Our decisions regarding our thoughts, words, and deeds, in what we do, in what we fail to do, or avoid doing, are the pivot point of our spiritual life. If prayer is the turning of the will towards God, then all of life is prayer. Most especially the process by which we decide what we shall do is prayer, and the fruits of our inner life of God, or lack of it. I recall a Zen teacher saying that the fullness of spiritual practice happens when deep meditation meets the conditions of life where we find ourselves.
In most Buddhist traditions there are moral precepts that are taken that become the daily basis for an examination of conscience, and a measure for which one is acting from the deepest inner reservoir of compassion and loving kindness or not. In the Christian tradition the great commandment of love cited by Jesus from the Jewish Torah is the basis of all moral discernment. “ Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment.” (Mark 12:29)
Here Jesus tells us the basis of the spiritual life is also the basis of our moral life. Relational life, of which the essence is self-offering love, is the ground on which we base all decision making and discernment in our daily life and prayer practice. He tells us that the way in to this kind of life is one of continual conversion, a letting go of those misdirections and attachments of the mind that have taken the place of right relationship in love. That includes and begins with the activity of the mind where misdirection or sin happens. Jesus also tells us that the vertical and the horizontal relationship are not separate. God is the one Self that we love, both alone in solitude and in all the relationships of our human life. What gives injury or neglect to either affects the entire matrix of our relational life in God. Christ is the living spring in our Heart, Christ is the living presence in those beings we encounter in our lives. The symbol of the cross in a circle so often found in the Celtic tradition symbolizes the totality of the vertical and horizontal relationship of the communion paradigm of Christ.
We have a daily practice of silent communion with Christ at intervals in the day. As we orient the soul toward this communion state as the ongoing state of choice we become increasingly aware of what opposes or injures this state of communion. So in a sense those thoughts, those words and deeds that are unloving, injurious, exploitive or cruel either in intention or effect become increasingly disturbing to our interior life in God. The more we practice the more attuned we become to those disturbances. At the end of the day the residue of that disturbance is likely to be accessible and noticed by us, a disturbance to interior peace. That is why our evening practice is a good time to review the day in a daily examination of conscience. We can note where we have caused injury and where we have neglected to love and serve as our heart's desire calls us. There is no room for the guilt of judgment of our goodness or badness as a person. That only feeds the fiction of a perfected ego and creates a block in our complete acceptance and responsibility for what we have done, what we have failed to do, and to direct our energies toward contrition and conversion. Acceptance means accepting the natural sadness when injury is done to love. Those injuries can come in many ways, lies, betrayals, harshness, pridefulness and self deception, taking what isn't freely given, hurtful anger, and so on.
True contrition comes from the understanding that life arises fresh each moment, and contrition allows us to drop the burden of the distant past, or even the previous moment and return to our heart's desire to be given to love. This is the freedom of conversion, and the wisdom that real repentance is re-directing our life towards true happiness, what we most want and desire. This is true metanoia, coming home, again and again and again.. ceaselessly. We are all the prodigal child, having dissipated and wasted the gift of our life essence, again and again. Yet the door is always open and the arms always welcoming us, a million times in the course of a day or a lifetime. The important thing is to return home to the Heart,and learn compassion from the pain inflicted on ourselves and others. The true wound is separateness, which heals as we harmonize the soul with unitive life in God.
By examining the circumstance of the thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions we have made, we can learn from them and bring the fullness of our practice into that situation when it arises again, as it will in various forms. Our practice is always to observe the mind and to abide in the heart. When we are able to "see", to witness the arising of misdirected hidden thoughts and motivations we can truly offer them up, and relinquish them to make space for our most essential desire, which is loving kindness or agape. The desert elders saw that true conversion must involve a praxis of freedom from addictive or destructive thinking patterns. (There is much more to be said about Prayer of the Heart praxis with thoughts, which can be added in another post.) Over time we cultivate Heart Presence as a ceaseless expression of Prayer of the Heart in daily life and activity, making each moment of life prayer.
The following is an example of the incorporation of reflection on the day and the praxis of contrition and conversion, integrated into the evening prayer practice:
Evening Prayer of the Heart-
- Opening Chant- "Yeshua, Yeshua" and Prayer of Consecration
-Formal Silent Prayer of the Heart Practice- One or more sessions.
-Review of the Day/ Evening Recollection-" O Beloved- Help me to know all the ways I have injured your Love this day. Help me to know the ways I have not loved you in all my being and all my doing. Help me to know all the ways I have not loved my neighbor as myself." ( silent pause and reflection on the day)
- Contrition and Conversion-" O Beloved, I resolve to claim the sorrow of every injury to love and to seek the grace of Your conversion this moment and always."
-Evening Devotional Prayer, Prayer of Jesus, and Intercessions-
-Closing Night Chant- "Into Your hands Abba, I commend my spirit, Into Your hands, Abba/Amma, I commend my spirit. In Christ we are given to You, day and night. Into Your hands, Abba, I commend my spirit."
I hope your find this response helpful in considering your own practice of ethical/moral discernment of the day.