MARIAN LANSKY

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Month: May 2018

The Archer With No Arms

Having a human mind is a little bit like having a disability.

I saw a video a while ago about a man who was born without arms, who decided that he wanted to be an archer. Not just an archer, but a good archer—a world-class archer. Without arms.

So he spent hours, days, months, and years working out how to hold and shoot a bow with his legs. His focus was unwavering, and now he is a world class archer.

The human mind, in its state at this point in time (perhaps it is different in different time-spaces, but I can only speak from my experience now) is not prone to focus. It doesn’t easily concentrate. At least mine doesn’t.

So getting it to leave its addiction to thinking, distraction and entertainment, and focus on an object of attention, like the breath, for twenty minutes a day, is a challenge. No matter what time we waste in our lives, that precious twenty minutes every morning becomes something we have a hard time giving.

This is truly a developmental disability, this resistance to focusing. I was telling a friend last week about my experience as a student nurse, during a rotation spent working with people in a sheltered workshop. The particular client to whom I was assigned was a young woman whose job within the workshop was to tie a bow in a piece of ribbon. I can’t remember what the ribbon would be used for, but that was her job.

In order to teach her to tie a bow, I had to break down the steps to a degree that I hadn’t imagined possible, and then repeat them endlessly, or they’d disappear from her mind. There wasn’t any such thing as “cross the right over the left” or even the way you do it with a neurotypical kid and make some kind of a game out of it. The steps had to be broken down even further than that, over and over.

This is how it is with us and meditation and learning to focus the mind in the present moment. The difference is that we actually have a choice, but we so resist going to that place of inner quiet that we’ll come up with any number of excuses or distractions to avoid it. And yet learning to focus the mind and direct the attention is the only way out of our default human setting of chaos.

When I sit down to meditate, the first thing that happens is that I become aware of what my mind has been chewing on in the background. It’s like discovering that your dog has found a shoe and gone off to gnaw it in secret. I become aware of the latest load of opinions and fixations it’s been working on. I can see exactly what I’ve done to encourage that mindlessness.

But when sitting down to meditate, none of it matters. None of the content of the mind matters—opinionated thoughts, brilliant thoughts, whatever they are, they’re just thoughts. Resisting them or judging them, strengthens them. So I just shift my attention, again and again, from the thinking to the breath. From the human stream of internal chatter, to the breath, over and over until my mind is quiet. Ahhhh.

At first the shifting part is sticky. My mind had been chewing on that shoe in the corner and is loathe to give it up. That’s fine, that’s just the way the human mind is. But through persistence, like the armless archer, I keep on coming back to the breath. Eventually the mind begins to settle. It drops the old shoe and stays with this new object of attention. And then there’s quiet.

I don’t berate my mind. That would be like scolding the young woman at the sheltered workshop because she couldn’t tie a bow, even after several days of concentrated instruction. Things just are the way they are, and training is possible—but it takes persistence and dedication and a desire to bring the human mind out of its darkness and chaos, one mind at a time. Why? Because untrained minds cause a lot of suffering.

Once More in a Nutshell

I bumped into an old friend the other day who mentioned that he’d become interested in meditation and was looking at the nature of habitual thought patterns. That conversation inspired me to write a basic outline post about my experience with taming my own wild mind.

When you get a really good look at the ego—the swarm of thought forms that masquerades as a self here in this material world—it is easy to see why it’s called ‘the enemy within.’ It’s a mechanism gone unchecked for eons, and is quite capable of landing us in a deep well of suffering.

When I first understood that the thoughts going through my head were not mine, and furthermore didn’t necessarily have my best interests at heart, I was stunned by the implications. I’d been identifying all my life with something completely spurious.

As we begin to observe the maelstrom of conditioned thinking, it is so loud in the background of our minds that it feels out of control. With practice, though, and at first this practice is extremely clumsy and approximate, it quiets down a bit. It gets a little bit tamer.

In my experience, so far, it doesn’t actually go away. What happens instead is that our muscles of attention begin to develop. That’s our choice—where we place our attention. Attention is the magic wand in all of this. Whatever it touches, grows.

So learning to isolate the muscles of attention and pull the camera lens and microphones away from the constant internal chatter, the constant stream of thought, and bring them into the mentally silent present moment, becomes the task—the continual, never-ending task. This is what I call “coming out of thought,” over and over, all day long. It’s the same as mindfulness, but that word, to me, doesn’t really describe the process.

