Happy Fat Tuesday everyone! Recently I came across a lecture series about practicing mindfulness meditation. I am a fairly consistent about meditating but sometimes I go for long periods where I don’t meditate at all despite being well-aware of its benefits. I began to follow this lecture series as a way to renew my meditative practice.
Oftentimes people who seek out meditation are expecting relaxation or even a transcendent experience. You can become more relaxed as an overall benefit or perhaps experience transcendence as you learn to take a step back from a situation that might otherwise mire you in needless suffering or unfocused thinking. However meditation is not for relaxation or transcendence per se.
The lecturer describes meditation as cultivating positive habits of the mind, much like you would tend a garden. The act of meditating allows you to provide a fertile ground for positive thoughts while mindfully weeding out what inhibits growth.
One of the critical steps in preparing oneself to maximize the benefits of mediation was the notion of taking a “moral inventory” of one’s thoughts and behaviors. What might be standing in the way of your personal growth? I hadn’t heard this notion of moral inventory connected with maximizing the benefits of mediation. It certainly made sense when the lecturer laid out the rationale:
“Mindfulness must be practiced within the wider context of one’s life…personal ethics…a disordered ethical life will disrupt our efforts to practice meditation much like weeds in a garden.”
So he suggested taking a personal moral inventory in light of these five ethical aspiration:
1. I will endeavor not to harm others.
2. I will endeavor not to steal.
3. I will endeavor not to misuse sexuality.
4. I will endeavor not to use false speech.
5. I will endeavor not to consume toxins.
The first 4 are in many ways obvious. You certainly can cause harm to yourself and others directly. You can harm others by stealing their possessions or ideas. Misuse of sexuality can cause significant suffering. Bending the truth is also quite harmful. The 5th ethical aspiration was very interesting though for it went beyond overeating, overuse of alcohol, smoking and drugs. The lecturer states:
“Today guarding our minds against intoxication would necessarily include the type of information we take in. Like other stupefying substances, we can become addicted to media stimulation.”
We certainly can lose ourselves in TV, the internet, and social media. If there is anything that can lure one into the trap of mindlessness, it’s media stimulation. Yes. Yes and hmmmm.
So today is Fat Tuesday followed by a period of 40 days of reflection and ethical self-appraisal. This period corresponds with the spring preparation theme, the idea of preparing the ground for a bountiful garden. What better time to prepare oneself for personal growth? As for me, ethical aspiration #5 is probably a great place to start.