"When there is no fear, then you are free."
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Inventory of the Eight Gates:

Right (Wise) VELTSMAC

View, Effort, Livelihood, Thought, Speech, Mindfulness, Action and Concentration 

 

In the final insight from the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Pure Insights into the way things are, he says there is a path out of suffering, a way to gain liberation from our fears.  It is called the Eightfold Path.  This path heightens our self-knowledge in eight key areas.  Each area is seen as a gateway to deeper peace, providing a way to take stock of how we live.

 

The Eightfold Path is not, in the traditional Judeo-Christian sense, a set of commandments instructing us in right or wrong.  In the Eightfold Path “right” is synonymous with “wise” when based in clear seeing rather than delusion.  Each gateway on the path is a practice in mindfulness, a process of gaining insight about what makes us suffer and what makes us happy. Failures are seen as opportunities to learn, occasions to practice kindness toward ourselves and start anew.

 

When doing Step Four for the first time, I used the Blue Print for Progress published by the Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters.  I don’t know how I could have done a solid moral inventory without it.  The Blueprint booklet offered a concrete structure, a set of reflective questions, and even spaces to write in on each page. Both the Blueprint and the help of my sponsor were invaluable. Still I brought my Judeo-Catholic self with me into the process and my first Fourth Step evoked fear and shame.  Particularly difficult was taking stock of each of the seven deadly sins – pride, anger, envy, lust, gluttony, greed and sloth – which were included in the Blueprint inventory at the time.

 

I have since found comfort in the Eastern view of “bare attention,” the process of noticing whatever arises with interest and curiosity, without judgement or condemnation.  This attitude is the essence of mindfulness. Over the many hours and over the many years of sitting on the meditation cushion, practicing this art of noting without judgment, I have come to a much better sense of what the founders of the Twelve Step program meant by taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory.”   I believe they were describing the attitude of bare attention – simply observing and taking inventory of what we have done and the suffering it caused.  This is not the attitude of shame about our sins and counting up all the marks on our milk bottle in one grand horrendous tally.

 

Buddha advises us to notice how we are doing in each of the areas of the Eightfold Path, taking inventory on a regular basis.  He instructed us to observe without undue criticism and with an interest in learning.  With this approach, we can make fearlessness and honesty a way of life. I offer the following mindfulness practice as a way of taking inventory with bare attention.  It is based on looking at your skillfulness or lack of skillfulness in the areas of the Eightfold Path.  Consider writing down your responses to each group of questions.

 

Right View

  • Which of your ideas about yourself or others are particularly rigid? 

  • Can you find any examples of dogmatism, fundamentalism, bigotry, close-mindedness or excessive criticism?

  • Which views of other people or situations cause you or others suffering or harm?

  • How?

  • What actions are driven by these views?  What is the specific impact of rigid views on your relationships? Give views that caused a negative impact.

  • What views of yourself cause you suffering or harm?  List them. 

  • What actions follow from these views? 

  • How do these views contribute to your addiction or compulsion?  Give examples.

 

Right Effort

The gateway of “right,” or “wise,” effort is closely related with wise mindfulness.  What efforts have you made to:

  • Achieve full awareness of arising feelings?

  • Face obstacles in your life rather than use addiction, compulsive activities, or relationships to “fix” a difficulty?

  • Commit yourself to positive action?

  • Let go of dualistic, either or thinking?

  • Which of the above efforts have been “wise,” cultivating awakening versus numbing out?

  • Which have not, why?

 

Right Livelihood

Notice what you think about money and how you spend your financial resources. 

  • How was money viewed in your family of origin? 

  • Did family experiences leave you with beliefs such as “Money is the root of all evil,” or “I can only be happy if I have a lot of money?”

  • How much of your money do you spend on the things that you say are important to you? 

  • How much of your money is going toward things that you don’t really value? 

  • How do you feel about the reality of where your money is going versus where you would like it to be going?

  • How much of your money is given to causes you believe in, those less fortunate, or to helping others in recovery?  How do you feel about how much of your money that is given away?