In the beginning, the muscles of attention are so atrophied that pulling them away from the internal chatter and into the silent safety of the present moment is like trying to stay awake when you’re completely and utterly exhausted. The draw of the thinking mind is so deeply addictive and seductive that we can barely resist it, much less wake ourselves up out of it.

The present moment feels empty, shabby, boring in comparison. It seems as though there’s nothing here. It feels flat and not the least bit as delicious as falling into the dramas and storylines of the thinking mind where there is color and sensation and emotional juiciness.

After continued practice, however, the present moment begins to have a draw of its own. At first the draw is that it’s a place of relief. It’s like a vacation from your mind. It’s like turning off the TV and shutting off your phone and just hearing the sounds of nature. The simplicity and lack of distraction, which at first felt like poverty, begin to reveal a quiet charm—subtle at first, but deepening with experience.

From this place of inner quiet, it’s possible to observe the nature of the human mind and question our beliefs and choices. It’s from here that you can get to a place where you sense the origin of a thought by how it feels. And eventually to a place where it seems as though no thoughts are actually true in the way we think they are. Truth doesn’t dwell at the level of human thought, although thought can light up the path.

At this point it begins to be possible to stop reacting against thought as though it is the enemy and you, its victim. Eventually it begins to seem likely that until this internal bully is seen as no threat, and is greeted with understanding, or even friendliness, it will continue to assert itself. What we resist persists.

When I say understanding, I don’t mean indulging the content of a thought. I don’t mean analyzing, or following along with it, or letting it get in the driver’s seat. I also don’t mean diving into the past to decipher its cause in an attempt to fix things—that, too, is one of those wild goose chases that the ego loves to involve us in. I mean just observing without commentary.

My favorite way to describe this is the Abraham Hicks buffet analogy.

In the buffet of the mind, there are many different offerings. Some may be so unappealing and even poisonous that we automatically know to steer clear of them. When they arise, we don’t need to do anything other than make a different choice. But if we begin to feel as though the yucky things shouldn’t be there, as though they are dangerous or threatening, or must be eradicated or purified, this makes the situation even stickier and harder to deal with. Resistance strengthens the very thing it aimed at eradicating, through the magic-wand effect of attention.

All resistance, no matter what is being resisted, seems to be part of the thought-swarm. All resistance, even against so-called evil, is itself the ego. Truth does not resist. It has no conditional judgment within it. Every aspect of reality is greeted with acceptance—with yes, instead of no.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to taste everything in the buffet, or have anything to do with it whatsoever. It’s the opposite of being a victim. It’s a realization of the creative power of your own mind, of your own magic wand of attention, and its ability to influence external reality.

Here’s a quote I love from Byron Katie’s A Thousand Names for Joy: “Not believing your own thoughts, you’re free from the primal desire, the thought that reality should be different than it is.”

As soon as you stop fighting with the dream, you remember that you are the dreamer.

Being Like a Tree

We have a big crabapple tree in our back yard that had a bumper crop of blossoms and crab apples last year. In the spring when the blossoms first appeared in their heaven-scented clouds, migrating bands of cedar waxwings would descend and gorge themselves on flowers. What a lovely thing to witness. During the winter there were all those gorgeous little red globes silhouetted against the snow. All but the most hard-to-reach ones are gone now, eaten by birds and squirrels. We don’t have leaves or blossoms yet in early May, and last week a flock of rarely-seen starlings showed up and polished off what they could find of the last wizened apples.

When I had my first three blogs, before the era of feeds and email subscriptions, people would check blogs when they felt like it, to see if there was anything new. When I had those blogs, I also had lots of readers. There is something to be said for just being out there and letting people find you, when and if they have an impulse to do so. Like a crabapple tree.

Lately I haven’t felt like writing as much, and I finally realized that one reason I don’t want to write is that I don’t want to go through the hassle of creating an email and sending it out. I also don’t like the automatic services that do it for you. I don’t want to send out my crabapples and have them arrive in people’s in-boxes. I want to just put my stuff out there and let people find me if they feel like it.

My marketing-professional friends are probably gasping in horror if they’re reading this, but this approach has always worked for me. I have never found that self-promotion works as well as simply letting people find me on their own. It’s paradoxical, but paradox is my friend, and feels more comfortable for me. I’m not after results, I’m after what feels right to me in the moment.

So, although this is the last post you’ll receive your in-box, I will keep writing, perhaps more often than I have been doing. I trust that you’ll check in again if you feel like it, and together we can prove out the law of attraction.

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