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Awakening to Buddhism

I’ve been a Buddhist my entire life — though I didn’t know to call it that until recently.

I made a career out of reducing human suffering. In 2002, I was called to Human-Computer Interaction to reduce the suffering caused by technology, the result of a lack of mindfulness and compassion in the design and development of products. In 2013, I was called to coaching to reduce the suffering caused by business, the result of a lack of mindfulness and compassion in the design and development of organizations. Along this journey, I’ve learned that in order for me to achieve anything of consequence, I have to reduce my own personal suffering, the result of a lack of mindfulness and compassion in the design and development of my life.

Buddhism is a philosophy of suffering, the causes of suffering and the ways to end it. The Buddha himself was not a god or deity. He was just a man who woke up to the true essence of life, ending his own personal suffering. The beautiful thing about him was that he didn’t believe he was special, just that he cracked the code, and he spent the rest of his life teaching others how to do the same.

I was born and raised Jewish, taught of a God in heaven who had deemed us “chosen people” to be redeemers of the world. It never sat right with me, even at a very young age, because I had also been taught that “we are all God’s people.” Why did we think we were better than everyone else and why was it our responsibility to save the world? At 7 years old, I stopped praying to God like He was floating up in the sky somewhere (I’d be on an airplane, He wasn’t up there) and instead started praying to the God inside of me. He stopped being a He, and instead was just Me.

As a teenager, I began to believe that God was consciousness itself; that the more awake we are to ourselves and to all of life around us, the closer we are to God and godliness. I held this belief as the torch by which I led my life. I committed myself to self-discovery and a lifetime of continuous improvement.

“Intelligence,” what we conventionally use to mean cognitive intelligence, was always something I felt I possessed but never anything I particularly cared to work on. School — as a place to acquire knowledge, a petri dish of thought — never appealed to me. I craved life experience. I didn’t want to talk about the world, I wanted to live in it. In my early 20s, I promised myself that I would open to all that life had to offer me, all the pleasures and all the pains; I wanted to feel it all. I wanted to connect with people deeply. I wanted to understand the human condition. I wanted wisdom.

As an adult, I dedicated my life to building new intelligences and helping others to do the same. Social and emotional intelligence (the awareness of self and other and the management of self and other) is at the core of user experience. A user experience practitioner helps organizations become more self-aware of their behaviors and more compassionate of their customers. When companies begin to acknowledge the distinctions between their wants and their users’ needs, they become more squarely focused on solving the problems of the people they serve.

Human beings aren’t just minds, but also hearts and bodies, and the practice of user experience brings everyone’s thoughts, feelings and actions to the foreground for consideration. Now as a coach, I’m developing my understanding of somatic intelligence, learning how body sensations and energies are a language all their own. Greater presence leads to greater intuition, allowing us to gain new understandings of ourselves, others and the world, outside the jurisdiction of our intellect and emotion. Integrating the three gives us a much more perceptive and keen judgment, a heightened relationship to everything that surrounds us and everything that is within us.

Wisdom. Compassion. These are the two wings of Buddhism. Seeing clearly and radical acceptance. That is how we awaken to our true nature. We see ourselves as we really are, we see others as they really are, and we accept that we are one and the same. All God’s children. All interconnected. All suffering. All capable of supreme joy, if we would only wake up.

It is possible to achieve freedom from our own suffering — that we cause ourselves in the form of cravings and fears, attachments and aversions — and the suffering we cause others as a result. It takes a lot of practice. It takes daily practice, in fact. Meditation to cleanse the mind, self-reflection to build awareness, mindful speech to not inadvertently cause harm. And so much more.

This is what Buddhism teaches. But this is how I’ve always strived to live. The more I learn about Buddhism, the more it speaks to me. It shows me the path for cultivating these qualities. It gives me structure to what I’ve tried to do with instinct alone. And because Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, and Buddha is not a God, it is in no way in conflict with my Judaism, my traditions, and the beliefs I already hold. It is simply a philosophy for living your life. And I’m excited to learn more.

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  • http://reddolan.com/ Chaunce ‘Red’ Dolan

    Great read, thank you for sharing your insight. I would say I have similar beliefs as you have described. As I have analyzed my path in life and career choice, it really makes sense to me now this idea of limiting and/or ending suffering.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      Thank you, and I’m glad to hear that you’ve been feeling the same.

  • Julesfrog

    Nice post Whitney. Very inspirational.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      Thank you!

  • Gonçalo Salgado

    so… you are saying that you feel like a Jewish and a Buddhist?

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      Jewish is my heritage, culture and religion. Buddhist is my philosophy and life practice.

      • Gonçalo Salgado

        :)