Training your mind to respond rather than react

Striving

It is no secret that the glorification of achievement in our culture provides a powerful incentive for us to strive for “success”. Power, prestige, possessions, and beauty are in high demand and more is considered unequivocally better. But is it? Through the practice of mindfulness, many have discovered that this may not be the case.

Jack Kornfield writes: “When we look at wanting, we experience the part of ourselves that is never content, that always says, ‘If only I had something more, that would make me happy’ – some other relationship, some other job, some more comfortable cushion, less noise, cooler temperature, warmer temperature, more money, a little more sleep last night – ‘then I would be fulfilled…’ For the voice of wanting, what is here now is never enough.”

The promise that getting what we want can unlock our access to happiness is intoxicating and deceiving. We run around and exert ourselves hoping to obtain the peace and happiness we so ardently crave only to find that these remain ever elusive. The temporary relief that our fleeting moments of success provide keeps us coming back for more. And yet, we keep bumping up against the reality that scratching the itch never actually heals it. Anything that we need more of is, after all, not working.

Resistance

On the flip-side of wanting is our natural tendency to resist, deny, and/or fight against what we experience as unpleasant. In the face of pain, illness, death, and fear of loss, aversion and anger often arise automatically. But rather than protecting us, this misguided reaction becomes the very cause of our continued unhappiness. The Buddha stated: “Enraged with hate, with mind ensnared, humans aim at their own ruin and at the ruin of others.”

“The mind by nature is radiant and pure. It is shining’, a great master once said. ‘It is because of visiting forces known as torments that we suffer.’ These torments are the habitual reactive tendencies of the mind, the deeply conditioned habits, impulsive reactions that we have to pleasant and unpleasant stimuli. They are often so automatic and so deeply conditioned that we don’t think we have a choice and we often take them to be who we are,” Steve Armstrong explains.

Our power to choose

Fortunately, this need not be so. There is a way out. It is possible to transform the energies of greed, hatred, and delusion. Through the practice of mindfulness we can train the mind to respond rather than react, and the more we practice responding in wise and compassionate ways, the more we find rest in the knowledge that we are living in line with our most closely held values and beliefs. As Victor Frankl discovered, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

If you live or work in the greater Miami area and would like to learn more about how mindfulness could help you, we warmly invite you to register for one of our upcoming free introductory courses. Space is limited.

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