Tend to the Causes

Practice of the Week
Tend to the Causes

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.
You can tend to causes, but you can't control what they do. You can plant the seeds, water and fertilize them. But the power by which they grow and flourish, if they do, is not yours.

"Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform — do that, O son of KuntÄ«, as an offering to Me. In this way you will be freed from bondage to work and its results." (Bhagavad Gita 9:27-28)

Let's say you want to have your own apple tree. So you go to a nursery and pick out a good sapling, bring it home, and plant it carefully with lots of fertilizer in rich soil. Then you water it regularly, pick the bugs off, and prune it. If you keep tending to your tree, in a few years it will likely give you lots of delicious apples.

But can you make it grow apples? Nope, you can't. All you can do is tend to the causes — but you can't control the results. No one can. The most powerful person in the world can't make a tree produce an apple.

Similarly, a teacher cannot make his students learn long division, a business owner can't make her employees invent new products, and you cannot make someone love you. All we can do is promote the causes of the results we want.

This truth has two implications, one tough-minded and another that's peaceful:
  • You are responsible for the causes you can tend to. If you are not getting the results you want in your life, ask yourself: Am I truly doing every¬thing I reasonably can to promote the causes of those results?
  • You can relax attachment to results. When you understand that much of what determines whether they happen or not is out of your hands, you worry less about whether they'll happen, and you suffer less if they don't.
Paradoxically, focusing less on results and more on causes improves the odds of getting the results you want: you zero in on creating the factors that lead to success, and you aren't worn down by stressing over the outcome.

  • Do what you can to lift your personal well-being. This is a global factor that will turbocharge all the other causes you tend to.
    So ask yourself: what makes the most difference to my well-being? It could be something that seems little; for me, a big factor is when I go to bed, since that determines whether I can wake up in time to meditate in the morning, which transforms my whole day. It could also mean dropping something that brings you down, like needless arguments with other people.
    Pick one thing that will lift your well-being and focus on this for a while.
  • Also consider a key area in your life where you are not getting the results you want, such as work, love, health, fun, or spirituality. In that area, identify one cause that will have big effects. For example, in a logjam, there's usually a "key log" that will free up the whole mess if you get it to move.
    For example, if you want to lose weight, tend to the cause of exercise. If you want a mate, tend to the cause of meeting new "qualified prospects." If you want your kids to cooperate, tend to the cause of parental authority. If you want a better job, tend to the cause of an organized job search. If you want more peace of mind, tend to the cause of routinely relaxing your body.
  • Tell the truth to yourself about causes and results: Are you pursuing the right causes of the results you're seeking? Or are you pulling hard on a rope (a cause) that's just not attached to the load you're trying to move (the result you want)?
    Maybe you need to tend to other causes — perhaps ones at a deeper level, such as letting go of self-doubt or fear from childhood. Or perhaps the result you want is out of your power, and you just have to accept that.
  • Let the results be what they are, learn from them, and then turn your attention back to causes. Don't get so caught up in your apples that you forget to water their tree!

For Journaling

In your journal, reflect on the questions raised:
What makes the most difference to your well-being? What is one thing that would lift your well-being?
In what key area in your life are you not getting the results you want? What one cause is likely to have big effects in that area?
Are you pursuing the right causes of the results you're seeking?

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Rick Hanson on Tending to the Causes:

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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