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Mindful : December 2015
We can’t change our dog’s nature, and the same is true of our minds. They will follow thoughts, especially if they promise an adventure. ness. And then the color guy jumped in and “BAM! BOOM! You did it! You were RIGHT THERE IN THE FACE OF THAT BREATH!” Pride balloons, you recall a few previous experiences and you can already hear it: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over!” Most times, we are practicing the art of “intrapersonal play-by-play” when we meditate. But there is a part of us that wants to provide context, story arc, suspense, drama, anticipa- tion. That is our own private color commentator. Unfortunately we don’t get to choose these commentators. They are assigned by history, experi- ence, and random forces beyond our comprehension. They can be inter- nalized voices of critical parents, manifestations of deep fears, or meandering intellectualized mono- log ues. They can’t easily be silenced, the more we argue with them the louder they get, and while we are arg uing we miss the game—our life. What are we to do? Perhaps we can drop back into the play-by-play. Notice that while the color commentator yammers on and on, we can simply attend to the game itself. Notice the action, check the score, feel the familiar tension in the pit of our stomach at the critical junc- tures, and appreciate the beauty and brilliance of the game unfolding. And when the color commentator does what it does, thank him or her for the observation and return to the fullness of this precious moment that blooms on its own, with or without commentary, analysis, or clever meta- phors. It just is what it is. Meditate like you walk the dog He’s not the brightest flame in the canine candelabra but Cody, my golden retriever, has got charm, per- sonality, and a goofy disposition that suits his goofy human quite well. And Cody taught me a lesson in mindful- ness practice. Have you ever felt that you are at the mercy of your mind when medi- tating? You’re watching your breath when the mind serves up a juicy thought. Perhaps you are contemplat- ing a Hollywood hunk’s marital woes and your odds for stepping in as his next love. Maybe it’s just the enticing smell of dinner simmering. Cody is bright and cheerful, and can be quite attentive, but let him catch sight of a bushy-tailed rodent and you can almost hear him exclaim “Squirrel!!!!” and he’s off on the chase. That is how our minds tend to be, doglike and distractible. So what to do? We can’t change the nature of our dogs, and the same is true of our minds. They fol- low thoughts, especially if they are compelling, seductive, and promise an adventure, however illusory or ultimately preposterous (like a dog actually catching a squirrel.) So how about if you cultivate the neural equivalent of a retractable leash? You know those spring-loaded devices that allow your dog to go off on little mini-adventures, investigat- ing fascinating smells and scurrying creatures, while you continue down your chosen path. How do you do this with your mind? Notice your mind doing what it does with playful curiosity, tolerance of its tendencies, and a sense of intention to remain where you are. Little by little, when we let go of needing our mind/dog to go anywhere in particu- lar, we find that we stay on our path regardless. Mindfulness cultivates an allowing of the peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies of our mental activity, all the while staying on task, which is to notice. Just notice! Next time you are sitting and your mind finds its latest squirrel, watch the chase with calm abiding amusement. Trust that it will return eventually, and sooner than if you had chased after it and tried to subdue it. Give yourself a new leash on life and meditation—just make sure it’s retractable. → practices insight December 2015 mindful 75