Working with Adverse Circumstances

At times we’re confronted with circumstances and conditions in our life that might require (in addition to practicing mindfulness) taking action. Sometimes we are confronted with the question, “How do I know if I should act….and how do I know which actions are skillful? These are very good questions but rather than look at what or how, let’s first turn to the question of why; let’s look at the motivation that is urging us to act. What state of mind gives birth to the desire to act? What is compelling me to act?

“Does my state of mind contain fear, anger, greed or attachment?’ “Have I considered the potential impact of my action?” If the answer is “yes” and “no” respectively, then my action will likely result in more suffering for myself, and for others as well. If I am experiencing any form of suffering then it is crucial to deal with this directly before taking any action.

By experiencing our feelings fully and directly without acting them out, and by examining our beliefs and our attitudes before we act, we can defuse much of the suffering that usually results from compulsive actions. It’s extremely important (albeit very difficult) that we be totally honest with ourselves regarding our own beliefs and attitudes.

This is not to say that the problem we are experiencing is all our fault and that no one else is responsible. Other people may well be responsible for our life conditions or circumstances, but we are always responsible for our response to these conditions.

Getting lost in blame and fault-finding is a formula for suffering. If I act out of resistance to my own suffering then I will create more suffering; more suffering for myself as well as for others. As I (inevitably) experience the effects of my own unskillful actions, my own suffering will increase. And, if I respond to that suffering unskillfully I am then feeding a potentially endless cycle of continuous suffering. (In the religions of India this is referred to as samsara: the endless cycle of suffering that feeds continuous rebirth.)

It’s wise to ask, “Do I want to perpetuate suffering or eradicate it?” That’s the first question to ask ourselves before taking an action.

After engaging our internal experience in an honest and thorough way then we may sometimes see that nothing needs to be done—we may see the need for compassion and forgiveness--and nothing more.

And, after engaging the process and exploring our motives we may find that it is time to act; then, if you must, take action--and then release all attachment to the outcome.

This is not an easy process, but if you are willing to do this you will open yourself to an innate wisdom that will guide you in ways unknown to you when caught in up resistance and entanglement in the “story.” if we join others who are willing to do the same, then we can collectively access a wealth of wisdom and compassion that guides our actions. This can be a very powerful force for change!

History shows us that the deepest and most enduring changes arise not from hatred but from wisdom and love (Jesus of Nazareth; Siddhartha Gautama; Mohandas Gandhi; Martin Luther King; Nelson Mandela).

Love can be very fierce in its confrontation with oppression, but always that fierceness is a skillful means rather than a desire for harm or vengeance.

Notice how you feel as you do take action. Are you being true to yourself? Are you in integrity with your own soul?

And, if you can, examine the results of your actions. “Have I lessened the suffering of humankind?” “Have I improved the life of another?” We rarely understand the full impact of our actions. You may never objectively know what they are; but your heart will know—if you listen.