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Lions Roar : November 2014
of rope for a snake. We might believe a person is ignoring us when they are actu- ally deaf, or we might see something and think it causes us pain when actually it could bring us joy. Wrong perception is always possible and can bring about fear, anger, and irritation. The fifth universal mental formation is intention, also known as volition. You have contact with the object, your feeling, and perception about it, and then you have your relationship to that object. You decide whether to possess it or to push it away. The fifth mental formation is your decision whether to accept or reject an object. Transforming Habit Energy Our habit energy comes from these men- tal formations. Their seeds form neural pathways that lead to either suffering or happiness. Any seed that manifests in your mind consciousness returns to your store con- sciousness stronger than ever. For exam- ple, when you come in contact with some- thing that triggers the feeling of anger in you, your frequent traveling on that neural pathway turns anger into a habit. But with the intervention of mindfulness, you can erase the negative neural pathway and open up another pathway that leads to understanding and happiness. Your depression, fear, jealousy, despair, and the conflicts within you are all nega- tive mental formations that contribute to your habit of running away. don’t be afraid of them. If they want to come up, allow them to come up, recognize them, and embrace them. We can’t transform habit energy just with our intelligence and our desire to do so. We need some insight, and insight comes from deep looking. The only way to transform habit energy is to recognize it, embrace it with mindfulness, and practice inviting positive seeds to create positive habit energies. Mindfulness helps us to recognize the habit energy of running. When we notice its presence, we smile to it and we are free from it. When we recognize the habit energy of running, it loses its power and can’t push us to run anymore. Then we can easily release the tension in our body. Some habit energies are very difficult to transform. If you crumple a sheet of paper, it’s difficult to make it flat again. It has the habit energy of being crumpled. We are the same. But happiness can also be a habit energy. The practice of mind- fulness allows us to create new, more functional habit energies. Suppose that you grimace when you hear a certain phrase. It’s not because you want to make a face; it just happens auto- matically. To replace this old habit energy with a new one, every time you hear that phrase you can breathe with awareness. At first, conscious breathing may require effort, because it doesn’t yet come natu- rally. If you continue to practice, how- ever, conscious breathing will become a new and positive habit energy. Non-Thinking and New Neural Pathways The practice of non-thinking is the secret to creating new habits. When thinking settles in, you lose the immediate experi- ence of contact and move on to the other mental formations. You do not have much chance to be in the here and the now, to be in touch with what is in your body and around you. So just become aware of contact and feelings. In this way you can be in touch with the elements of nourishment and healing available in your body and in the environment, both physical and mental. With the intervention of mindfulness, you can erase a negative neural pathway and open another pathway that leads to understanding and happiness. Suppose that every time you are wor- ried or anxious or irritated, you reach for a big piece of cake to cover up that feeling in you. This is a habit, because a neural pathway in your brain has been created for it. But if you allow yourself to stop before you reach for the cake, you can recognize both the pattern and the other sensations happening in your mind and body. You may notice that you’re not really hungry, that instead you’re sad or tired. The habit of breathing and noticing your sadness will ease that suffering more effectively than cake, and you will not have the suf- fering of being overfull and cranky. With mindfulness and concentration intervening in the process of perception, a new neural pathway can be created that does not lead to suffering. Instead it leads to understanding, compassion, happiness, and healing. Our brains have the power of neuroplasticity; they can change. Suppose someone says something that angers you. Your old pathway wants to say something to punish him. But that makes you a victim of your habit energy. Instead, you can stop, accept the anger and irritation in you, and smile at it. With mindfulness, you look at the other person and become aware of the suffering in him. He may have spoken like that to try to get relief. He may think that speaking like that will help him suffer less, although in fact it will make him suffer more. With just one or two seconds of look- ing and seeing the suffering in the other person, compassion is born. When com- passion is born, you don’t suffer anymore, and you may find something to say that will help him. With practice, we can always open new neural pathways like this. When they become a habit, we call it the habit of happiness. When you develop the habit of being happy, then everything you do, like serv- ing yourself a cup of tea, you do in such a way that it creates joy and happiness. We practice mindfulness in order to get in touch with appropriate attention, stop our thinking, and enjoy the pleasant feeling that is possible in the here and the now. We recognize the many conditions of happiness that are here, more than we could possibly imagine. This is pos- sible. While we are doing so, healing takes place. We don’t have to make any effort, because we have the habit of happiness. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 50