Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Observing & Noting.. Why?

I wanted to talk about 'Observing & Noting' practice for a moment.

What is the purpose of this practice, and why do we do it? Most importantly, why or how is it relevant to 'Dying Practice'?

Well, Dying Practice is primarily about facing fear, accessing life more fully, developing a degree of equanimity, and most of all; opening the heart.

In order to be able to do this, it is important to know how to go about it... or, to at least have some idea of where to start.

Since each of us is unique, how do we teach these skills??

Well, if we don't know where to go... we can at least begin by eliminating the paths, habits, and behaviors that we know are not the 'right' ones.

Essentially, there are three attributes that we are attempting to develop;

  1. Asserting the truth.

  2. Not indulging in anger.

  3. Giving (of our possessions, and of ourself).

This is oversimplifying to a certain degree... but it will do for now, at least.

When we are less than honest, either with ourselves or with others; when we are becoming angry (or fearful - which is often the root of anger..); and when we withold our aid - there are physical body patterns that we can perceive. Soft Belly practice is a push in the right direction towards feeling one of the least subtle body patterns; a tight gut. When we are frightened, anxious, angry, resentful, or feeling some other afflictive emotion, this is one of the body patterns that is easiest for us to detect. This is a fairly universal body pattern. In some people, the shoulders will tense, the brow will knit, our jaw will clench, we will sweat, or fidget, or any of a number of body patterns.

Observing and Noting coupled with Soft Belly will gently guide us on the path towards knowing ourselves - physically, at first... and then, gradually, this perception will expand and deepen.

While we are looking for physical sensations, feelings, reactions, etc., we can slowly begin to associate them with the emotions that we are feeling at the time. This is where the 'Noting' portion of Observing and Noting comes in to the picture.

The more skilled we become in this practice, the quicker we will detect our mental state... the further 'upstream' we are able to do this, the more easily we can begin to 'short circuit' angry/fearful/pre-scripted habitual reactions that stem from these afflictive emotions and the better equipped we are at replacing them with skillful, kind, and compassionate responses.

First, however, we must be able to develop the mindfulness necessary to step in before the reactions 'go off'.

This is the purpose of this practice; at least in the context in which we are using it for Dying Practice.

Additionally, once we are capable of responding to life, rather than reacting to it, we begin to develop the ability to confront, and to accept those situations and circumstances that we had previously reacted to with contempt, aversion, fear, or loathing. Once we can accept whatever life unfolds and reveals to us, with tranquility, and with a sense of calm equanimity, we may learn that many of the fears and aversions that we have held onto so very tightly for most of our lives have existed only in the confines of our minds. We create most of our own suffering. And when we suffer, even though it was self-imposed, our attempt to escape from the discomfort only causes us more suffering. (Don't believe me? Read "The Story About Ping" by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese which illustrates this very beautifully, and with humor and insight as well.)

Holding on is a habit that we develop very early on in life. Letting go is a skill that many never seem to learn... and fewer seem to master.

Life is a gift... and, in the giving of any gift, there must be an act of letting go. One person must accept and take hold of the gift... and the other must present and let go... or there can be no giving.

In order for us to be able to access the gift of an open heart... so that we may create room in which we may live and grow.. we must first learn to let go. To give.

Giving is what Soft Belly and Observing and Noting practice teach.

In order to accept this gift, we must free ourselves of anger, and we must learn to be truthful.. we do this by freeing ourselves of fear. Once we let go of our fear, we find that we are free of both the need to indulge anger and the need to deceive. How??

Both Compassion and Anger live within us... or, to be more accurate; the potential for both of these attributes exist within us... the seeds you might say.

The same is true of the seeds of truth and deception.

We must simply learn to choose properly; so that we may water the seeds that we wish to grow. By being mindful or our emotions as they arise and dissolve... and of the physical sensations that they create and leave in their wake, we develop a more intimate knowledge of ourself, and a sense of the interiority of others, as well. By being attentive, by observing, by noting what we are feeling.. and how it is affecting us, and by applying 'Soft Belly' and letting go of the afflictive emotions as they arise, we become more centered, more balanced, more stable. Upon this foundation of stability, we may begin to develop compassion; towards ourselves, towards others, towards all beings.

Once we have done this, we may enter and take refuge within the unimaginable vastness of an open heart.

Open your hand... open your heart. This is my teaching for today.

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