14 Thoughtfulness Trainings


     Thich Nhat Hanh formulated his "14 Mindfulness Trainings" during the Vietnam era. From a Western point of view the "other" yet possibly still consilient and valuable list might be called the "14 Thoughtfulness Trainings" that would be lighter on mindfulness and heavier on the skeptical, critical thinking that, for better or worse, characterizes the Best of the West. Maybe "brainfulness trainings" would be more descriptive of Western interests from Thales to Einstein and beyond, and so of its intellectual history.

     You can read Thich Nhat Hanh's list here. The Enlightenment wisdom of the West, from the pre-Socratics on, can be summed up in Pascal's, "Therefore, endeavor to think well." The Eastern version of Enlightenment might go, "Therefore, endeavor to be mindful." The two therefores are consilient. A westernized list follows, and yes, feel free to create your own:

1. Openness
     Open mindedness is all well and good up to the point your brains fall out. All claims are considered: The Sun is a disk pulled across the sky, Earth is a sphere orbiting the Sun; the Earth rides on the back of a great turtle; all objects having mass are attracted to one another; there is but one god, God; some molds can cure infection; the difference between humans and other organisms lies in the complexity of their verbal behavior.... Claims supported by reason and evidence merit consideration but never dogmatic belief. "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." —A. Einstein

2. Non-attachment to Views
     Skepticism, doubt, and a capacity for disbelief are central. "The deepest, the only theme of human history, compared to which all others are of subordinate importance is the conflict of skepticism with faith."—Goethe. The believing mind is attached to beliefs—possessed by them. The more attractive the belief, the greater the certitude with which the belief is held, and the better the believing mind likes it. But you can have provisional beliefs, rational and evidence-based, without being HAD by them. You just need to be willing and able to accept error and possess the ability to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

3. Freedom of Thought
     "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," noted Thomas Jefferson, ironically alluding to the deist god in lowercase, and speaking out against the Christian clergy of his day. This is not an uncommon sentiment among the thoughtful. "Without Freedom of thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom."—Benjamin Franklin. "We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought."—Bertrand Russell. "People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."—Soren Kierkegaard. “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”—Siddhartha Gautama.

4. Awareness of Suffering
     Wanting what you can't have leads to suffering, and knowing what you can't have and why you can't have it helps. Such knowledge requires some grasp of reality as it is, which may be quite different from what you believe or want it to be. Some suffering is not due to a lack of mindfulness, but is physical, environmental, and understanding this world (the endeavor to do so is called science) is a plus. Thoughtfulness can mitigate some suffering. Ignorance is not a plus. "Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind."—Aristotle

5. Simple, Healthy Living
     Our capacity to live healthy depends on a healthy planet, one supportive of all life, those "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful."—Charles Darwin. Living in a healthy relationship with other organisms requires simplicity. We have to know our limits: the planet's carrying capacity and how much of a human footprint (roughly population times per capita consumption) it can support sustainably. So for a given level of sustainable consumption, simple life styles allow more people to be alive. "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone."—Henry David Thoreau.

6. Dealing with Anger
     Are humans good or evil by nature? Do we angerly kill because we are hard wired to do so? Is there a gene for strapping on a bomb and blowing up school children? Or does ideology, religious or political, have something to do with it? Fear, anger, and hate are involved, but to really get into war and genocide—to sustain hatred, fear, and anger—it takes a belief system. Fortunately being HAD or possessed by belief is optional—the alternative to a bELIEVING mIND being an Inquiring Mind that alone is capable of learning beyond recitation. The old computer programing adage is appropriate: "garbage in, garbage out." If taught wrong, reprogram yourself. If subjected to indoctrination, at least spare your own children. Question everything, including your anger—it's true cause and the ending of it.

7. Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment
     Reality creeps upon us in the here and now on little feet. The past is a story, and so too is the future. We humans are the story telling animal. The mind creates images of past, present, and future by way of thought. In so far as we see the present moment through our image of it, we (our minds) are not quite present. Thought creates models, descriptions—and useful ones too if accurate—but they are not the thing itself. We can not observe in the past nor in the future, so SEEING in science and meditation can only be done in the present moment even though the manor of observing/seeing may differ. We can but endeavor to be attentive.

