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November Path Update: Right Livelihood

October 31, 2016
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‘night work…’ by susan via Flickr.com

In October, I announced the start of an intentional practice of the Noble Eightfold Path on a rotating monthly cycle. During October, I worked on Right Action by setting myself several goals. During November, I will work on Right Livelihood. Below is my progress on last month’s path and my plan for next month.

October Report: Right Action

Round 1: Action to care for the body and mind.

I wanted to take care of my body and mind this month by focusing on long term benefit over short term comfort. My success has been mixed. I used a habit tracker to monitor my progress and it gave me scores for each of my goals.

  • 86% – Eat a healthy breakfast each work day before leaving the house.
  • 86% – Drink 1 cup of coffee per day or less; green tea in the afternoon is okay.
  • 88% – Do not drink soda or other sugary drinks; fruit juice is okay in moderation.
  • 68% – Eat vegetarian at least five days a week.
  • 57% – Exercise five days a week by walking/jogging with the dog at the park; intersperse with push-ups and pull-ups on the park exercise stations.
  • 67% – Meditate at least five days a week.
  • 80% – Do no work on Saturday; spend time with my partner, friends, and pets.
  • 50% – Thank my body and mind for what it has done at least once a week through guided meditation or writing exercises.

What I learned: It is easier for me to stop an old habit than to start a new one. Walking and jogging regularly in the park improves my mood and productivity during the week, even if jogging leaves me tired for the rest of the evening. I quickly stopped bothering trying to do push-ups and don’t feel at all guilty about that. I forgot my no-work-on-Saturday rule the day after I made it, but I remembered the rest of the month. At first, it seemed silly because here were five, six, eight, ten hours that I could be working on my exams, but wasn’t. Then I noticed my productivity during the week went up considerably, especially in the morning before work, when I’d often get several pages down before breakfast. At work, my productivity was also higher. Meditation remains spotty, but I always function better on days that I meditate. Although I’m most likely to skip meditation on the ‘busy days’ when I really need it, so I have to figure that out. I will continue to monitor these habits for at least another month or until they’re just a part of my daily routine I don’t have to think about anymore.

What this basically tells me is that my body and brain are deeply deluded about what will actually bring suffering and what will actually bring happiness or satisfaction. I don’t have to want to run in order to run. And not wanting to run doesn’t prevent me from deriving satisfaction from it or feeling better in the long run. When it comes to tanha, craving, we can’t trust it to bring us happiness. We have to test things and see for ourselves.

The next time I return to Right Action will be in June 2017, when I will focus on actions that care for my home and family.

November: Right Livelihood

During the last week of October, I began to think about, first, finishing strong on my current goals, and, second, how I understood Right Livelihood. During this time, I’m also working on a scholarly paper about the Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva. I spent a lot of time in the chapters about carefulness and diligence and it helped me consider my approach to my work.

Luckily, I work for a non-profit university, so I neatly avoid all the Buddha’s admonitions against harmful careers such as dealing in weapons, making intoxicants, or killing animals for a living. That doesn’t always mean, however, that I don’t harm anyone in my daily business, let alone my ‘lifestyle.’

In fact, as time goes by, I seem to become more conscious of the harm I have and can cause at work – to students, coworkers, and others. I am also more conscious of the time I waste, both at work and in life in general. I’ve written before about my struggles with diligence and effort, but reading Shantideva has brought my own habits into stark relief.

In the Pali Canon, Right Livelihood is understood as an ‘honest’ living (SN 45.8) that avoids “Scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, & pursuing gain with gain” (MN 117). The second sources elaborates:

“One tries to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter into right livelihood: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter & remain in right livelihood: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities —right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right livelihood.”

It was difficult to determine where to start and I was tempted to jump straight into Round 2, but at this point in my life I believe it is still very important to train in frugality and doing the least harm possible through simply living. At one point, I was fairly good at living green, but those habits proved harder to maintain in LA. I’d like to return to them.

Since I began working full-time again, my spending and consumption habits have risen to match. Psychologically, I was tired of being poor; it’s exhausting. However, we’ve now established ourselves in a much more frugal apartment with a smaller commute (for me) and have just about everything we need for a comfortable existence. I would therefore like to start saving because, first, this is hardly the last time we’ll move, and, second, my student loans are going to be devastating when I finally graduate (even with income-based repayment).

Round 1: Live frugally, reduce harm, and give back what you can to the benefit of others.

  • Do not waste food; eat what we have on hand and pack lunches for work at least 3 days a week.
  • Aside from essential groceries, do not shop during November, including for entertainment (i.e. movie rentals, new books, etc.).
  • Limit ‘going out’ to dates with partner or social gatherings (no hitting the drive through to avoid cooking).
  • Reduce reliance on disposable products.
  • Payoff remaining credit card balance.
  • Put at least $500 in savings in November.
  • Identify and support a local charity, a global charity, and a Buddhist-based charity or project in need.

Round 2: Cultivate right relationships at work among all people.

Round 3: Encourage ethical practices within your institution, organization, or company.

December: Right Effort

I can already see hitting the books to finish my qualifying exams coming at me.

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