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6 April 2010

Dear Mr. Macdonald,

Your book, Getting a Life: Strategies for Joyful and Effective Living, definitely made about what it takes to be a successful and happy person. As I was reading, there were many instances where I thought, "If I operated out of this place, I would do a lot better in all my relationships." I don't feel like I have any huge problems in my life, but it was helpful to see that even in a state of satisfaction, it is possible to better myself. There were a few topics in your book that certainly left me thinking. I didn't disagree with anything, but wondered how you could apply your worldview to specific instances.

In chapter 8, you give a detailed account of planning and how to use it as an effective skill. I absolutely agree with everything you say in this chapter and indentified intensely with the problems you suggest that being a good planner can create. Something I have always prided myself on is my organizational skills. I didn't always have them, but found that when I entered college they became absolutely necessary. The problem is, I have become so focused on planning my time and getting this done that I have a lot of difficulty relaxing and being let go. As if that wasn't bad enough, I get frustrated with people who tend to think differently than I do. I really don't like this about myself. If I think someone in my life (usually my boyfriend) isn't planning enough, I place a judgment on that person, assuming that I'm just more organized and ultimately better than they.

As I was reading your wet concrete metaphor on page 53, I though about how nice it would be to be a flexible person - to have the ability to let things come as they may and know that I will be okay regardless of the outcome. I've known I've been a control freak for a long time and have always had an interest in correcting this about myself. When it comes down to it, though, how do to obtain flexibility? I guess I thought about appropriate planning as an ideal, and wondered if you still find yourself having trouble with it? Is it ever possible to be perfectly let go?

I had a similar feeling reading chapter 21 where you talk about having a compassionate state of mind at all times. Every religion and universal spiritual tenet would suggest that compassion is key to a good life. Personally, compassion is something I aspire for. The problem is that we seem to live in an extremely egocentric world community where even the people who are supposed to think globally come up short. A place I see this very clearly is in the American legal system. Despite what we'd like to believe, justice isn't always served. In fact, the justice system, or at least capital punishment, ultimately suggests revenge, which I consider almost the opposite of compassion.

I guess my point is that your book is an incredible guide. It provides a way to live free of anger, frustration, and even fear. I can also gather that you've done a lot of self-exploration and discovery, which, in my opinion, makes you a credible source. My only qualm with your book is that these directives seem quite idealistic. It would be my hope everyone in our conflicted world would be open to the possibility of personal growth, but it seems unlikely. Overall though, I felt I grew from reading your material and appreciate the time you took with our class last Thursday.



April 14, 2010

Dear Emily,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and questions.

Let's start with "I guess I thought about appropriate planning as an ideal, and wondered if you still find yourself having trouble with it?" Yes. and Yes. It is an ideal, so at any moment I may not get it right. Like you, my tendencies are on the overplanning/control-freak side of things, so in failing to hit the ideal I often err in this direction. Like your boyfriend, my spouse Bev is the other kind, preferring last minute decisions and "let's be spontaneous." Even though we often fail to hit the ideal, I think there is value in simply having recognized there is such a thing as overplanning and underplanning. With those concepts somewhere in the back of our minds I think we take corrective action more often than we might if we'd never thought about the issue.

Compassion. Yes, it not only fails to be the norm, but is not even considered desirable by so many people. How do we become more compassionate? I'm afraid only through practice. There is a Buddhist lovingkindness meditation where you wish good things to others, starting with those for whom it is easy to do, and moving on to more challenging recipients of our good wishes. On one of his trips to North America, the Dalai Lama suggested that those who wanted to develop compassion should put themselves in challenging situations and then, despite the natural reluctance to do so, behave compassionately. By making the effort to engage in compassionate action - again, and again, and again - we eventually internalize the value. Expressing compassion gradually takes less and less effort until it becomes part of our outlook, part of our natural way of being, part of who we are.

Thanks again for your frank and supportive sharing.

All the best,