Lori Deschene: Doing the Buddha’s Work

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Every day, an email lands up in the inboxes of tens of thousands of Tiny Buddha subscribers. It contains two real-life inspirational stories of hope, heartbreak and motivation, written by people from all kind of backgrounds, along with relevant photographs and a few links. Whether or not you click on them or go to the main site, you will take with you a piece of someone else’s life struggle and learn from their lessons. Often, these stories have a more lasting impact: They can propel you into making changes in your own thought process or behaviour patterns.

If you decide to click on one of the many links in the mail and go on to the main Tiny Buddha website, you will have access to thousands of other life testimonials, a vast compilation of quotes, and other resources for personal growth. It’s a living, organic and growing space, carrying silently the Buddha’s message of establishing world peace through individual happiness.

The woman behind it all is Lori Deschene, part Italian, part French and all American. Born in a little Massachusetts town with a population of 50,000 called Revere, Deschene, one of three siblings, studied acting and writing at Boston’s Emerson College in her late teens. Daughter of a loan-officer mother and printer father, Deschene began writing for a living, and continues to freelance through her site. “I’ve always believed it’s a priority to help alleviate pain for others, and that’s a big part of why I do what I do now,” she says. Tiny Buddha now gets over 2 million views a month, powered by 1 million combined social media followers (on Twitter, Facebook and Google+). Deschene currently lives in Los Angeles with her long-term boyfriend, though she plans to spend a lot of 2013 travelling in the US and Europe.

Why did you choose to name your site Tiny Buddha? Do you practice Buddhism?
The site actually came after the Twitter account, and a friend of mine came up with the name for that. Since it was originally meant to be just one daily quote, in 140 characters or less – and mostly from Buddhist philosophy – Tiny Buddha seemed like the perfect name. As for the second part of your question, I find a lot of peace and strength in Buddhist teachings, but I take pieces from many religions and spiritual traditions.

Is there any ritual you do every day, any prayer, meditation or chant?
Every morning I take a deep breath and tell myself, “Today is a new opportunity to be healthy, happy and free.”

Have you tried many different spiritual paths? What are they and how did they benefit you?
I was raised Catholic, though I never really connected to the religion. In high school, I discovered Wicca. At the time, I felt that choosing a religion was entirely arbitrary, since we tend to believe whatever our parents tell us to believe. If I was going to choose something for myself without any concrete proof that its story was any more accurate, I figured it might as well have been something unique and fun that involved costumes and magic. After that, I leaned toward atheism and eventually found Buddhism. What draws me to Buddhism is the emphasis on the everyday experience of living. I am comfortable acknowledging that there’s a lot I don’t know; all I know is that I have a say in how I experience this moment.

Your site is about the application of spiritual theories and celebrates the victories that normal human beings have in their everyday challenges. What gave you the idea of inviting readers to share their stories on your site?
Before I started tinybuddha.com, I briefly had a different blog that I modelled after other personal development blogs I’d seen around the web. The formula was: Share how you’ve gotten where you are, and then write posts to help others do what you’ve done. I soon realised that didn’t feel authentic for me. I didn’t want to put myself on a pedestal and build a site around my expertise. I wanted to be part of a community of people who would all be honest about our struggles and successes. This way, I wouldn’t have to stand above anyone, pretending to have it all figured out. We could all stand side by side, and be both students and teachers.

Why do you think it is more powerful (and empowering) to read someone’s personal account of their struggles versus reading simple tips on the matter?
The web overflows with informative articles that teach us how to do things. When it comes to tasks that don’t involve emotions, like fixing a sink, sure, we’re looking for step-by-step instructions. But when it comes to something personally challenging, I think we’re looking for more than advice; we’re looking for reassurance that we are not alone in what we’re going through, and that even if we’re struggling, there’s nothing wrong with us. When someone is willing to share what they’ve learned and how they’ve learned it, they give something far greater than the gift of their wisdom: They give others comfort in humbly acknowledging that we are all essentially the same.

What to you is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Religion entails dogma; spirituality is more open to personal interpretation.

You have readers from all over the world, which testifies to the ‘secular’ character of your site. How do you manage to keep it this way without veering towards any one spiritual practice or philosophy?
I actually go to great lengths to keep the conversations spiritually neutral. I stick to topics that pertain to our universal experiences and struggles, as opposed to publishing posts that pertain to any particular dogma or faith. My thought is that I’d rather start conversations about the experiences that connect us than the beliefs that separate us.

What did you learn from running a blog on religion and spirituality? 
One thing I’ve learned from running Tiny Buddha is that purpose doesn’t have to be about creating a specific outcome, and it doesn’t need to be something big, which I used to believe. It’s about having a reason to take consistent action every day – even if those actions are tiny – and believing that what you do makes a difference. I never had that feeling until I started the site, and it’s made my work much more enjoyable and satisfying.

What did happiness mean for you when you started out on your Tiny Buddha journey and what does happiness mean to you now?
Happiness means the same thing to me now as it did then: realising I won’t always feel happy, but trying to use as many moments as I can wisely, purposefully and joyfully.

First published in the February 2013 issue of Atelier Diva

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