This chapter has been published in the book The Art of Gentle Living. For ordering information, please click here.
The human mind is capable of extraordinary mental skills including sensory perception, conceptualizing, language comprehension and generation, quantitative computations, deductive analysis, inductive generalizations, adaptation, problem solving, scientific and technical knowledge, holistic synthesis, evaluation, judgment, and wisdom. This chapter will focus on the mental skills involved in the practical art of gentle living.
We have discussed how understanding our feelings and emotions can tell us much about what is going on in our consciousness and life. Yet we also need to be careful not to let our feelings distort rational thinking. To understand ourselves and the world clearly we need to see things as they are. In using the various forms of logic and intuition we can detect and be aware of how feelings and motives may affect our thought processes. The mind is an excellent tool for understanding concepts and various logical relationships, but that tool can also be used to find reasons for or rationalize conclusions we may have jumped toward without objective and adequate thought. Using reason correctly helps us to organize what we learn by perceptions and concepts into useful knowledge. When decisions are needed, we can apply our values in mature judgments with the wisdom of the divine principles.
Perhaps the most important discernment is distinguishing what is within our own power and what is not. We live in an interactive world in which each of us has power over our own thoughts, feelings, imagination, and actions, but we do not have power over the actions of others. When someone behaves badly toward us, we can respond by altering our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Although these may influence the other person, we cannot force the person to conform to our wishes. Rather, each person has the power to choose to respond differently. The great Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who died before 138 CE, was a master at making this distinction between what is within our power and what is not. His Manual begins by stating that within our power are conception, effort, desire, aversion, and whatever are our actions; not in our power are the body, property, reputation, rulers, and whatever are not our actions. This Stoic teaching has been adopted as a basic credo by Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups in the form of the following serenity prayer:
God grant me
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
This has been traced back to a prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1932 and to the ideas of Boethius, who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy in 524 CE. In that book Philosophy argues that only the good truly have power. Because everyone wants what is good, those who do what turns out to be bad have been unable to attain what they want. Only our own choices determine our own actions. Although someone may take our property and injure or kill our bodies, they cannot harm who we really are as souls. From the spiritual perspective we are only responsible for the choices that are within our power. Since actions have consequences, by the law of karma people are rewarded for their good actions and are punished by the consequences of their bad actions. The misfortunes that come to us may seem to have been caused by the actions of others; but even if you do not accept that it is karma from your own previous actions, how we choose to exercise our power in the present moment determines the future results. Thus to be clear in our thinking we need to be consciously responsible for those actions that are within our power while accepting what is not within our power. By using the wisdom to discern this difference we can avoid becoming upset because of what happens that is not within our power. Gentle living shows respect for other people by allowing them to make their own decisions. Attempting to have power over others tends to cause resentment in them and frustration for oneself.
To be really free we need to think for ourselves; otherwise others will control us. People manipulate others by imposing their beliefs, opinions, and values, sometimes even implying they are facts when they are not. First let us understand what facts are. A fact is something that has been done, an event in space and time. Facts only exist in the past and can no longer be changed. Each present action becomes a fact once it has been done. Facts are shaped by unchangeable physical laws and mechanical principles, but they also result from human decisions that are based on value judgments. What was done is a fact. Why it was done and its significance are interpretations of its meaning and are opinions and beliefs. Beliefs may or may not be accurate. Whether the action was right or wrong is even more of a value judgment. Even when we analyze the consequences of actions as to the benefits and harms they cause, these are still judgments that are based on how different things are valued and compared. Ethics is the study of these values and judgments of right and wrong.
Discerning the factual elements from the beliefs is helpful because the facts cannot be changed and so can more easily be agreed upon, while the opinions or beliefs are decided by each of us for ourselves. People also may use facts selectively by citing those that back up their opinions while ignoring those that call their judgments into question. To make good judgments we may need to do research in order to ascertain the relevant facts. Politicians, for example, may describe the atrocities committed by their enemies while failing to mention their enemies' beneficial actions or the number of people who have been killed, harmed, or imprisoned as a result of their own policies and decisions.
