autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

Advice from the heart – mindfulness of surroundings

Today’s ‘Advice from the heart’ deals with the wisdom of being mindful of one’s surroundings:

Avoid places that disturb your mind, and always remain where your virtues increase.

It seems a simple enough thing, until I take a moment and think about the places I go and things I do in a given year. The practice of working at being peaceful in mind is certainly something most people I know want to become proficient at, but I also know that the peskiness of thoughts and emotions that rise from them can be trying at times. The notion of increasing one’s virtues posits several things that a human isn’t always able or willing to acknowledge:

  1. That one has virtues,
  2. That admitting to them is not only worthwhile, but helpful,
  3. That pondering the nature of a virtue and why one might want to have it is helpful,
  4. That it is perfectly ok to acknowledge one is lacking a virtue or needs work to increase the presence of a virtue in their life,
  5. That it is reasonable and helpful to be kind to oneself in considering all of these things.

The virtues that are set forth as beneficial to oneself and others within the context of Buddhism are as follows:

  • Generosity
  • Ethics
  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Concentration
  • Wisdom

The advice to bide only in places that are helpful to the mind is something of a precursor to being able to focus or work upon developing these virtues. If your life is fraught with stress, drama, danger, unhappiness, or any other outcome of negative interaction, how easy will it be to focus upon any of these virtues? I don’t know about you, but my ability to be good to myself or anyone else depends largely upon how free my mind is of distractions and clutter.

How can I possibly focus on figuring out and enacting something helpful to someone else if I’ve got cerebral or emotional earthquakes happening in my head?

For that matter, how helpful can I be to myself or to anyone if I’m so captured by what is happening to or around me that I cannot think of anything else?

These (the above) were the thoughts that came to me when I finally made time to study and consider this piece of advice. Most of my personal practice lately rests in reading and considering some interesting connections and parallels that are coming to light between the realms of Buddhism and (of all things) Science. Specifically, the fields of neuro-psychology and quantum physics. I suppose that will sound a bit unusual or perhaps even pretentious, but, as it turns out, the ‘status quo’ thinking about how humans are ‘stuck with the mind they were born with’ not only isn’t true, it is utterly refuted by the latest findings…. you CAN change your mind; how it works, how it communicates, and how you feel or react/respond to things.

That, to me, is simply astonishing and more than a little beautiful. I have a temptation to delve into the details, but I will refrain. Instead, I will recommend (briefly) a very good book that outlines it all from the perspective of a Buddhist lama who has (and still does) work with some of the leading minds in the above mentioned sciences. If you have deeper interest, you may find this book a very good and helpful read:

The Joy of Living: Unlocking the secret and science of happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson

Apologies, I am rambling a bit. The point here is that this piece of advise in particular has been extremely helpful to me because it has helped me really lock onto the idea that having an environment in which I can create good things for myself ultimately helps not only me, but everyone around me. It allows me the space in which to explore and learn, it provides the quiet needed to effectively be in touch with myself, and it gives me the sense of safety needed to be open and honest with myself so I can accomplish any of it.

The pursuit of the virtues themselves is an ongoing challenge and, I suspect, this will be unchanging. I am unaware of any human that is consistently able to enact them all and the nature of this world is not such to support efforts to be consistent in any of them. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it is a perfect environment in which to be challenged to pay attention to oneself, be mindful of oneself and one’s surroundings, and to always be willing to consider how one’s choices support or fail to support that active pursuit of virtue.

I don’t think anyone can be virtuous all the time, but by the same token, I don’t think striving for such a thing is without serious benefit. Virtue has suffered for the implication that its pursuit is somehow a marker of arrogance or self-superiority; that those who purpose to be virtuous are somehow selfish or more interested in appearances and accolades than any real interest in being virtuous itself.

I suppose that statement is its own best evidence of my progress or lack thereof. After all, why should any of that matter to me, eh? Two sides of the same coin… it is not helpful to think of how virtue suffers any more than it is helpful to think of how having virtue benefits other than as a personal motivation to keep oneself interested in the pursuit.

When I think about people I have known in life to whom any of those virtues might be applied, I am reminded that true virtue isn’t really about anything other than being virtuous just because you can. Without thought, without motivation, simply because it is who and how you are… and I think this is the truest and best reason why this ‘Advice from the heart’ is helpful, because the only way such things arise is for one to find the place from which they are so well assimilated into oneself that they are no longer other than natural.