Rainstorm near Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand
Exactly two years ago in July 2014, I wrote a post based on some well-known lines from the Dhammapada:
Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law. 1
Lately, that same post has been getting some views again, perhaps because there seem to have been just so many painful events in the world recently. And perhaps like many others, at times I feel overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of suffering. I notice my mind flipping between two modes: wanting to shut it all out, or compulsively needing to know the latest details.
Denial isn’t healthy, of course, but neither is unconsciously feeding the misery. Because of the mind’s inherent “negativity bias,”2 it’s easy to develop a distorted perception of the world. This is then amplified by the collective negativity-bias of the media, and the relentless twenty-four-hour reporting of tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.
A few years ago, I remember reading a discussion between a psychologist and a well-known dharma teacher about how to stay present when sitting with distressed clients, hour after hour. The dharma teacher suggested that for every hour of contact with a client, the therapist should take at least one hour of silent time to meditate and come back to balance, before seeing the next client.
It sounded like a great idea, but I couldn’t imagine any of the psychologists or psychotherapists – or even dharma teachers I knew – being able to put it into practice. And yet now more than ever, perhaps we need to reconsider it: to find ways of taking a break or making some space or creating more silence so that the psyche can recuperate a little.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese dharma teacher, has written extensively about this need to protect our hearts and minds from “toxins” of various kinds. In search of inspiration, I recently re-read his Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are a translation of the standard five ethical precepts. Here’s a summary of all five:
The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, in the family and in society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity, not stealing and not exploiting other living beings. The third is the practice of responsible sexual behavior in order to protect individuals, couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.3
His re-writing of the last precept really stood out for me, with its emphasis on refreshing, healing, and nourishing. I’m sharing it in full here, with the hope it might offer just a moment or two of relief, or perhaps even some inspiration to keep orienting towards “peace, joy and well-being.”
Nourishment and Healing: the fifth of five mindfulness trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. 3
Labyrinth at Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand
Remembering to orient to the good, as well as the challenging
The intention here is not to ignore or deny painful experiences, but to try to maintain balance. At times, I need to consciously remember the many, many people who are working towards overcoming suffering; and to remember how many positive changes are taking place, even though they might not get much media coverage.
Martin Luther King jr
Thich Nhat Hanh is one example I turn to for inspiration, and Martin Luther King Junior another. These two knew each other quite well in the 1960s, and I sometimes like to imagine the discussions they would have had with each other back then. Perhaps there’s an echo of the Dhammapada verses in this famous quote by Dr King:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. 4
May we all keep finding balance in the midst of darkness, and keep re-orienting to love.
Photo of Dr King and Thich Nhat Hanh from http://www.thisishowiflow.com/thich-nhat-hanh/
PS For more on Thich Nhat Hanh, here’s quite an inspiring short conversation between Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah Winfrey: