Since January, the Napa Valley Insight Meditation community has spent many a Tuesday evening exploring the teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path– the Buddha’s map of the path that leads to true happiness and peace.
If your mind is like mine can be at times, one of your thoughts after reading what I just wrote may be, “Well, that may be possible for a small number of people but, let’s be real, I’ll never get there.” From my experience, when this type of thought comes in, if we aren’t able to create some space around it (to hold it within kind awareness) we may find we don’t have much interest in exploring an Eightfold Path practice. Furthermore, we may begin this practice with an agitated, skeptical mind that is ready to fix our lives, judge ourselves and others, feel dragged down by our inner story of unworthiness, and/or create impossible expectations of how life should be. We know the “ouch” of holding this perspective.
When parts of my mind go to this place of doubt, I’ve found it helpful to redirect the mind toward curiosity as you might a young child who is stuck in the “no, no, nos”. Just as we can show a child an oak ball or the new kitty next door, we can see if our mind would be willing to open to the possibility of inviting in a sense of friendliness and curiosity as it tries out some new practices and sees for itself whether these practices lead to more well-being or more suffering.
From my experience, the more I practice, take in the data and experience the fruits of practice, the more motivated I am to engage in Eightfold Path practice for the benefit of myself and all beings.
For me, this motivation seems to grow out of the accumulation of daily life moments of direct experience of what leads to more suffering and what leads to greater peace.
Sometimes the benefits of practice are immediately clear to me and, often, I experience the benefits in more of a long-term trajectory whereby, looking back upon my life, I realize how deeply my mind/heart have changed over time– Wise Understanding grows clear seeing and contentment; Wise Intention plants the seeds for Wise Speech and Wise Action; Wise Action generates a sense of safety and compassion; Wise Livelihood grows a spirit of goodwill, service and gratitude; Wise Effort, Wise Mindfulness and Wise Concentration help cultivate a stable base from which to rest in mindful awareness.
The Buddha encourages us to “be a light unto yourself”, to see for ourselves. Our Eightfold Path practice and direct experience can show us the way. From my experience, we can, indeed, incline our minds and hearts toward less suffering and greater peace, one moment at a time.