By observing facts clearly we can increase our awareness of reality and therefore be in a better position to act wisely. However, a common human tendency is to let our feelings and mind influence how we react by inserting opinions or premature conclusions about what we have observed. When people see or hear something that they do not like, the conditioning in many cultures is to turn the observation immediately into an opinion or moral judgment. This may even be short-circuited quickly by anger or fear into calling the person a name, in one's mind if not out loud. Thus the mind generalizes a specific incident into assuming or inferring that the person is always like that. In some cases people jump all the way to the most extreme conclusion that the person is evil. I believe this is a serious error in judgment, because no one is always bad in every way all the time. Rather, people may do some things that others judge as good and some that are judged as bad. The actions, ideas, feelings, and attitudes may be good or bad based on certain criteria or values, but the person is still a person. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote of a place that is beyond right and wrong where we can meet. By suspending our moral judgment about others we may observe the actual facts and so relate to the reality of the situation.
We can use our intelligence to examine what we observe and learn about for what they actually are and for their results or consequences. By disciplining our consciousness to observe without immediately judging we can be more aware of the subtlety of the situation and avoid an immediate emotional reaction that may not be productive or beneficial. By clarifying our thinking in this way we can avoid being victimized by our own emotions and conditioned thoughts. We have power over our own thoughts and feelings, and we can control them and our responding behavior. As we learn how to be responsible for our own attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and conduct we will learn not to react without thinking out the implications and consequences of our actions. Later we will see how we can evaluate the situation without judging the person so that we may respond intelligently. By analyzing the actual consequences of what we have observed we may see how we wish to relate to the persons involved.
What is even worse than judging individuals is making generalizations about large groups based on stereotypes that have prejudged the individuals in those groups unfairly. Such common prejudices as sexism and racism may cause us to behave in ways that harm others. Clear thinking helps us to discern how these and other biases may affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behavior so that we may correct them.
We were all born into a body that is male or female, and this is probably the biggest difference in humans except perhaps for age. Because women have the burden of bearing and nurturing children, for generations in evolution and culturally men have taken advantage of their physical strength to dominate women, resulting in the domestic oppression of women and children and in excessive strife and fighting between males. These warlike tendencies of males are now threatening our entire civilization and must be changed. The oppression, domination, and exploitation of women by men needs to be curtailed to end this injustice. Because these patterns have a long biological, social, economic, and political history, the conditioning is deeply embedded in most cultures as well as in the instincts. Although much progress in the liberation of women has been made in the last two centuries, patriarchal societies still tend to favor men and masculine qualities. These very imbalances have destroyed what could be a natural harmony of cooperation between males and females.
To cure a society distorted by domineering and exploitative attitudes and practices we need more women to take stronger roles in politics and culture along with men who are sensitive to the feminine side. We must stop giving over our power to aggressive males, and we must not allow them to push us around anymore. We need individuals and groups that are balanced and healthy wholes; we do not necessarily need women who have become over-masculinized and aggressive nor men who have become too weak and passive. Peace and harmony result from equality and justice. Women may assert their right to participate and let their feelings be known, and men may learn to become sensitive to women and their own feelings and intuitions. We need more cooperation and less competition. We need less "leadership" from the top and more group sharing in community.
As individuals we can examine our daily lives for the vestiges of sexism and work to develop our wholeness. Similarly in groups we can point out to each other how society has been prejudiced against women and work to change our own group attitudes and practices so that feminism has its proper place. Because the old patterns are so ingrained and strong, we must make extra effort to attempt to balance the equation in favor of the side that has been so long oppressed. The future is hopeful because women are now a majority not only in society but in the universities as well.
Is it not time to begin to feed and nurture the world and stop trying to arm and dominate it by aggressive force? Can we break the logical chains of rationality that have led us to the development of thermonuclear weapons and catastrophic wars? Can we respect the Earth and the beauty of nature instead of plundering and robbing? Can we use art and music to teach and appreciate human values? Can we restrain the abuse of science and technology that is attempting to dominate the world? Can we learn to share with each other instead of grabbing greedily to possess? Can we supply the world with an abundance of teachers, doctors, and nurses instead of armies, navies, and air forces? We need more women doctors and more male nurses. Can we listen to each other with our hearts instead of making speeches with our egos? The answer to all these questions is yes. In fact, if we do not change our patterns, our very survival is in danger. When we surrender to love of all and follow our hearts, then we will be on the path of healing and happiness.
Although the major work to overcome sexism needs to be done
by men improving their ways, women have their role in taking their
proper place and also in avoiding becoming sexist because of their
feminine advantages. Equal treatment regardless of one's sex is
the most practical ideal to follow. This goal need not be affected
by those who have changed their sex or by those who may present
themselves as the other sex. Sexual orientation is another issue
that can cause prejudiced behavior especially among people who
follow traditional morals. Although most people are naturally
heterosexual, recent evidence indicates that some people are genetically
influenced to experience homosexual desires. Whether this trait
is hereditary or not, people have the right to choose their own
intimate partners. Thus homophobia, or fear of homosexuals, is
a prejudice that is harmful to social equality. Because we need
to control human population, there is no reason to discriminate
against those who fail to procreate.
Age is another issue that can cause unjust discrimination.
Because of their lack of maturity we need to treat young children
differently than others. However, the aged, who have not become
incompetent, deserve equal opportunities. Because of their experience,
older people are usually more responsible than young adults. Recent
progress has been made in respecting the rights of those who have
been physically disabled. We need to realize that what may be
somewhat inconvenient for us may be very difficult for them. We
need to respect every person regardless of their condition, and
that includes their financial assets. Some have also complained
about the tendency to favor those who are good-looking in what
is called "lookism." Modern media and efforts to achieve
commercial success have caused many in business and other fields
to promote above others those who are perceived as beautiful,
pretty, or handsome. Although individuals are free to choose their
friends and spouses as they wish, such prejudices may not be fair
in regard to employment where the job skills and performance should
be the major criteria. Another social phenomenon that has increased
in the world of modern media is how celebrities receive special
treatment and immense advantages simply because they are already
well known by the public, even in some cases when it is for disreputable
behavior. By being aware of these issues and possible biases we
may make corrections and adjustments in our consciousness so that
we are fair and respectful to all.
Racism is a major prejudice that discriminates unfairly based merely on being a member of an ethnic group. Although physical differences give people an easy means of discrimination, prejudices usually develop for cultural reasons. Different languages and traditions often make communication and understanding difficult. Thus for example, Chinese and Japanese may discriminate against each other's minority populations. Africans in the Americas have suffered the worst treatment because of how they were oppressed as slaves collectively. Native American "Indians" also were badly treated because of cultural differences. In both these latter cases dominating Europeans often felt insecure and afraid that these people would break out of their oppressed circumstances and fight back or take away the advantages the white settlers had exploited for themselves. Thus racism became wrapped up in economic and social exploitation of a poor class which was easily identifiable so that they could be "kept in their place."
Unfortunately these patterns are still with us, and often "white" people unconsciously consider "colored" peoples as inferior, making it seem permissible to treat them badly, especially those in or from "foreign" countries. Although those of European ancestry are in a majority in the industrialized western nations, globally they are a minority. Thus subconsciously these nations are afraid of losing control and dominance, as happened in some African countries where the Europeans are a small minority. Since the poor tend to have higher birth rates, there is also the fear that the black, brown, and yellow "hordes" will overrun the whites, even in the United States where these minorities are increasing. Maybe people of color historically have larger populations because culturally they are not as aggressive and warlike.
Perhaps the worst part of racism is how it dehumanizes the racists' own sensitivities toward other human beings. Ironically those who consider others inferior are the ones who have morally and spiritually degraded themselves by their arrogance. They have closed their hearts and minds to souls who are equal to themselves by treating them as objects instead of as spiritual beings. They are violating the fundamental spiritual principle of loving others as ourselves, and not just individually but en masse. We all have the right to choose our friends by affinities, to hire workers by their skill and experience, but to prejudge an entire group of people arbitrarily by skin color or cultural heritage is to limit oneself and commit wholesale injustice.
