How Mindfulness Transforms Our Lives

Mindfulness, Concentration, and Insight – The Plum Village Motto

How Mindfulness Transforms Our Lives

Discussion date: Thu, Jan 14, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Since the Mindfulness Trainings Transmission Ceremony on January 2nd, I’ve been reflecting on the underlying and often unrecognized orientations to life that are changed or reinforced when one receives the trainings, or more generally, when one become a committed mindfulness practitioner.

As I reflected on the question of how mindfulness transforms our lives, my thoughts coalesced on two orientations to life that have been important in my life and in the lives of people I’ve known: accepting the existence of intrinsic consequences and “not behaving as a victim.”

The existence of intrinsic consequences seems to be a part of almost everything the Buddha and the Buddhist sages taught. Our lives are transformed when we deeply accept the existence of intrinsic consequences:

Certain mind-states, thoughts, spoken words, and behaviors are likely to contribute to our suffering and the suffering of others.

Certain mind-states, thoughts, spoken words, and behaviors are likely to relieve our suffering and the suffering of others, or said a different way, contribute to our happiness.

The importance of intrinsic consequences is expressed in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. It is an inherent part of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the guidelines for monastics. It is implicit in Plum Village’s motto: Smrti, Samadhi, and Prajna (Mindfulness, Concentration, and Insight). Mindfulness and concentration help us to more clearly see what is occurring in us and around us. Insight enables us discern, bit by bit, the “roots and fruits,” the elements that contribute to our mind-states, thoughts, spoken words, and behaviors, and their consequences.

The second orientation is summed up in the phrase “not to behave as a victim.” Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) uses the phrase in the Eighth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, True Community and Communication:

We will take responsibility for all the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.

In Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go: Reflections on the Teachings of Zen Master Lin Chi, Thay writes:

The person who has nothing to do is sovereign unto herself. She doesn’t need to put on airs or leave a trace behind. The true person is an active participant, engaged in her environment while remaining unoppressed by it. Although all phenomena are going through the various appearances of birth, abiding, changing, and dying, the true person doesn’t become a victim of sadness, happiness, love or hate. She lives in awareness as an ordinary person, whether standing, walking, lying down, or sitting.

There are many individuals who have been victimized in horrible ways such as by childhood abuse and neglect or by violence. Throughout history there have been communities of people that have been victimized by wars, slavery, discrimination, racism, sexism, and other injustices. To some degree we are all victims –  receiving the fears, frustrations, prejudices, and limiting psychological adaptations of our ancestors.

But to be a victim is different from behaving as a victim. Dick Bolles, in “The History Of Life Work Planning,” writes about the Victim Mentality. It is an orientation to life that says:

“My life is essentially at the mercy of powerful forces out there that are beyond my control. And therefore it makes little difference what I want out of life; I must learn to settle for whatever I can get, since I am essentially powerless to make my life be other than it is.” …

There is a vast difference between being a victim, as we all are at times, and having the Victim Mentality. Being a victim means there are some areas of my life where I am battling powerful forces, but I will still do battle with them, and seek to prevail. Whereas, people in the grip of the Victim Mentality have essentially given up: what’s the use? Why even try? I am depressed. I have no hope. It is the difference between a soul that is a fighter, and a soul that has given up.

This Thursday and Friday evenings we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In our Dharma sharing we will explore how mindfulness practice and the Five Mindfulness Trainings have:

  • helped us become aware of the conditions that are likely to lead us to suffering or to happiness.
  • helped us reduce our tendencies to behave as victims.

You are invited to join us.

The underlying orientations of understanding intrinsic consequences and not behaving as a victim are lightheartedly described in the very short story by Portia Nelson offered below.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by  Portia Nelson, from There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk

 

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost … I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

 

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jan 14, 2021


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