Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. Rumi
Like many around the world, I’ve been following headlines more lately and engaging in more social action. As a part of this shift in attention, it has felt essential to consider how to ground action in compassion and wisdom. In these reflections, I’ve been drawn to revisit the Eightfold Path in Buddhism – right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (meditation)… and to contemplate it with fresh eyes.
Buddhism has quite a number of enumerated lists, and the elements of the Eightfold Path are no exception: each is traditionally detailed with clarifying lists and explanations. Nevertheless, I’ve reflected on the Eightfold Path using a more fluid interpretation to explore how consciously working with these eight elements can nurture deeper understanding in the midst of social action.
First a bit of semantics: I consider the meaning of “right” to be an invitation towards sensing for that which resonates most truly with compassion and wisdom. “Right” can be a trigger word for some people, so perhaps a different word (such as resonant) is a more helpful description for the guideposts in the Eightfold Path.
When we see something we feel must change – whether within ourselves, our families, our workplaces, our communities, or society at large – it is easy to jump to action. But, first, it is helpful to contemplate and establish right view and right resolve. That is, before considering an outward action, it is helpful to consider: where is our heart? our mind? our ground? What is the principle we are most resolved to manifest? When view and resolve are established in love, truth, and kindness, right speech and right action flow naturally.
Right view suggests beginning by first finding the ground for intention. Will your view be through the lens of fear? distrust? judgmentalness? antipathy? – or compassion? hope? discernment? love? Is your resolve to shame, to corral, to blame – or to love, to heal, to create community? In this current political climate of inflamed emotions, it is easy to find reflections of the first few (from my perspective, slower vibration) emotions. And, with much gratitude, I’ve noticed it is easy to find reflections of the latter, higher vibration emotions as well.
I prefer to explore the Eightfold Path not as linear steps but rather as spiraling elements. For example, I have found it enriching to reflect on right action from the perspective of action impacting view and resolve. I feel tremendous love and connection in meditation, hiking, being in nature, and spending time with loved ones – including my dear canines. So, right action is not always about whatever needs to be accomplished at work, at home, or in my community. Sometimes, right action is simply becoming absorbed (right mindfulness) in those activities that connect me joyfully and genuinely with the roots that ring authentic for me as right view and right resolve. Yes, certainly right speech and right action brings me back again to being integrated in the public world. But, when it does, it does so with the joy of feeling grounded in love. And, right effort reminds me to find balance between exertion and restoration – being active in the world and taking time for meditation, contemplation, and discovery. Of course, meditation is the cornerstone practice that gives your mind the spaciousness and attention to rest in right view.
I find the Eightfold Path to be helpful in shaping a balanced, healthy way to be in the world. Walking it with gentle grace, we explore the Eightfold Path as a process rather than a goal. By acknowledging that we are in different places in our spirals of discovery, we support ourselves in remembering to notice and compassionately guide ourselves back to our most authentic self when we get off track.
I would love to hear from you about how you are shifting as we enter 2017, the year of the Fire Rooster (Phoenix, Garuda). What rings true for you? What keeps you active and joyful? Where does your love catch fire?