Sometimes there are things that we just simply need to say “No” to, yet we choose to do it anyway. In the heat of the moment, we decide that the thrill is worth whatever the consequences are (of course, we aren’t thinking about the consequences at all in that moment). Afterwards we wonder why we did it again… especially since we actually knew the consequences before we started… Why do we repeatedly do things that go against our internal wisdom?
A few weekends ago, I went to a Buddhist meditation retreat. On the first night, our teacher explained what they called “The Guardians of the World – Hiri (fear) and Ottappa (remorse)” and how they protect us on our spiritual journey. (There are many interpretations of these guardians… but I will just share this monk’s interpretation… because it really affected me and I like it.)
Hiri is the kind of fear that protects us from doing things that are going to harm us (and others). Our teacher told us that if we visit the monastery where he lives, there is long grass all around the property. As inviting as it might be, whatever we do, don’t walk in it! The long grass is filled with ticks and a high percentage of ticks carry diseases like Lyme’s disease. They have had people have to go to the hospital in the past after being bitten. So, it is their recommendation – their strong recommendation – that you simply stay out of the long grass altogether.
He paraphrased “Hiri” as saying to us, “Just don’t go there”.
Hmmm.. Just imagine all the places in our lives that we know better than to go there. Yet we do… almost every time. Maybe it is taking the bait and ending up in an argument with “that” person. Or maybe it is allowing negative self-talk to beat ourselves up. Or maybe it’s going out with that person even though they are trouble or truly not our match. Or maybe it’s taking that cigarette, drinking that drink, eating that chocolate bar, watching the porn, or whatever it is that deep down you know just takes you off of your path… yet the draw is so great.
The second thing to consider when considering walking in the long grass is the sequence of events that are possible or likely afterwards. Perhaps all you are thinking about is the wonderful feeling of walking in the long grass in the moment. The key is to also imagine the next few steps and the journey it will require to get back to where you were on your journey. If you get bitten by the Lyme-disease-tick, then after your walk in the grass, you will have to go to the hospital, perhaps get treatment, perhaps spend the next few years with extreme fatigue and muscle pain.
Hmm… Not sure any of that is worth the little walk in the grass.
Feeling True Remorse:
Ottappa is considered remorse. When we look back on our lives and think of things that we wish we had done differently, it is important to truly FEEL in our hearts how badly we feel about what happened. Oftentimes when things don’t go how we wanted, we hurt someone (intentionally or not), or we just didn’t live up to our truest wisdom (not our shining moment), we tend to intellectualize about it. We might justify our choices based on circumstances. We forgive ourselves because that’s just where we were in that moment, etc.
Some of this might be healthy. But the challenge with processing the experience with our brains is that it is only when we feel true remorse in our hearts that anything will change in the future. It is allowing that sad remorse to be felt in our hearts that actually changes our future actions. This remorse (ottappa) feeds the healthy fear (hiri) that will actually help to change our direction the next time a similar situation arises. As long as the experience remains a story in our brains, nothing will actually change in the future.
We know this when someone says “sorry”. If you feel no true remorse from them, then you know that their “sorry” is meaningless because the likelihood of them repeating whatever they did is very high.
What are Your Long Grasses?
So now, imagine what the “long grasses” are in your life – the things and situations that your deepest wisdom scream “Just don’t do it”… and yet you do anyway. Now think about what the consequences are to those “long grasses”. How distracted do you become? How much time and energy is wasted after the fact recovering from that one little choice?
Are there experiences in your past that you have intellectualized so that you don’t have to feel how your really feel about them?
This is a great process for me personally these days… Initially, I could come up with a couple long grasses and a few regrets from the past. And then as I walked through my days, I started recognizing “long grasses” almost as soon as they’d come up. Or I’d be chatting with friends of mine and I’d find myself telling them this story and saying “Hey, you do whatever you need to do… but from my perspective, he/it/they are just long-grass”.
Trusting the Guardians:
And I love how these are the “Guardians of the World”. To me, they are the safeguards of my truest path. You know how you get ideas that you truly want to pursue and then you find yourself distracted and off path? I sure do… Oftentimes, it is long grass at the side of my path that I find myself wandering in, soon I’ve forgotten what I was so excited about and by the time I find my path again, I’m kind of standing there looking around wondering “What was I doing before I got distracted?”. Lots of this long grass isn’t inherently evil… Sometimes it’s just getting lost in social media or endless videos of cute dogs and bunnies. Or maybe it’s conversations or arguments that you’ve had a hundred times. Or maybe it’s much more serious and damaging. We all have a combination of all of these.
For me, the key is the simplicity of Hiri’s mantra: “Just don’t go there”.
I don’t always make the ideal choice. But it’s getting easier and easier.