A few years ago I was in the middle of a difficult negotiation with the Maui County Department of Water Supply, a local government agency, trying to resolve a long-standing stalemate. Things already weren’t going my way when the leading official said to me, “You surely don’t need me to remind you that life’s unfair! You’re old enough to know that!”

His rebuke triggered a wave of emotion and reactivity. Embarrassment, humiliation, shame, and then indignation washed over me. I watched the impulse to be angry with him rise like a tide and flood my mind. Schemes, strategies, and thoughts of revenge rushed to the surface. I was tense and self-conscious. I longed to escape.

Fortunately, thirty years of awareness and insight practice allowed me to see these thoughts, feelings, and judgments. I knew from experience to simply wait until my mind arrived at the understanding that “This too can be dealt with.” Settling down into a willingness to deal with the way things were, I was able to acknowledge the truth of his statement, and we continued on to the next item on my agenda.

Skillful attitudes of mind are the key to facing potentially explosive situations and the ongoing highs and lows of life and practice. In fact, recognizing these attitudes and cultivating their antidotes is the foundation for all spiritual growth. By cultivating skillful attitudes of mind, we will respond to more and more of life with awareness and wisdom. With steady awareness of the way things are, the perseverance to stay with that awareness, and the willingness to learn from it, we maximize our sense of well-being.

Acquiring skillful attitudes involves developing two qualities: continuity of awareness and insight knowledge, which is the progressively refined intuitive understanding of impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and conditionality (anatta). Stabilizing the mind and refining wisdom are the natural results of developing faith, energy, and awareness through insight practice. These five qualities together—faith, energy, awareness, stability of mind, and wisdom—are known as the “controlling faculties of mind,” listed below with their Pali equivalents.

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