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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2011 52 degree of intimacy with our ordinary experiences and contours our entire sense of connection to life. the content and quality of our lives depend on our level of awareness—a fact we are often not aware of. there’s an old story, usually attributed to a native american elder, that’s meant to illu- minate the power of attention. a grandfather imparting a life les- son to his grandson tells him, “i have two wolves fighting in my heart. one wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. the other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.” the grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. the grandfather answers, “the one i feed.” but that’s only part of the picture. true, whatever gets our attention flourishes, so if we lavish attention on the negative and inconsequential, they can overwhelm the positive and the meaningful. but if we do the opposite, refusing to deal with or acknowledge what’s difficult and painful, pretending it doesn’t exist, then our world is out of whack. whatever doesn’t get our attention withers—or retreats below conscious awareness, where it may still affect our lives. in a perverse way, ignoring the painful and the difficult is just another way of feeding the wolf. medita- tion teaches us to open our attention to all of human experience and all parts of ourselves. meditation is pragmatic, the psychological and emotional equivalent of a physical training program: if you exercise regu- larly, you get certain results—stronger muscles, denser bones, increased stamina. if you meditate regularly, you also get certain results, including greater calm, and improved concentration and more connection to others. but there are other rewards. you’ll begin to spot the unexamined assumptions that get in the way of happiness. these assumptions we make about who we are and the way the world works—what we deserve, how much we can handle, where happiness is to be found, whether or not positive change is pos- sible—all greatly influence how and to what we pay attention. i was reminded of how assumptions can get in our way when i visited the national portrait gallery in washington, D.C., to view a work of art by a sculptor friend. eagerly i checked every room, peered at every display case and pedestal—no sculpture. Finally i gave up. as i headed for the exit, i glanced up—and there was her beautiful piece. it was a bas-relief hanging on the wall, not the freestanding statue i’d expected; my assumptions had put blinders on me and almost robbed me of the experience of see- photobylizamatthews