Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!

The title of this posting comes from dharma teacher Sylvia Boorstein. It means that we often complicate matters in our lives by leaping into a direct intervention to solve some problem, when the truth is that there may not be a problem at all. 

In the 12-step tradition, you are instructed to exercise "restraint of tongue and pen." In the tradition of the Buddha, it is called Wise Forbearance. How many times have we pressed the "Send" button on an e-mail, and later regretted it? Too often to bring to mind. Or perhaps, rather than taking a moment to calm down, we have said things to friends, loved ones, or colleagues that we wish we could take back.

Sometimes the best course of action is not to act at all. First of all, getting all the information we can about a situation is important. We cannot act wisely or effectively if we don't know the whole story. I've personally destroyed several electronic gadgets, transformed simple household plumbing fixes into costly and complicated repairs by trained professionals, and deleted hundreds of files with the hasty touch of a button.  

Remember, too,  that the things the mind is telling you about any situation are merely thoughts, and not facts. The mind will habitually leap to worst-case scenarios without much provocation. Unfortunately, we often believe what the mind is telling us about ourself, another person, or the situation. When the mind gets flooded with stories, stop for a moment and remember that these are thoughts and not facts.

So give yourself a little space between the situation and the action. Stop for a moment and just be still. Feel what is going on in the body right now, pleasant or unpleasant. Then bring your attention to rest in the feeling of the body breathing in and out for a minute or so. Now return back to the feelings in the body and see how things are going. This "breathing space" is particularly useful in times of anger or upset, before we say or do something that will be impossible to call back.

I will leave you with this thought from astronaut John Young, the command pilot of the first space shuttle mission, when asked about the wisdom of performing repairs to the vehicle while on orbit: "There's not anything that happens to the shuttle that you can't make worse by trying."


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