#Mindfulness: A New Offensive

About a month ago, I was engaged in a conversation about how certain negative outcomes arise when your culture is problem finding and you are solution driven. It’s a wonderful thing to want to fix and improve things but an emotional drawback could be the sensitivity and ease at which you can be offended. You end up being quite judgmental and get quite attached to what is “the right” thing vs “the wrong” approach. We can really dig our heals into our opinions and be given to gossip or conflict in a culture like that. Furthermore, this is the sort of negative energy that usually surrounds our New Year’s resolution. To experience true freedom and creativity, we have to remain open and stay mindful of how we want to behave when we are engaged in life’s circumstances. Then there is a lot of space available when we remain accessible to possibilities.

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I recently went to Plum Village on a Mindfulness retreat in Thailand. Plum Village’s founder is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master who, if you are a westerner, can thank him if you have heard of the term mindfulness because of his work of bringing this practice outside of Asia. The week was full of a multitude of wonderful practices–things I thought I knew about the practice but have come to understand my deep ignorance. What a blessing to have a revelation like this! One of the monks there asked if we planned to go into the “New Year” with an “Old Mind”? What an interesting question? If I make a “goal” but don’t change my habits or perspectives, how could I really expect 2018 to be any different than 2017?

Which leads me to the practice of mindfulness. What I hadn’t appreciated is how rooted it is in the Noble 8-Fold Path– an essential part of the Buddhist philosophy. (I suppose if Buddhism was a real religion then you could liken it to something like the 10 Commandments traditions because it is supposed to act as a guide for living.) During this retreat, we had to reflect and deepen our practice of how we observe others and their circumstances so that we can cultivate compassion and love. We were invited to make 2 promises: to love people, animals, plants, and minerals; and to seek to understand through deep looking of others and ourselves so that we may bring about more joy and compassion in the world. These 2 promises can be attained through the Noble 8-Fold Path.

“When you look for the good in others, you discover the best in yourself.”
― Martin Walsh

As I prepare to leave this sanctuary at Plum Village, I think about how I might use this Noble 8-Fold Path to transform my problem-oriented mind to one that is understanding- oriented so I can look beyond the circumstances and develop greater compassion. Although this practice is incredibly gentle, I thought that in order for me to really bridge the benefits into the “real world”, then I must take the offensive–prepare myself for the frustration and worries that typically plague me and my world on a regular basis. I must remain driven. But not to be successful, but to be kind, to be present, to be grateful and most importantly… to BREATH.

 

The Empty Boat

If your mission in life is to make a positive difference and not to prove how smart you are and right you can be, then you will appreciate the message of the Empty Boat.

 

 

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.

-Chuang Tzu, a Chinese Taoist philosopher

 

I love this reminder–that no one is intentionally acting maliciously toward us. Just as an empty boat that rams into us isn’t aspiring to injure us, so too people who act unkindly are unconsciously acting out of their own desires. It’s nothing personal. We are not victims of circumstance and until we realize this, we will remain imprisoned by this offense. However if we can shift our focus,  assuming innocence and not attaching to it responsibility-quotes-you-must-take-personal-responsibility-quotesemotionally, then we can experience greater freedom and joy in our lives.

So, as we sit in our boats, we are always at choice as we traverse the rivers of life. So what can we choose?

Well, as I see it, there are 3 directions that I can cast my gaze when reflecting upon how I engage in life:

  1. Looking inward: my thoughts and judgements of myself.
  2. Looking outward: my thoughts and actions towards people.
  3. Looking at the environment: my response to the changes which I have no control over.

I know that I have to take personal responsibility for the emotions I feel, and I am at choice to greet these “empty boats” with anger or amusement.  It’s a habit that I wish to cultivate, in which I can view these aspects of my life with non-attachment and acceptance.