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Browsing my email this morning I came across a discussion digest from a wonderful organization that I belong to the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE).  It led me to a section on their website “The Tree of Contemplative Practices” which led me back to my talks on ethics and the first of the Eightfold Path, “Know the truth.”

Below is the picture of the tree and the items on the tree reflect some of the contemplative practices “currently in use in secular organizations and academic settings.” These practices help us to “know the truth.”  And when they are integrated into our lives will help us “live the truth.” Many of the practices listed on the tree are linked to areas that are directly related to areas of ethical conduct and practice. Some of them are listed below:

  • Justice issues
  • Volunteering
  • Loving-kindness
  • Deep listening
  • Establishing a sacred/personal space for self and others

ACHME describes the tree thus:

The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groups of practices.

The Tree of Contemplative Practices ACMHE

When used and contemplated they can help us know what is true for us and provide us with simple practices to help us live an ethical life.

My goal this week is to choose one area and focus on it knowing that doing this will help me maintain peace, love, and compassion in my life and hopefully make this a better place in which to live.  When you go to the link you will find a blank tree there that you can copy and print and put your personal contemplative practices on the tree.  This may help you focus on your opportunities to merge your ethical, spiritual, and practical life into one union of knowing the truth and being one with it.

In gassho,

Shokai

ingassho

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weapon-violence-children-child-52984After today’s school massacre in Texas I am obliged to repost what I wrote before.

Today on Twitter I saw a post forwarded to my account from John Fugelsang from someone named JohhnyBoy that said “I wish gun related deaths were just as scary to Americans as ebola.”  During our Zen Buddhist service and sitting this morning we prayed for the families and friends of the students killed during school yesterday in Marysville, WA (Florida, Texas etc.etc) .  The combination of this incident and the post from JohnnyBoy brought back to mind the short piece that one of our teachers had given me to put into our Zen Bulletin and on our website he titled it  “Excitement.”  Wilbur Mushin May Sensei wrote:

We cannot live without excitement.  However, when excitement becomes the sole purpose in life that’s out of balance, that does not work.  It seems, we strive to be on a constant high all the time.  Having fun almost becomes an addiction.  But the craving for the extraordinary dulls the palate, and we lose our sense for the ordinary.

In Zen, when our practice is calm and ordinary nothing is lacking and our everyday life itself is enlightenment.

Don’t engage disturbances and emotional reachings gradually fade away.

Don’t engage distractions and spiritual practice naturally grows.

Violence, fear, and panic have become an everyday thing.  The news touts it and wants us to “be afraid…be very, very, afraid!”  This will draw people to the 24-hour news stations and to the internet for minute-by-minute updates.  Thus, we can see more of their commercials, buy more of their products, and I could go on and on.

But in Buddhism we live by the values of the Buddha and his followers and students who focused on the good and the gracious and the generosity ingrained in all human beings.  We step in to help the family, friends, and teachers in their time of need.  We do all we can to minimize gun deaths with stronger gun laws and the like at local, state, and federal levels.

Hopefully living a life of peace, love, and compassion will be an example that others will want to follow.  Change comes one person at a time. Knowing this we can change the world in which we live to one where the loudest form of excitement is only as bold and brash as cheering for your favorite team, or blowing out the candles on your birthday cake, or sharing tears of joy when your favorite relative greets you with a smile and a hug.

This is the excitement I wish for you each day!

In gassho,

Shokai

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As Calvin said to Hobbes in a cartoon one day, “Today at school I tried to decide whether to cheat on my test or not.  Well, it just seemed wrong to cheat on an ethics test.”  Good thinking Calvin!

Cheating, ethics, morals, lies, white lies, little lies, misstatements, gaffes, spin, plagiarism, how many different ways can we say the same thing: doing the wrong thing, when doing the right thing would have served you better.  Bernie Madoff made off with everyone’s money.  And not just the millionaires and billionaires money, but charities and people’s pensions, and so he sits in a federal prison where he was sentenced to 150 years in jail and a forfeiture of $17.179 billion.  Was it worth it Mr. Madoff?

According to Rushworth Kidder the author of the book How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, this would be considered a right vs wrong dilemma.  Clearly a person can see that what Madoff did was not only illegal but it was unethical. For many of my college students plagiarism is confusing to them and they do not seem to understand that it is wrong to plagiarize something that another person wrote.  And there are rules against it in every school.  After a certain number of times in any school you will be suspended and/or expelled from that institution and rightly so.

Then there is the right vs right ethical dilemma.  That is much harder to figure out and much harder to decide what to do in that case.  During this presidential election time in our country we hear lots of right vs right ethical dilemmas.  Do we raise taxes on the rich to balance the budget, cut services to the poor to balance the budget.  Do we keep Obamacare because it has so many important elements to it that will help everyone, including giving more customers and therefore more money to the insurance companies.  Do we repeal it and start over?  Do we expand the military industrial complex or shrink it?  I could go on and on, but I won’t.  You get the idea.  Whose values are correct anyway?

Every spiritual tradition on this planet gives you a set of values to live by, the 10 commandments, 16 precepts, the golden rule, and more.  Those who are ethical humanists may have something similar in their creed as well.  But how many of us stop to think about these commandments, creeds,or  rules when we are in the middle of a tough decision?

