Right Attitude

by Dennis Bradford

in intellectual well-being

Is there really such a thing as the right attitude?  If so, what is it?

Life is lived right now, in the present moment. It is impossible to relive the past; it is not yet possible to live the future.

Is there a best mindset to adopt right now?

If so, is it important to adopt it?

In the notes to his version of the Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell retells a wonderful story by Zenkai Shibayama Roshi that comes from Japan. It perfectly illustrates the right attitude.

“A hundred and fifty years ago there lived a woman named Sono, whose devotion and purity of heart were respected far and wide. One day a fellow Buddhist, having made a long trip to see her, asked, ‘What can I do to put my heart at rest?’

She said, ‘Every morning and every evening, and whenever anything happens to you, keep on saying, “Thanks for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.”’

The man did as he was instructed, for a whole year, but his heart was still not at peace. He returned to Sono, crestfallen. ‘I’ve said your prayer over and over, and yet nothing in my life has changed; I’m still the same selfish person as before. What should I do now?’

Sono immediately said, ‘Thanks for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.’ On hearing these words, the man was able to open his spiritual eye, and returned home with great joy.”

The best attitude is one of nonresistance. Whatever conditions prevail in the present moment, they are already real. It is counterproductive as well as futile to resist reality, to reject what-is, to treat the present moment as if it were an enemy.

What-is is as it is. In the next moment, perhaps, what is may be different. Now, however, it is just – thus! You may prefer that it were otherwise, but it is not otherwise. So, since what-is could not be different than it is, rejecting it is futile.

The best attitude is the opposite of the worst attitude, which is having a troubled mind. The opposite of being distraught is being peaceful, being completely at ease. Any degree of resistance to the present moment means separation from it.

Since separation is the root of suffering, resistance creates suffering. Therefore, resistance is counterproductive.

The worst attitude is the attitude of the fool, which is futile and counterproductive.

The best attitude is the attitude of the sage, which is the attitude of nonresistance (complete acceptance, unconditional allowing).

If we do not suffer in the present moment, when will we suffer?

If we are not happy in the present moment, when will we be happy?

Since we only live in the present moment, we can only suffer or be happy in the present moment.

It is not the conditions of the present moment that determine whether we suffer or are happy; instead, it is the attitude we take towards them. Both eastern and western sages have been teaching that for millennia.

Taking the right attitude yields happiness. Taking the wrong attitude yields suffering.

So, in terms of the quality of life, it is extremely important to adopt the right attitude.

How? How can you take the right attitude? How can you take the attitude of nonresistance?

Detach from your preferences. Instead of trying to cling to what you like and to avoid what you don’t like, let go of your preferences.

That’s it!

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Another way to say this is to let go of all judgments, especially all gratuitous evaluations.

To think is to judge or conceptualize. The wrong attitude is the attitude that comes from incessantly being trapped thinking.

Those who are trapped thinking even tend to deny that there is a difference between thinking and awareness (consciousness)! Actually, thinking is merely one kind of awareness.

The delusion that all awareness is thought is probably due to language, especially written language. Do you really think that our ancestors of 100,000 or 1,000,000 years ago incessantly deadened life with concepts as we do?

Instead of thinking “I don’t like this” or even “I like this,” let go of all such evaluations. Let go of all such thinking.

So the right attitude is an attitude of “no-thought.” This is awareness without preferences or concepts. It’s an attitude of simply noticing what-is without reacting to it.

Adopting the right attitude has great advantages. Here are two major ones.

First, freshness is restored to experience. If you don’t insist on conceptualizing them, which automatically deadens them, or imposing your preferences on them, which creates separation and, so, suffering, even routine experiences become new and enjoyable again.

Second, the right attitude is the only breeding ground for creativity. All creativity comes from no-thought.  [Click here for more on this.]

Furthermore, adopting the right attitude has no downside. It’s not as if sages never think! While (unlike us) most of their awareness does not involve thinking, when they do think, their thinking is even more effective than before when they were (like us) thinking nearly all their waking time.

Because moments of no-thought or awareness probably occur spontaneously to all of us, taking the right attitude may not be as difficult as you think. Simply pay attention to them and let their duration expand.

That takes no time at all. After all, the only time for paying attention is the present moment.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

carlo October 30, 2011 at 9:38 am

Good post! Time remains the ultimate mystery, while we live in the midst of it.

Dennis E. Bradford, Ph.D. October 30, 2011 at 10:30 am

Thank you for your comment.

I think it instructive to ask, “Why is time unintelligible? Why is it so mysterious?”

It is because the thinking mind cannot conceptualize it.

Try this: though thought cannot apprehend time, awareness is able to apprehend it. To use my preferred terminology, thoughts (judgments, conceptualizations) are Becomings. Understanding anything requires separation from it; as you say, we are in the midst of time. To separate from time in order to understand it would mean viewing time from the aspect of timelessness (Being, eternity).

Since Being is unity or oneness, it is impossible to understand it. It is as impossible to understand time as it is to understand Being. However, direct awareness of Being is possible — it’s just not thought (conceptualization).

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