By Jojo Furnival
When people first come to New Life they are struck by the openness, the heart, and the supportive atmosphere. You can find yourself thinking that community living is the way forward.
No doubt it is, but it is not the fast track to a blissful life without pain (sorry…you need to work at that yourself).
The Buddha taught The Four Noble Truths, the first of which is that life is suffering (dukkha). This is evident in the form of illness, age, misery and death. And at New Life, we have been challenged by the pain of these things multiple times even in the short three months that I’ve been here.
Living in a community does not guarantee your happiness. Sometimes there is sickness, pain, even conflict – it’s just part of being human. It is how you respond to these inevitable events that determines your level of peace and contentment.
The Buddha’s second noble truth was that craving or attachment causes suffering. Craving (tanha) is wishing for things to be other than they are. Practicing mindfulness, or acceptance of the present moment without judgement – or, as Hungry Ghost retreat leader Vince Cullen suggested is useful, the phrase “Right now, it’s like this” – allows us not only to avoid the inevitable pain that comes with life but to alleviate the additional suffering that we create for ourselves by not accepting that pain.
The Buddha’s third and fourth noble truths, respectively, are that the cessation of craving leads to the cessation of suffering, and that this can be achieved by following the Eightfold Noble Path.
Practices like gratitude, mindful speech, loving kindness, and compassion also help to alleviate self-made human suffering and are part of what makes living in a mindful community so healing. It’s interesting to note that similar practices and principles exist in other traditions, and here at New Life sometimes we take the opportunity to apply a mindful, investigative approach to them in workshops.
One of these practices is based on a set of ideas described by Shamanic teacher and healer in the Toltec tradition, Don Miguel Ruiz, who wrote the book The Four Agreements. According to Ruiz, the principles by which to live in order to enjoy a life free from suffering are:
1. Be impeccable with your word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t take anything personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don’t make assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always do your best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment. It will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
As far as guidelines for recovery go, these are a pretty good place to start. They are accessible and simple to follow. And yet, in following them, if we’re honest, we would slip up every single day. Nonetheless, as long as we honour the last agreement in our attempts, we can avoid the negative self talk that bars our way out of suffering – and into healing.