Does It Matter?
A few weeks ago I wrote about a powerful contemplation on the phrase 'How Did I Get Here?' I find this simple meditation opens our eyes to our interconnectedness and what Thích Nhất Hạnh describes as 'Interbeing.' By simply contemplating a few of the myriad of causes that allow us to be in exactly this state at exactly this time we start to break down our delusions of separateness and realize how many thoughts, actions and events have lead us to where we are.
Recently I read Pema Chödrön's "Welcoming the Unwelcome." It's a lovely book with some deceptively simple but challenging teachings. One of the things she recommends in the book is to ask the question "Does It Matter?"
"When we start to ask ourselves, “Does it matter?” we realize how many aspects there are to every situation. We begin to appreciate how interconnected we are to the rest of the world, and how even our thought patterns can lead to a whole series of consequences.
When we ask ourselves, “Does it matter?” we can first look at the outer, more obvious results of our actions. But then we can go deeper by examining how we are affecting our own mind: Am I making an old habit more habitual? Am I strengthening propensities I’d like to weaken? When I’m on the verge of lying to save face or manipulating a situation to go my way, where will that lead? Am I going in the direction of becoming a more deceitful person or a more guilty, self-denigrating person? How about when I experiment with practicing patience and generosity? How are my actions affecting my process of awakening? Where will they lead?"
Again, this is a simple but powerful contemplation. When we ask 'Does It Matter?' before an action or thought we have the opportunity to visualize what the effects and outcomes might be. We can't know the future, but we can imagine what might come about. When we snap at someone, write a snarky email, push past someone - all of these things will have consequences, whether small or large. And it's not just about the low-level aggressions. It's about the good stuff too - smiling at a person, taking the time to listen, thanking them. All of these may have consequences beyond the immediately obvious.
This is where what we learn from 'How Did I Get here?' comes in to play. Having spent time with that, looking backwards into the past, we learn how even the small things may have a direct responsibility for how things are. A throw-away comment someone made, a dream, even the first time your Father smiled at your mother. I exist because many years ago a young man offered to walk a young woman home from church. Did it matter? Obviously, yes.
Contemplating these small things that got you here is how we begin to open up to the web of actions and effects that brought us to where we are. And with that understanding we can start to answer the question 'Does It Matter?' for all of our thoughts and actions. Having contemplated the past we can use that insight to understand the possible effects of our actions. Again, we can't know the future, but we can understand the potential for what we do, say or think to have life-changing effects on others.
So as a pair these two contemplations can be enormously valuable - asking 'How Did I Get Here?' to open our eyes to our interconnectedness and our 'interbeing,' and asking 'Does It Matter?' to apply that understanding to realize the potential consequences of what we do. While this can feel a little overwhelming at first - webs going forward and backward! - overall it opens our eyes and sheds the delusion of our separateness. Which to me is a comforting thing.
I have linked below a fully guided meditation on 'Does It Matter?' - you are welcome to use it in any way you wish as part of your own practice.
Quotes from Pema Chödrön, Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World