27 May 2020

Noble Action

Living in awareness cuts through erroneous divisions the human mind makes between ‘me’ and ‘other’, ‘us’ and ‘them’. Anxiety loses its primary foothold when we learn to trust and be trustworthy. We can relax. As we come to know more of our innate connectedness to other beings, we are more considerate in how we treat them.

We incline to activities that align with our values, rather than being swayed by fads and fashions. We reflect on how we make a livelihood and the impact it has on others. We see the sense in rejecting association or involvement with destructive behaviour. When we witness mistreatment, cruelty and injustice, we more readily take a stand against them.

Taking Care of Life

Active engagement with this troublesome world is as much part of ‘practice’ as appreciating its joys and wonders. True mindful living is not reducible to watching the breath on a meditation cushion; it means being dynamically in the world, with eyes wide open.

Such a comprehensive ‘taking care’ of life is what links mindfulness organically to friendliness – the willingness to move close to, respect and connect with. To be discerning about what we consume, physically and mentally, and thoughtful about what we produce, in both word and deed, is to approach life with open hands and an open heart.

Becoming more discriminating in how we take in the world, and cognizant of what we put into it, leads to a more nourishing experience for everyone. Mindfulness takes the form of a rapport with other beings and greater tolerance of the vicissitudes of life. Whatever shows up, we breathe with it, respond intentionally, observe what happens and learn from experience.

Good Practice Guidelines

Mindfulness is rooted in an ethical foundation for living. Cultivating awareness goes hand-in-hand with freeing oneself from destructive habits and careless acts. A traditional five-fold scheme to support one’s practice is:
  • To avoid harming living beings
  • To avoid taking what is not freely given
  • To avoid causing suffering through sexual behaviour
  • To avoid speaking untruths
  • To avoid indulging unmindful states through alcohol or drugs.
These are not commandments. They are training guidelines. They underscore the aspiration to live harmoniously with oneself and with others. They encourage awareness of one’s actions and the effects of these actions. For example, the point concerning intoxicants that cloud the mind is not a moral judgement on intoxicants, but a caution about their potential impact on the other four guidelines.

These five guidelines, expressed above as abstentions, also have a flipside. When lived by, they express themselves in their positive aspect, which are, respectively:
  • To act with kindness and compassion
  • To act generously
  • To practise contentment in one’s relationships
  • To communicate truthfully and recognise falsity
  • To act mindfully.
Designed to foster a particular attitude to life, such guidelines are the symptom and product of authentic mindfulness practice. Interestingly, practitioners often spontaneously develop such ethical sensibilities despite having no intellectual knowledge of these traditional guidelines.

From: Mindfulness for Unravelling Anxiety, 2016.

The Power of Practice

Recently I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. We had planned to walk and talk on the seafront but a high wind ma...