and You Reap What You Sow
(revised and republished from my email newsletter)
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
If you’re not getting the results you want — in your relationships or in your social change efforts — be intentional while planting seeds at the level of mind.
Inspired by S.N. Goenka
Part 1: Mind Matters Most
In our culture there is a general understanding that physical action has the most importance, verbal action has some importance, and mental action has virtually no importance.
My experience is otherwise, and this relates especially to the work that we do in trying to make the world a better place than we found it.
In fact, verbal and physical actions are nothing but indicators of the level of intensity of what I’m calling “mental action”.
Two examples to illustrate my point:
Suppose I see someone with whom I am angry and upset — someone I might consider an enemy of some sort. First my mental action starts: upset and anger come to the surface. I begin thinking, You jerk! You had no right to do what you did. You are so wrong!, etc. This begins just in my mind.
If the intensity increases, only then will I say something. I’ll insult them, perhaps call them a name, or criticize or blame them. (Keep in mind this is just an example.)
If the intensity reaches a certain point, only then will I perform a physical action: I try to beat them up, physically hurt them, try to get them in trouble in some way, or worse.
(If you are a student of NVC, you’ll realize how intense my need for empathy is at this point, and how useful it might have been to address that earlier.)
I see someone in a very downcast or dismal condition, someone really down-and-out; perhaps it’s someone who is homeless and struggling with addiction, or perhaps it is a different circumstance.
My mental action starts: Compassion; I hope things work out for you; May you not only be given fish, but learn how to fish and be relieved of your suffering; I hope you find and develop the internal resources to help yourself, but also that we can effect the structural changes necessary in society to reduce homelessness, and help lift people out of poverty.
If the intensity increases, then I say something: some kind words, words of encouragement; I engage and connect in some way (vocal action).
Only after the intensity in mind reaches a certain point will I actually do something on the physical level: I may give them some food, or some money, or I’ll give them a ride to where they need to go, or I’ll bring them home so they can use my shower, something, but now at the physical level.
Part 2: You Reap What You Sow
Some people call it Karma, some people call it the law of cause-and-effect. Or as the book Redneck Words of Wisdom quotes: “plant a ‘tater, get a ‘tater.” It doesn’t matter to me what you call it. The fact is, that throughout our lives we want positive harvests, but we so often fail to be mindful while planting the seeds.
We sow seeds of fear, anger, and bitterness, and yet we want to be happy, or we want people to treat us with more respect, consideration and caring.
If I plant bitter cherry, I will not harvest sweet plums, no matter how much I blame my spouse, the system, the man, the patriarchy, my boss, or the industrial growth society. If I want to harvest sweet plums, I need to be intentional while planting.
And what is the seed I’m planting? Is it my physical, vocal, or mental actions? This was the point in Part 1. Our physical and vocal actions are only an indicator of the intensity of our mental actions. This is why the saints, sages, shamans, and spiritual leaders have always said: Know thyself!
This is crucial in our work to make the world a better place. As long as our efforts are characterized by a lack of consciousness regarding our deepest intentions and motivations, we may not be very pleased with the results!
Our work to create positive change in the world is not separate from our work to improve ourselves as human beings.