I want to give my contemplative inquiry for the next year a strong focus and intent. This includes re-stating the values in which it is grounded, updated after some reflection over the last twelve moths.
I use the word values where others might choose ethics or virtues. I make commitments rather than resolutions or vows. These commitments commit me to ‘cultivate’ a quality or behaviour. Hence, for example, I say “I will cultivate lovingkindness”. I cannot guarantee acting with lovingkindness as a simple act of will. But I can cultivate this quality and help it grow in the rough and tumble of life. I would like lovingkindness to be my default response in the heat of the given moment.
This year I will work with four commitments, listed below with brief commentaries.
- I will cultivate lovingkindness towards myself, others and the wider world. I find the Buddhist metta meditation a good working method for this (1). Lovingkindness is different to what I mean by love, more in the territory of good will. Love involves my spontaneous natural affections and needs to be free.
- I will cultivate positive health and well-being, within whatever constraints may apply. This includes work with diet and exercise, and resiliency factors for mental and emotional health, such as connecting, being active, taking notice, and continuous learning and giving (2).
- I will cultivate a life of abundance in simplicity. The dance between these terms creates, for me, a specific quality of richness. More widely, it contributes to living lightly on the earth.
- I will cultivate openness, creativity and wisdom, learning how better to understand these qualities and how to enact them. I am curious about how they can work together.
The commitments give me a set of value words to work with: lovingkindness, health, well-being, abundance, simplicity, openness, creativity, wisdom and cultivation. Part of the work is to develop my understanding and application of such terms in the light of experience and reflection. Although I am making use of abstract nouns, the process of working with values is dynamic and subject to revision. This post is a record of where I stand on the brink of the 2020s.
(1) We extend lovingkindness to beings in this order: ourselves; a person who has benefited us; a person about whom we have no strong feelings; an ‘enemy’ or person with whom we experience difficulties; all beings without exception. We want to be able to say, congruently: may I/you/we be free of danger; happy; healthy; live with ease. – See: Sharon Salzberg & Joseph Goldstein Insight Meditation Correspondence Course Work Book Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2004 (First published 1996)
(2) These are explained in detail at adrianharris.org/blog/2018/06/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/