The Practice of Diligence
Practice One: Using The Events of Life as Your Primary Spiritual Practice
An Asian parable tells the story of a farmer who lived in rural China hundreds of years ago. He had a son who was the apple of his eye and a prize stallion that he treasured. At the end of a long day, the farmer noticed that the gate to his pasture was open and that his stately horse was nowhere to be seen. When the villagers found out that his stallion was missing, they came over one by one and announced their condolences. They said, “Your valuable stallion is gone. Oh, it is so bad!” The farmer answered, “Who knows? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.” The people returned to their homes.
The next day the farmer sent his son to search far and wide for the stallion. He found it grazing in a field several miles away with another majestic steed and was able to guide them both back to the farm. The villagers came round again and declared, “You have reclaimed your noble stallion and acquired another beautiful horse, as well! Oh, it is so good!” The farmer answered, “Who knows? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.” The people returned to their homes.
The following day when the farmer’s son was attempting to break in the new horse, it bucked him off and the son crashed to the ground, breaking his leg. All the villagers came over and asserted, “That foul beast has broken your son’s leg! Oh, it is so bad!” The farmer answered, “Who knows? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.” The people returned to their homes.
As it happens, the emperor’s army entered the village the next day announcing that a war was underway, and all the young men were required to enlist. The farmer’s son could not go because he had a broken leg. The villagers congregated at the farmer’s home once again and proclaimed, “Your son’s leg is broken, so he cannot go to war! Oh, it is so good!” The farmer answered, “Who knows? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.” The people returned to their homes. And so it goes . . .
Just like the villagers in this parable, every day I have the temptation to label events in my life as either good or bad. I put them in the “good box” or the “bad box.” I define an event as good according to how much pleasure it brings me. I categorize an event as bad according to how much pain I suffer in relation to it.
I know that I have put something in the bad box when I start to feel uncomfortable — anxious, sad, frustrated, angry, etc. I have decided that things should not be the way they are, and my body responds with physical cues of my mental discomfort.
The problem with putting something in the bad box is that my thinking follows that assessment. Now that I have labeled something as bad, I start to resist it — to resist what is. Once I start to resist it, then I try to manipulate the situation or person so that it will change to the way I think things should be. I begin trying to control something that is outside of my control. By this labeling, resisting, and manipulating, I cause my own suffering.
The trouble with putting things in the good box, being attached to a preference, is that once I label an event as good, then I start clinging to it and comparing it to what I have now. If now does not measure up to what I had then, I start to resist what is and try to manipulate the situation into being what I want it to be. Accordingly, if I become attached to what I have now and fear that the future will be less pleasurable, then I try to hold on to the present moment for dear life. By this labeling, resisting, and manipulating, I cause my own suffering.
The truth is that no event is inherently good or bad, but rather everything just is; and in this is-ness, there is an opportunity to love. Events are value-neutral. The experiences of pleasure and pain do not define the inherent value of events. Every situation provides the chance to surrender my attachments and aversions. In each moment I am invited to reframe my perspective by taking things out of the good box and the bad box and seeing everything as an opportunity to love.
Life provides many opportunities to be diligent in offering love.
Practice Two: Getting To Know Your Emotional Triggers and Reinforcing Your Values
A Native American parable tells the story of an old Cheyenne warrior who sat down one evening with his grandson and told him about a battle that goes on inside of people. The elderly warrior said, “Grandson, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cheyenne simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Becoming conscious of how the bad wolf operates in my life is the first step toward freedom. The way I increase awareness of the bad wolf within me is through paying attention to the story that I tell myself when I am triggered and noticing my habitual negative behaviors. What wound has been pricked in my subconscious when I am upset? Is it my disordered need for approval/validation, security, or control? Onto whom do I often project blame? What hidden should or ought keeps me bound in a judgmental attitude? I can withdraw blame when I acknowledge that the people whom I accuse are operating from their own woundedness and self-centeredness, just like me, and doing the best they can in this moment (even if I think they should know better). It is my job to take responsibility for my emotions and to set boundaries when they are required.
I can strengthen the good wolf by intentionally doing those things that open my heart, quiet my mind, and encourage mindful embodiment, such as immersing myself in inspirational literature and media, engaging in regular contemplative practices, and participating in encouraging fellowship and corporate spiritual rituals. The good wolf is reinforced one moment at a time, just like any other skill is learned, through consistent, daily practice, and the effect of my practice is evident when I am mindful, emotionally balanced, and compassionate — to others and to myself.
Life provides many opportunities to be diligent in noticing what triggers me and equipping myself with the things that will sustain me when I feel provoked.
Practice Three: Surrendering Control and Dedicating Action
A parable is told of two girls who grew up together in the same neighborhood, playing and dreaming together during endless afternoons. After leaving home, getting their education and marrying, they both returned to the same neighborhood, had children, and lived out their lives as steadfast friends. As it happens, they died within a few days of one another. One of the girls went to heaven, and the other girl was reborn as a lowly worm, living in a dung pile in a rural field. The girl in heaven started looking for her friend, and when she couldn’t find her, she started searching all over the earth. Finally, she found her friend in the pile of manure. She wanted so much to bring her friend up to heaven, so she went to the dung pile and described all of the heavenly glory and invited her friend to come back with her. The girl-worm replied, “No thanks. I am quite happy here in my dung pile. Please go away.” Not to be daunted, her friend started tugging and tugging, trying to release the girl-worm from the stench of the dung heap, but the worm just wouldn’t let go of her s — t.
A beautiful gift from the Twelve Step Program is the affirmations, “I am powerless and cannot manage this, and I believe that a power greater than me can restore me to sanity.” In all circumstances, I am responsible for the effort I put forth, not the outcome. It is not my job to try to manage events or people, or even within my realm of ability to do so. There is so much peace in doing what is mine to do in any given situation and offering my efforts to the Greater Good. Every action can be a devotional deed, a dedication to the Love that creates, sustains, and cherishes me. When I let go of the need to have things turn out a certain way and instead, intentionally surrender to a Power greater than myself, I join the serene flow of Life.
Life provides many opportunities to be diligent in surrendering the need for control.
Practicing diligence through:
~viewing the events of life as opportunities to offer love,
~maintaining awareness of your triggers and reinforcing your values through devotional practices, and
~surrendering your actions to the Greater Good
is a gift that you give yourself toward cultivating peace of mind and heart
and being a refuge of Love in the world.