Monday, May 14, 2007

"Coming to Our Senses"

A dear friend recently recommended the book "Coming To Our Senses" by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and I am slowly taking my journey through it. In so doing I'm recommending it (the book and the slow pace) to others. Last week while sitting at a local coffee house reading and reflecting I came across what follows (from p.70-71). Because this passage resonates with my work in general, and my CD "The Art of Practice" in particular, I wanted to make sure it is passed along to you.

"Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master ... aptly points out that one reason we might want to practice mindfulness is that most of the time we are unwittingly practicing its opposite. Every time we get angry we get better at being angry and reinforce the anger habit. When it is really bad, we say we see red, which means we don't see accurately what is happening at all, and so, in that moment you could say we have 'lost' out mind. Every time we become self-absorbed, we get better at becoming self-absorbed and going unconscious. Every time we get anxious, be get better at being anxious. Practice does make perfect. Without awareness of anger or of self-absorption, or ennui, or any other mind state that can take us over when it arises, we reinforce those synaptic networks within the nervous system that underlie our conditioned behaviors and mindless habits, and from which it becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle ourselves, if we are even aware of what is happening at all. Every moment in which we are caught, by desire, by an emotion, by an unexamined impulse, idea, or oopinion, in a very real way we are instantly imprisoned by the contraction within the habitual way we react, whether it is a habit of withdrawal and distancing ourselves, as in depression and sadness, or erupting and getting emotionally 'highjacked' by our feelings when we fall headlong into anxiety or anger. Such moments are always accompanies by a contraction in both the mind and the body.

But, and this is a huge 'but,' there is simultaneously a potential opening available here as well, a chance not to fall into the contraction -- or to recover more quickly from it -- if we can bring awareness to it. For we are locked up in the automaticity of our reaction and caught in its downstream consequences (i.e., what happens in the very next moment, in the world and in ourselves) only by our blindness in that moment. Dispel the blindness, and we see that the cage we thought we were caught in is already open."

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