Joshua Kaufman: Aspiring to a global ethic

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

Since the election, and more broadly over the last 18 months of the campaign season, this country has seen a level of animosity and anger rarely experienced on such a scale, impacting families, neighbors and entire communities.

As we move forward, it is imperative that we find ways to ground ourselves so that our thought, speech and action is both intentional and does not cause unintended harm.

I have found that the practice of mindfulness is a key ingredient in my being able to recognize strong emotions before they take hold of my words or deeds. Finding solidity in the present moment, and being able to touch the wonders of life in and around me, allow me to find happiness, even in darkness, and to recognize that my mood and behavior is always up to me.

Perhaps a global ethic is what we need for guidance. Beyond party platforms or political affiliations, a set of universal principles allows us to see that we have more in common than differences; it is up to all of us to work together to move the world toward one we would like to leave for our children and their children.

Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has proposed a set of guiding “mindfulness trainings” that may be a part of the solution.

The first mindfulness training, reverence for life, encourages us to pay attention to our thought, speech and action in the realm of non-harming. It asks each of us to cultivate openness and non-attachment to views for the purpose of transforming violence, fanaticism and dogmatism in ourselves and in the world.

The second mindfulness training, true happiness, encourages each of us to commit to practice generosity in our thinking, speaking and acting; to share time and material resources with others in need.

It asks each of us to recognize that our own happiness cannot be separated from the happiness of others, and that true happiness requires understanding and compassion.

Finally, the second training allows us to remember that our happiness is not dependent on external circumstances, but on our own mental attitudes; we can live happily in the present moment, and that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

The third mindfulness training, true love, begins with the awareness that sexual misconduct and sexual abuse always harm individuals, family and society.

This training encourages each of us to recognize that body and mind are one and to learn appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy; to cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for our greater happiness and the greater happiness of others.

The fourth mindfulness training, loving Speech and deep listening, focuses on the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others. It asks each of us to see that the ways we communicate can relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, as well as nations.

It reminds us to speak truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope, to recognize when anger is manifesting, and to practice mindful breathing and walking. Practicing like this, we can gradually transform anger, violence and fear that lie deep in our consciousness.

The fifth mindfulness training, nourishment and healing, focuses on the suffering caused by unmindful consumption. It asks us to commit to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for ourselves, our families, our society and the Earth, by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

Looking deeply into how we consume food, the media, the aim of our life, and the general social mood, we gradually begin to choose to practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in and around us, and not try to cover up loneliness, anxiety or other suffering by losing ourselves in consumption.

Sweetwater Sangha is a local group of practitioners who come together on a weekly basis to practice the art and science of mindfulness, and to build community. We are non-partisan, inclusive, and open to all views. At the same time we take a clear stand against violence, injustice and oppression. All are welcome to join us Sundays, 3-4:30 p.m., Agua Dulce Women’s Club.

Joshua Kaufman is an Agua Dulce resident. For more information, email him at [email protected].

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