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Lions Roar : July 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2011 32 again and again, you can bring a more settled and satisfying sense of equanimity into your life instead of being constantly subject to a never-ending series of desires. Loosening Fixation The second component in diminishing craving is to notice when your attention has become fixated. A fixation is a narrowing of attention onto one thing that we are strongly attracted to or repelled by. If it is attraction, a very compelling momentum is created to get the object of fixation, including having thoughts about the object as well as feeling a physical sensation, something like a hole that needs to be filled. Having a fixation also includes the tendency of the mind to embellish the desirable qualities of what you want, while ignoring the “downside,” the undesirable aspects or the future consequences. By using conscious awareness to break your fixation of attention, you can separate wanting from getting. Imagine your child is being carried out to sea by a strong undertow. You would not try to fight with the undertow (the object) but would grab your child (your attention) and pull her back to shore. If you practice becoming more aware of your attention as an aspect of your mind that you can actually take charge of and use as a support, you can notice when it has been kidnapped and deliberately take it back. The breath- centered meditation practices, such as shamatha, are very good for training your attention not to wander. When you notice your mind has gone astray, has been “carried out to sea,” you simply bring it back to the neutral object of attention, in this case the breath. Making Offerings Another way of loosening fixation is to offer the object of your desire. I have made it a practice to leave a small portion of food on my plate and I mentally offer it at the end of the meal, saying something like “May all beings have enough to eat.” I’ve noticed that this has several results. First, it reduces my speedy and mindless eating tendencies. Second, it makes every meal feel like a shared universal experience. Additionally, when I actually offer the food I feel warmth in my heart, a momentary radiance of compassion that both softens and uplifts my own state of mind. By starting with our own mind, we can begin to reverse the craving that often drives our behaviors. You can do an offering practice with anything that has aroused your craving state of mind. With food, setting aside a small portion before eating as an offering will slow the speed and interrupt the habitual patterns that often drive overeating. Offering this portion of food at the end of the meal by placing it outside can signal that you are finished eating, and prevent mindlessly continuing. When you notice craving arise while shopping, you might wish that all beings have the warmth and comfort of the cashmere sweater you crave, and actually open your hand in a gesture of offering it to them. This can cause an actual shift in brain activity from a narrow “me” focus to a more connected and empathic part of the brain. Test this for yourself. Most people feel happier when released from the “I want” state of mind into the more openhearted feelings arising from kindness and generosity. The next time you find yourself “standing at the refrigerator door,” stop and notice. What am I doing here? What do I feel in my chest, my heart? Can I give it a name? Recognize your attention has gone in search of an object for your wanting, has fixated on something external to try to quell the pain of your longing and dissatisfaction. Bring your attention back to simply being present with what you are experiencing. Sit down for a moment and hold that feeling in compassion. Be fully present with this wanting, as it is, with an open heart. Perhaps put a comforting hand on your chest. Then you can offer whatever you are struggling with by saying something like, “May everyone have the food they need, the happiness they seek, and may they attain relief from the suffering of a dissatisfied mind.” PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS