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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 69 it suddenly dropped to the floor making a huge clanging noise. The very first thought that went through my mind was, “It wasn’t me!” Now, where did that thought come from? With awareness, one can only smile at these uninvited guests in the mind. Through the practice of meditation we begin to see the full range of the mind’s activities, old unskillful patterns as well as wholesome thoughts and feelings. We learn to be with the whole passing show. As we become more accepting, a certain lightness develops about it all. And the lighter and more accepting we be- come with ourselves, the lighter and more accepting we are with others. We’re not so prone to judge the minds of others, once we have carefully seen our own. The poet, W.H. Auden, says it well: “Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart.” Spacious acceptance doesn’t mean that we act on everything equally. Awareness gives us the option of choosing wisely: we can choose which patterns should be developed and cultivated, and which should be abandoned. Just as the focused lens of a microscope enables us to see hidden levels of reality, so too a concentrated mind opens us to deeper levels of experience and more subtle movements of thought and emotion. Without this power of concentration, we stay on the surface of things. If we are committed to deepening our understanding, we need to practice mindfulness and gradu- ally strengthen concentration. One of the gifts of the teachings is the reminder that we can do this—each and every one of us. PRACTICING IN DAILY LIFE In our busy lives in this complex and often confusing world, what practical steps can we take to train our minds? The first step is to establish a regular, daily meditation practice. This takes discipline. It’s not always easy to set aside time each day for meditation; so many other things call to us. But as with any training, if we practice regularly we begin to enjoy the fruits. Of course, not every sitting will be concentrated. Sometimes we’ll be feeling bored or restless. These are the inevitable ups and downs of practice. It’s the commitment and regularity of practice that is important, not how any one sitting feels. Pablo Casals, the world- renowned cellist, still practiced three hours a day when he was ninety-three. When asked why he still practiced at that age, he said, “I’m beginning to see some improvement.” The training in meditation will only happen through your own effort. No one can do it for you. There are many techniques and traditions, and you can find the one most suitable for you. But regularity of practice is what effects a transformation. If we do it, it begins to happen; if we don’t do it, we continue acting out the various patterns of our conditioning. The next step is to train ourselves in staying mindful and aware of the body throughout the day. As we go through our daily activities, we frequently get lost in thoughts of past and future, not staying grounded in the awareness of our bodies. A simple reminder that we’re lost in thought is the very com- mon feeling of rushing. Rushing is a feeling of toppling forward. Our minds run ahead of us, focusing on where we want to go, instead of settling into our bodies where we are. Learn to pay attention to this feeling of rushing—which does not particularly have to do with how fast we are going. We can feel rushed while moving slowly, and we can be moving quickly and still be settled in our bodies. Either way, we’re likely not present. If you can, notice what thought or emotion has captured the atten- tion. Then, just for a moment, stop and settle back into the body: feel the foot on the ground, feel the next step. The Buddha made a very powerful statement about this prac- tice: “Mindfulness of the body leads to nirvana.” This is not a superficial practice. Mindfulness of the body keeps us present— and therefore, we know what’s going on. The practice is difficult to remember, but not difficult to do. It’s all in the training: sit- ting regularly and being mindful of the body during the day. To develop deeper concentration and mindfulness, to be more present in our bodies, and to have a skillful relationship with thoughts and emotions, we need not only daily training, but also time for retreat. It’s very helpful, at times, to disengage from the busyness of our lives, for intensive spiritual practice. Retreat time is not a luxury. If we are genuinely and deeply committed to awakening, to freedom—to whatever words express the highest value you hold—a retreat is an essential part of the path. We need to create a rhythm in our lives, establishing a bal- ance between times when we are engaged, active, and relating in the world and times when we turn inward. As the great Sufi poet Rumi noted, “A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.” At first this “going inside” could be for a day, a weekend, or a week. At our meditation center, we also offer a three-month retreat every year, and at the new Forest Refuge, people have come for as long as a year. We can do whatever feels appropriate and possible to find balanced rhythm between our lives in the world and the inner silence of a retreat. In this way we develop concentration and mindfulness on deeper and deeper levels, which then makes it possible to be in the world in a more loving and compassionate way. ♦ Have you ever stopped to consider what a thought is— not the content but the very nature of thought itself? NOV 64-69.indd 69 NOV 64-69.indd 69 8/29/07 2:19:48 PM 8/29/07 2:19:48 PM