Last night I read on in Pema Chodron's forthcoming book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, which is a nice change from books on how to stand life, get through stuff, de-stress. She has a way of going slowly and carefully through Buddhist ideas that has me highlighting many sentences, even though the e-galley I am reading will expire, and my notes with it. There is a pace and rhythm to her writing that slows me down.
Last night I read about taking a vow to do no harm.
Well, sure. Everyone knows that. Doctors are taught, "First, do no harm." Here is a nice explication of that from Wikipedia -
. . . given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.(I understand that it's a struggle these days for doctors to suggest doing nothing; apparently, we Americans always want to be fixed right away. Never mind that back surgery probably isn't the answer, you want to at least feel like you're doing something, anything. I know of a woman who was determined that her brother, who was quickly dying of cancer, have surgery to fix a not-so-bad cataract.)
When Pema talks about the vow of non-harming, she uses the word refrain. She talks about a meaning deeper than the obvious meanings of the five precepts, the basic Buddhist ethical code. She talks about refraining from the habitual (thoughtless) acts that let us escape reality. Just in passing, she mentions that one way we exit uncomfortable feelings is chatter. Sometimes it seems everyone has an aunt like that.
This was very fresh with me this morning, I noticed. I found myself thinking about my impulses during and after church. There was the impulse to invite S to meet for coffee; thinking about it, I know social encounters are often hard for her. She can always call or write me. Did I really want to yelp her?
Pause to explain. It is very easy to leap forward to help someone who is less able-bodied than you. I've seen people do positively embarrassing things to Tom, who was visibly changed by having polio as a child, the year before the Salk vaccine. One woman tried to take his plate during a church potluck when he'd just begun to eat. We've grown to call that Yelping You whenever I do it, as in the blurred "maiyelpyou?" of some waiters.
All morning I refrained from yelping people. The result of this seemed to be that I didn't say much, listened more; didn't initiate things, like time to leave, but looked around to notice that other people were having a good time.
Now, sitting back comes naturally to some people, I know, maybe to all of us in certain situations. It can do harm, too. Not getting around to calling a sick friend. Not buying a graduation gift because you don't know what to buy. Not saying anything about an injustice because . . . oh maybe, because . . . it just slips your mind. I'm willing to bet we can all remember doing that. It can become tragic. A number of people felt like not speaking up in a very unpleasant situation, which let Jerry Sandusky abuse a long line of children all his life.
(Now, there's the anger in my stomach, when Pema says will pass in 90 seconds if I don't work the story in my mind. That's another issue. . . .p.s. It worked. Except editing this brought it back.)