Foreign policy is often influenced by these racist prejudices in combination with nationalism and imperialism. United States citizens were upset that about 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, but how many people were concerned that Americans killed at least one million Vietnamese people and many others in Southeast Asia? Hundreds of thousands may be dying in Africa and tens of thousands in Asia and Latin America while people pay little attention; but if a dozen Europeans or North Americans are killed, it is treated as more important. The United States was a great "melting pot" for Europeans, but now that those who want to come are Latin Americans or Asians, severe restrictions keep most of them out. Black slaves were welcomed, but how many free Africans are allowed?
I personally delight in meeting people of other races and cultures because I find it very interesting to know diverse people. How boring it is when everyone in the group is so much the same! As we develop our global culture and the new civilization of world unity, the intermingling of cultural and racial backgrounds will increase. Intermarriage will become more common, and in the future I prophesy that there will be on Earth a golden race with a great variety of hues and characteristics, all of which will be appreciated for their own beauty.
Dogma is the Greek word for opinion or decree. Surely we believe that everyone has the right to their own opinions, and even this idea itself is a belief. What happens when people try to force their belief system on someone else? Of course no one can make people believe something against their will, because belief involves a use of the will. Yet groups often will attempt to manipulate people's beliefs by rewarding and punishing certain attitudes and behaviors. Strong psychological programming can produce individuals and groups who may stubbornly adhere to the dogmas instilled in them. The number of people who think things out for themselves even on major issues is still rather small.
The United States of America was founded on and is supposed to encourage freedom of belief and expression of those beliefs. Yet religious beliefs can prove as resistant to reason and change as the nationalistic ideologies promoted by governments. The Soviet Union was more controlled in its expression of ideas until it was opened up with glasnost. For example, in the USSR it was illegal to advocate war and other anti-social behavior. In the United States we are permitted to advocate anything except the violent overthrow of the government. I believe in as much freedom of ideas as possible so that people can learn from the free exchange because I trust that if all ideas are allowed, people will eventually choose the best. We need not be ruled by fear of bad ideas, because we can show their deficiencies and replace them with better concepts.
The problems occur when people act upon their dogmas without intelligently thinking out their consequences. People tend to act based on their belief systems. If this results, either intentionally or unintentionally, in injustice, then the conflict must be resolved. People who are psychologically insecure will tend to cling to their beliefs and not want to question them. Thus the combination of religious fundamentalism and nationalistic patriotism, which are often thoroughly instilled in people through the family, church, schools, and the media led to a blindness that supported US policies and hated anything vaguely referred to as Communist. In the United States and much of Latin America this fear of Communism was so extreme and irrational that as a collective neurosis it resulted in very unhealthy attitudes and governmental policies. Anti-Communism tended to be irrational because of dogma based on false propaganda and immense distortion of what Communism is and what the real intentions of Communist governments were. This red-baiting was used by politicians to manipulate voters, discredit reformers, and justify immoral policies.
Since the end of the cold war, the fear of terrorism has been used as the new bogeyman. Although western concern about petroleum supplies causes much of the conflict in the Middle East, the clash of civilizations that pits Judeo-Christian culture against Muslims has used religious belief to motivate people to support various wars on both sides. Belief in democracy as the best political system has also been used to gain support for dominating people in other countries. Yet ironically it is obviously contradictory to try to force people in another country to be free or democratic. How can self-determination be imposed by others?
We all believe in something. All our conscious actions come
from some motivation and objective we believe is possible to attain.
We need to evaluate our own beliefs to see if the values implicit
in them are really best for all. Also if we have faith that our
beliefs are good, then we do not need to try to force them on
people by military power, but we can allow a free process of discussion
in which everyone has the right to participate.
