There are five things that have been well taught by the Blessed One, the one who knows and sees, the worthy one, perfectly enlightened by himself, that are to be contemplated daily by women and men, by householders and monks.
What are the five?
“I am of the nature to grow old, I have not gone beyond old age” is to be contemplated daily.
“I am of the nature to become ill, I have not gone beyond sickness” is to be contemplated daily.
“I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond death” is to be contemplated daily.
“All that is dear and delightful to me will change and vanish” is to be contemplated daily.
“I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related to my actions, and abide supported by my actions. Whatever action I do, whether good or evil, of that I will become heir” is to be contemplated daily.
– Anguttara Nikaya 5.57, translated by John Kelly
“Whatever action I do, whether good or evil, of that I will become heir” recognizes that it’s up to us. We are born into the conditions we’re born into, and have the early upbringing that we have. After that, it’s up to us to find a way, wherever we’re starting from, to move towards good and away from evil.
We could take this as a platitude or as a call to arms. We might be moved to do something – but what?
Consider the paradox of relaxed attention, or the type of effort it takes to just be. Rather than thinking in story lines with ourselves as the hero/heroine, victim, villain and judge, we could place our attention more selectively in the present. What is our body doing? Are we speaking? With care? What explicit thoughts are present, and what background color is in our mind? It’s an even more atomized case of “one day at a time” — “one moment at a time”.
I’m reminded of an incident years ago when I said something particularly stupid. The friend I was with looked at me in frustration and said, “Listen to yourself!” It was an excellent wake-up call, and I’ve remembered and used that instruction many times.
If we bring our attention and energy into an awareness of what our body, speech and mind are doing RIGHT NOW, each moment can be full of potential and purpose. We can interrupt the confusing, circular stories that sometimes drive us in habitual grooves, and become more free and conscious in our actions.
Doing nothing is an option we rarely consider, but stopping everything opens up a space for our wisdom to rise to the surface. In my opinion, being (too) busy is overrated and reflection underrated. We are acting in the world all the time – do we know what we’re doing?
If we were to stay in touch with our best intentions continuously, all of our actions and words would flow from the best available part of our minds. Isn’t this a worthy goal?