by Mary Cook
I hold a precious idea in my heart—to cultivate a loving response towards other people and life in general. How can I weave this idea into my life?
I need not only a guiding idea, but also a method. “Cultivating,” when applied to growing plants, implies systematic care—preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering and weeding regularly, creating a good environment in which the plants can flourish. This system of care has to be sustained over time.
Cafh offers a method of life for cultivating an idea. Like methods I might adopt for other purposes (such as completing a course of study), it entails knowing what I want to accomplish or the direction I want to go in, a firm decision to invest the time and effort needed, and practices to help me maintain my direction and discover new aspects of what I want to accomplish. I also need to study and to reflect on my experience and the feedback that I receive.
If I decide to follow the method of Cafh, I will do the following:
1. Commit myself to meet once a week in a small group of people who share the idea I want to cultivate. We study and share our experience.
2. Learn and then practice every day a meditation technique that makes it easier for me to remember the direction I want to walk in and gives me perspective on my life and on any difficulties I have.
3. Develop habits of self-observation to help me keep on track. I try to notice the feelings that run through me during the day, from irritability to contentment, and how they affect the way I behave, for instance, my tone of voice.
4. Consult on a regular basis with someone with more experience in using the method.
5. Look for and accept feedback. Am I happy? Do people seem happy to be with me? When I am questioned or criticized, do I become defensive? How easily do I listen to another person voicing an opinion that is different from my own?
The method provides a loose supporting structure in which I move freely, being creative with the circumstances of the moment so that they become a means to move me along my path. I also liken the method to baking bread. Kneading ensures that the yeast and the flour are thoroughly mixed together so that they can act on each other in the heat of the oven to form a perfect loaf of bread. The habit of responding in a loving way grows out of a patient, methodical work on inner experiences of emotion and thought, and outward experiences of interacting with other people, my surroundings and circumstances.
Whatever metaphor we use for a method, it is a process that purposefully and systematically brings together very different elements. Depending on the degree of our willingness to engage in the process, out of it will emerge something new: a plant, an understanding, a loaf of bread or a habit of responding in a loving way. Then the process can begin to repeat itself again, building on what has just taken place.