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Final Path Update

July 4, 2017
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‘Dharma Wheel #280’ by trugiaz via Flickr.com

8-Month Reflection

Last October, I began a project to bring the Noble Eightfold Path more fully into my life and daily practice. I was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s cultivation of 13 virtues through focus on one virtue each month in an endless cycle and by the Christian liturgical cycle, which uses annual events and a three-year rotation to cover the scriptures in the Bible. I also drew on game theory and the psychology of habit formation to try to engage more deeply in Buddhist practice.

Now that June is concluded, I have completed eight parts of the path in eight months. However, I am not done yet. I originally conceived of this process in three rounds. That means a complete cycle would be two years. Each part of the path would be focused on three times, first for impact on self, then on near others, then on the world at large. After two years, the cycle would begin again with a focus on self cultivation. At this point, I have completed the first third of a full cycle.

The results are interesting. I’ll share my June report below. This reflection is about the entire process.

One thing that has become increasing clear over the last three months, in particular, is the need to support this effort with daily and weekly rituals. It is not enough to set a goal at the beginning of the month, without also having strong habits already in place for checking back in on that goal and staying accountable to oneself and others.

Therefore, as I continue on this project, I will consider ways to weave it into a daily routine that includes regular self-check-ins and a weekly routine that involves deeper practice and a check-in with others. I do not presently know what form this may take. I think it is critical to my continued growth in this area.

June Report: Right Intention

My goals for June included metta mediation, clarification of project goals at work, clarification of my career path, and clarification of intentions in my relationship at home. I did very little metta mediation in the month of June, but I did far more shamatha mediation than normal. In June, I did my morning meditation 16 of 30 days, which is about average for me. However, I also attended a 2.5 day retreat with fellow members of my Buddhist order which was certainly my best and most enjoyable retreat experience to date. I may reflect on the factors that contributed to this in a later post, but this retreat helped with my June goal of Right Intention.

First, the retreat offered several sessions of prolonged shamatha meditation that I was able to engage with in a deep and meaningful way. My focus was good and my mind steadier and more comfortable than it has ever been in such prolonged practice. For one full day, I also tried diligently to practice more silence and say very little. I found that the less I spoke, the better my meditation became. The more I spoke, the more discursive my mind became during meditation, often fretting over what I said or what someone else said. When this happened, I longed to return to the more peaceful state that coincided with silence.

I carried this insight with me into the following week and practiced saying less at work and at home to good results. I did not feel that I was stiffing myself. Rather, I was genuinely curious to see what would happen if I spoke less, listened more, and just let things unfold as they will. So far, the results have been positive. I hope to continue this experiment as appropriate in the coming months. It is hard, however, to break out of existing habits to jump into conversations, but I am also watching myself when I do jump in to see both precisely what my intention is (to contribute or just to be noticed) and the outcome.

I did not write out a career plan. However, some stress and sad dreams early in the month prompted me to exercise my demons by writing out worst case scenarios and clarifying what was really troubling me. It also clarified my intentions in relation to those scenarios. I found this process very helpful and my dreams have been less depressing. I also ran across this TED talk about stoicism and writing down your fears shortly after completing my own worst case journal, and I recommend both the talk and the practice.

So while the month of June didn’t proceed precisely as I had intended (heh), I feel that I still made a good deal of progress on Right Intention during this month. I am also renewed and refreshed in my meditation practice and considering seeking out more regular retreats to deepen my shamatha practice and perhaps start learning vipassana.

Going Forward

I have decided to discontinue monthly reports on the blog. However, I will continue with some kind of a practice journal. I may share insights from this work from time to time, particularly when they are interesting and relevant. I think the monthly blog posts have taken on a kind of ‘homework’ flavor. I think we would all prefer better quality posts on more interesting subjects.

I shall, however, share an update in eight months time on the conclusion of the next section of the cycle. This section of the cycle will focus on how cultivation of the Eightfold Path affects the people in my life. In many ways, I see potential for this section to be more fruitful.

I shared with a friend just the other day that, as an introvert, my instinct is to withdraw and seek solitude when my mood is low but that I have learned that this is actually one of the worst things I can do. Instead, if I go out and try to help people, I would find myself feeling infinitely better. It’s like magic. So perhaps these next eight months will be very magical.

I hypothesize that we will each get something different out of the three rounds. Extroverts may find the first round the most difficult and most rewarding, while I suspect that for me it will be the second round. Who knows what will happen when I expand the circle of care still further in the third round to include the entire world. It will be interesting to find out.

Happy travels on your path.

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