Chapter 3 Lead from mindful values

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Mahatma Gandhi

If you've ever attended an insight mindfulness retreat, you will have been asked to follow five basic values for the duration of the retreat. Essentially, these values are (1) do no harm, (2) do not steal, (3) abstain from any sexual conduct that will create either distraction or pain, (4) always speak the truth, and (5) abstain from intoxicants that may cloud or numb your consciousness.

Although I have attended many insight retreats I never took these values seriously; in fact, I wrote them off as ‘not applying to me'. I have never been a fan of rules or strict guidelines for behaviour, so while I had nothing against the spirit of the code I just did not pay it much attention. It was only later in my practice that I discovered the beauty of adhering to a code of wholesome, life-serving values.

It first happened when I was attending a long retreat with the renowned mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh in France. As I was sitting with a friend, who was a monk in training, a mosquito landed on his arm. When the mosquito had sunk its long proboscis into my friend's arm, he started petting it with his finger. In my cynicism, I said, ‘Oh my god, this is ridiculous. Give me a break!' It felt like this was taking the non-harming principle way too far.

My friend said something I'll never forget: ‘Do you think mindful values are for the sake of the mosquito? ...

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