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Lions Roar : November 2014
oVer the yearS i have made the shift from thinking, “i am stuck with this mind and these tendencies forever” to trusting, “i can be different! i’m not sure these thoughts will stop, but i can stop being held hostage by them.” i began by deliberately not identifying myself with my habit- ual pattern. to voice my confidence in the possibility of change i began to say, “i’m thinking of myself as a recovering fretter.” as a diligent practice, i became particularly vigilant about the arising of frightening thoughts. i describe this practice as “mindfulness of alarming thoughts.” Being genuinely mindful requires that i acknowledge the thoughts with a balanced mind. Whenever i am able to intercept the thoughts in the tiny space in my awareness before fear enzymes flood through my body, i can recognize that they are only thoughts and i don’t have to believe them. then the thoughts just become thoughts. they don’t stir up a commotion. this is tremendous progress. i had hoped in my early years of practice that my tendency toward alarm would disappear. that didn’t happen. Perhaps these habitual tendencies are coded in our genes. Perhaps they are patterns we learn in our families, or from our culture. Because i am a psychologist, i selected elements of my child- hood experience to present a plausible story for why my mind makes up worries. But validating my habit with a story didn’t make it better. What helped was years of recognizing and not responding to afflictive tendencies. Now, worry thoughts hap- pen less, and when they do, they have much less power. that, for me, is liberating enough. in the end, it isn’t about never having afflicting habits arise. they are part of being human and having complex lives. treat- ing afflictive habits like mildly annoying cousins who visit from time to time reduces their power. i’m sure that is true across the spectrum of afflictive energies, not just my habit of restless worry. i’m also sure that a relaxed mind—one that is steady enough to absorb the initial startle of an afflictive energy, alert enough to identify it clearly, and determined enough not to give in to it—is the key to working with any disturbing habit. We can follow the Buddha’s example. ImaGIne the buddha sitting under the bodhi tree on the night of his enlightenment. He is absolutely resolute and deter- mined to free his mind of all confusion. according to legend, mara, the personification of ego, arrives to thwart his plan. accompanying mara are all the forces that confuse the mind. the Buddha, recognizing that his mind is about to be chal- lenged, says, “i see your armies, mara, and i am not afraid.” visualize, if you can, this wonderful scene as it unfolds. the forces of mara unleash spears and arrows which turn into flowers as they encounter the field of poised benevolence that surrounds the Buddha. mara then creates a display of erotic temptations which dissolve in the field of radiant ease that sur- rounds the Buddha. mara disappears and the Buddha declares his enlightenment. reStleSSneSS DouBt SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 45