Irrigators guide water;
Fletchers shape arrows;
Carpenters fashion wood;
Sages tame themselves.
Dhammapada, v.80, translated by Gil Fronsdal
The list in this verse is suggestive rather than comprehensive, but it implies that everyone has a role, a purpose – so what is your purpose in this life?
We are (I think) aspiring sages, hoping to increase our wisdom and decrease our ignorance. Interesting then that the instruction is to “tame” ourselves. Pay close attention to your next thought; it may point to what most needs taming in your mind. What part of you jumps up and says, “I don’t want to be tamed!”?
When I was younger, I learned that my Myers-Briggs personality index described me as an ESTJ, or “the administrator”. I was disappointed to think I wouldn’t be a leader, but recognized that my strengths were in making good lists and executing tasks. In retirement I knew that I had to do something to increase my compassion — my effectiveness was high, but my sensitivity clearly needed work. Partly for this reason, and partly because I’ve always been interested in medical and end-of-life issues, I sought out the opportunity to become a hospice volunteer. Meeting so many people in the last phase of life has made me a better listener, and balanced my internal life effectively.
I’ve also pursued excellent meditation teachers and companions, and learned how to discover what my “next need” is.
I encourage you to take the same diagnostic attitude to your own life and activities. It might help to discuss with a trusted friend. What characteristic do you possess or embody that puts you out of balance? That makes you angry or impatient or ornery? Often what needs work is the flip side of our greatest strength.
If we want to become wiser as we age, we need to make a conscious assessment of what in our minds needs taming, and find a way to put the training into action.