Culture

10 Lessons on Abiding in Everyday Life I’ve Learned from The Dude

See the previous installment in Susan’s Dudeism series: How to Become an Official Dude in 10 Easy Steps

Warning: Given that the f-bomb is dropped in The Big Lebowski over 200 times, some of these clips will most likely be NSFW.

10. Abiding is a science as well as an art.

Patience is an inherent aspect of abiding. Other definitions include “to endure without yielding,” “to accept without objection,” and “to remain stable.” In the world of the Internet and social media technology, abiding is an anachronistic action. We have been shaped by our media to function at rapid speeds. One of the biggest goals of Common Core is to increase the speed at which students mentally process information. Not study, analyze and comprehend, but process and regurgitate the way they would like and share a Twitter or Facebook post. Abiding flies in the face of today’s high-speed reactionary culture.

9. The yin of abiding requires a balancing yang.

“To accept without objection” has never been my strong suit. Perhaps that is why I love Walter Sobchak. His inherent sense of justice drives the Dude to pursue remuneration for his rug. As a result, the nefarious deeds of The Big Lebowski are uncovered and a new little Dude is born. Walter taps into the Dude’s moral center, providing practical outlets for his esoteric sense of justice and goodness. At the same time, the Dude balances Walter’s predilection for violence and draws him into the present moment. The relationship between the Dude and Walter illustrates that acceptance without objection is less an act of pure pacifism and more a pursuit of justice and grace.

8. Abiding requires the full-fledged embrace of joy on a daily basis.

There’s this awesome scene in The Big Lebowski where you see the Dude in his bathrobe, doing a kind of Tai Chi sequence while drinking a Caucasian. On the surface, he has completely immersed himself in the joy of his new rug. On a deeper level, the Dude is fully alive in the moment. He isn’t distracted by the burdensome messages on his answering machine or the fact that the rent is past due. The Dude is simply abiding in the joy of his rug, free from the burdens fettering his existence. In the age when even prayer has political motivation, how amazing is it to contemplate the idea of declaring oneself free in the joy of the moment?

7. Abiding is a selfless act.

The Dude is not egotistic. His apartment is a mess, his wardrobe is a mess, his hair is a mess, his car is a mess. The Dude goes to the supermarket in a bathrobe and jellies. He doesn’t seek out responsibility, but he is open to lending a hand to anyone in need, whether it means critiquing his landlord’s dance sequence or acting as a rich guy’s bag man. “Her life was in our hands, man!” the Dude reflects, exasperated at Walter’s screw-up of the money transfer. The Dude takes his responsibility to others seriously. “Don’t f—k with my f—king lady friend,” he warns the private eye following him. He joins Walter in taking responsibility for Donny’s untimely funeral. In an age where career defines identity, the Dude shirks worldly titles without shirking his responsibility to those around him.

6. Abiding is about being the best version of yourself.

Cathleen Falsani compares the Dude to a Lamed-Vavnik, one of the Hasidim’s 36 righteous who, unknowingly, keep the world safe from God’s wrath. “A man for his time and place,” the Dude can’t do anything about the Iraq War, but he can nevertheless impact those around him. Like George Bailey, the Dude unwittingly changes lives simply by being the Dude. And in a world of titles and promotions, where everyone is vying to be heard and understood, the simple acts of being and doing are too often dismissed and ignored. As Jeff “the Dude” Bridges recently observed, never underestimate the value of simply asking someone “How’s your day?”

5. Abiding means knowing when to say “no.”

I have a graphic of the Dude hanging on my fridge. It’s captioned “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” This is where the “accepting without objection” aspect of abiding kicks in. Stuff happens. That’s the nature of free will. While we cannot control the actions of others, we can control the way we respond to those actions. Sometimes that response is a simple rejection of responsibility for someone else’s bad choice. The Dude rejects The Big Lebowski’s attempt to blame the Dude for his own million dollar theft. At the same time, the Dude knows how to pick his battles: “Life goes on, man,” he tells Maude’s driver. Life is an endless stream of responsibilities; staying healthy sometimes means saying “no.”

4. Abiding has intrinsic entertainment value.

Early on, my father taught me the skill and joy of people watching. We could go to the mall for hours on end and not spend a dime: the real entertainment value wasn’t in buying stuff, it was in watching people. The Dude possesses the keen ability to observe and be endlessly amused by people. “That’s, like, your opinion, man” and “That’s f—king interesting, man” are two remarks that illustrate the Dude’s ability to abide the words and actions of others with a detached sense of humor.

3. Abiding necessitates physical activity.

The Dude bowls. I walk. We both burn off unspent emotional and intellectual energy through physical activity. Several times throughout the film, when the Dude is confronted with an impossibly stressful situation, Walter responds with, “Come on Dude, let’s go bowling.” Abiding is a tool to alleviate, not eliminate, stress. Healthy abiding takes the physical as well as the mental into account. Sitting is very un-Dude.

2. Abiding isn’t strictly a Dudeist thing.

The struggle any Jew encounters when approaching another religion, however non-traditional, is the overwhelming guilt that you are somehow giving up on your Jewish identity. One of the reasons I picked Dudeism to explore as a pop culture religion is precisely because the Dude is not a god, but an example to learn from, like any other Biblical figure. Abiding is also a Biblical practice: “He who watches over Israel neither slumbers, nor sleeps.” Unlike the tenets of many pop culture religions, abiding is a lifestyle of awareness that requires interaction with daily living, not the pursuit of an alternate universe.

1. Abiding isn’t a philosophical notion, but a practice that informs the way you relate to yourself, to others, and to the world at large.

Abiding requires going against the grain, accepting the world as it comes to you, and giving yourself time to define and proceed with a plan of action (or non-action). The Dude existed in a time and place before mobile internet technology, making abiding a far easier path to follow. Our culture is now shaped by instant access to social media. The intrinsic value of abiding is in the power to retain autonomy over what is rapidly becoming a reaction-driven culture. This is what renders Abiders, those willing to think before they act, the lamed-vavniks the 21st century so desperately needs. At least that’s my opinion, man.