We all desire transcendence, an encounter with the numinous, and a deep sense of meaning in our lives. As far as we know, we are the only animals that easily succumb to a state of despondency without a strong sense of meaning– the feeling that we are connected to something much larger than ourselves. These six suggestions are derived and adapted from the Buddhist “Five Mindfulness Trainings.” They seem to address the main ways in which human beings bring suffering on themselves and others, and offer protection for ourselves and those we love.
1) The taking of life causes incredible suffering. It is an unavoidable fact that we are part of the web of nature and as such must subsist on other living things; still, there are ways of doing so in a minimally harmful manner. Choose to interact with the world in the most nonviolent way you can conceive.
2) Theft, exploitation, and covetousness lead to loss, regret and sorrow. It is obvious that those who are stolen from or are exploited suffer loss of goods and personal dignity; what is less often acknowledged is that those who steal, exploit, or take what is not freely offered actually suffer greatly as well. Choose to adopt the most generous and liberal mentality possible.
3) Dishonesty and deception harm both the deceived and the deceiver alike. They create an atmosphere of distrust and uneasiness in which it is difficult or even impossible for human beings to flourish. Resolve to deal with others–and yourself–as honestly as possible.
4) Harsh words and the inability to truly listen to others can ruin relationships and cause all kinds of misery. To withold harsh critiques and “sit with” your feelings until gentler words reveal themselves is almost always a good choice. People–all people–have a deep need to be heard and affirmed. Resolve to speak gently and compassionately, and to listen as deeply as possible.
5) Sex divorced from love and commitment causes vast and enduring suffering. The potential for human damage in this arena is almost limitless. Choose to channel your sexual energies into a loving, committed relationship, so that sex is part of the joy of love rather than a source of pain.
6) There are many deadly toxins all around us: in foods, in drugs, in conversations, in entertainment, and in rigid ideologies and orthodoxies. Resolve to be aware of your patterns of consumption, and to take only the best, most nourishing things into your body, mind and spirit.