The fourth and final “Noble Truth” espoused in Buddhist practice sets forth an intricate eightfold path, the practice of which facilitates cessation of suffering. At its heart, this path is created around the concept of nonharming. The idea of nonharming within the eightfold path is taken to nuanced levels in Buddhist practice. For example, because Buddhist practice recognizes the importance of conscious intention in countering more basic instincts in favor of “nonharming,” the eightfold path prohibits the use of intoxicating substances. Rather than a moralistic imperative, this precept stems from the recognition that intoxicating substances promote heedlessness and significantly heighten the likelihood that we will ignore potential negative consequences of our actions.
The idea of nonharming is also valuable in the context of working toward successful psychotherapeutic change. Many clients approach psychotherapy with shame and self-loathing that has resulted from years of actions that have been harmful to oneself or others, or an inability to follow through on more intentional, skillful acts of caring towards one’s self, others, or the world at large. Thus positive change in therapy involves development of clarity as to the causes and conditions that have led us to engage in unskillful, “harmful” past behaviors.
With a more clear understanding of these causes and conditions, we come to realize that our difficulties have not resulted from a “constitutional defect.” In addition, ideas of who we think we are begin to dissipate in intensity. This dissolution of previously entrenched ideas of “who we are” can be unsettling. Change on this level must be facilitated by an effective therapeutic alliance, often a skilled therapist.
When ideas of “who we are” begin to lessen, previously elusive feelings of freedom begin to arise with increasing frequency. Many things start to seem possible that previously seemed unattainable. Through discipline and practice we become increasingly able to settle into the simple comfort of simply “being.” Once tenaciously guarded ideas about ourselves and the world around us start to give way to the intimate possibilities that arise when we become increasingly able to embrace uncertainty and “not knowing.”