Prioritizing Our Values with Flexibility and Love

Garden of One Thousand Buddhas (Arlee, MT); photo by Eric Donaldson

Prioritizing Our Values with Flexibility and Love

Discussion date: Thu, Dec 29, 2022 at our weekly Thursday evening practice
Thursday Evening Online Program
December 29, 2022  7:00 to 8:45 Eastern time

Dear Still Water Friends,

I know that it is in my nature to be rigid in my values, to know the rules and follow them closely. I truly take comfort in doing things by the book and insisting that others around me do so as well. As you can imagine, this has left me with a reputation of one who likes to follow rules, or as my kids used to say when they were teenagers, I am a little uptight! I have always kind of shrugged off such criticisms, resting in my self-assuredness that I am solid because following my conviction is being true to myself. And, following the rules is good, right? The problem with this approach is that it becomes easy to overlay my values onto others and become judgmental when others prioritize their values differently.

Recently, I listened to an episode entitled “Conviction” on the Buddhist Boot Camp podcast. The host, Timber Hawkeye, discussed this topic in detail. I gained some profound insights on the importance of prioritizing values and being flexible versus being rigid, and a deeper understanding of how people can hold the same values but prioritize them differently. In the podcast, Timber used an example of two friends who held a similar conviction to support only women-owned chocolate bar companies that followed sustainable, earth-friendly practices. However, because no chocolate bar companies met all their shared criteria for the perfect chocolate bar, the two friends chose to purchase their own chocolate bars by prioritizing the same values differently.

This discussion really helped me gain insight into an experience in my own home. My wife and I share the conviction that we should do all that we can to reduce our impact on the planet’s resources; she feels strongly that we should reduce our use of single-use plastics, and has purchased washable plastic bags that I find very cumbersome and inconvenient. As a result, I have complained frequently. I agree that we should reduce our use of such plastics, but from my perspective, reducing food waste feels like a more practical way to have an impact. So, I have focused rigidly on reducing food waste, and often bring it up. I know that I can be very annoying when closely monitoring our grocery purchases, looking for ways to reduce the potential for having to throw something out.

The podcast helped me see that my wife and I have different priorities when it comes to the values of our common conviction. It helped me realize how rigidly sticking to my own convictions without taking a step back to look at the larger picture has led to much suffering.

In the book Answers from the Heart, our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh addressed a question about letting go with these words:

Many people have the desire to let go, but they’re not able to do so because they don’t yet have enough insight; they haven’t seen other alternatives, other doorways to peace and happiness.  Fear is an element that prevents us from letting go.  We’re fearful that if we let go we’ll have nothing else to cling to.  Letting go is a practice; it’s an art.  One day, when you’re strong enough and determined enough, you’ll let go of the afflictions that make you suffer.

I see now that my wife and I are on the same team, that we hold the same overall conviction of wanting to reduce the amount of the planet’s resources we use. Only our priorities differ in how we attempt to manifest our conviction. This was a profound change in how I viewed this minor conflict at home and has made me more aware of how rigidity in my convictions closes me off to the perspective of others who are on the same team. Letting go of the rigidity surrounding my values and my desire for others to follow the same values is the beginning of a new perspective for me. Being flexible and lovingly opening to my values opens the door for new possibilities in connection and collaboration.
This Thursday evening after our regular sitting and walking meditations we will share our experiences with our convictions and the ways in which we prioritize our values. Here are some questions to help guide our discussion:

  • What values and convictions do you hold dear?
  • Where do you draw the line with how rigidly you adhere to your values? Where do love and flexibility play a role?
  • How do you skillfully navigate your convictions and values with love and flexibility?

Below, after the Still Water announcements, you will find a longer excerpt from Answers from the Heart.

I hope you can join us on Thursday evening.

Warm regards,

Eric Donaldson


Excerpt from Answers from the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh

Q: I have a lot of trouble letting go of things:  relationships, jobs, feelings, and so on.  How can I reduce these attachments?

A:   To “let go” means to let go of something.  That something may be an object of our mind, something we’ve created, like an idea, feeling, desire, or belief.  Getting stuck on that idea could bring a lot of unhappiness and anxiety.

We’d like to let it go, but how?  It’s not enough just to want to let it go, we have to recognize it first as being something real.  We have to look deeply into its nature and where it has come from, because ideas are born from feelings, emotions, and past experiences, from things we’ve seen and heard.  With the energy of mindfulness and concentration, we can look deeply and discover the roots of the idea, the feeling, the emotion, the desire.  Mindfulness and concentration bring about insight, and insight can help us release the object in our mind.

Say you have a notion of happiness, an idea about what will make you happy.  That idea has its roots in you and your environment.  The idea tells you what conditions you need in order to be happy.  You’ve entertained the idea for ten or twenty years, and now you realize that your idea of happiness is making you suffer.  There may be an element of delusion, anger, or craving in it.  On the other hand, you know that you have other kinds of experiences:  moments of joy, release, or true love.  You recognize these as moments of real happiness.  When you have had a moment of real happiness, it becomes easier to release the objects of your craving, because you are developing the insight that these objects will not make you happy.

Many people have the desire to let go, but they’re not able to do so because they don’t yet have enough insight; they haven’t seen other alternatives, other doorways to peace and happiness.  Fear is an element that prevents us from letting go.  We’re fearful that if we let go we’ll have nothing else to cling to.  Letting go is a practice; it’s an art.  One day, when you’re strong enough and determined enough, you’ll let go of the afflictions that make you suffer.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Dec 29, 2022


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