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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2011 53 ing what was really there—her amazing work. in the same way, our assumptions keep us from appreciating what’s right in front of us—a stranger who’s a potential friend, a perceived adversary who might actually be a source of help. assumptions block di- rect experience and prevent us from gathering information that could bring us comfort and relief, or information that, though saddening and painful, will allow us to make better decisions. here are some familiar assumptions you might recognize: We have nothing in common. I won’t be able to do it. You can’t reason with a person like that. Tomorrow will be exactly like today. If I just try hard enough, I’ll manage to control him/her/it/them. Only big risks can make me feel alive. I’ve blown it; I should just give up. I know just what she’s going to say, so I don’t really need to listen to her. Happiness is for other people, not me. statements like these are motivated by fear, desire, boredom, or ignorance. assumptions bind us to the past, obscure the present, limit our sense of what’s possible, and elbow out joy. Until we detect and examine our as- sumptions, they short-circuit our ability to observe objectively; we think we already know what’s what. you’ll stop limiting yourself. when we practice meditation, we often begin to recognize a specific sort of conditioned response—previously undetected restrictions we’ve imposed on our lives. we spot the ways we sabotage our own growth and success because we’ve been con- ditioned to be content with meager results. meditation allows us to see that these limits aren’t inherent or immutable; they were learned and they can be unlearned—but not until we recognize them. (some common limiting ideas: She’s the smart one, you’re the pretty one. People like us don’t stand a chance. Kids from this neighborhood don’t become doctors.) training attention through meditation opens our eyes. then we can assess these conditioned responses— and if parts of them contain some truth, we can see it clearly and put it to good use; if parts of them just don’t hold up under scrutiny, we can let them go. you’ll weather hard times better. meditation teaches us safe ways to open ourselves to the full range of experience—painful, pleasurable, and neutral—so we can learn how to be a friend to ourselves in good times and bad. During meditation sessions we practice being with diffi- cult emotions and thoughts, even frightening or intense ones, in an open and accepting way, without adding self-criticism to something that already hurts. especially in times of uncertainty or pain, meditation broadens our perspective and deepens our sense of courage and capacity for adventure. here’s how you get braver: little by little. in small, manageable, bearable increments, we make friends with the feelings that once terrified us. then we can say to ourselves, I’ve managed to sit down, face some of my most despairing thoughts and my most exuberantly hopeful ones photosbymaeRyan