The practice of Silence is a very important part of my daily life practice. One day, as I made silence and listened to the voice within me, it gradually became more clear to me, that "It's not only 'not about me,' it is also 'not only me.'" I had an image within my mind—I am not a separate entity, independent and out there on my own. I exist in relationship. I recognize that I am a unique human being, but face the profound fact that I am connected. I am in connection in many ways to everything else that exists in my environment: my family, my community, friends and strangers, those I pass on the street as well as those on the other side of the globe. So what I do affects everyone else and what they do affects me.
At first it was hard for me to really comprehend this complex set of connections that is the basis of my relationships. But over my years in a Spiritual Community, I have learned a simple practice that keeps others present in my mind. I call it the "Gratitude Practice." Here is an example of how I do it:
At breakfast, while I am eating my cereal, to a stand fruit, and drinking my tea, I think of all those who have contributed to this nutritious meal. I start with the bread and who made the bread in the bread machine. I even try to imagine the manufacturer, inventor, shipper, seller, advertiser, maintenance worker, factory worker, truck driver, (and that brings in the gas station owner all the way to the oil well), and all those anonymous people whose hands have touched something in the journey to my breakfast table. I visualize all who participated in making the bread, wheat, and yeast. This is a connection that stretches back to the beginning of civilization!
What happens the next time I burn a piece of that bread in the toaster and then toss it into the compost? I realize immediately that not only am I being disrespectful to all those who contributed to that piece of bread, but with my unconsciousness I am affecting the countless people who are hungry and would do anything for that slice of bread.
Remaining conscious of all those I am connected with also helps me to work on my relationships with those closest to me. Learning to live in harmony is a constant and challenging work. Therefore, I have undertaken the Triple "A" Practice: Attention, Acceptance, and Appreciation. Let me share with you how I use this to heal and nurture more harmonious relationships and deepen love and respect for everyone in my world.
First, I try to free myself of my constant self-centeredness, to free energy to give Attention to others. When I speak, when I act, when I get angry, when I am demanding, when I cooperate—how do my actions and energy impact those I am interacting with? I try to remember each morning that others are human beings with their own integrity, needs and possibilities, not just background players in my life. This transforms them into real living, breathing people, no longer just objects that flit through my life, sometimes annoying, sometimes interesting and sometimes practically invisible, at least momentarily. They are feeling and thinking human beings whom I love and with whom I am interdependent.
To my never-ceasing surprise, they see me differently from how I perceive myself. I always thought I was so witty, coming up with such profound statements, but when I observe my interactions carefully, I learn, for example, that in the eyes of those I live with I talk too much. Paying attention to others helps me to realize this, and because I care about them, I work on giving them space to talk. I have paid attention, I have accepted feedback, and I have learned to appreciate another person.
Once I became aware that I needed to give others attention, I became aware of how little I actually did so. When I was bringing a child into the Day Care Center, I was so preoccupied with what I was doing that I didn't notice the other children or parents. Even when a mother had her child tell me "Thank you," I barely looked up. What message am I sending loud and clear? Is it "What is important to me is me and a little beyond."? That is not the message I want to send! What I would like to transmit to everyone is: "You matter, for we are connected."
So I am making an effort to give others my attention. I want to care deeply enough that I give my attention as a free gift, not expecting something from everyone I interact with. The practice of attention allows me to see things that I wouldn't have noticed before. If I had been paying attention in the Day Care Center, I would have seen the little girl with stitches on her forehead, her father hugging her good-bye with a concerned look on his face. I would have seen another child looking forlorn because his mother had just left and, of course, I would have seen the mischievous grin on the face of the little boy who said "Thank you." I could have given them the gift of my attention and let them know that I was happy that they existed. Now that opportunity is gone, but through my renewed commitment to pay attention, I hope not to miss this kind of opportunity in the future.
I have found that the relationships that need the most care and maintenance are the ones I have with those I come into contact with on a regular basis, whom I live with, work with, and relate with as I go about my life. I've found these are the hardest, even though I am often surprised by this. Those I love and depend on the most can be the most trying. But this is the real treasure in my life. Maybe I just don't see them anymore, and they need to be noticed and given my attention. Imagine having breakfast with someone everyday, year after year, without giving her more than a little attention! Or the colleague in the next cubicle at work, whom I only seem to notice when she is bothering me. I can ask myself, "Does she need my attention at other times as well?"
Developing attention does take practice, and accepting what I observe can be painful, but I have been able to leave the muddle of my distractions little by little by adapting the method of life offered by Cafh. And this is where I feel a great sense of appreciation, for the potential I can experience and share, of a new way of relating to others.
This is all part of my holistic effort to transform my life and make it Holy, an expression of my longing to live in harmony with my purest spiritual vision of how the world can be. Just as in my efforts in other areas, I am taking the responsibility to start with myself. The first time I sat down to meditate, there was a battle because my mind frisked about, going wherever it wanted to. However, with practice I eventually gained some control. I could pay attention (somewhat) long enough to do a meditation. Now I want to give to the rest of my day the attention I have developed in my meditation practice.
Now let us turn to the practice of Acceptance. Paying attention to my relationships leads me to work on my inner attitude. A major attitude I want to develop is acceptance. I want not only to pay attention to others, but to accept them as they are or appear to me.
I became aware of my need to develop acceptance when I counted the times I said something critical. Behind every verbalized criticism was a battery of thoughts which kept my inner critic supplied with artillery almost indefinitely. Why was I criticizing? I guess it’s because I think I know more and my opinions are the truth. In fact, I know very little about why another makes the choices she makes or has the opinions she holds. I am also usually unaware of the circumstances this person is experiencing, or how her past influences her present. But I make judgments as if I know all the facts of this case and that my opinions are truth.
To help me counteract this tendency, I have the practice of setting aside a critical thought of a person as soon as I become aware of it and replacing it with a positive thought. I can wish her on her way, remembering that everyone has the freedom to live life as they choose.
This leads me easily to practice Appreciation. Appreciation is a step beyond the simple tolerance of acceptance. Appreciation opens me to someone else's world. I learn to see her in a different way. I appreciate her struggles, her insights, her strength of character, and the path she has taken. I realize how much she has helped me, simply by the fact that she is also having a human experience and learning from it. And who knows—what she is learning and experiencing may be helping me learn and experience and grow as a human being too.
And I also hope to help others. When I am undertaking a challenging work, enjoying a moment with friends, having a sudden understanding or am darkened in confusion or sadness, I offer this effort to humanity. This helps me keep others in my thoughts. We are helping each other.
Why not—since we’re connected!
Other articles in the series "The Peace of a Meaningful Life" by Diana Autumn are
My Wake-Up Call,
Finding the Way,
Step by Step with Silence,
Taming the Beast,
Reining in the Mind: Who's really in charge?,
Gaining Inner Strength: Learning to Choose,
Engaging the Executive: The Affective Meditation,
Making Peace with the Past,