Patience & Ethics
This morning I was struck by some powerful words regarding ethics and patience from the famous Jon Kabat-Zinn. He writes that ethics is simply “the obedience to the unenforceable.”
Nearly all actions in life we can situationally justify in our own heads. This is why we argue, fight and start wars. But only with the mindful awareness to see the situation as it truly is, to pull ourselves out of what we feel at the moment and gain clarity through stillness and observation. Then, we can see clearly the intention of our actions, and answer the only question that matters: Are they aligned with who we are, our truest self, our beliefs?
Jon writes further, “When you have reached the point where your inner motivation is strong enough to want to cease contributing to your own suffering and confusion and perhaps others. It amounts to behaving ethically – a sorely maligned concept in many circles.”
It reminds me of a lesson I am trying to teach my 7 year old son: That it’s not the little things he can get away with, like sneaking a bite of something sweet, or unkind words to his grandmother. Rather, it’s what he decides to do based on his beliefs. Beliefs like being kind and honest. These beliefs are what allows us to see through our situational justifications like “Grandma was being mean to me “.
The ethical conversations continues on the needed patience to act ethically and obtain the clarity we need to begin to reacquaint ourselves with integrity, honor and our deepest held beliefs.
One big element that comes up in the world of mindful teachings is that of patience. To have the self-awareness and grounded mind to not act – or not react in most cases. To observe what is happening. To notice the emotions arising and to ask ourselves, where does this come from and why do I feel this way?
It’s important to remember that we are not our emotions or feelings. These are just chemical reactions stimulated by outside occurrences and people, that then kick in the mind’s interpretation of this as a threat to our survival (i.e. stress), and cortisol goes into overdrive. And as we start to separate our mind from our thoughts, and observe them, so to melts away all the attachment, the hurt, the identification with the story we tell ourselves. In its place arrives a more curious inquiry into what is really happening.
In the long run, patience means to let right action flow from you. Naturally. The right thing to do, say, or be does not need to be hurried. It just needs to be cultivated, by having the patience to let it unfold. The bloom of the flower will grow to maturity in its own time, and so will our own right actions if we allow ourselves to sit still patiently, and seek the answer – versus willing it to be.
“Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help and creates a great deal of suffering.”
The interesting thing about patience is how it ties back to our own ethics. So often we live in our auto-pilot mode of reaction; we get an email, we get angry, we respond. Texting is even worse. What we really need is to dwell in that moment and simply breathe in that experience, to let it sit. Let the mind settle and contemplate what is really happening. Then by reflecting on our own belief system and who we wish to be, then we can act, ethically.
For some this is very challenging because we have not taken the time to examine what it is we really believe in. Our ethics and beliefs are only in a dormant stage, because we have not recently asked ourselves, “What matters most to me?” The next step is to concretely decide on those chosen beliefs as our moral compass to live out with intention.
Maybe we can stop and ask, “What do I believe in?” And then ask yourself why. Sometimes our beliefs are leftover artifacts from how we were raised. Sometimes our beliefs are ingrained in us by simple adaptation to our surroundings. And sometimes beliefs are so void that we actually don’t know what we believe in. Maybe this is why when children (and many adults) are asked who they admire most, they often cite entertainers like Taylor Swift, or Kobe Bryant, or even Kim Kardashian. Not that these folks are bad, but there’s not a whole lot of substance here. But yes, I realize most of us reading this are not likely to be holding these folks as idols.
But yet, I ask, who are your idols? What qualities do they have and hold? What beliefs are they living out intentionally? And how does that align with qualities you wish to cultivate?
Patience + Ethics
If we can have the patience to observe, and to look at any moment or decision and give ourselves the mental space to just see it, we have a chance to decide. A chance to leverage the ever-powerful choice. It’s a matter of choice. And so then our ethics can be incorporated into such a choice – not whether it feels justifiably right based on circumstance or whether someone or something caused such a reaction, but because it is aligned with all that you wish to be, to be defined as, and to be known for, when it comes to a full reflection on the culmination of all your life actions.
Is this action the you you’re seeking for?
Let us decide what matters most. Let us cultivate the observer to give ourselves the space to see clearly. Then let us act in alignment with our deepest held beliefs in all actions. Let us find our path back to ethics.