Eightfold Path: Right or Wise Action

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Our view of the world determines our actions. If we see the world as a scary place our actions will stem from fear and be defensive. They will be rooted in our intention to protect ourselves from harm. In this protective state of lock down where we see enemies all around us, we will not care about anyone else in a deep sense and our actions will reflect that lack of caring.

When we shift our perspective to a vaster vantage point or ‘Right View’ (See Jan 09 posts in the archive) we sense our interconnection. We may experience it as a powerful infinite loving radiance supporting us and expressing itself through us. From this vantage point we might reasonably expect that our actions will automatically be what the Buddha called Right Action. And they very well may be, because with Right View and Right Intention we are more present with our experience and feel more compassion for ourselves and others.

But our actions are not always grounded in our current view and intention. We probably also have some residual habitual behaviors that are calcified expressions of our old fear-based view and intention.

The difference is that now we notice the fear-based habitual behavior, and we can bring our Right View and Right Intention to focus on it. With spacious awareness, we can observe, note and explore our behavior.

As we observe an impulse to do something destructive to ourselves or others, we may be able to make an adjustment in time to avoid the unskillful action. We might feel the emotion rising up that instigates the action, and bring our awareness to it, skillfully averting acting it out.

Perhaps we only become aware when the action is coming into play. Is there some way we can soften the blow of the action through the addition of spacious awareness?

Or perhaps we only notice that the destructiveness of an action after the deed is done. Perhaps we are feeling guilty and that is our clue that we have done something unskillful. Then with spacious awareness we can take responsibility for the action, doing whatever wise action might help to remedy the situation we have caused, at the very least owning up to our role and apologizing.

With spacious awareness we have the opportunity to really begin to see the patterns in our behavior. If we take note of these patterns with curiosity and compassion we can learn the ways in which we may be causing harm to ourselves or others. Resting in the vaster awareness of Right View, we can let go of our defensiveness around these behaviors. We understand that we are human and are prone to error. We don’t need to prove we are perfect, right or justified in doing something.
But in Right View, we know that we are deeply connected to all life and there is no you or me, there is only we and us. So, even as we accept that we are human, we don’t indulge ourselves in easy acceptance of unskillful behavior that is harmful. We are all one wondrous energetic organism. All harm harms all. So it doesn’t benefit us to ‘let ourselves off the hook’. But we simply take responsibility, we don’t crucify ourselves, for when we do that we are harming all as well.

We have observed our behavior, we have noted our patterns, and now we can take the time to really question our actions, the intentions behind them, and the beliefs that feed the intentions. The first question can be “What was my intention when I did that?” Or if it is an action we are contemplating, “What is my intention here?”

This may begin an interesting inner dialog. Notice that the intention of every aspect of self is always loving, but may be misguided, rooted in fear rather than in Right View. If we switch into the fear mode, we might turn on this discovery and say “Well stop it!” or “Cut it out!” or “I should know better.” We may feel threatened by this unwelcome knowledge of ourselves as the kind of person who would do such a thing. We don’t want to think about it. It feels threatening. But it only threatens our false sense of identity, not our being, not our authentic selves.

If we go to fear and short circuit the process of exploration because it makes us uncomfortable, it helps to bring some compassion to the fearful threatened aspect. It helps to pause, take a few breaths, sense into the body and center in before proceeding. Bringing ourselves fully into the present moment, aware of all physical sensation, we can stay in the curious mode. We remember that nothing we discover is threatening to us, just interesting and useful to know. We keep that body awareness as much as possible, because all the sensations of the body provide active clues during this exploration process.

We encourage this fearful aspect of self to express itself by asking, “Why do I feel threatened?” This is a question that, if done when we are feeling relaxed and safe, can bring up fruitful long forgotten images or words that we experienced when we were younger. This could be something a parent, sibling, teacher, friend or playground bully said or did that made us feel in need of self-protection, or diminished and in need of proving our worth to the world. So we created barriers that took the shape of behavioral habits that are no longer useful, and in fact are causing us and those around us to suffer.

If we allow enough time for this exploration process, we can, with patience and compassionate curiosity, begin to untangle some of the knots in our thoughts, beliefs and emotions that set the stage for our unskillful actions.

One of the greatest benefits of meditation is a sense of spaciousness. We feel less pressured to react instantly to the events around us. We can relax into a vaster sense of the world and from that perspective we are able to respond wisely.

From this vaster sense of the world as an intricate web of loving connection, our actions are more inclined to be kind, engaged, interested, genuine expressions of our most authentic selves. They are less inclined to be defensive, pushy, needy, manipulative, punishing, avenging, wasteful, cruel, or any of the other possible ways in which we act out our fears.

We behave responsibly toward the earth, not out of fear of global warming or not having enough resources, but out of a deep and abiding love, respect and sense of connection. Only out of that level of love can we sustain Right Action.

When we are driving, we will have more compassion for other drivers. We will accept the pace of the road and not focus on our destination. We will accept the huge responsibility of our own safety and the safety of others and not let our emotions take the steering wheel. We will give other drivers the benefit of the doubt, even suggesting a possible story that would make their mindless actions understandable. “Oh, he’s just come from the hospital where he learned…”
“Oh she has a wedding cake in the back seat that she doesn’t want to disturb.”

We notice when we are rushing, when we are not paying full attention, and we have skillful means to bring ourselves fully into the moment, fully into all our senses.

Our actions are great clues. Not to our identity, because we would be mistaken if we believed that these hodge podge collections of behaviors or the intentions from which they spring, or the pot of fear where the intentions are brewed, are us. They are not! Exploring them is useful because they are chafing, masking, hiding, sometimes even strangling our true authentic expressions of self, the self that is rooted in an infinite loving sense of connection. That authentic self understands impermanence and accepts the fleeting nature of this temporal life, appreciating it as both a gift and an invitation to participate fully, divested of the mask, free from the fear-based encumbrances that we developed, individually and collectively. This is the path of liberation, and the end of suffering.

But though the path leads to ultimate liberation, the path is the experience itself, and the destination is in every moment, not on the horizon or just around the next corner. Here and Now, rooted in the relaxing realization that we are loved, we have always been loved and we will always be loved, that we are indeed expressions of that very love.

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