A young friend once came to me seeking advice. He had been to India, where he met a guru who had become very important to him. Now my young friend wanted to bring his father to that crowded, hot city, halfway around the world, to meet the guru. I thought about it for a moment, and then said to him, “You know, I don’t think it’s a very good idea. That particular city in India is very unpleasant. The food will be foreign, he may well get sick, and there will be annoying bugs. Besides, I myself found the scene around the guru kind of strange, and your father might well be repulsed by it. He may then dismiss all spiritual endeavor, which would be a terrible outcome. My suggestion is, don’t do it.”
The young man completely ignored my advice and did indeed go off to India along with his father. When he returned a few months later, I immediately saw how very wrong I’d been in my counsel. His father just loved everything about India and felt right at home there. Not only did he admire the guru, he became his disciple. And not only that, he was determined to teach in the guru’s lineage, and was initiating a complete life change. My friend and his father were extremely happy. Having been proven so wrong in my advice, the question was, could I be happy for them?
Sometimes we feel a need to be proven right as we look at someone else’s life choices; it is not that they are necessarily doing anything wrong or hurtful, but they may be living in a different way than we have decided they should be living. Or perhaps our advice turns out to be unappreciated or incorrect, as mine was, and we come face to face with the fact that someone’s happiness does not revolve around us and our fabulous prescience and good sense; instead, it is based on their own good sense, or even on sheer good luck. Can we let go of our need to try to dominate people’s lives and our determination of what the correct outcome of their decisions should be?
Sitting with my young friend and hearing about the glorious experience of his father in India, I saw the cascade of emotions in my mind—embarrassment, skepticism, a touch of derision, and even a little resentment—and I knew I had a choice: sometimes kindness takes the form of stepping aside, letting go of our need to be right, and just being happy for someone.
Sometimes I intentionally ask myself the question, “What would I gain from this person’s loss?” and it is quite clear to me that I don’t benefit at all. The true benefit is in stepping off of center stage, and experiencing the kindness of delighting in someone else’s good experience.
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