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Week 14 - The Courage of Moral Clarity

INTRODUCTION 

In today’s practice we are going to explore the notion of “moral clarity.”  Paul Farmer, a famous medical humanitarian, has defined moral clarity as: “For me, an area of moral clarity is: you're in front of someone who's suffering and you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act.”

In this practice you will be prompted to explore how to foster moral clarity in our own mind, heart, and life.

Like the compassion practices we explored earlier in the semester, this practice has three objects of focus.  First you will be asked to bring to mind someone you love,  followed by a stranger or someone you hardly know, and then someone you hate or have a conflict with.  

In all three cases you will be prompted to either envision a situation from your past or something that could happen in the future where someone in front of you is suffering and vulnerable and  you have the ability to intervene, but it is not cost free, there will be consequences for you, or it is just in the moment very difficult for you to act perhaps because of the presence of others around you that make you ( not wanting to stand out, to not wanting to be critiqued by your peers, or a fear of being misunderstood, etc.).

In this exercise focus on how it feels in that moment to face the other person’s vulnerability and suffering and be simultaneously aware of your desire to act and to be a better person and that which blocks you from acting.

MAIN PRACTICE SCRIPT

First, notice your body posture at this moment and begin to make adjustments to sit in an upright position that will allow you to pay attention fully in the next few moments.

You can let go of anything you may be holding onto - worries, stress, concerns. Bring your feet flat on the floor, back straight but not stiff, shoulders relaxed, facial muscles relaxed, and hands resting comfortably on your thighs or in your lap. Let your eyes gently close.

We will begin this practice with the 9 round purificatory breathing. We are going to take 9 slow breaths, paying close attention to the feeling of the breath as it goes into us, and then as it goes back out of us.

For the first three rounds inhale through your left nostril blocking your right nostril with your right finger and exhale through your right nostril blocking the left nostril with right finger.

For the next 3 rounds reverse inhale through your right nostril blocking left nostril with your left finger and exhale through your left nostril blocking your right nostril with same finger.

For the last 3 rounds inhale and exhale through both nostrils.

Then allow your breath to be natural and observe the effect of this 9 round breath on your body and mind.

(pause)

Now bring to mind someone in your life that you intensely care about. Imagine this person in a situation where they are suffering in some way.  It could be they are under physical distress like an illness, physical limitation, accident, etc… or perhaps they are under a type of mental distress like intense fear, anxiety, depression, confusion, etc...

(pause)

In this scenario imagine that you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate their present suffering in some way, but to act will come at some personal cost.  The cost may be unwanted consequences that you will have to face as a result of acting, or it might involve some risk to you, or it might just be intense social pressure by others for you not to act, even if it is just imagined on your part in terms of anxiety about other people’s perception of you. This situation might be a situation from the past that you can recall or it might be in the present or future.

Pause and notice for a moment how you feel in your body and mind when confronted with this situation.  What kinds of emotional sensations do you recognize in the body? What kinds of thoughts do you have about this situation?

(pause)

Now begin with your breath to alleviate their suffering. As you breathe out,  imagine that all of your personal happiness, comfort, wealth, and resources transform into white light that goes out to your loved one in front of you.

When the light strikes the person in front of you who is suffering,  imagine that the light fulfills all their wishes, heals all illnesses, and bestows all happiness.

As you breathe in,  visualize all of the other person’s suffering being drawn back into you in the form of black smoky light rays.  These then merge with you, and imagine that you have taken on all their suffering. But this suffering does not debilitate you.  Imagine that between inhalation and exhalation, you are able to mobilize those immense resources of resilience and strength in you that is your birthright, that immensity of who you are, systems 1 and systems 2, body and mind, emotions, that which is conscious and unconscious, all of your extraordinary capacity for plasticity, for transformation, all the larger circles of being that you participate in and are part of your identity and capacity.

And use it to transform, so your transformative actions turn hope into reality, sufferings into joy, fragility into resiliency, isolation into interconnection, for this person.

And so the dark smoke of their sufferings doesn't overwhelm you, but becomes the stuff from which you fashion the light of self-awareness, of care, of wellbeing, strength, and courage which you then gift back to them.

(pause)

Pause for a moment and notice how you feel in your body and mind in this moment, realizing that you have helped this person you care for intensely alleviate and transform his or her  suffering.

(pause)

Now bring to mind someone in your life that you hardly know. It could be someone you pass on the way to class, someone in your dorm or in one of your classes you hardly speak to, someone who works at the university who helps you in some way but you don’t know their name or anything about them, etc.. Imagine this person in a situation where they are suffering in some way.  It could be they are under physical distress like an illness, physical limitation, accident, etc… or perhaps they are under a type of mental distress like intense fear, anxiety, depression, confusion, etc...

(pause)

In this scenario imagine that you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate their present suffering in some way, but to act will come at some personal cost.  The cost may be unwanted consequences that you will have to face as a result of acting, or it might involve some risk to you, or it might just be intense social pressure by others for you not to act, even if it is just imagined on your part in terms of anxiety about other people’s perception of you. This situation might be a situation from the past that you can recall or it might be in the present or future.

