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Careful Attention

Feb. 12th, 2022

By Rev. Jesse Eugene Herriott

The dhammapada or “sayings of the Buddha in verse form” continue to inspire me, as does many other wisdom teachings from both east and west, past and present.

One of the verses that continues to impact me from of the dhammapada reads, “Look to your mind wise man, look to it well; it is subtle.” Dhamma or “dharma” depending on whether you are referring to the Sanskrit or Pali spelling of the word, literally means “truth teachings”, although commentators offer a variety of other interpretations of the phrase. This text inspires me because it is a reminder to monitor my mind and to provide careful attention to the events of my life.

Life simply is. It exists, and we know it to be so through our own participation and interpretation of it. The more we are immersed into life on an individual level, the easier it is to know the truth of life for ourselves. Participation in life varies because we all experience life on a variety of levels. So whenever someone is talking about life, they are usually speaking from their unique lens. Blanket statements about the nature of experience can work sometimes, but there are many unique circumstances in which interpretations about life have to be tailored. The work for us is to provide careful attention to both life as it is objectively, and life as we experience it internally, so that we can ensure life as we experience it fits in with the life we are currently living. It may seem like a lot of work, but the ebb and flow of attending to our inner and objective experiences of life allows us to consciously decide who we are and negotiate that reality each day.

Persons, places, and things are the entities that tend to occupy most of our experiences of life. On a daily basis, it can be a healthy spiritual practice to negotiate and reflect on how we engage with those entities. For example, when things are going well, life is fun. When we have pockets of experience that are not so well, it is not fun. So what does the mind do with those circumstances? When persons, places, and things cause discomfort, the mind makes an instinctual move to protect its own survivlal. The English Utilitarian Philospher Jeremy Benthem suggested the individual navigates the world around them by minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. I think we do this best when we blame others for our shortcomings.

Blame is a way the mind discharges. This form of discharge is potent and immediate. Sometimes we do it without hesitation, and in the heat of the moment it feels good. After all, the mind may feel we cannot be the sole bearer of the burden that a situation is rough or an experience is distasteful. Blame is a survival mechanism that allows the mind to push out what is uncomfortable to make room for a more pleasant experience. The mind is evolutionarily brilliant enough to automatically push out experiences that are possibly good for us, but overwhelming to our immediate experience. Let me put some flesh on that; let’s just say you were presented with an opportunity that matched your resume. If you do not see yourself in the role you were offered, whether the experience was tailor-made for you or not, the instinctual nature of the mind may push away the experience and find fault in it because the mind has not yet metabolized, or revealed to the host that what is being presented is safe. Whether something is right or wrong, it is wrong if it is wrong to you. If it is right it is only right if it is right to you. If you do not believe that, think back to when you were initially informed that Santa Claus was not real. Your belief based on your unique experience shaped your reality. Until your belief caught up with your reality, you could not digest the newfound truth that Santa was a fictional character that embodied the principles of love, kindness, and support, that your caregivers were providing to you throughout the year. As adults our minds still work in this fashion; so our spiritual work is to use our practices as a tool to help shape our perception of experience. Yes, everything is a discipline. Yes, everything is a skill, and yes it is never too late to learn.

Blame is not a strong enough energy to stand on its own and provide the satisfaction that the soul needs. The rewards of blame are fleeting at best. The soul needs more than a cheap trick. The soul requires careful, honest, loving, and gentle attending to. Make a commitment with me today: attend to your mind, its subtleties, its expressions, its method of discharge, and its need for self-preservation. This kind of careful attention can expand our inner worlds, and make our relationship to the persons, places, and things in our external life blossom.

Rev. Jesse Eugene Herriott, M.A. is the Spiritual Leader of Unity of Birmingham, AL. He is a writer and spiritual teacher whose work explores the soul of what it means to be human, through the lens of spiritual practice & western psychotherapy. He is an ordained priest in the UAIC Interspiritual community and currently is in the process of completing Unity’s Special Dispensation program to become a licensed Unity Minister. He completed bachelor’s and master’s from the University of South Carolina and Keiser University, respectively. He also holds post grad certificates in Geropsychology, Organizational Psychology, & Clinical Trauma Support. In 2015 he was selected by Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA to be inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Clergy & Scholars. To find out more, join us online via facebook, or meet us in person for our Sunday Morning Celebration at 11am Central at Unity of Birmingham.

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