As a secular mindfulness student at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), I often attend their Tuesday evening “community practice” facilitated by MARC’s Director of Mindfulness Education, Diana Winston. The gatherings consist of 30 minutes of group meditation, and then Diana gives a short talk and facilitates a discussion about the week’s topic. It’s a relaxing and accepting atmosphere, and I always leave feeling rejuvenated and connected with both myself—and the like-minded souls in our community.
Last week, Diana began a series on “The Five Mindfulness Ethical Trainings” or “The METs” as she calls them—and she prefaced the talk by saying the trainings are based on the five Buddhist Precepts that have been adapted in a secular context. She also made it clear that her intention for sharing these trainings was not to say that we need to follow them—but to suggest we contemplate them and see where our individual edges lie for each.
The Five Mindfulness Ethical Trainings (METs) are:
1. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect life.
2. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to only take what is offered to me.
3. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect relationships and be wise with my sexuality.
4. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to speak wisely.
5. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect the clarity of my mind by being wise in what I consume and how I use intoxicants.
Diana’s first talk focussed on MET #1: Protecting Life. And I found the topic serendipitous because just the night before, I’d gone to great lengths to safely capture and release a behemoth house fly that’d been buzzing around my face while I was cooking dinner that evening. But prior to sitting there listening to Diana’s talk, I hadn’t given the fact that I didn’t just automatically swat the fly much thought. Despite feeling severely annoyed by its’ presence, it just never occurred to me to try and kill it. Instead, I remember my mind reeling for ways to quickly catch and escort it safely outside before the cat got to it first—which, btw, I miraculously managed to do via a nearby mason jar.
Further contemplating the topic, I’ve also noticed that I take definite care not to step on bugs when I spot them these days (both inside and outside the house). I even let spiders “just be.” But this hasn’t always been the case. Before my mindfulness practice, I had little to no respect for insects. I never thought twice about swatting, stepping on or smooshing them when I saw one. It’s just what I did.
But as my practice has deepened over the years, my reactivity to bugs has lessened. I don’t automatically squeel or jump when I see one anymore, nor do I automatically reach out to slap ’em with the nearest shoe. Within the spaciousness of nonreactivity, I’ve been able to observe bugs as they are—tiny little creatures who are just trying to get by doing what they do. But despite the compassion I’ve come to show bugs, I still eat meat. And, under certain circumstances, I also believe in abortion and euthanasia—so there’s that, too…
So, where does this leave my relationship with MET #1? I guess, for me, “preserving life” isn’t such a black and white issue… And, as I’m finding with most things these days—finding a middle way seems to be the answer (it’s not always easy, though).
This week, join me in contemplating MET #1. What are your thoughts on undertaking the commitment to preserving life?