All good qualities must be sown and cultivated. We can’t expect to change overnight from an ordinary person into one with high realizations. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
It means nothing in life is easy. If you want something, you have to work for it. Yes, things come easier to some than others, but the harder you have to work for it, the more real it is, and greater the impact will be, both on you and on those you touch.
This quote deals specifically with the ‘good qualities’ of a person, their character, if you will. Just as you must plant seeds and then tend to them (cultivation), you must do the same for character. You determine what you wish to improve, plant the seed and cultivate it. Eventually, if you keep up with the cultivation, you will harvest what you have planted.
Why is cultivation important?
Cultivate is defined at thefreedictionary.com as “To grow or tend (a plant or crop)” and “To nurture; foster” and that is what one must do to harvest good character. If you want to be known as an honest person, you must plant seeds of honesty, nurture and encourage the new growth of honesty, and constantly pull the weeds of lies that will try to crowd out the honesty.
Cultivation is a great word for this process, because it implies both the time, and the continuing work (watering, weeding, pruning, etc) needed before one can harvest what we desire. Changing yourself isn’t always easy, and will likely require quite a bit of effort to accomplish.
Having a very powerful reason for why you want to accomplish the change can make all the difference in the outcome. The farmer cultivates crops so they don’t starve, or to provide cash for the family, both of which help make the long, hard, hot, sweaty days (and nights) worth while. Without the cultivation, the harvest would be mostly weeds, and hunger and poverty would follow the farmer for the rest of their life.
Where can I apply this in my life?
What aspects of your character do you feel a need to work on? Where are you somewhat less than your best possible self? Patience? Honesty? Grab some paper and write a few of these down, along with what, specifically, on which you need to work.
Take a moment and consider each one of your selections. Think about why it is important to get this done. Why must you cultivate this quality? Be as specific as you can. List both positive and negative reasons (ie what you gain by doing, and what you lose by not doing). Write these down next to each aspect you listed.
Next, narrow the list down to the one you will work on first. As always, you can come back later and do this exercise as many times as you wish, until you feel you have achieved all you need to achieve on your path to the best possible you.
As an example if you want to work on patience, but in which situations? You are probably fairly patient in most things, but what brings out the worst in you? What are the circumstances, or at least a couple of instances where you lost your cool or were impatient?
Continuing with the cultivation theme, what is the seed you must plant? To me, the seed of patience is the ability to get centered, or to become calm. Wildly fluctuating or very intense emotions make it impossible for me to have patience. What is the seed (or are the seeds, if you think of more than one) for that on which you want to work?
What are some of the weeds that will try to spring up and spoil your harvest? For me and patience, the weeds are strong emotions in general, and strong or fluctuating emotions in specific. These are the weeds that will spring up and choke out my desired crop of patience. Write down what your weeds are.
Lastly, consider what you will have to do to nurture, water, prune, and otherwise tend to your crop. For me, the nurturing of patience is just practice. Again and again. Any time I feel anger, rage, frustration, or any of a host of other emotions surging, I must acknowledge that I am experiencing the emotion, then ask it to sit down while I practice patience. What do you need to do? Write these things down as well.
At this point, you should have a pretty good task description for the farmer in you. You know what to plant, how to tend to it, what kind of weeds you expect, and why you must do this. All that’s left is to get started. Find one small thing you can do, and do it right now. It’s not a journey until you take a first step. Now would be a good time to start cultivating your best possible self.