Starting our Ethical Practice

If we are interested in practising ethics, here’s a quick and easy guide on how to start.

First, we can ask ourselves, ‘What is it that bothers me about myself? What is it I don’t like? What is it that I’d like to change?’

It could be anything. Maybe we want to quit smoking? Drink less? Alter our diet?

Maybe we want to stop telling lies? Be less anxious? Have more courage?

The ethical dimension

Whatever it is, there is sure to be an ethical dimension to this.

For example, we might want to give up smoking as we see that we harm ourselves through it, which could be seen as an act of love towards ourselves.

Or perhaps we want to be less anxious as we see that anxiety causes us suffering, and that when we are anxious, we make decisions that are not helpful both to ourselves, and to those around us.

If we can’t work the ethical dimension out, we don’t need to worry about it. We can just practise anyway! We can work the ethical dimension out later!

Choosing positive or negative training principles

When we know what we want to work with, we can decide whether to work with the positive (cultivating something) or negative (stopping something) formulations of the training principles.

Perhaps when starting out, it is easier to begin with the ‘negative’ ones  – to smoke less, swear less, eat less meat, etc etc.

But the positive formulations work too – to say something nice once a day to someone, give a present once a week, and so on.

Setting up our objectives

Now we know what we want to work on, and which type of training principle we are going to use – we can begin to set up some objectives.

We need to be realistic about what we want to achieve. It needs to be achievable. And it shouldn’t be too much of a jump.

We also need a way to measure our progress, and work out how long we are going to give ourselves for this ‘transformation to take place’.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is to use an example.

An example of ethical practice

John watches too much TV. He wants to meditate as this makes him feel calmer, but every evening he gets involved in watching the soaps, and by the time he switches the TV off he feels tired and wants to go to bed. He’s  wants to meditate every day.What to work on:

John already knows what bothers him. He watches too much TV, and he wants to cut that down. He also knows what he wants to do with the time he saves. He wants to meditate, as this makes him feel calmer.

The ethical dimension:

John is concerned with his own mental states. He wants to improve them, and he sees this will improve his life, and the lives of those around him. This is the ethical dimension of what John wants to do.

Negative formulation:

John decides to work with the negative ethical formulation, ‘to stop watching TV so much’.

Setting objectives:

John decides to try to stop watching TV past 9 o’clock at night on Mondays. (He hopes to use this time to meditate, but it is the stopping watching TV that is what he is working on). John wants to do this for 4 weeks and then he will review.

Understanding John’s decision:

Now John could have set himself a task of no TV seven days a week. Or no TV just one day a week. But what John is looking for is success. Success is the key.

Stopping watching TV past 9pm one night a week is achievable. Very achievable. And there is nothing to stop John doing this more than one night a week.

But John has his target, and in all likelihood he will achieve it. After 4 weeks he can review, and maybe move to not watching TV on a Monday, or maybe not watching TV past 9pm two night a week.

Setting ourselves up for success

Working in this way can be incredibly empowering. Too often we set ourselves up to fail!

We only need to think about New Year Resolutions to see how crazy it is to enforce great leaps of change upon ourselves.

Small achievable steps bring about great change. And ethical practice transforms lives.

Maybe we could try it and see?


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