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Lions Roar : September 2015
Every time a habitual pattern gets strong, every time we feel caught up or on automatic pilot, we could see it as an oppor- tunity to burn up negative karma. Rather than a problem, we could see it as our karma ripening. That gives us an opportu- nity to burn up karma, or at least weaken our karmic propensi- ties. But it’s hard to do. When we realize that we are hooked, that we’re on automatic pilot, what do we do next? That is a central question for every practitioner. One of the most effective means for working with that moment when we see the gathering storm of our habitual ten- dencies is the practice of pausing, or creating a gap. We stop and take three conscious breaths, and the world has a chance to open up to us in that gap. We allow space into our state of mind. Before I talk more about consciously pausing or creating a gap, it might be helpful to appreciate the gap that already exists in our environment. Awakened mind exists in our surround- ings—in the air and the wind, in the sea, in the land, in the ani- mals. But how often are we actually touching in with it? Are we poking our heads out of our cocoons long enough to actually taste it, experience it, let it shift something in us, let it penetrate our conventional way of looking at things? If you take some time to formally practice meditation, there is a lot of silence and space. Meditation practice itself is a way to create gaps. Every time you realize you are thinking and you let your thoughts go, you are creating a gap. Every time the breath goes out, you are creating a gap. You may not always experience it that way, but the basic meditation instruction is designed to be full of gaps. If you don’t fill up your practice time with your dis- cursive mind, with your worrying and obsessing and all that kind of thing, you have time to experience the blessing of your sur- roundings. You can just sit there quietly. Then maybe silence will dawn on you, and the sacredness of the space will penetrate. Or maybe not. Maybe you are already caught up in the work you have to do that day or the projects you haven’t finished from the day before. Maybe you worry about something that has to be done or hasn’t been done, or a letter you just received. Maybe you are caught up in busy mind, in hesitation or fear, in depression or discouragement. In other words, you’ve gone into your cocoon. The experience of your entanglement differs from day to day. Nevertheless, if you connect with the blessings of your surround- ings—the stillness, the magic, and the power—maybe that feeling can stay with you and you can go into your day with it. Whatever it is you are doing, the magic, the sacredness, the expansiveness, the stillness stay with you. When you are in touch with the larger environment, it can cut through your cocoon mentality. On the other hand, I know from personal experience how strong habitual mind is. The discursive mind—the busy, wor- ried, caught-up, spaced-out mind—is powerful. That’s all the more reason to do the most important thing—to realize what a strong opportunity every day is and how easy it is to waste it. If you don’t allow your mind to open and to connect with the immediacy of your experience, you could easily become completely submerged. You could be completely caught up and distracted by the details of your life, from the moment you get up in the morning until you fall asleep at night. You can get so caught up in the content of your life, the PEMA CHÖDRÖN teaches us a simple technique we can use anytime we need a break from our habitual patterns. OUR HABITS ARE STRONG, so a certain discipline is required to step outside our cocoon and receive the magic of our surroundings. Pause practice—taking three conscious breaths at any moment when we notice that we are stuck—is a simple but powerful practice that each of us can do at any given moment. Pause practice can transform each day of your life. It creates an open doorway to the sacredness of the place in which you find yourself. The vastness, stillness, and magic of the place will dawn upon you, if you let your mind relax and drop for just a few breaths the story line you are working so hard to maintain. If you pause just long enough, you can reconnect with exactly where you are, with the immediacy of your experience. When you are waking up in the morning and you aren’t even out of bed yet, even if you are running late, you could just look out and drop the story line and take three conscious breaths. Just be where you are! When you are washing up, or making your coffee or tea, or brushing your teeth, just create a gap in your discursive mind. Take three conscious breaths. Just pause. Let it be a contrast to being all caught up. Let it be like popping a bubble. Let it be just a moment in time, and then go on. Maybe you are on your way to whatever you need to do for the day. You are in your car, or on the bus, or standing in line. But you can still create that gap by tak- ing three conscious breaths and being right there with the immediacy of your experience, right there with whatever you are seeing, with whatever you are doing, with what- ever you are feeling. ♦ Three Conscious Breaths SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2015 38