Straightforward Advice

The most straightforward advice on awakening bodhichitta is this: practice not causing harm to anyone–yourself or others–and every day, do what you can to be helpful.

“The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön

I recognize that I recently posted a quote from this book already, but I have since finished the book and this quote has been on my mind today.

Emily, Jenny, and I discussed this idea yesterday in book club. And Jenny and I talked about it earlier this week when we tried a loving-kindness meditation as part of our daily meditation practice.

Not causing harm seems like a very simple idea, but it’s amazing how often I caught myself failing to do so this week.

I’ve talked a bit recently about how I’ve noticed my lack of self-compassion when my attention wanders during meditation. I quickly jump into judgements about myself and what good meditation practice looks like. (This would be causing harm to myself.)

At work today, a coworker challenged a choice I made in a code review. I caught myself getting defensive and frustrated at them. (This would be causing harm to others.) I managed to stop myself and look at what was going on, and I saw the fear that I was being seen as incompetent in my job. Fortunately, I was able to let go of that anger fairly quickly.

But at the same time, another coworker dismissed something I said, citing it as irrelevant. I caught myself shutting down, and thinking of them as being dismissive and hypocritical. (This would be causing harm to myself and others.) I was not able to take action on this, but at least the conversation changed direction so I stopped thinking about it at the time.

Then this evening, I took an epsom salt bath after going for a run. I was reading Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino and something triggered some memories for me.

I recalled three stories I’d heard from people who had hooked up with their professor, with a nurse during a medical examination, and with a massage therapist during a massage. I don’t think I hate these people (the professor, nurse, and massage therapist), but the emotion may be the closest I currently feel in that direction. Every time I recall these stories, my anger gets stirred very quickly (like, I feel it fresh again now just writing this).

This is causing harm to others, and it’s not something I feel like I’m currently capable of accepting.

But today was the first time I saw it in the light of causing harm to others. I now know what I can bring to the later portions of the loving-kindness meditation where you reflect on people whom you don’t like. And maybe this is an opportunity for me to soften and practice compassion; perhaps I can reflect on alternative possibilities rather than assuming that these people are simply irresponsible and immoral.

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