The Dude Abides: Wisdom from Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges by Siebbi, via Wikimedia Commons

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of one of my all-time favorite movies,  The Big Lebowski. The lead character is a guy named The Dude and is played by the actor Jeff Bridges.

While Bridges has acted in dozens of roles over his storied career, this may be the one he is most associated with. He was so convincing as a live-and-let-live philosopher/stoner that The Dude seemed to be an extension of Bridges himself. In some ways, he was.

A few years ago, Bridges added to the legacy of this now legendary character by putting out a book titled The Dude and the Zen Master. It’s co-written with his buddy, Zen Master Bernie Glassman, and it’s written as a dialogue between the two men.

Like two veteran jazz musicians, Bridges and Glassman jam on a variety of subjects, offering keen insights on everything from why we’re here to the ups and downs of relationships to overcoming life’s inevitable bumps in the road.

I’ve compiled six of my favorite passages from the book and provided some color commentary. As a guide, the quotes that start with “J” are from Jeff Bridges, while those starting with “B” are from Bernie Glassman.

#1. The answers are closer than you think.

I’ve always believed that you need to look within yourself to find many of the answers that you need, including the big ones like our purpose in life. These two wise men have a similar point-of-view.

B: What we’re really looking for—the meaning of life, happiness, peace—is right here. The question is no longer, how do I get from here to there? The question is: How do I get from here to here.

J: People talk about being seekers, searching for meaning, happiness, whatever. I think of myself as a finder, because I find all these things right around me.

B: We think that what we’re looking for is somewhere over the rainbow, till we realize that it’s all just this.

#2. Live in this moment, not the next one.

Our minds can sometimes find a way to hijack our thoughts from the present causing us to dwell on a past event or start anticipating a future one.  Jeff has some simple advice.

J: Be here in this moment. Don’t torture yourself with all the shit that has to be accomplished.

#3. Loving others starts with loving yourself.

You’ve heard the Golden Rule “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), but the rule works both ways. Bridges addresses this issue at two different points in the book.

J: There are a number of spiritual traditions that say you should treat the other person as God, or divine. Turning that around, you should treat yourself the same way.

J: I notice that when I’m generous, accepting, and loving toward myself, all that’s reflected out into the world. The more I cut myself slack, the more I don’t judge myself for not being other than I am. The more I’m aware of who I am, see it, honor it, and respect it, the more I do all these things for others.

#4. Sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut.

If you’ve ever had to make a really important decision, you know how agonizing it can be to sort out the pros and cons. I’ve always found it best to soak up all the information you can, for as long as you can, and then go with your gut. Here’s what Bridges and Glassman think:

J: If you’re going to wait to get all the information you think you need before you act, you’ll never act because there’s an infinite amount of information out there.

B: Have faith that the right thing to do will naturally arise.

#5. If you want to grow something, go slow.

In our instant-gratification society, the tendency is to rush things and go for the gusto immediately. But anything worth doing or having, is also worthy of your time and commitment. Be in it for the long haul. As Jeff puts it:

J: Sometimes I feel you’re out there pulling on the grass to make it grow faster…the things that I really want to nurture are slow-growing; they need space and time so that they can flower and mature.

#6. One day you realize that marriage is good.

Bridges has been married to his wife Sue for 40 years, a notable feat anywhere but especially for a “Hollywood” couple. In the book, Bridges talks about his first few shaky years of marriage and how in time his relationship has grown stronger, the roots deeper.

J: You close one door, the door to all other women, but you open a door that leads to a long hallway lined with doors. Incredible doors like children, grandchildren, deeper intimacy with the woman you love, and so many other things that would not be available to you without marriage, without the water under the bridge…thank God I went for it.

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