One way we can catch ourselves being less honest and loving than we want to be is to keep an eye on our feelings. Another way is to try to track our thinking.
The Blessed One said, “Monks, before my self-awakening, when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: ‘Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?’ So I made thinking imbued with sensuality, thinking imbued with ill will, & thinking imbued with harmfulness one sort, and thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-ill will, & thinking imbued with harmlessness another sort. – from MN19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.019.than.html)
Sorting ALL of our thoughts would be exhausting and not practical. But most of our thinking doesn’t even get our attention. It’s just there in the background – repetitive, inconsequential, and undirected. But when an action is imminent, usually there is some thought process behind it, and we can then discern whether it is in the general direction of:
- Sensual desire or aversion, ill will, or harmfulness; or
- Renunciation, non-ill will, or harmlessness.
If there is an intention to buy something we don’t need (and by tomorrow won’t want), this is a thought imbued with sensual desire. If there is an intention to put someone down or push them out of our way, there’s a thought imbued with ill will. Harmfulness or hurtfulness could be standing someone up or doing something to or for them that we know they won’t appreciate.
When we have a generous, kind, or compassionate thought, we can recognize it because it feels warm and good. It makes us happy to think and act in these ways. Harmlessness, non-ill will, and renunciation can be known through this process.
It’s not very complicated; it’s an invitation to bring awareness to our intentional thoughts, our thoughts that may lead to action.
Sometimes it’s easier to do this reflection after an action has been taken. What made us do that particular thing? What were we thinking? Sometimes our good intentions go awry, and we can reflect on what we failed to take into consideration that caused our intention to be misunderstood or our action to be unsuccessful.
This is just one way in which to maintain mindfulness throughout the day. We can watch our intentions as they rise, come to the surface of consciousness, and what results come from those intentions. As a wise friend once said, “Listen to yourself!”, which in this case means “observe yourself”. Sometimes we’re trying so hard to create an impression that we lose track of our intentions and actions. We can reel in our attention and keep it close to home, close to our bodies and minds. In this way, mindfulness is strengthened.