Our actions and words are the outward manifestation of what’s going on in our heads. Can we pay enough attention to ourselves, with enough objectivity, to see where (in ourselves) our difficulties originate?
There’s a great old story about a wise man who gives three chickens to his three sons and instructs them each to take the chickens and kill them in a place where no one sees. Two sons come back with dead chickens, but the third son says, “Everywhere I go, the chicken still sees.” Even if no one else is around, we know when we’re doing something unethical.
In developing any of the paramis/perfections we are both the experimenter and the subject of the experiment.
Jack Kornfield once said (something like), “Never suppress the urge to be generous.” When the intention to do something generous arises in us, do we notice it? Do we appreciate the wholesomeness of this impulse? Do we take it up and develop it until a generous act results? After the generous act is accomplished, do we reflect wisely on the action and its results, for ourselves and others?
Conversely, when we do something unskilful or hurtful, do we notice? Do we step back and think about alternatives we might have considered? Can we identify the impulse in ourselves (impatience? greed?) that motivated our unwholesome action? Can we look at that motive and understand that it is a habit of the mind and not, in any real sense, us? Can we resolve to understand and mitigate or break the habit?
One reason to reflect on the perfections is to check our day-to-day actions – are these qualities (the perfections) present or absent? Are we saying what we mean, keeping our promises, being helpful to others and restraining our unwholesome impulses? Are we pointed in the direction we’d like to be moving?