An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
Action is what we do in the world, and sometimes not do. Actions or behaviors can be beneficial, neutral or destructive. Discernment helps us to know what actions might lead to what outcomes. Action can also be mental. A certain thought pattern or internal dialogue can be considered action and, these too, can be beneficial, neutral, or destructive. In this way, what we choose to think or where we choose to let our minds wander is significant to what we later experience. The actions we take in this moment will color or condition the experiences we have in later moments. Actions form the basis of mental conditioning.
Agitation is often used as a reason to not practice mindfulness. After all, if we are so agitated and distracted we can’t have those nice feelings of peacefulness that we want in meditation, right? This is one of the biggest traps of practicing mindfulness. We have a notion of what the experience should be like, and we strive for that. Or we have a positive and peaceful experience and this becomes the benchmark for all other experiences. Agitation makes it difficult to concentrate, difficult to focus, difficult to be in the present. However, if we can keep our butt on the cushion during a time of agitation, we can learn a great deal about ourselves and engage in some very valuable practice. We can learn what the agitated mind is like, study it closely and get to know it in more intimate detail. By knowing it in this way, we can begin to have a conversation with agitation, as we notice it arising in our experience. This conversation is a two-way dialogue as opposed to the one-sided onslaught that agitation usually wreaks on our experience. When you notice agitation present, welcome it and invite it in. Make a study of it. Breathe with it. Notice where your thoughts go; the feelings you have. You may begin to see some patterns emerging. Stay with it and continue to bring yourself back to the present again and again with a gentleness and firmness. Make agitation your friend. Make yourself spacious around it.
Anger is a familiar experience. However, anger tends to be destructive, whether expressed or not. There was a fad for expressing anger some years ago, but I don’t believe this is a healthful practice. Anger, like all experiences is a product of the mind and can be observed and described. Anger often compels us to act. We may “snap” or “lose it.” In those moments, it does not feel like we have the ability to choose what comes next. Mindfulness can help us to have even the slightest pause between the emergence of anger and action taken on the basis of that anger. We can study anger and observe what types of sensation patterns it brings about in the body. Is there one pattern or many? Perhaps one pattern for anger directed at the self and another pattern for anger directed at another person? When anger is present and feels difficult to control, it may be very helpful to shift your attention to the breath, until the intensity of the anger subsides.
Aversion is the flipside of desire. Aversion refers to anything that we want to avoid or that brings about a negative evaluation or judgment. Many experiences fit into aversion, and we can make a great study of all the places where we find aversion in our experience. Aversion is present when we are not happy with a given situation. There may be a noise outside when you are trying to meditate, and the mind gets agitated. “If only that noise weren’t there, I could meditate.” There may be a difficult situation in your life and the mind says “if only things were different, I would be happy.” Experiences that we don’t like, just as experiences we do like, tend to be transient. Negative states of mind change from moment to moment, just as positive states do. We cannot, perhaps, change factors outside of ourselves, such as an illness, injury, or loss, but we can have an influence over how we experience situations that we would rather not have to deal with. Any time the mind says “I don’t like” or “I don’t want” we can assume that aversion is active. As with all the contents of the mind, observe with curiosity what the mind is reacting to.
These concepts originally appeared on an older version of the Exquisite Mind website.