Saturday, July 25, 2009

Next Steps

So there you are, down in the muck. You’ve putrefied and now you lie on the couch like a shapeless mass with just barely enough form to use the remote. Or you’ve burned up in the fire, and now you feel like you are floating through life, an ashy ghost. It’s all well and good to know that life can suck for everyone, that everyone has times when it all flies off the rails. And yeah, people all over are getting their lives back together, so apparently it is possible, but how did they do it? And is it something you can do, too? Because frankly, there is nothing good on t.v. and ghosts can’t have great sex.

What we do when we are down in the rot and ash is pay attention and let go at the same time. Whatever you pay attention to without force or attachment, will change on its own. The stuckness will dissolve at the very moment we let go of the need to make the experience mean something, when we allow our pain to just be its own thing in itself.

The kind of attention we need to bring is not something we are taught to do. In fact, we are often taught the opposite. We are taught how to turn away from pain and deny trouble. We are taught to believe that things don’t change and the only way to avoid pain is to pretend it doesn’t exist. But everything changes. And pain that is listened to changes into something else, something a lot like grace. To learn how to pay attention properly and effectively, we must first practice.

What you want at the beginning is a field of intention for a while. Science says about 12 minutes a day should suffice. The intention is to simply pay attention. Sit comfortably in a place where you can be quiet for about 12 minutes without people thinking you’re weird or asking whether you took out the trash. You want to be comfortable so that the effort to sit doesn’t become the issue, but not so comfortable that you fall asleep. Keep looking for places to sit until you find something that works.

The only instruction for the next 12 minutes is: pay attention to your out-breath. That’s the action that defines your field of intention and makes these 12 minutes different from just sitting around. So for the next 12 minutes, every time your remember to do so, pay attention to your out-breath. What follows is some advice for making this possible.

If all thought is a symphony, the out-breath is silence. Whenever your thoughts get too intense and loud, too dissonant to bear, you can just catch the next out-breath outta there. This may sound like denial, but it’s not because you’re going to return to whatever needs your attention. Right now, you are building up trust in yourself that if you get into the pain, you can ease up again.

Turn the attention to the out-breath and feel the silence. The out-breath is always there. It’s the release, a built in letting go that is always available, always ready to take a little pain away. As you pay attention to the outbreath and notice the light easing it brings, say thank you because it helps to practice common courtesy and express thanks for anything that helps.

Now, your mind will wander and miss a bunch of out-breaths, but so what? This is not the time to waste belittling yourself. That’s old and boring and you want something, anything, interesting and new. So instead of harassing yourself when your mind wanders, laugh gently.

Cultivate an appreciation for how silly the mind is, the way it gets bored, goes off on tangents, gets lost. It’s kind of adorable really. Like a young child or a little dog. It knows it’s not supposed to, but the mind just can’t help itself. It slips off trying not to be noticed, but you always do see it eventually, over there, not thinking about the breath at all. You catch the mind wandering and bring it back, gently, like an innocent child or a happy-go-lucky dog.

Getting angry does no good. Yell at the mind and it just yells at you because what exactly do you yell with inside your head? The mind. So if you are yelling at your mind, then your mind is yelling instead of paying attention. So instead of yelling at yourself, give a little knowing chuckle, a smile, see the thoughts your mind found to get in trouble with. Say to yourself, “thought” and watch the thoughts ripple into nothing. Laugh a joyous laugh at just how exactly, perfectly, predictably, your mind is behaving. And then you're ready to pay attention to the next out-breath.

And when you’ve gone through this however many times that feels good or worthwhile or somehow right, or when your timer beeps after 12 minutes, you’re done for today.

Do this enough, and you will develop a way to bring awareness to anything. And for right now, that’s all you need to do.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

[Photo: © 2008 Keir Morse]