughing and refusing to take himself too seriously. It was such an inspiration to me to see someone who is such an important spiritual master have such a great sense of humor. Especially someone who lives in political exile. After seeing him, I have made it a goal to take life more lightly and too laugh more at myself. Laughter has been a great salve for me, particularly when dealing with my divorce.

  • Henway

    I’m inspired by Eckhart Tolle. His philosophy and mantras just simply liberate me. “You are not your mind, your thoughts, your past/future nor your story”. Sooo liberating!

  • openfan

    Lincoln. I heard he was very verbally aggressive and liked to argue all the time when he was young. He has changed himself over the last decades of his life to become a better leader and a more spiritual person. I would love to read more about him.

  • I’m still searching for a more positive spiritual leader. I think the first one to pop into my head says a lot about the inner workings of me (good and bad). Woody Allen, and here are some reasons why:

    “It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better… while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

    “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”

    and lastly:

    “To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”

    Thank you for this challenge, Gretchen. I’m going to keep working on it : )

  • I’m an avid Christian, so I guess it would make sense to have Jesus as my spiritual leader – and He is! Even though the fad’s pretty much passed away by now, I still subscribe to the WWJD? theory (=What Would Jesus Do).

    However, as a person perhaps more easy to relate to, I’ve discovered I tend to look towards Mary Magdalene as my spiritual leader. So human, so passionate for Christ.

  • guest

    Pagan teacher T. Thorn Coyle.

  • gretchenrubin

    How did I miss the quotation from Woody Allen about happiness? I love it!

    It reminded me of this passage from Orwell – -not as funny, but on the same
    subject, from the extraordinary essay, “Reflections on Gandhi.” I hate to
    cut these bits out, because the whole essay is so thought-provoking, but
    here are a few relevant quotations:

    Close friendships, Gandhi says, are dangerous, because “friends react on one
    another” and through loyalty to a friend one can be led into wrong-doing.
    This is unquestionably true. Moreover, if one is to love God, or to love
    humanity as a whole, one cannot give one’s preference to any individual
    person. This again is true, and it marks the point at which the humanistic
    and the religious attitude cease to be reconcilable. To an ordinary human
    being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than

    The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is
    sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not
    push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible,
    and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life,
    which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human

    If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe,
    find that the main motive for “non-attachment” is a desire to escape from
    the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is
    hard work.

    • Emily

      Wow, that is so incredibly thought-provoking. I will have to go get the whole essay. The section you excerpted reminds me of Aristotle and the Stoics and Pope John Paul II all at the same time. Aristotle because he says the highest good is self-contemplation. His ‘errors,’ if I might be so bold, are thta he doesnt’ seem to understand that friendly intercourse is necessary. The Stoics because they talk about everyone experiencing others in concentric circles of familiarity. You are in the inner circle, close family in one slightly bigger, close friends in one slightly bigger than that, and so on. They advocate moving people in towards the center circle, until the point when you value no one person more or less than any other. If I might input a Christian take now, that’d be loving like God. (Something I don’t think we’re truly capable of, though it’s a good thing to strive for!) And John Paul II because he talks about love as an act of the will, wherein you always will the best for the other person. So if you do that you could be acting lovingly towards a person even if you do something they’d consider to be a breach of loyalty. Because presumably, if you are pushed to do something ‘sinful’ for the sake of loyalty, the sinful act is probably not in the best interest of you or of the friend you are loyal to. So the loving thing, indeed the more loyal thing, is not to do the loyalty-driven act in the first place.

      I may have just ramble to excess there – but I couldn’t help it! Such a thought-provoking passage. Thank you for sharing!

    • LivewithFlair

      So interesting! I heard a definition of love: “Love is the willingness to endure pain with and because of someone.” I think that love also causes pain because of shame. When we love, we are vulnerable and set ourselves up to endure the most tormenting of emotions: shame. But if someone looks at our shortcomings and chooses to love us instead, we are released from shame! How wonderful!

  • gretchenrubin

    I have never seen the Dalai Lama in person, but I really love his written

    • Mattie

      Personally, I go with What Would Buffy Do? It helps with my biggest weaknesses (be brave, be strong).

      • gretchenrubin

        This is one I haven’t heard before!!!

  • Abby

    Jesus Christ and St Francis of Assisi (patron saint of animals and the envrionment).

  • Andrew

    Mine, I think, would be the man whose work led me, ironically enough, to the Happiness Project, just three days ago – Ben Franklin! Not an especially original historical figure – like yours, Gretchen – and someone known for just about everything /except/ his spirtual dimension. But a month ago, after finally opening his autobiography, which until now sat unopened on my shelf since the start of college five years ago, I decided I’d make it the resolution this month to “Master Ben Franklin.” While that, exactly, won’t happen, I’m loving what I’m learning. Here was someone who was at once deeply introspective and infinitely social. He read vociferously. He corresponded just as much. No detail was too small for his time and attention; no vision too large. He delineated principles and patterns and promises for himself. But he could be flexible. He was engaging. But, even more than that, he was engaged. He made lists, which I can’t get enough of, but they were not only isolated ideas – they added up to something, like his proposals for the University of Pennsylvania or for the first hospitals or for… the United States.