Ego is the Greek word for I. Every personality has an ego and could not exist without one. Egotism, however, is the inflation of this personal self beyond its proper function. Thus sometimes we need to practice "ego-puncture" to deflate our own sense of personal importance when it gets in the way of other people's interests and expressions.
Although part of our liberation is personal empowerment, it needs to be blended with group empowerment and global thinking. The process of being true to our self and manifesting our integrity is subtly different from aggrandizing our personality and certainly is not dominating others. This respect for the true self within us must include the self within others or else we find ourselves in the double standard of egotism, which implies that I am more important, better, or worth more than you. As peace activist Brian Willson said of the people in Central America, "We are not worth more; they are not worth less." By respecting equality of persons we are not only empowering others but in a spiritual way are empowering our own true self.
Egotism is especially noticeable in small groups because the dominant personality tends to restrain the opportunities of others. The group where individuals are able to see beyond their own personal considerations in order to harmonize these with others' interests will be an empowered group that will flow and change and operate as an organic whole rather than be pulled and pushed in different directions haphazardly.
Egos of different sizes and temperaments can be problematic. We tend to think of the big ego as always being inflictive, but it can also be supportive and capable of taking on large responsibilities if others choose to allow this. The person with a large ego can strengthen the group but must be very careful not to dominate and take over. The smaller ego also may be supportive and capable of accomplishing much if others are supportive of that person. However, the small ego that is insecure can pull energy from others by acting helpless and always seeking emotional approval. Others can help this type of person become weaned from dependency by letting the person gain maturity through experience. People in the group also need to keep those with aggressive egos from dominating the process and point out the need for restraint when appropriate.
As our groups become successful, we need to be careful of group egotism in relation to other groups and the public. Self-esteem is not the same as conceit, which comes out of self-deception. If groups are unable to cooperate with other groups working for similar goals, then the coalition building needed to develop a large movement becomes problematic. Similarly, if we act toward our adversary as though we are morally superior beings, then our self-righteousness is likely to bring a negative reaction. We can believe in ourselves and our cause, but we must also believe in the true selves of all other individuals, realizing that they too understand some truths. If we listen to them as equals, they are likely to reciprocate; then both of us may learn from each other. By understanding others' viewpoints we learn how to communicate more effectively with them.
The subtleties of egotism will always be with us, because we are attempting to harmonize our personal interests and responsibilities with those of other individuals and groups. If we do not look out for our own interests, then who will? As long as we have a body, we must take care of it and keep it functioning. No one is likely to know our hurts and wishes if we do not tell anyone. At the same time we need to observe and listen to others so that we can best relate with their situations.
So from the immense world problems we face, as we begin to work on solving them, we find that peace must begin within ourselves. If we are to become effective peacemakers and really change the world, we have to work on ourselves first and while we are in the process of developing group efforts for social change. To ignore our personal development for the sake of the world is to reduce our personal effectiveness in working for change; but to ignore the world to concentrate on our own spiritual growth is to limit that to a selfish and narcissistic process. Thus we must work simultaneously on transforming ourselves and our society; and as we shall see, each process helps the other.
Our decisions that lead to action are based on evaluations of possible actions and value judgments about objectives and goals. After we have discerned the facts and what is within our power to do, we may apply the divine principles and other values in making those evaluations and judgments of what we think it is best for us to do. A common error is to judge people rather than merely evaluating their actions. If we judge a person as evil or a thief, for example, then we are committing the error of over generalization, because that person may not steal in all situations. Rather it is better to be specific in our evaluations when we realize that a person may have deceived or stolen in a particular situation. This perspective recognizes that people are free and can change. Thus by respecting every person as a spiritual being with good qualities who may also have committed some faults, we are allowing a more open process while still being aware of the dangers.
