I decided to divert a little bit for this article from my normal topic of Maritime Law, and talk about some thoughts that came to me about the recent incidents involving well known football players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.
Ray Rice was caught on video punching his wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious in an elevator. He received a couple of days suspension, apologized, and everything seemed as if it was okay. High paid athletes have good publicists and crisis management people to help them say the right things during a press conference. I have experienced this with the cruise line industry that I battle constantly with. When an incident occurs aboard a cruise ship, such as a suspected murder as in the George Smith case involving a young man who went missing during his honeymoon cruise under suspicious circumstances, the cruise ship company is quick to hire a crisis management specialist and bombard the media with their spin on the facts in order to cut their losses from a public relations standpoint.
Similarly, athletes do well in press conferences, speak calmly and appear to be rational, kind individuals.
Adrian Peterson was recently indicted on charges of negligence and reckless conduct, injuring his 4 year old child. Adrian Peterson admitted that he spanks his child, and punishes him with some type of physical contact. He apologized for it possibility going a little too far, saying he didn’t intend to cause the harm that he in fact did to his young child.
So how does Buddhism and Mindfulness principles fit into this problem? The Buddha’s story goes like this; the Buddha himself apparently had everything that a human being would want, he had riches, and was surrounded by beautiful women, and lived in a palace. However, he had never traveled outside the palace doors. He decided to take an adventure and soon discovered the harsh realities of life. This included that nothing was permanent. We all grow old, we all get sick, and then we all die.
The Buddha sat under a tree for a long period of time, and became enlightened. He studied the nature of the mind. He realized that we are often pulled in many directions by desires and cravings, created by our delusions about how things really are. This causes us to react in unwholesome ways, such as by violence, killing, stealing, and speaking hurtful words and engaging in harmful actions towards others or ourselves.
The Buddhist principles, and mindfulness, teach us to pay attention to the nature of the mind, and recognize that many of the emotions we experience, such as anger, which lead to violence, surface as a result of conditioned behavior that we can witness and with wisdom recognize that acting out based on our angry thoughts and feelings is not the appropriate action.
To be a Buddha means to have a Buddha nature, which we all have. Its simply means the way we all were born as human beings in this world. Our true nature is to feel love, compassion and understanding. This is an innate quality of the human being. An example of this is story about young children who were playing in fields where air force jets traveled above them heading towards some location where they were going to drop bombs. The children started to wonder what was happening, and became worried that they were going to harm or injure young children. These children created a big banner that said please be careful and don’t harm any young children. These were young children who had some innate quality in them of compassion and love towards others. There are many examples of this type of compassion and understanding we are born with.
The point here is that athletes, such as professional football players, are engaged in a very aggressive type of sport. They have to be amazingly conditioned, strong. We all see them before a game pumping themselves up by jumping up-and-down and hitting their heads against each other, getting them ready for the physical contact that’s going to take place during a football game. There is aggression and violence to a significant degree in any professional football game.
So you have Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice, who can cultivate wisdom, and recognize when this aggression that they may have inside them is appropriate to exercise, and when the feelings of anger or angry thoughts, need to be looked at very closely with mindfulness and then to utilize your wisdom to decide the appropriate course of action. This is not limited to these two football players. These two football players have simply been found to have engaged in unspeakable acts, one towards his wife and the other one towards his young child.
In Buddhism practices, and mindfulness practices, the practitioner learns to focus on the present moment so that he or she can recognize when he or she is having an unwholesome thought or about to engage in an unwholesome action. The practitioner learns to replace these unwholesome thoughts or emotions with those of thoughts of compassion and understanding. By utilizing mindfulness you pay attention to what’s arising in the present moment, and you welcome it so that you can closely look at it and utilize your natural innate wisdom as a human being to cultivate understanding and compassion. In other words, in the case of Ray Rice, in order to do what he did he had to initially have some type of thoughts, which created strong emotions of anger, and then he acted out by aggressively hitting his wife to the point that he knocked her unconscious. The same thing for Adrian Peterson. He had to have some type of thoughts of either frustration or anger for what his young child was doing, then it surfaced in him, which then he acted on by physically hurting his young child.
I am sure both Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson regret what they did. It’s the same thing that we do when we act upon our thoughts or emotions and then regret afterwards what we did. This could be as simple as sending that email to another person before you’ve paid attention to the actual thoughts and emotions provoking the writing of the email, and not giving yourself time to observe and recognize what’s really happening, and then to exercise wisdom in determining whether your next action is appropriate or not.
So in conclusion, I would suggest that the National Football League look into introducing Buddhism and mindfulness practices to the players. The lives of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are likely going to be changed forever now because of actions that both of them probably regret they did. With mindfulness practices, and deep breathing to get yourself into the present moment, able to feel what is arising in that moment, you can be able to catch yourself before you engage in some unspeakable act. In Buddhism practices, the practitioner is taught to cultivate compassion and understandings so that one does not steal or kill or injure another being.
The good thing is that Buddhism and mindfulness practices teach everyone that we all have the capacity to come back home to the way we were when we were born, which is a human being with awareness and an innate capacity to exercise compassion, understanding and love. The emotions of anger and violence, delusions, killings, arise over time from conditioning, from thoughts and emotions that go unchecked.
The good thing about the brain is we may be conditioned to act in certain ways and think that we can never change, even with Buddhism and mindfulness, however scientific studies prove that there is a concept called neuroplasticity, which means if you engage in the training of the brain to think and act in a different way, like any other habit, you can make positive changes in the brain that will result in positive changes behavior.
Again, this article has been way off my normal topic of maritime law of and maritime cases, but I was thinking about how beneficial Buddhism and mindfulness principles are as I was watching all the news stories about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. The principles are useful in everyday life, including in the practice of law. I utilize the principles personally in order to stay present in my every day busy life of being a trial lawyer, and to try to keep my emotions and thoughts in check so that my actions will be a result of wisdom and thoughtful consideration, not just simply based on conditioning of the past.
Please let me know if anyone has any thoughts about this. I do think that practicing mindfulness in everyday life is helpful to all of us, and can make a positive change in anyone’s life.
Our firm continues to be safety advocates for those injured or harmed at sea.