    Mastering Ben might not happen this month. But, much thanks to his stories — and where they led me, i.e., to more of his writing, the Isaacson biography, THP and this blog — I’ve tried to read a book every day after years of only intermittent reading for pleasure; challenge myself to think how every idea that strikes me can be converted into something “useful” for society; apply his belief about God (that God simply wants man to do good) to my own (Jewish) faith; awake with the sun (6:30 instead of 8:30+); approach situations from a more empirical perspective, even though I’d considered myself a humanities type, largely uninterested in experimentation; spend less money, at last; and engage, like him, in less direct confrontation, which is often useless, while listening better to everyone around me (except during those increasingly common moments where I chime in about something Franklin did or said three centuries ago – this is getting to be a problem); and to take to heart his good advice that — and while he had many aphorisms, of course, these are my favorite – “one today is worth two tomorrows” and “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” There’s more, but that’s the essence of it – for now; still digesting everything.

    Haven’t mastered him yet. That’s for sure. But I can’t imagine I’ll be the same. To study – to see so vividly so suddenly – the example of another human, however innately ingenious, achieve so much, including happiness, for so long, has inspired me to rethink – and to expand – my own expectations of myself. Ben realized – like Gretchen during the first few months of her project, as I just read in the book – that happiness cannot thrive outside a culture of growth: He never stopped learning. And we’re all better off for it!

    • Tracy

      Thanks for sharing, Andrew! What wise insight for someone who entered college just five years ago. I, too, have great admiration for Franklin and will go out and get his biography today. One today is worth two tomorrows, indeed!

    • Deborah

      Franklin is an incredible inspiration. How wonderful!

  • The greatest spiritual teachers are often our first. I’d like to add Winnie the Pooh and Kermit the Frog to my list of spiritual masters. Winnie the Pooh is EveryBear, friend to all, simplicity incarnate. Kermit the Frog, while often bemused by the world, can always be counted on to fight the good fight.

  • Kendra K

    Dear Gretchen,

    A couple of months ago I began a project much like your Happiness Project (which I didn’t know about at the time) where I worked on gathering together useful methods to becoming a happier, healthier, more useful person. I explored ideas from spirituality and religion (God, prayer, acceptance, spiritual teachings, etc.) to simple physical actions (walking, cooking, deep breathing, smiling) to see how elements combine to create genuine happiness. My project is simply for my own amusement and enlightenment and nothing as useful as your website and other materials, so I am thrilled to see that you have a similar mission!

    That brings me to the main point of this comment. One idea I began exploring about a month ago was what I referred to as finding a “religious role model.” It is precisely the same concept as your spiritual master. I browsed biographies online, at book stores, and observed people around me for a few days before coming across the book “The Story of a Soul” by the one and only St. Therese of Lisieux. I bought the book a couple of weeks ago and have been slowly reading through her story and LOVING her approach to religion and life. Like you I’m not Catholic, French, or living in the 19th century, but I feel drawn her way of thinking and loving others.

    What are the odds that I, a brand new reader, would stumble upon your website now and that the first video I watched would reference the book sitting beside me? We live in an absolutely amazing world. Do you have any other books about St. Therese that you’d recommend I read next?

    Thank you for all of your work!
    Kendra K

    • gretchenrubin

      That is truly an amazing coincidence! My pal Therese Borchard would
      definitely attribute it to intervention by St. Therese herself (read T
      Borchard’s book Beyond Blue!). Have you noticed any roses appearing?

      About St. Therese…let’s see. The Gorres biography, THE HIDDEN FACE is good

      An odd book, but fascinating, is ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX BY THOSE WHO KNEW
      HER, O’Mahony. This is a selection of testimonies by people who knew her, at
      the inquiry that was part of the process for her canonization. Kind of a
      true life “Defending Your Life.”

      • Kendra

        Hi Gretchen,

        This is a very late response (sorry, vacation!) but better late than never, right? I haven’t noticed any roses yet…but definitely other sorts of flowers!

        Thanks for the other book recommendations. They’re on my “to read” list as soon as life settles down a bit.

  • Susan

    Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a great mystic and teacher (1774 – 1810) is someone I have been trying to learn more about and understand. In the years after his death at 44 his followers carefully wrote down his teachings and continue to do today (The Breslov Institute). So there is a huge mass of literature about him and by him – almost overwhelming.

    His teachings placed a huge emphasis on joy and happiness, which is wonderful as it is known he suffered from deep recurring bouts of despair and depression during his life. He died at 44 of tuberculosis, several of his children died young, he lived in poverty in the Ukraine in a time of vicious anti-semitism and even faced strong opposition within Judaism of his time. Yet his teachings have the most uplifting positive spin and are practical and down to earth.

    Here are some quotes I like:
    Always remember: Happiness is not a side matter in your spiritual journey; it is essential.

    Depression does tremendous damage. Use every ploy you can think of the bring yourself to joy.

