― Norman Fischer,
“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.”
Even in cases where there has been fairly severe physical damage to the brain, research now indicates that new neural pathways can be created. It appears that with proper stimulation, undamaged neurons actually sprout new nerve endings. Certain functions can even be transferred from a severely damaged hemisphere of the brain to the other!
How cool is that!?
What this means is that contrary to the old adage, you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Most of us don't think that the way we view and react to our world is a conditioned sequence of synapses firing. (In layman's terms: a habit) Yet, it certainly seems to explain the way many of us seem to go stumbling along entertaining deep yearnings to be a certain type of person -- and failing to meet our own standards again and again. We want to be kind, caring, compassionate, constructive and productive people. And we end up -- all too often -- being jerks!
Now Western Science affirm what the sages, seers, and saints having been saying all along: We can get it together. With Practice, we can kick the habit of being who we have been in deep and fundamental ways.
In my own 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, by doing so, I've been able to "rewire" my responses.
To wit: I had a violent temper. Raised in a family where this type of behavior was the norm, I could readily fly into a rage and lash out verbally-- or even physically.
Over the years, with serious and persistent effort, the Practice has enabled me to be aware of that pattern of reaction at subtler and subtler levels -- before the adrenalin starts to flow. Usually, I can let go of the narratives that emerge and feel the fear and pain (usually feelings of fear, frustration, humiliation, shame) that exist prior to the emergence of anger. With Mindfulness, it has gotten easier and easier to accept and relax with those feelings, to refrain from fueling the fire.
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. 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 usually 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!