A Manual For Living With Defeat
Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat is a collection of Leonard Cohen’s observations that offer insight into living in this imperfect world. For information about how this series differs from other collections of so-called lessons from Leonard Cohen, see Lessons From Leonard Cohen – Introduction.
Lesson #4: “Put Your Own Feelings In Perspective” – “Stop Whining”
Leonard Cohen spoke about his residence at the Mt Baldy Zen Center where he was ordained a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk [emphasis mine]:
The first and most discernible lesson is to stop whining. And I don’t really need to go much beyond that. It was sort of like boot camp. It’s a rigorous life, it’s cold and it’s above the snow line. Four-thousand feet was the snow line, and we were up around 7,500 feet. A lot of it is involved in surviving the winter. There’s a lot of shoveling of snow. There is very little private space. There’s a saying in Zen: ‘Like pebbles in bag, the monks polish one another.’ Those rough edges get smoothed out.1
And, he described this attitude toward his own life:
How could I dare to complain [about my life]? Because I think the appropriate and legitimate response would have been, ‘What have you got to complain about?’ When you recognize that you’re living in this incredibly privileged, tiny pocket of mankind, where there is the luxury to discuss these questions, one dare not complain — except in a good, sad song,2
And, he expressed the same notion in the context of growing older [emphasis mine]:
One of the things about getting older is that you stop whining. One of the reasons you stop whining is because your experience conveys to you that your trouble is tiny compared to lots of trouble around. Once you feel that clearly, that your trouble is tiny and that there are people at this moment really being tortured, really being strapped to chairs, really having electrodes pasted on their bodies, that there are situations which are truly hellish that thousands, maybe millions of people are in at this moment, then even though you do not wish to deny the truth of your own feelings, once you put your own feelings in perspective, then there is an invitation never again to whine about your own situation.3
Lessons From Leonard Cohen
All published posts in this series can be found at
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted on November 26, 2017.
- Leonard Cohen reborn in the U.S.A. by Geoff Boucher. L.A. Times Pop & Hiss: February 27, 2009,
- Angst & Aquavit by Brendan Bernhard. LA Weekly: September 26, 2001.
- Leonard Cohen: A Portrait in First Person. Interviewer: Moses Znaimer. CBC, 1988