Dharma Topic: Cultivating Authentic Responsibility

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, May 12, after our meditationperiod, we will recite together the five mindfulness trainings and have adiscussion on the third of the trainings, on sexual responsibility.

The first sentence of the training reads:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful sexual behavior, I am committed to cultivating sexual responsibility and respect in myself and in others.

As I pondered this sentence, I was aware of two verydifferent responses I have to the word "responsibility." One responseis to hear rules and external authority. The teenager in me rebels against whatthe joyless adults want me to do. The American heritage dictionary definesresponsibility as: "Something for which one is responsible; a duty, anobligation, or a burden." It makes responsibility sound heavy and not veryappealing.

Marshall Rosenberg, who created Nonviolent Communication, isespecially sensitive to how natural it is to rebel when we feel that externallyimposed (or suggested) responsibilities are directing our actions.

Nothing creates more resistance than telling people they "should" or "have to" or "must" or "ought to" do something. These terms eliminate choice. Without the freedom to choose, life becomes slave like. "I had to do it, superior’s orders" is the response of people robbed of their free will. Prompted by directives and injunctions, people do not take responsibility for their actions.

My second response to the term responsibility is to see init the qualities of freedom and joy. One of the things I have learned frommindfulness practice is that our responses to stimuli do not have to beautomatic, there are always many options. And also, that every action, (ofthought, speech, or behavior) has consequences for ourselves and others. Withour actions we make manifest our intentions. Through our mindful choices wecreate the world we inhabit. We can rejoice in our responsibility, for withoutit we cannot live as free, authentic persons.

If we accept the idea that authentic responsibility issomething very different than adherence to the behavioral norms of others, forme, the interesting question becomes: how do we cultivate authenticresponsibility? What concrete practices help us and others develop theawareness, autonomy, and self efficacy out of which authentic responsibilitymight emerge? How do we encourage and nourish not just sexual responsibility,but also moral responsibility, ecological responsibility, and every other typeof responsibility?

You are invited to join us this Thursday for our sitting,our recitation, and our discussion. (The text of the Third Mindfulness Trainingand an additional quote from Marshall Rosenberg are below)

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner 
Senior Teacher

Third Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful sexual behavior,I am committed to cultivating sexual responsibility and respect in myself and inothers.

I will learn ways to protect the physical and emotionalintegrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. If I choose to engagein sexual relations, I will do so only in a loving and committed relationship.To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect myemotional, physical, and legal commitments to my partner, as well as commitmentsamong other persons. I will do everything in my power to protect children,women, and men from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from beingbroken by unmindful sexual behavior. I will be mindful of loneliness and sexualsuffering in myself and others and I will be compassionate and nonjudgmentalconcerning the sexual behavior of others.

Two Questions That Reveal The Limitations Of Punishment
(From Marshall B Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)

Two questions help us see why we are unlikely to get what wewant by using punishment to change people’s behavior. The first question is: Whatdo I want this person to do that’s different from what he or she is currentlydoing? If we ask only this first question, punishment may seem effectivebecause the threat or exercise of punitive force may well influence the person’sbehavior. However, with the second question, it becomes evident that punishmentisn’t likely to work: What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doingwhat I’m asking?

We seldom address the latter question, but when we do, wesoon realize that punishment and reward interfere with people’s ability to dothings motivated by the reasons we’d like them to have. I believe it is criticalto be aware of the importance of people’s reasons for behaving as we request.For example, blaming or punishing would obviously note be effective strategiesif we want children to clean their rooms out of either a desire for order or adesire to contribute to the parents’ enjoyment of order. Often children cleantheir rooms motivated by obedience to authority ("Because my Mom saidso"), avoidance of punishment, or fear of upsetting or being rejected byparents. NVC, however, fosters a level of moral development based on autonomyand interdependence, whereby we acknowledge responsibility for our own actionsand are aware that our own well-being and that of others are one and the same.