When working with the precepts, how can we distinguish between suppression (which only works temporarily, if at all) and the mindful release of unwholesome intentions?
On the practical level, this is an important question. Suppression is a pushing away, a putting out of sight, a wilful ignoring of something we’d prefer not to see. Mindfulness starts with an examination and understanding, especially if we can distinguish between our wholesome and unwholesome states. Examination is a good beginning; at least we’re turning towards rather than away from the problem, but it’s not enough. We have to look persistently and deeply at our own actions, until the clinging behind our intentions and motivations becomes apparent to us. Not only must we identify what specific clinging is moving us to think, speak and behave in unwholesome ways, but we have to see that no one but ourselves is creating the suffering in this case. We have to see that we have a choice – the choice to let go of this particular clinging, NOW.
Often, what we are called to let go of is an expectation. Let’s say that there’s someone in your life who behaves in a way that you disagree with. She’s been acting this way for years, in spite of your noble efforts to reform her. How much energy does it take to cling to the expectation that she will, this time, act as you would, rather than as she always has?
I remember clearly the moment I saw my clinging and gave up on the expectation that my mother would phone me up just to chat, to see how I was doing and tell me about her day. It was a breakthrough, in spite of the fact that for fifty-plus years, she had never called without having something specific to ask or tell me. It was bleeding obvious! But I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to. Yet finally, my frustration drove me to look more closely. My mom grew up in an era when phone calls, especially long distance calls, were to be rationed. Not exactly for emergencies only, but not for chit-chat. So in her teens and twenties she never had those hours-long heart-to-heart phone calls that I had at that age. She’s also a pretty no-nonsense person in general. She’s just not that comfortable with social conversation on the phone. So, reluctantly, I accepted that I would have to be the regular caller, and just take whatever response was on offer. Sometimes it’s a lovely fifteen minute conversation, and sometimes she doesn’t feel like talking. And it’s very satisfying to me, now that I’ve given up resenting that I make most of the calls.
So give it a think. Is there someone you keep expecting to act like you want them to, rather than as they always have?