Our friend had been struggling, but she was doing better. When asked what was working, she explained that she was taking the advice of her AA sponsor who told her to use the AA saying, “When you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing.” Just do the next right thing. What a lovely, simple guideline.
Of course knowing what the right thing is can be tricky, but this simple imperative engages our wise mind. It starts a sorting process. The next thing we do could be the thing that we want, but which will cause suffering down the line, or it could be a wiser choice that won’t carry that negative karmic load. We get to choose. And if we remember that we must choose the Right Thing, we can’t do this mindlessly.
“Just do the next right thing” brings us face to face with the choice point. We are reminded to live more in the Now and live more ethically. It’s not about doing the right thing tomorrow. It’s what is next. At each moment, we have a choice. In the next moment, we act on the choice. Then we have another choice. There is no not choosing. There is only choosing consciously or unconsciously, ethically or unethically.
The Buddha’s great enlightenment resulted in The Eightfold Noble Path as the prescription for overcoming suffering. It boils down to do the next right thing. The eight elements of the path are
Together they are a reminder to cultivate wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline. If we are going to be able to recognize the right thing to do next, we need to advance our capacity to choose wisely by using our thinking and perceiving faculties effectively. We need to take care in the things we say and do. We need to choose a way of earning our living and spending our time that is moral. We need to apply the force of our will with clear intention. We must be awake. We need to grow our capacity to hold our focus.
The Noble Eightfold Path is less like a path we walk on than it is a way of being. Living this way is a practice. But life is like a path we travel on. As there are forks in a path, we find ourselves repeatedly needing to choose. We choose one fork in the path over another. Sometimes we may need a guide and sometimes we know which way to go based on experience. Other times we may have to choose based on intuition and our best guess. It is important though that we are clear on our intention. What’s the next right thing?
© 2008-2014 Tom Barrett