No matter how many facts we gather, we need more than information alone to decide what actions we are to take in our personal lives. Decisions are always based on values and beliefs, whether they are explicit or implicit. Facts and observations help us to estimate the likely consequences of our actions so that we can make wiser decisions based on our own personal values of what we think are the best results. In this book I am suggesting that we will all be better off, both individually as well as collectively, if we consider what is best for everyone. If we consider only our personal advantage, this may cause others to suffer disadvantages. Eventually they are likely to come back on us too as other people act in similar ways toward us. When we consider what is best for others, they will be encouraged to return the favor. If others try to take advantage of our altruistic approach, we may take that into consideration too. We may then choose to associate with people who are more likely to work for the good of everyone. If more people do this, gradually the selfish people will become more isolated and may eventually see the value of mutual cooperation. By thinking clearly about these things, by acting on our principles, and then by communicating with others, people will become more aware of these various consequences.
What is the alternative? If most people continue to believe that the world works better if everyone acts only for their own selfish interests, the resulting conflicts in a world of increasing population and diminishing resources are likely to be so violent that the human species may even destroy itself. This is a real possibility, and many of the world's greatest thinkers have warned us about this danger. If the delicate balances and conditions on this Earth that allow human life are altered such that humans can no longer survive here, we have no other planet where we can go. Although some believe that human nature cannot be changed, I believe that humans are free to adapt and that we must do so in order to survive the increasingly serious megacrisis we face. We need to evaluate not only the consequences of our personal actions and how they affect others and the future of civilization but also the social and political policies we are supporting or allowing that may be headed for immense catastrophes if we do not change them. Some of these issues will be discussed in the last chapter. We need to consider not just the immediate consequences of our actions but also the long-term effects if such policies continue or possibly even get worse. These difficult circumstances that we all face as a species are forcing us to become philosophers and seek the wisdom that is needed to plan intelligently what will be best for all. Can we afford to continue to be selfish and let others who are greedy cause irrevocable harm with violent and irresponsible policies?
One of the best skills for helping us to evaluate consequences is to use our creative imagination. Albert Einstein did "thought experiments," and Mohandas Gandhi believed in testing the truth by experimenting with nonviolent actions. In our own meditation and contemplation we can think out what are the different possibilities of what could occur based on what is happening and if various changes are made. We need to move beyond the denial, for example, that refuses to imagine what would happen if the nuclear weapons many nations currently possess are used in a major war. What if biological weapons are used, and an epidemic gets out of control? What if genetic engineering experiments go awry and alter the balance of nature? Advances in human technology are very exciting, both in terms of the positive things they may accomplish and because of the possible disasters. We are living in a very dangerous time in which humanity is facing a crisis of survival. The possible nightmare scenarios warn us to be especially careful about certain things. Then we can use our creative imaginations to think about possible solutions that can prevent these dangers from getting worse and ways of removing them. For example, would not humanity be better off if there were no nuclear weapons in the world? If so, then we need to think of how humanity can organize itself in such a way that nuclear weapons are no longer allowed to exist. Yet we want to protect our freedom and rights from any government that might have such control. Thus we need to think very carefully about each step of the process that can lead to the goals we all want.
Creative imagination is also very helpful in planning the future of our personal lives. By prayer, meditation, and contemplation we can consider various actions and the consequences that might occur. We may not be able to think out the likely results of every possibility, but the more we can consider the more intelligent is likely to be our planning for various contingencies. We have already discussed the adverse consequences of such things as smoking, using drugs, and eating meat. We can use our creativity to imagine various ways that we can get physical exercise in order to keep our bodies in good shape. We may be more open for opportunities that give us exercise in our daily lives such as walking when possible or doing some physical work for ourselves. The major projects and goals of our lives can benefit the most from using creative imagination. We can visualize various steps and alternatives to see where they may take us. We can think out our plans so that we can be prepared for emergencies and challenges.
As we examine our lives and past experiences, we can creatively imagine how we might handle a similar situation in the future in better ways. We can do this not only with our own experiences but also with incidents we observe in real life or in dramas and books. As we develop our creative ideas, we may even be able to express them ourselves in books or artistically to help others imagine a better future.