Pause and notice for a moment how you feel in your body and mind when confronted with this situation.  What kinds of emotional sensations do you recognize in the body? What kinds of thoughts do you have about this situation?

(pause)

Now begin with your breath to alleviate their suffering. As you breathe out,  imagine that all of your personal happiness, comfort, wealth, and resources transform into white light that goes out to your loved one in front of you.

When the light strikes the person in front of you who is suffering,  imagine that the light fulfills all their wishes, heals all illnesses, and bestows all happiness.

As you breathe in,  visualize all of the other person’s suffering being drawn back into you in the form of black smoky light rays.  These then merge with you, and imagine that you have taken on all their suffering. But this suffering does not debilitate you.  Imagine that between inhalation and exhalation, you are able to mobilize those immense resources of resilience and strength in you that is your birthright, that immensity of who you are, systems 1 and systems 2, body and mind, emotions, that which is conscious and unconscious, all of your extraordinary capacity for plasticity, for transformation, all the larger circles of being that you participate in and are part of your identity and capacity.

And use it to transform, so your transformative actions turn hope into reality, sufferings into joy, fragility into resiliency, isolation into interconnection, for this person.

And so the dark smoke of their sufferings doesn't overwhelm you, but becomes the stuff from which you fashion the light of self-awareness, of care, of wellbeing, strength, and courage which you then gift back to them.

(pause)

Pause for a moment and notice how you feel in your body and mind in this moment, realizing that you have helped this person who is more or less a stranger to you alleviate and transform his or her  suffering.

(pause)

Now bring to mind someone in your life that you have a negative relationship with-an enemy or a frenemy.  This is a kind of person who has harmed you or someone you care about in some way.  Take a moment to reflect that even though this person is very challenging they like you are born into this world, whoever they are now and whatever they have done, innocent, an open, alive, curious being.  And while they may have harmed us in some way the reality is we know so little of what they might have experienced, how they were hurt, their disappointments, their upbringing. And despite what harm they may have done to you, they also, just lie you, have fragile hopes for happiness, quest for meaning, and desire to avoid suffering. they too deserve someone to care about them intensely and intimately the way you care about the  person you love.

Now Imagine this person in a situation where they are suffering in some way.  It could be they are under physical distress like an illness, physical limitation, accident, etc… or perhaps they are under a type of mental distress like intense fear, anxiety, depression, confusion, etc...

(pause)

In this scenario imagine that you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate their present suffering in some way, but to act will come at some personal cost.  The cost may be unwanted consequences that you will have to face as a result of acting, or it might involve some risk to you, or it might just be intense social pressure by others for you not to act, even if it is just imagined on your part in terms of anxiety about other people’s perception of you. This situation might be a situation from the past that you can recall or it might be in the present or future.

Pause and notice for a moment how you feel in your body and mind when confronted with this situation.  What kinds of emotional sensations do you recognize in the body? What kinds of thoughts do you have about this situation?

(pause)

Now begin with your breath to alleviate their suffering. As you breathe out,  imagine that all of your personal happiness, comfort, wealth, and resources transform into white light that goes out to your loved one in front of you.

When the light strikes the person in front of you who is suffering,  imagine that the light fulfills all their wishes, heals all illnesses, and bestows all happiness.

As you breathe in,  visualize all of the other person’s suffering being drawn back into you in the form of black smoky light rays.  These then merge with you, and imagine that you have taken on all their suffering. But this suffering does not debilitate you.  Imagine that between inhalation and exhalation, you are able to mobilize those immense resources of resilience and strength in you that is your birthright, that immensity of who you are, systems 1 and systems 2, body and mind, emotions, that which is conscious and unconscious, all of your extraordinary capacity for plasticity, for transformation, all the larger circles of being that you participate in and are part of your identity and capacity.

And use it to transform, so your transformative actions turn hope into reality, sufferings into joy, fragility into resiliency, isolation into interconnection, for this person.

And so the dark smoke of their sufferings doesn't overwhelm you, but becomes the stuff from which you fashion the light of self-awareness, of care, of wellbeing, strength, and courage which you then gift back to them.

(pause)

Pause for a moment and notice how you feel in your body and mind in this moment, realizing that you have helped this person who you have a challenging relationship with alleviate and transform his or her  suffering.

(pause)

Reflect now on how you feel overall in your body and mind.  What does it feel like to act alleviate others suffering and overcome your own resistance to act? Reflect on how as human beings we are constantly in the giving and receiving role of acts of care and compassion all day long in minor and major ways.  Remember as you go about the rest of your day that you have a tremendous pool of inner resources of resilience, strength, and courage within you to which you can offer to those around you in need of care, support, hope, and wellbeing.

Return your attention for a moment now back to your breath, allowing your body and mind to peacefully rest in this moment.  

Begin to slowly bring movement back into your body, stretching gently if you like.  When you are ready open your eyes. Take your time.

 

Week 14 - The Courage of Moral Clarity
Collection The Art and Science of Human Flourishing - Fall 2017
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)