Buddhist Intention: Being Kind in Unkind Times…
A reflection on practice by Larry Yang
Now more than ever we need our Mindfulness Practice.
We need the Freedom that Mindfulness invites for us — the freedom that we do not have to follow the unconscious patterns of acute reactivity. We need to remember that it is possible to notice deeply what is happening, understand it with some wisdom, treat it with some of the compassion inherent in our humanity, and move into responses and actions that are of benefit — that is, to move toward that which lessens suffering and creates happiness, not just for us as individuals, but us as a collective world.
Our Mindfulness practice, whether it is on the cushion paying attention to the emotions and thoughts that weave between the breath and bodily sensations, or whether it is in the world paying attention to our actions and behaviors which emerge from our emotions and thoughts, is always a reminder that in order to change any unhealthy or harmful patterns — in order to transform any suffering — we have to first become aware of the patterns themselves. We cannot change anything that we are not aware of. This is also true of our collective transformation into a culture that meets the needs of greater numbers of people and beings: We first have to become deeply aware of the conditions that we are living within, and then that will guide us into transforming the world into a better place to live.
On a personal level this may show up within the experience of intense emotions. Often we are driven by unconscious motivations of our emotional landscape. How often do we feel lost in the rage or the upset that sometimes arises? The powerful impact that Mindfulness brings is that the experience of being aware of the rage is not the rage itself. Being mindful of all the sensations of rage or anger is not being lost in or consumed by the fire. How often do we actually feed the experience of anger without examining what is really happening? Do you find yourself pouring fuel on the fire of rage, or even getting angry at the anger? What might be happening other than the thoughts or emotions inflaming the fuel?
If we examine closely, we will likely find that the experiences of anger and rage have pleasant sensations associated with them. Pleasant sensations are always seductive. That is the nature of “pleasant.” And generally, without an awareness practice, unconscious conditioning impels our human experience to desire more pleasant sensations — without any questions asked. We begin to enjoy the sensations of feeling angry and even feed them with experiences such as self- righteousness, or a sense of “better-than,” or even revenge. The deceptive nature of the pleasant feelings of rage is that the behaviors and actions which emerge do not always lead to less suffering in the world. Much of our behavior and actions in the world are driven by the immediacy of this kind of reaction toward strong emotions or acute pain. These actions often lead to more suffering — unless there is Mindfulness.
Anger is an important barometer possibly indicating when boundaries have been crossed, or injustices have occurred or oppression has been inflicted. However, anger can also have an unconscious life of its own when it is not met with the central question of our Awareness practice, which is also a vital choice-point of Buddhist spiritual practice: Will this lead to more suffering, or will this lead to less?
Life is complicated and this is not always a clean or clear decision point. Our practice simply invites us to do the best we can — to be as mindful, aware and kind to whatever arises, even our intense emotional landscapes. The personal mantra that I have developed to navigate through the complex dilemmas and social issues arising currently is:
Can I be mindful and loving of whatever arises.
If I can’t be loving in this moment, can I be kind.
If I can’t be kind, can I be non-judgmental.
If I can’t be non-judgmental, can I not cause harm.
And if I cannot not cause harm, can I cause the least amount of harm possible?
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