One time the Buddha was giving teachings to his son Rahula. He said to Rahula that before, during, and after you think, say, or do something, you should contemplate: will this be, is this, was that, supportive to my happiness and the happiness of others? If you determine that it won’t be, isn’t, or wasn’t, then you should not do it, stop doing it, or don’t do it again. If you determine that it is supportive…….
The part of this teaching that I want to highlight is the part about paying attention after we think, say or do something. It can be much easier to be mindful just before, or as we’re doing something, but what about afterwards. Do we ever bring attention to what the result of the thought, speech, or action was? Usually, not so much.
Because the heart/mind (citta – Pali) is very sensitive and also has a sense of what it is that will be good for it, we can use that to help us feel into which behaviors bring us happiness and which ones don’t. But we have to really lean in and be attentive to how we feel. When you’ve just watched a so-so movie, how does it feel when it’s over? When you’ve eaten some food when you weren’t really hungry, how does it feel when you’ve finished. When you’ve just sent off a nasty e-mail, how does that feel? When I say feel, that includes how the body feels, and also, how our mood is.
On the surface, these things can feel sort of good. The movie can entertain us, or at least keep us from being bored. The food may be tasty and ward off feeling alone. The nasty e-mail can give us a sense of being right and in charge. But, when we take a few moments to be still, relax, and tend to the heart, we may come into contact with something very different. The heart/mind knows, and will feel things like: being contracted, agitated, dull/depressed, encumbered, or simply lousy as a response to such actions.
These are probably not going to be extreme (although they could be) feelings. Chances are, especially when we first begin tending to them, they will be subtle or vague. As we tune into this realm of our experience, our ability to pick up on these feelings becomes more refined. Now we have some very important information regarding how we can be happy or not. We can start making our decisions on what to do or not do based on our own experience, rather than what we should or shouldn’t do. This is an important shift in our practice. We decide not to watch our 4thmovie of the week, not because we shouldn’t, but because we are clear about the state it will leave us in, and are clear that’s not the state we want to dwell in. This is true renunciation. It’s based on clear seeing and compassion, not on should or shouldn’t.
So, the practice is simple. Pay close attention to how you feel after you think, say, or do something. Start with big things that have more impact, and then you can refine the practice to work with smaller, more momentary actions.