8. Community and Communication
     We are disposed by a few hundred thousand years of evolution—a very short period of time—to successfully raise children on the Pleistocene plains, but Neolithic villages were more problematic. As for the now near endless expanses of nuclear families, single parent or otherwise....okay, so let's think about it...who is conducting this experiment and why? For many, "community" is a near meaningless word, so atomized are the densely packed who may have never met their neighbors, much less functioned as a community of codependent beings they ultimately must be. If people talked pointedly, we might talk "social engineering," or of a "new world order," but that would be heretical, smacking of free thought. "Heresy is another word for freedom of thought."—Graham Greene

9. Truthful and Loving Speech
     To speak only what you know to be truthful would be banal as well as dubious. If you want certitude, speak only tautologies—become a mathematician who can declare a conjecture true by definition. "So far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain. And so far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."—A. Einstein. True also of all possible beliefs. True speech may not be loving, so be silent, or speak softly and carry a big stick of reasons and compelling evidence. But remember you can lead a mind to critical thinking, but you can't make it think well. Yet still, it's worth a try, and our greatest effort should always be lovingly expended upon ourself.

10. Protecting Society
     Nature's message to humankind: "Go ahead, make my day." Surely the current globe spanning growth civilization will go on forever, unlike all prior ones. Oh wait, let's think about that, maybe.... So what could go wrong? Lot's of unforeseeables, like maybe a cosmic gamma-ray burst nearby sterilizing Earth. But that's a low probability event. What's more likely? How about "overshoot and collapse?" Could become the new buzz words the talking heads on TV use (too late, alas) to help us understand what's going wrong with our exponential growth culture. Perhaps sustainable culture has it's advantages as the survivors will realize. And perhaps in principle we can protect culture from ourselves by cutting back on the garbage in.

11. Right Livelihood
     Is working to maximize consumption right livelihood? What about working to obtain what you currently think of as minimal necessities so as to maximize your free time—time to live, learn, love, volunteer, and create? Time for doing free or at little cost those things for which others will never pay you to do. Over time, you'll question "necessity" and learn to simplify and add more lightness to your life thereby reducing your footprint on the planet. Would not volunteer work that you freely choose to do be time better spent than selling your life to the highest payer?

12. Reverence for Life
     Realizing that you share half your genes with a cabbage may help concentrate the mind wonderfully. "Our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life."—Joseph Campbell. Are we connected with other multicellular organisms? "By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive."—Albert Schweitzer. Realizing our functional oneness, our common clay, may well have survival value in the long run. "What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"—Henry David Thoreau. Or if there's no tolerable humans left to live on it with you?....

13. Generosity
     Is it a give and take world? If so, that's barter at best. Or is it a give and receive world where receiving is necessary to allow others to give, in which case receiving is itself an act of giving? To be poor is to have nothing to give, and to have an abundance, inner or otherwise, out of which to give is to be truly wealthy. The materially wealthy often get there by being acquisitive, the opposite of generosity. "It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert."—Jacques Yves Cousteau

14. Right (Sexual) Conduct
     Not long ago, in evolutionary time, we were like most primates—entirely on the promiscuous/opportunistic side. A significant percentage of humans still seem to be. With bipedalism (intailing a push towards bigger head size at birth, hip plasticity limitations, and increasingly long child dependance), the need for cooperative pair-bonded parenting increased. Initially this lead to intense romantic infatuatory sexual proclivities induced by amphetamine-like neurochemicals (for some reason often called "true love") that lasted long enough to permit serial monogamy. Eventually child dependance overlapped and serial monogamy became problematic (six dependant children by six different men...so, how's that working for you?). If all the children were presumed to be by one male (most easily accomplished if he actually was), then he (and his parents and extended family) would tend to persist in supporting them and their mother.
     Full oxytocin-mediated monogamy, however, is an evolutionary work in progress. Clearly humans are not all monogamous by nature. Some are, some are compelled (most of the time) by thou-shalts to be, some are serially monogamous, and others promiscuously opportunistic. Straight, LGBT, WTF...the main differences are along the promiscuous to monogamous distribution curve which strongly affects family life or the lack thereof. Be what you are when you have no choice if no harm is done (e.g. no non-consenting whatever, no sexual abuse of children...). Most of us have a biological capacity for both promiscuity and monogamy, and can tend toward one or the other by intent. Choose wisely, but don't fool yourself or others into inappropriate coupling.



 

 


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