10 Feb
2020

You Learn What to Pay Attention to

At tomorrow’s Tuesday Night Insight we’ll continue our discussion on the practice of mindfulness in daily life and how formal meditation helps support that practice. Here’s the text I’ll be referencing:

“Suppose someone at work says something that upsets you and you become angry or defensive and react by saying something you later regret. The incident ruins your day because you can’t stop thinking about it. Of course you are aware of your feelings; they have registered in your brain. But this kind of ‘ordinary awareness’ — simply being conscious of your emotional reaction to an experience — is not what the Buddha meant by mindfulness.

“Mindfulness enables you to fully know your experience in each moment. So when your colleague upsets you, if you are being mindful, you witness that her words generate thoughts and body sensations in you that lead to a strong emotion with still more body sensations.

“You have the insight that these feelings are being created by a chain reaction of thoughts in your mind. While this chain reaction is going on, you acknowledge how miserable it makes you feel. But instead of reacting with harsh words when you feel the impulse to speak unskillfully, you choose not to. Your mindfulness allows you not to identify with the impulses of your strong emotions or act from them.

“Moreover, because you witnessed the impersonal nature of the experience, you don’t get stuck in a bad mood for the rest of the day. It is an unpleasant experience, but you are not imprisoned by it.

“When you are being mindful, you are aware of each experience in the body and mind and you stay with that experience, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, such that you see what causes stress and harm to you and another and what does not.

“It is truly possible to experience this wise awareness in your daily life, but you need to train yourself to do so, and mindfulness meditation is the most effective means to accomplish this. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation you develop your innate capacity to:

  • Collect and unify the mind (at least temporarily)
  • Direct your attention
  • Sustain your attention
  • Fully receive experience no matter how difficult
  • Investigate the nature of experience in numerous ways
  • Then let go of the experience, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it may be

“… It is not unlike training the body and mind to play the piano, dance the tango, speak a foreign language, or play a sport. You learn forms in order to train the mind, in the same way that a pianist learns scales. You learn what to pay attention to in the same way a dancer learns to feel the music and to be aware of her body and her partner’s.”

***

Text from Chapter 2, “Mindfulness and Compassion: Tools for Transforming Suffering into Joy,” from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

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