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STEVE JOBS PUTS LIFE AND DEATH IN THEIR PLACE
By Russell Razzaque USA TODAY Wednesday, 19 October 2011
As Apple employees gather Wednesday at their campus in Cupertino, California, to remember the life of their erstwhile CEO, they, like most of the rest of us, will doubtless focus much of their celebration on Steve Jobs' achievements in the external, material world.
But it is his achievements in the inner world that might yet become his most valuable and profound legacy. Jobs would remind himself virtually every morning that this could be his last day on earth - and that was not since or because he was diagnosed with cancer. He had actually been doing this since his 20s. People talk poetically about such notions often, but Jobs genuinely walked the walk. After dropping out of college, Jobs traveled to India, shaved his head, wore local clothing and became a Buddhist. The lessons of that philosophy stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Desire and yearning are considered the essential source of life's suffering in Buddhism, and the antidote is to live life in the moment. Much of Jobs' life was a manifestation of this. His aim was not to conquer the world so much as to enjoy it. There was nothing more important to him than to work from his heart and do what he enjoyed the most. This was frequently his message to young people.
"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it," he told students at Stanford in a commencement speech in 2005.
Wisdom and Pixar
Living for the moment, rather than the future, means that you also don't need to have a grand plan for everything. He didn't always worry about how things would fit together, instead trusting in the intelligence of the universe. This worked amazingly well for him at Pixar.
When he bought it, Pixar was actually a company focused on bringing animation technology into the world of medical science and imaging. The movie-making aspect of it was a tiny division consisting of one or two people. Because this work interested him, Jobs spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the unit, allowing its workers to experiment and innovate, even though their toiling had nothing to do with the business plan or why he bought the company in the first place. No one could have predicted the trail-blazing titan Pixar was to become in the movie business. Interesting, neither did Jobs. He initially did it just because he enjoyed it.
"There's a phrase in Buddhism - 'beginner's mind' - it's wonderful to have a beginner's mind," he would tell people. This means approaching things without any preconceived notions, judgments or expectations, just like a child. It was the core of his innovation and what fundamentally made him such an original thinker. He was not remotely afraid to experiment, and more important, not afraid to lose either. He once said, "I am the only person I know that's lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year. It's very character-building." He never equated failing with being a failure. Every experience in life was ultimately seen as an opportunity.
This chimes with another key tenet of Buddhism: acceptance. Mindful acceptance involves maintaining an awareness of everything life has to offer, including pain, hardship, sadness, failure or loss, which, of course, Jobs had his fair share of, too.
When he was fired in 1985 from Apple - the very company he created - his life was thrown violently upside down. Everything he worked for, he lost suddenly. Rather than become bitter or seek vengeance, he later came to recognize it as the best thing that ever happened to him. He maintained a cordial and respectful relationship with his former company, and ultimately it was almost as if he had created a karma that brought the company back to him.
The ultimate in acceptance, of course, is an acceptance of death. This is something that every human being grapples with for the whole of their lives. It was no different for Jobs. Only for him, he took this challenge head-on.
Buddhism talks about challenging ourselves to compassionately face our fears, and Buddhist practice often focuses on gaining a familiarity with death. Some monasteries encourage monks and devotees to meditate before skeletons or images of the dead. Given that death is an inevitable part of life, the teaching is that saying "yes" to life also means saying "yes" to death. This is a concept Jobs embraced wholeheartedly.
The gift of awareness
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life," he once said. "Almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure: These things just fall away in the face of death." His ability to cope with his multiple brushes with cancer was undoubtedly strengthened by his lifelong attitude toward death, including in his last days.
Steve Jobs brought many new and exciting things into our world, but if we are able to learn from some of the way he led his life, we will have received something far more powerful than technology: an awareness of who we really are, and a trust in our true nature.
As Jobs put it: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Russell Razzaque is a British psychiatrist, writer and author of the forthcoming book Obama Karma.
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