Did Paul Ryan stop to think about them when he wrote a budget that took much needed services away from the poor, the elderly, and the sick?  Maybe he did after he was chastised by the Catholic Bishops and the Nun’s on the Bus.  Did he think about it when he told the reporter he had run “marathons” and his fastest time was around two hours?  Did John Edwards think about the consequences when he cheated on his wife and fathered a child out of wedlock?

Our transgressions may not have been as dramatic and over reaching as Madoff, Ryan, and Edward’s but we need to be aware of them and think about how they affected our family, friends, students, co-workers and more.  As educators it is our responsibility to set the example for our students.  To be the person that they can look up to, and to check in with them to help them deal with their ethical dilemmas.  Do we create fun and informative exercises in our classes that bring ethics into the subject matter?  It does not matter what subject you teach–they all will ultimately depend on good ethical decision making and problem solving.

If you teach history are you looking at the historical figures and talking about some of their unethical decisions from genocide of the native Americans to the Patriot Act and some of its unintended consequences.  If you teach literature are you reading stories, fiction and non-fiction, that illustrate ethical choices.  Are you letting them write essays, reports, and poems on ethics.  Do you have them debate the subject with some of the students taking the pro and others taking the con on a particular ethical dilemma?

Many years ago I played a game with my students and it was all about ethics.  The students were broken into groups, each group was acting as a country.  Each group was given certain items at random–problems and solutions.  Some of the problems were drought, floods, wars, corruption,  and more.  Then the solutions were things like water resources, scientists, good politicians, food, clothes, and more.  The game was not over until all the groups had solved each one of their dilemmas and no one was left behind with an unsolved problem!  Wow was that hard and fun and rewarding for the students.  They came up with fantastic solutions and great cooperation and sharing was demonstrated by the group members.

There were many lessons learned and many “Ah Has” gotten during the training.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get all of our politicians, local, state, and federal to play this game, to take the things they learned from it and actually put them to use for the citizens of this country.  And if they cheated or didn’t share or plagiarized, or allowed themselves to have “insider trading” they would be given “time out” or suspended or expelled from their jobs.  What a wonderful world we would have if only that were true.

So let’s take some time this fall and look at our ethics and see how well we score.  Let’s take the time to be introspective and discover what we mean when we define the word ethics. Let’s look at our lives and see if we parse them out–more ethics on Sunday after church, or on Saturday after sitting at the Zendo.  How about less ethics at work, yet more ethics at home in front of the kids, and less ethics at the grocery store when we are alone.

Where oh where has your ethics gone?

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“The importance of motion in the conceptualizations of physicists was described by Einstein in his so-called thought experiment, in which he imagines himself riding through space, astride a light wave, and looking behind him at the next wave.  In this way he constructed a visual-kinesthetic image of some principles of relativity.  Einstein liked to re-experience space the way children do, and from such a vantage point, examine physical phenomena by being, as he wrote, “sympathetically in touch with experience. (Notebooks of the Mind Explorations of Thinking,Vera John-Steiner, pg. 16)

For my educator friends Einstein’s experience illustrates a great way to help us understand how our visual and kinesthetic students function, think , and learn.  For the visual and kinesthetic learners we need to allow them to have these important types of experiences in our classes.  Through these experiences we may help foster the next Albert Einstein.

What a pleasure it would be to watch our students grow and blossom  through mindfulness exercises designed with their learning styles in mind. Another person that John-Steiner interviewed was unable to play sports due to an illness and so he had to listen to the games on the radio or watch them on TV.  As he thought about these youthful experiences he told her  “he was forced to play games vicariously, conscious of the various ways the athletes used their bodies.”  So regardless of whether we have the space, time, or right location to take our students physically through the experience we can help them imagine the physicality of the experience in their minds.

There is a simple Feldenkrais exercise that I use in my classes to demonstrate the power of the mind and its connection to the body. You may want to try it.  Have the students all stand up, lift their arms straight out to shoulder height, once they have done that have them drop their left arm to their side.  Next, have them turn their torso as far to the right as they can until they can see the wall or space behind them and point at a spot.  Once they have set the spot have them drop the arm, face forward, and just “imagine” themselves twisting and choosing a spot behind them.  Have them do this imaginary movement in their mind’s eye at least 10-12 times.  Finally, have them do it one last time for real.  Most of the students will see that the spot on the wall they had originally chosen has moved significantly and they could twist so much farther than before.  Wow!  They are amazed at the power of the mind over the body.

This gives you a great opportunity for a lively discussion on how that relationship affects–positively or negatively– their mental and physical states of mind.  What are they thinking about their achievements in a sport, art, music, dance,  or marshal arts?   Obesity is a huge problem in American, have they convinced themselves that they can’t walk, jog, swim, roller blade, or exercise?

How about being like Einstein and use these techniques to be a better mathematician, scientist, physicists, or botanist!  The skies the limit when you put your visual and kinesthetic energy into using this mindfulness technique and allow yourself to ride through space with Einstein.  Oh, the places you can go!

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