There’s a close link between thought and action. Remember all the training techniques for athletes? They involve self-talk, visualization, re-framing, and even suppression. Facebook pal Doug M. mentioned that the Buddha’s teachings emphasized “thoughts as a forerunner of actions.” This tends to be the usual take on Right Action, practising at that boundary between thinking and manifesting the content of thought. I want to write “embody” but the term encompasses so much more than the completion of the thought-action circuit and includes a flavour of skilfulness. Either way, Right Action evokes not only a sense of engagement but implies familiarity with a deep ethic of that engagement.
Many of our friends and colleagues are involved in compassionate projects, engaging in the world in ways I can’t imagine myself doing. Maia Duerr, author of the fabulous Jizo Chronicles, just returned from a trip to an elephant hospital in Thailand and writes passionately about it here. The video is heartbreaking but I made myself watch it; I’m not good with this level of suffering – or I should say, I’m useless in the face of senseless suffering brought about by human stupidity. My first reaction is rage which is totally ineffective. So, I applaud Maia for facing this Ox and returning to the marketplace with the wisdom of her teachings. Other friends like Iris whose dedicated work is with rescue dogs, Lisa Friedland who founded Awakened Connections and Nancy Lasseter who is Director of Rwanda Sustainable Families are facing down HIV/AIDS in Thailand and poverty in Africa, respectively. And, of course, there is our daughter Alex (The Kid) who comes home to stay just long enough before this life of ease and comfort becomes inconceivable in the face of global suffering. She’s off on another adventure which I can’t share yet in case I jinx it.
These are people with whom I am in direct contact, face-to-face, hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart. And yet. And yet… There is a side to Right Action where one cannot get it “right” no matter what one does. As an aside – and perhaps belatedly so – it was pointed out in a dharma talk that the Eightfold Path is a manual of Ethics. I haven’t been explicit about it in my written exploration but it certainly is bouncing around in my skull. This double-edged aspect of manifesting Right Action is in the foreground of our lives at the moment.
Frank’s father died three years ago this week, leaving a broken down house and an even greater broken set of relationships in the wake of his departure. The house, more easily managed than the floundering relationships, is in North Carolina which is a state in profound distress. Unemployment is running about 9.7% and in the county where the house stands, it’s much higher. Over the three years, we’ve rented the house about four times, each time to tenants who were likely unable to pay the rent but whose stories suggested compassion was required. And, you know where this is going. After four occasions of having to repair damage to a newly renovated house, chase down house keys from vanished occupants, and apologize to neighbours for collateral damage, we find ourselves faced with a tough decision about what constitutes right action. There are no clear answers and, at the moment, we realize that the rental agent, a saint of a woman with a discerning nature, is the better judge of Right Action in this dilemma.
My Chaplaincy supervisor at the hospital pointed out this need for discernment to me when I asked if I could take on a former patient through the spiritual care department. Positive support includes teaching people how to use the resources that are already available to them. And it includes knowing when the they’ve received all they can use effectively. It’s a tough call and I’m glad she asked me to make it. Perhaps in the end, Right Action is generosity of spirit, the willingness to do what is difficult and to engage in it wholeheartedly – even if “doing” is saying it cannot be done.
Thank you for practising,