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Lions Roar : March 2014
I especially value the Return Home icon on my car GPS, which automatically routes me back to my home address in California. The Return Home icon on my mind GPS would automatically reroute me to Mindful (for clear seeing), Con- centrated (for confident stability), and Wise Effort. Mind GPS is particularly helpful in moments of hurt or confusion, when we are most likely to take the wrong route. Here’s an example of how mind GPS works—how moment by moment it calculates my mental position and guides me toward the wholesome and away from the unwholesome. I’m with someone beloved to me—a close friend or family member—and suddenly they say something that startles my mind. Perhaps I hear it as an unjust criticism. Or it sounds cav- alier. Or foolish. I feel my mind contract around the remark, notice the unpleasantness of that contraction, and feel the impulse to protest arise in my mind. Seemingly simultaneously (but actually next) I see a “rap sheet” unfurl in my mind listing the many, many times this person has said or done something similar, thus building the case for a protest. But if my mind GPS is alert and steadily intending toward the wholesome, I also see the possibility of relaxing the impulse to act. This moment of ease allows my mind to return to its nor- mally wider view that includes the many sterling qualities of this beloved person. The confusion in the mind disappears. I can carry on the conversation as if nothing more significant than a sneeze had happened. When I make the right choice at this fork in the road—avoid the route that leads to tumult and take the one that builds closer bonds of connection—I feel, “Whew! Just dodged a bul- let. I could have messed up the afternoon, mine and the other person’s, and I didn’t.” Or imagine this recent experience: I was standing on a New York City street corner on a cold November evening buying gloves from a sidewalk vendor. I was shifting and tapping my feet side to side trying to warm them. “Back up a little,” the vendor said to the person behind me. “Don’t crowd in so close.” “Hey,” the man behind me replied, “I’m just watching the old lady dancing.” I felt tears in my eyes. I paid for my gloves and left. “Old lady?” “Dancing?” I continued down the street toward Lincoln Center imagin- ing my mind as a deflating balloon, my sense of myself as chic and sprightly morphing into old and humiliated, and then giv- ing way to a list of self-critical remarks beginning with “You should have remembered to pack gloves!” I was just about to start an internal lament about how the evening I was anticipating was ruined, how the zest for it that I’d felt in my mind was all gone, when I thought, “Stop! The remark happened back there. The ruining is happening now!” I started to laugh at this point, thinking how easy it is for my mind to run away with itself down a road going no place good. It’s as if it becomes intoxicated by a whiff of drama—“Such a sad story happened to me today walking down Broadway”—that it forgets that clarity, the plain truth, is the antidote to confusion. The plain truth is that I am an old woman. And I was, so to speak, dancing at the vendor’s stand. And I did forget to pack gloves. Also, I was meeting a friend I love for an evening of dinner and a concert on a cold night in New York City, where all the trees on Upper Broadway are wrapped in strings of white lights. It was an easy decision whether to embellish the glove story and suffer or to take the other fork in the mental road and rejoice in my good fortune at being alive and well in this moment. In the end, I spent a relatively short time wandering on a side road of discontent before rescuing the evening, but I could have done it sooner. I could have avoided a lot of strug- gle by addressing the pain immediately. I could have, at the moment when I heard the remark and tears came to my eyes, acknowledged to myself, “I’m in pain!” Instinctively, I would have taken some slow, deep breaths—always a comforter to anyone in pain—while I was paying for my gloves. Perhaps I would have thought to myself, “Relax, sweetheart. These things happen. You got startled. You’ll be fine.” Hold- ing myself in compassion would have inhibited my mind from making negative judgments about myself. And, as I walked on, had I felt that an echo of pain was still reverberating as confu- sion in my mind, I might have brought my attention to the people all around me and felt supported by their company. I might have appreciated the lights in the trees on Broadway and admired the skill of the people who had strung them all through the branches. Here is the short formula for recovering from confusing distress. This is the time when the GPS for the mind is the most useful, since it is when we are in most danger of taking an unwholesome path. 1) Stop! Acknowledge the distress. “I’m in pain” always works for me, regardless of the particular flavor of challenge. 2) Do something to regain your balance. Deep breaths usu- ally work well for me. 3) Notice how your mind, awakened, sees possibilities clearly. 4) Choose the road that leads to happiness. Pay attention to the present moment, without opinions. 5) Enjoy the relief of a mind restored to ease. This builds confidence and makes it a habit. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 42