Clear thinking is also useful in discerning our motives and in developing our own priorities. These range from our most vital needs to optional desires and spiritual aspirations. I believe that our lives are freer and more fulfilling personally as well as spiritually if we consciously make our own decisions based on our own values. Some people seem to believe that there are many things they have to do; but ultimately we find the only thing we all have to do is die. Everything else is a choice.
Let us begin with what are usually considered needs because they are essential to maintaining our physical lives. Pain is the experience that stimulates the most immediate response in order to maintain our well being. The basic physical necessities such as air, water, food, protection, clothing, shelter, and health we may call the security needs. The motive for these is survival, which is universal and only rarely overcome or neglected in extreme circumstances. Yet how well and pleasantly these security needs are provided along with other comforts gradually moves us into the second area of desires that may be grouped under pleasure or enjoyment. The quality of housing, clothing, food, and other physical activities people enjoy are usually contingent on the financial resources available. Thus the major motive for developing these is usually related to the acquiring of wealth. Success in this also affects the third level of motivation which is the desire for power and influence. The main way to improve these is by developing various skills and abilities. These three levels of motivation were called deficiency motivations by the psychologist Abraham Maslow because they are each based on lacking something that is needed or desired. Clear thinking discerns the difference between what we physically need and what we desire. These clarifications can help us to discipline ourselves so that we do not overindulge our desires. The choices involved in setting the priorities can help us to attain fulfillment of higher levels of motivation than personal desires and power.
Beyond the three levels of survival, pleasure, and power are the self-actualizing or spiritual motivations. Although these motives are not based on physical needs, they can influence how one goes about fulfilling those needs and desires so that the desires may be disciplined, purified, and sublimated. Higher motivations are love, creativity, awareness, and oneness. Love in the sense of compassion is the most important for the art of gentle living. This love comes from the heart and cares about other people and living creatures. The compassionate person, even when acting to fulfill one's physical needs, is concerned that the effect of one's actions on others be considerate and gentle. The compassionate make this spiritual love the highest priority and find that it does not conflict with the nurturing and support of life. Yet many personal pleasures, desires, and ambitions may be subordinated to the higher priority of doing what is best for all.
The expression of creativity is another spiritual motive that moves artists and others to make this a priority. Humans are the most creative species on Earth, and individuals and groups express their creativity in many different ways. One may make one's life a work of art with beautiful accomplishments to be appreciated and remembered by many. Raising children well is also a way of expressing oneself and helping to shape new life. Artists, musicians, writers, inventors, and many other professionals and amateurs may make their personal expressions a high priority in their lives and so create value.
The sixth level of motivation is awareness and is the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, insight, and wisdom. The sharing of this awareness is a priority for teachers, counselors, writers, and students of life. Those who love to learn are constantly expanding their comprehension and developing their intellectual capacity throughout their lives, as it does not depend on physical strength.
The seventh and highest motive is spiritual oneness and transcendence, the priority chosen by mystics who seek to experience God, Spirit, and the oneness of humanity. This ultimate motivation may be a good preparation for death as one becomes detached from physical things and earthly values.
In examining and improving our lives we can analyze our motivations
to see what goals and objectives we are pursuing. As whole persons
we experience all these levels of motivation to some degree. Success
on any of the higher levels of motivation tends to enhance development
of the others and the experiencing of happiness. By lifting our
motives above the three deficiency levels and especially by focusing
on compassionate love we may make our actions more beneficial
and psychologically satisfying. To survive everyone needs to make
physical security a priority. Yet most people extend this drive
far beyond the necessities into increasing comforts and luxuries.
Others seem to think they are accomplishing much if they are able
to gain power over other people, though they may discover that
this striving often leads to conflict, agony, and defeat. Those
who are able to restrain their lower desires in order to pursue
higher motivations may explore deeper relationships through love,
find more sublime fulfillment through creative expression, learn
greater wisdom and understanding through awareness, and experience
spiritual liberation and transcendence. Many people may find that
the art of gentle living means lifting consciousness above the
physical instincts to the more intangible spiritual experiences.
This chapter has been published in the book The Art of Gentle Living. For ordering information, please click here.