Sometimes the simplest of practices can be most effective.
The following is based on teachings by Thich Nhat Hahn as well as many others. It's roots stretch back to the very origins of Buddhism. It is a simple and common sense approach to changing how we think and feel ... realizing that our experience of life is always shaped through the various thoughts and emotions that we impose upon life within our little heads, like a bit of mental theatre the script for which we are constantly writing for ourselves. This technique is an instantaneous means to replace harmful, negative, destructive thoughts and emotions with constructive, positive, wholesome thoughts and emotions.
Of course, this practice is not meant as a substitute for "Zazen", our core activity. Far from it! All is hand-in-hand. Yet, just as with our other "Recommended Daily Practice", the recitation of Metta (Loving Kindness) ...
... this "Nurturing Seeds" practice should be undertaken daily and, in fact, in any situation in which harmful or negative thoughts and emotions begin to take control.
Here is how it works ... very simple ...
Traditional Buddhist psychology describes our thoughts, emotions and actions as arising from a kind of "Seed Consciousness" within us, which is said to hold the "seeds" of all our emotional and thought reactions to experiences (and our actions that arise from those) ... love, hate, peace, violence, calm, irritability, confidence, fear, you name it. Whether we take these "seeds" as literally existing, or (just as fine) merely as symbolic descriptions for the workings of the mind, each serves as a surprisingly elegant image for how thoughts and emotions arise within us. For example, when we are feeling anger in a particular situation or in reaction to some person, an "angry seed" might be said to be sprouting within us. If we water that seed, and allow it to take root and bloom, anger thus blooms. However, if we can instead replace that "angry seed" with, for example, a "loving kindness seed" and a "tolerance seed" ... watering those inner seeds instead, actually summoning such emotions within ourself ... then we may react to the very same situation and person with compassion and patience instead of anger.
Simple as that.
Thich Nhat Hahn has written the following ...
In Buddhist texts, consciousness is said to be a field, a plot of land in which every kind of seed is planted--seeds of suffering, happiness, joy, sorrow, fear, anger, and hope. The quality of our life depends on which of these seeds we water. The practice of mindfulness is to recognize each seed as it sprouts and to water the most wholesome seeds whenever possible.
In Buddhist psychology, we speak of consciousness in terms of seeds. We have a seed of anger in us [for example]. We have a seed of compassion in us. The practice is to help the seed of compassion to grow and the seed of anger to shrink. When you express your anger you think that you are getting anger out of your system, but that's not true. When you express your anger, either verbally or with physical violence, you are feeding the seed of anger, and it becomes stronger in you. It's a dangerous practice.
That's why recognizing the seed of anger and trying to neutralize it with understanding and compassion is the only way to reduce the anger in us. If you don't understand the cause of your anger, you can never transform it.
What is important is that you continue to plant new seeds, the kind of seeds that are both refreshing and healing.
Here is how the recommended practice works:
Step 1 - Become sensitive and mindful to the arising of harmful, negative seeds within you. For example, when feeling angry or resentful, do not simply fall into those emotions. Instead, learn to say to yourself, "Oh, now I see anger in me ... a seed of anger and a seed of resentment are welling up within me, so I am --temporarily-- feeling anger and resentment in this situation. It need not be so."
Rev. Taigu comments: I think we should emphasize the skill of fishing emotions, spotting them before they fish you. Once you are into it, it is too late, caught into the pattern you have to go through the whole thing. I find very useful to practice something like...I see anger in me, rather than jumping to the traditional I am angry...the wording is important for the second one is identification, the other one implies a wider perspective which comprehends, embraces the negative feeling without choosing to give it the whole scenery of the mind as a ground. Once anger is identified as an object, one can say that it is Ok not to be ok and it is also possible to choose another way rather to be toyed with. Another suggestion could be to question the negative-destructive feeling investigating in the following way...Who is angry? Where does that come from? Why do I have such a feeling? Seeing clearly the origin of the whole show, that is always relating to a past experience, is very helpful. Once this is seen, one can easily see that now is new and has nothing to do with enacting again and again the same pattern.
Step 2 - Identify what would be the positive or wholesome seed which would be the opposite or counter-balance to the harmful, negative seed. For example, following is a list of common negative thoughts and emotions in Buddhist psychology, as well as several opposites and counter-balances (this list, by the way, is tentative and open to suggestions as we develop this daily practice) ... Maybe print the following on a little card and carry it in your wallet for easy reference! ...
Greed - Contentment, Generosity
Anger - Tolerance, Contentment, Loving Kindness
Fear - Courage, Equanimity
Discontent - Serenity, Contentment
Sloth - Energy, Joyful Effort
Jealousy - Respect
Sadness - Joy, Acceptance
Egotism - Modesty, Humility
Frustration - Acceptance, Contentment
Step 3 - Make the conscious choice not to "water" the harmful seed as you feel it begin to sprout within you, and instead to nourish and water the wholesome seed that can take its place. Actually feel that the harmful seed has been physically removed from its ground within you, and replaced by a wholesome seed. Actually try to feel within the emotion which the wholesome seed represents (for example, if feeling "greed" ... actually try to summon and hold feelings of contentment and generosity instead). Focus on the breath, and feel the sensation of the positive, wholesome emotion arise within you with each exhalation. Feel the positive, wholesome seed coming to flower.
And that's it!
At first, commit yourself to try your best to "replace a seed" 4 or 5 times a day. For example, if you start to sense a bit of anger, worry, discouragement or sadness wallowing up in you sometime during a normal day ... take that as an opportunity to do a bit of inner gardening! Try to replace that seed, visualizing and actually feeling the old seed being removed from you and the new sensations coming to flower. You may be surprised at the results! (It may not turn every weed in your garden into a rose, but it may more often than you think).
Please keep us posted on this forum on how this practice goes for you.