News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Choosing wisely which seeds to water

Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a tilled garden, watering can in hand, contemplating two types of seeds lying dormant in your soil.

One seed, when watered, produces a toxic weed, from whose leaves a mild poison can be extracted.

The second seed, when watered, produces a delectable and nourishing plant.

Given the choice of which seed to water, you would naturally choose to water the plant that will nourish you, letting the toxic plant’s seed lie dormant.

Now let’s imagine that you are standing in the tilled soil of your mind, watering can in hand, contemplating two types of dormant seeds.

The seed of resentment, when watered, produces a toxic plant that can poison the mind. The seed of happiness, when watered, produces a beautiful plant that nourishes the mind.

Sometimes we water the seed of resentment, making ourselves needlessly suffer.

We might water the seed of resentment because we enjoy basking in self-righteous indignation. But rather than evening the score, consuming resentment only poisons our mind.

We may water the seed of resentment because we have misinterpreted the words or actions of another—perceiving an intent to inflict harm on us that doesn’t exist.

It is very difficult for us to view another person’s behavior objectively. Our personal history and the stories (narratives) we tell ourselves about our life, tend to color our perceptions, causing us to misconstrue another person’s intentions.

The best way to get at another person’s intent is usually to ask them what was going on from their perspective when the problem arose.

We may water the seed of resentment because of what Buddhists call habit energy.

If we are unaware that certain words or actions trigger resentment in us, we are unable to make a conscious decision about which seed to water—resentment or happiness. Instead we continue to follow our habitual patterns.

Perhaps most significantly, we water the seed of resentment because we are human. Consequently we will sometimes make unwise and unhealthy choices.

Reduce the suffering caused by resentment

• Transform resentment into constructive anger.

My wife and I were cross-country skiing along a trail set aside for non-motorized use. We came upon a narrow, steep section of trail chewed up by a snowmobile.

After making it down to the bottom of the slope, I kept picturing myself taking revenge on the hapless snowmobiler should he or she be so foolish as to cross my path.

By the time we reached the parking lot, my wife and I had agreed that more constructive action was called for — she spoke to the head of the snowmobile association who was located there at Ray Benson.

He promised to contact members of his organization and remind them of the rules for trail use. Hearing this, the poison of resentment began to leach out of my mind, replaced with gratitude and renewed optimism that conflicts can be resolved.

• Mindfulness techniques

The practice of focusing our attention on our breath, observing when our mind wanders, and then escorting our attention back to the breath, enhances our awareness — which makes it easier for us to recognize which seeds we are currently watering.

Mindfulness practice also helps to calm the mind, reducing our emotional reactivity.

• Set an intention

Setting a daily intention to water the seed of happiness enables us to choose wisely.

• Learn to soothe our resentment

The Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh recommends that we don’t try to ignore or repress our feelings of resentment, but rather we learn to soothe our resentment, just as a parent soothes an upset infant.

• Forgive the person who wronged us

As long as we hold onto our resentment we remain bound to the person who treated us unjustly. Forgiveness undoes the knot of resentment.

• Remind ourselves that we are fallible human beings

Sometimes we don’t choose wisely. When we err, we can give ourselves a break. We compound our suffering when we beat ourselves up for our mistakes.

Buddhists tell us that there is a storeroom in our mind that holds seeds of love and kindness, seeds of anger and resentment, seeds of happiness and contentment, seeds of envy and jealousy, seeds of gratitude and joy, seeds of understanding and compassion, and seeds of fear and hate.

Choose wisely which seeds you water for they will manifest in the fertile soil of your mind and give shape and texture to your life.

 

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