In summary, which of the investments of your time and money are “wise livelihood?”  Which are questionable?  For example, which uses of your time or money:

  • Create entanglements, obligations or messy transactions? 

  • Are rooted in exploitations of others? 

  • Have been spent in pursuit of your alcohol or drug habit? 

  • Have been spent in winning over or pleasing someone else?  Feeding endless desires for “more, more, more?”  Causing suffering versus cooperation and harmony?

 

Right Thought

  • What are some examples of thoughts that habitually run through your mind – those that rerun time and time again as “different circumstances, same story.”  List them.

  • What influences formed these habitual thoughts? For those that you identify as unskillful, which were spawned by your family’s legacy? 

  • How you were treated by others? 

  • Your own behaviors?

  • What actions are spawned by the thought patterns you identified?  For example, do you spend time engrossed in pursuing pleasure or avoiding pain or discomfort of any kind (such as fear or anxiety)?

  • Which thoughts or beliefs drive these pursuits? 

  • What are the results? 

  • Do you spend energy trying to bury your fears or other uncomfortable emotions? 

  • What thoughts or beliefs drive this energy? 

  • What are the results?

 

Right Speech

Reflect on how speech was used in your family and how people spoke to each other:

  • During conflict?

  • When in need?

  • If happy or unhappy?

  • When holding others accountable?

  • What habits or patterns of speech do you notice in yourself in each of the above areas?

  • What happened to your speech in your addiction or codependency? 

  • Were you untruthful either by commission (something you said) or omission (something you failed to admit)?  Give examples.

  • How can you incorporate mindfulness into how you speak to yourself and others in your daily life? For example, you could practice “right speech” by using nonviolent communication.

Right Mindfulness

  • How strong is your capacity to detach and observe what is happening inside you (your body sensations, thoughts and emotions)?

  • How strong is your capacity to detach and observe what is happening around you?

  • Which of your activities support and develop mindfulness, which of your activities hinder mindfulness?

  • Give some examples of when you have reacted mindlessly. 

  • Also describe times when you have been mindful.  Which choices created a better quality of life?  Why?

  • How developed is your ability to hold an attitude of “bare attention” toward what arises, in yourself and in your life?  Remember that bare attention is the ability to notice what is happening in the moment, without judgment or stories of interpretation, simply noting:

  • What is your reaction to this moment going on?

  • Does it make you sad, glad, mad, guilty, ashamed or afraid?

  • What story are you telling yourself about the event or your reaction?

  • Where or how did you learn this story?

 

Right Action

Think of areas of your life, one situation at a time, where you may be astray from your Buddha nature and where right action may be necessary. 

  • What actions are weighing you down in each situation?  Possible examples are denying reality, telling falsehoods, living in access, taking what is not given to you, speaking ill of others, and repressing your feelings or ideas.

  • What will help you take the right action in each situation? 

  • Could you be more skilled at:

Telling the truth?

Giving to others?

Being compassionate towards others’ suffering or your own?

Living simply?

Accepting what you cannot change?

Letting go of a relationship that is violent, destructive or codependent?

Being sober and/or clean?

 

In each situation you described, what specific behaviors help you take right action?

Notice the effect of some of your daily actions:

  • What actions help you live your values? 

  • What actions hurt you or others?

  • How can awareness help you when you are not in accordance with your true self? 

  • Do you feel physical sensations such as tightness in your stomach when you are not skillful?  If so describe the sensations.

 

Right Concentration

What spiritual practices nourish you?  For example, are you:

  • Taking part in a faith community?

  • Spending time in nature?

  • Meditating?

  • Taking quiet time each day?

  • Doing yoga?

  • Following your bliss?

  • Chanting or singing hymns?

  • Doing service work?

  • Describe any of your spiritual practices that are not found on this list.

  • What inspiration do you draw from spiritual practices?

  • Are you satisfied with the effort you invest in your spiritual practice, formal or informal?

  • What additional action do you want to take to strengthen your spiritual practices?

 

Therese Jacobs-Stewart, Mindfulness & the 12 Steps

Loving Kindness Meditation