"Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarefied human qualities available only to the saintly. Nor are they adventitious experiences that arise in us only in extraordinary circumstances. In fact these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated by anyone willing to take the time to do it."
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
― Pema Chödrön,
This is extremely good news.
Now Western Science affirm what all the major religious traditions having been saying: There is hope! We can get it together. We can kick the habit of being who we have been in deep and fundamental ways.
In own my experience, the Practice has been a means to kick start, and maintain, some dramatic changes in the way I am in the world. With Practice I have brought an awareness to what had previously operated subconsciously, and I've been able to "rewire" my responses. It's a kick!
To wit: I had a violent temper. Even as an adult I could readily fly into a rage and lash out verbally,
-- or even physically. Deeply engrained in childhood in a family where this type of behavior was the norm, it has taken serious effort, on and off the cushion, to gain the type of awareness that enables me to usually sense that pattern of reaction at subtle levels -- before the adrenalin starts to flow. The Practice has enabled me to consciously choose to relax, both physically and mentally, and even open my heart up to the fear and pain (usually feelings of frustration, humiliation, shame, guilt) that exist prior to the emergence of anger -- most the time.
I can still be a jerk at times, of course, but it generally doesn't get any worse than mild irritation and annoyance, perhaps delivering a sarcastic or unkind remark before I catch myself. These days if I can't then immediately apologize and let it go, I may have to withdraw to get it together for awhile. Yet, more and more, a deep compassion for myself and the other person emerges fairly quickly. I remember that I and the other person are lovable jerks, after all-- and I'm ready to do what needs to be done.
How does Sitting Still regularly help with all this?
It's all about cultivating a quality of consciousness that is open and caring. It begins with learning to place our attention where we choose, then developing the habit of sustaining that attention, then expanding the range of that attention to include an awareness of a lot of stuff that usually operates subconsciously: sensations, feelings, emotions, even subtle thought systems and beliefs. With Practice, you can actually see how it all operates. This is where real change is possible.
So, if you're reading this and haven't begun to develop your own regular Practice, the ball is in your court. Why not let go off the habit of mucking ahead as you always have and start a new habit? If you really do want to be a kinder, calmer, clearer and more compassionate human being, you could start with the next breath and a decision to make the time to meditate regularly. You can even start with a few minutes a day. Your experience of Life can and will change.
It's a kick!