"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Kicking the Habit

"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."
― Norman Fischer, 
Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

“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,  
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

I think one of the most exciting discoveries to emerge from medical science is neuroplasticity.  

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!?

Although most schools of psychology agree that our basic personality is formed very early in our lives through the interplay of genetics and conditioning,  neuroplasticity now indicates that we can alter the elements of that personality in fundamental ways -- at a cellular level.  Recent research confirms that there are positive organic changes to the brain produced by meditation.

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.

Of course, since most of us are unfamiliar with this terrain, it is quite useful to seek the assistance of guides who've had some experience with this journey into the unknown.  There are lots of teachers, therapists and groups around these days who can assist -- either in person (ideally) or through books, CD's, DVD's, the Internet, etc.  We live in an amazing era, rife with the potential to access the Teachings.

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!


Rafe said...

Great one! Nailed it! I'm going to read and re read it, thanks for the reminder.

Lance Smith said...

I'm glad this One worked for you, Brother. Be Still Sunday Afternoon on the 28th if you can pull away for a bit.