Most people who teach secular mindfulness are wary about talking about anything to do with ethics because it’s seen as crossing the line into the territory of religion. Teaching people to deal with stress is fine, but discussing the effect of lying, hatred or greed on your mental health is a bridge too far.
The fact is that you really do reap what you sow. If you spend the day resenting someone and then sit down to try to have a peaceful meditation, you’ve got no chance of calming your mind.
Indeed, in many Buddhist traditions you would study and apply ethics before you even got started on your meditation, because they understood it was a prerequisite to being able to concentrate.
I don’t know about you, but when the subject of ethics comes up, I have a tendency to think, “We’ll I’m basically a good person, there’s not much I need to change.” It’s easy to justify our own behaviour!
Here are two principals we were taught on the retreat I recently returned from, that if you do live by, will surely lead to a happier life and one that is more to the benefit of others.
- Don’t take out more than you put in.
Currently we are using the world’s resources four times faster than than they are being replaced. Only a short time ago it was three times faster.
Apply that to our individual lives and you can see that we’re often trying to get more for ourselves — attention, recognition, money, treats, peak experiences, status… and we’re not so focused on what we have to give.
When you can be content just sitting in silence you realise how few your needs are and how much you can give, which is what really makes you happy.
One of the areas I feel I most need to work on in this area is time. I try to take too much out of each day for fear of missing out or falling behind in some way, and end up rushing, not preparing well and not enjoying what I’m doing as much as I could have if I’d left more space.
2. Be totally unwilling to harm yourself or others in pursuit of your desires.
What harm are you doing to yourself in pursuit of what you want to achieve at work — do you harm your back? Do you subject yourself regularly to stress? Do you sacrifice sleep and eating well?
Does the work you do harm others in any way? Do you gossip in order to undermine people? Are you putting others down to make yourself look good? Are there people you resent and treat with disrespect or disdain?
It is said that suffering follows ill-will like the cart follows the horse. The reality is it is never in our interests to harm others in pursuit of our desires because when we harm another we harm ourselves.
What about you? I’d be interested to know what you think of the principles and to what extent you feel you do or don’t live by them. Leave a comment on Facebook.