    Nothing is as liberating as joy. It frees the mind and fills it with tranquility.

    If you believe you can destroy, believe you can fix.

    It is a great mitzvah (good deed) to be happy. It is even good to do silly things to cheer oneself up.

    It is good to set aside a specific time everyday to be heartbroken and to speak out all ones problems before God, but the rest of the day be only happy.

    Gretchen you’ll like this one: Whoever is able to write a book and does not, it is as if he has lost a child.

    And one of his most famous: The world is a narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to be afraid.
    (One book of his teachings is called The Narrow Bridge).

  • Ed

    Mine would have to be Sri Anandamayi Ma, she’s little known in the west but was an incredible force in the lives of those who were fortunate enough to encounter her. (Check out the writings of people who met her Think St Theresa on steroids…

    I imitate by trying in every moment to remember the unifiying truth of reality; that we are all aspects of the supreme self. Meditation, Study, Mantra are the tools; the result? Overwhelming happiness, I go through periods of intense joy that brings me to tears at least once a month, and am showered with love for myself and everyone and everything I see. I realized how powerful the effect was when I cleaned the cat box last night and totally didn’t notice how gross and uncomfortable the job was, I was just happy to be alive and serving others.

    Here are some choice quotes.

    “Who is it that loves and who that suffers?
    He alone stages a play with Himself.
    The individual suffers because he perceives duality.
    Find the One everywhere and in everything
    and there will be an end to pain and suffering.”

    As you love your own body, so regard everyone as equal to your own body. When the Supreme Experience supervenes, everyone’s service is revealed as one’s own service. Call it a bird, an insect, an animal or a man, call it by any name you please, one serves one’s own Self in every one of them.

    “It is the pure, undefiled flower that finds a place at the Feet of the Lord and nowhere else. Take great care to spend your life in spotless purity, worthy to be dedicated in worship to the Lord. Speak about Him, meditate on His Glory, try to see Him in everyone, Him who is the Self, the breath of life, the heart of hearts. You feel lonely? In very truth you are not alone. Does the Supreme Friend ever forsake His friends?”

  • Rebecca

    The Diary of Anne Frank has been inspirational and fills one with gratitude and wonder for the capacity of happiness and goodness despite the most difficult of circumstances.

  • Annecarlson3

    Rumi, the mystical poet. Interestingly enough he was born in 1207 in Afghanistan. What would he think of the turmoil in today’s Afghanistan? For me, a day without a Rumi poem is a sad day indeed. He wrote thousands of poems, certain stanzas give me goosebumps:

    “Your boundaries are your quest.
    I could explain this, but it will break the
    glass cover on your heart, and there’s no
    fixing that. You must have shadow and light
    source both. Listen, and lay your head under
    the tree of awe, When from that tree feathers
    and wings sprout on you, be quieter than
    a dove. Don’t open your mouth for even a coo.”

    • Ed

      Here’s my personal fave, If you’ve ever been lucky enough to feel this way then Rumi is the best person ever to describe it in verse.


      From the beginning of my life
      I have been looking for your face
      but today I have seen it

      Today I have seen
      the charm, the beauty,
      the unfathomable grace
      of the face
      that I was looking for

      Today I have found you
      and those who laughed
      and scorned me yesterday
      are sorry that they were not looking
      as I did

      I am bewildered by the magnificence
      of your beauty
      and wish to see you
      with a hundred eyes

      My heart has burned with passion
      and has searched forever
      for this wondrous beauty
      that I now behold

      I am ashamed
      to call this love human
      and afraid of God
      to call it divine

      Your fragrant breath
      like the morning breeze
      has come to the stillness of the garden
      You have breathed new life into me
      I have become your sunshine
      and also your shadow

      My soul is screaming in ecstacy
      Every fiber of my being
      is in love with you

      Your efflugence
      has lit a fire in my heart
      for me
      the earth and sky

      My arrow of love
      has arrived at the target
      I am in the house of mercy
      and my heart
      is a place of prayer

      The Love Poems of RUMI
      Edited by Deepak Chopra
      Translations by Farsi scholar Fereydoun Kia

  • Kate Charles

    The quote from Woody Allen reminds me of Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” (from which the line “your silence will not protect you” is so often quoted.) It’s very much worth reading in its entirety (in my opinion it’s one of the Great American Speeches). You can find it in the collection Sister/Outsider.

    Like you say of yourself and St. Therese, I’m not a Black Lesbian Communist Poet, but so what?

    Some excerpts:

    “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you sicken and die of them, still in silence? […] The machine will try to grind you to dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in corners mute forever while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and still we would be no less afraid. … I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective. There are so many silences to be broken.”


    “Of what had I *ever* been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. … I was going to die, if not sooner, then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

    She gave that speech following her diagnosis of the cancer which eventually did kill her. I suppose it sounds bleak, but I read it as a powerful testament to not living in fear.

    There is more excerpted here:

  • Britt

    My spiritual master is Jesus. If you study Him, He is such a beautiful person. Just His compassion on others and His healing…wow! Reading stories about His miracles remind me of His love for me and that God is good!