Some years ago, my mother shared with me a printed page titled “The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings”, which many people will recognize as the authoritative and excellent list of personal and interpersonal tools from Thich Nhat Hahn. They are wisdom indeed. I have kept them and often refer to them.
A little background: My training in customer service, broadcasting, instruction, management and now NVC has included methods for putting aside the habitual use of negatives (“no”, “not”, “can’t”, “don’t”, “won’t” and all their cousins) and turning phrases around to be positive instead. In business and in life, this opens opportunities that might otherwise be missed. For example: “That’s not in your contract” can be turned around to “Your current contract covers up to this point. We can offer two solutions today: one is that you can pay a one-time fee for this service–for which we’ll offer a discount–and the other is that you can expand your contract to cover the service both today and for the remainder of the contract…” Where the first response puts up an instant wall, and there the conversation ends, the second one offers two affirmative solutions, either one of which has the potential to help the customer a great deal.
The same principle is true in daily life and dealings with other beings: rather than saying “No, I don’t want to go out tonight”, one could just as easily say “I’d love to go out later in the week; this evening I hope to prepare a new recipe that I’ve been wanting to try. Will you join me?”
What an affirming response!
In the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, I have been consistently surprised by the feeling that the language is negative, even if couched in positive terms. Nearly every point leads with a form of “Do not…” or “Avoid” or some other negative. Given my training, which has now become ingrained (though I am a passionate being and still struggle with it in the heat of the moment or in moments of mindlessness), I wished to rephrase the points so that each one resonated with both my training and my personal inclinations toward the visionary and affirming. In my opinion, all of creation would be better served if we were to move toward rather than away.
With eternal gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh for the inspiration and wisdom of the original tools, and further gratitude to all mentors who have coached me in large and small ways to take on positive and affirming habits, here is a paraphrase:
- Be willing to explore and listen to ideas in all doctrines, theories and ideologies. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means rather than absolute truth.
- Be aware that the knowledge you presently possess is subject to change and evolution. Be willing to open your mind to possible future views. Learn and practice detachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life, beyond merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality and practice clarity in yourself and in the world at all times.
- Be gentle with others’ views: through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness. Help others, including children, develop their integrity and free will by introducing them to views other than your own, letting go of claims to authority, threat, money, propaganda or even education.
- Open your eyes before suffering and face it willingly. Remain aware of the existence of suffering in the life of the world, and integrate the awareness of it into your being. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, images and sound. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of the suffering world. Such wakefulness is the beginning of compassion, change and spiritual integration.
- If you accumulate wealth through your work and good fortune, use it in acts of charity, compassion and generosity. Let its energy flow through you into the world around you. Fame, profit, wealth and sensual pleasure are empty pursuits. Live simply and share time, energy and material resources with those who are in need.
- Live in forgiveness and love. Let go of anger and hatred; learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. The instant you begin to feel them, attend to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your anger and hatred, and the nature and needs of the persons who have caused these feelings. Identify your own feelings and needs as well as those of the other person or persons and work toward reconciliation.
- Remain collected and focused on the now, rather than being scattered and dispersed in your activities and surroundings, lost in memories or dreams of an unknown future. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what exists in the present moment, where life can only truly be lived. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing and healing, both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.
- Strive to utter words that encourage concord and unity. Make effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
- Speak the truth. Be silent if your words would cause division or hatred, or are self-serving. Confirm news as true and certain before sharing it. If you offer criticism, be certain you fully understand what you are criticizing, and speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
- Your religious community is for spiritual enlightenment and unity rather than personal gain or profit or purely political motives. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand in favor of freedom, peace and justice and against oppression and injustice; it should always strive to improve the situation, working across all parties to be agents of change.
- Select a vocation that helps you realize your ideal of compassion. Likewise let go of any vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Invest only in companies that encourage life, freedom and compassion. Withdraw any investments in companies that directly or indirectly cause harm.
- Honor all life. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent or stop war.
- Possess only those things that are rightfully yours. Respect the property of others. Help others to profit from interdependence and interconnection with all species on earth.
- Honor your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way, however you define it. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.
I celebrate thoughtful collaboration on this article with Rachel A. Buddeberg and with Judith Katz.
Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.