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Posted By Opening the Heart

Wellesley Winter Trees

My own daily practice is Taking in the Good as detailed in an earlier posting to this blog.

The practice is a wonderful way of feeding the soul, and it can be done pretty much anywhere at any time.

I am very fortunate - and grateful - to live in beautiful surroundings, so my regular practice of Taking in the Good often happens on my daily walk. The photograph above was taken this morning on the grounds of Wellesley College. Before taking the picture, I simply stood for a minute or two, breathed in the scene in front of me, and just noticed how it affected "my insides." While doing so, I held the intention of staying focused on the inner felt-sense prompted by the scene.

The practice is so simple - and so effective. The "scene" doesn't need to be a scene! Taking in the Good can take place in response to the aroma of coffee in a coffee shop, the sound of happy children in a playground, the feel of a warm winter sun on your face. Anything that you respond to positively can be the stimulous. The important part is actually noticing the positive event, recognizing it as positive, taking the few moments needed to 'breathe it in', and then inhabiting your inner response.

We would love to hear your stories of how you Take in the Good. Maybe you have suggestions that others have not yet explored.

Posted By Opening the Heart

As a child growing up in England I heard the expression "What the dickens?" used frequently. For years I was under the mis-apprehension that it obviously had something to do with the famous novelist whose 200th birthday was celebrated this week. Not so! The works 'dickens' is, in fact, a euphemism for 'devil' and it can be found in this sense in the works of Shakespeare. The whole phrase 'what the dickens?' is an antiquated version of the 'WTF?' that is extensively used in social media communications these days.
The mis-apprehension of a connection with Charles Dickens is a perfect example of how our minds can leap to apply our own, often unshakeable blanket of meaning and interpretation over reality. Meandering through life we pick up erroneous ideas and definitions, and then proceed to apply them in generic and inappropriate situations.

In 'David Copperfield' - Chapter 2, titled 'I Observe,' Dickens writes:


"I believe the power of observation in very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity for being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood."




Seeing 'with the eyes of a child' is a familiar way of describing what Dickens is talking about here. The Zen tradition speaks of 'beginner's mind,' implying a mind that is uncluttered and unclouded with pre-conceptions, open to seeing things 'as they are.'  In the Christian Gospels Jesus asserts that it is essential to become "as a little child" to "enter the Kingdom." The wisdom traditions of the world  agree that preserving or finding a way back to the innocent clear-seeing nature of early childhood is a pre-requisite of real spiritual development. Growing up in the world inevitably overlays our innocence with layers and layers of socialization and, while some of the results of this are useful and necessary to survival, there is much indoctrination of belief systems and conventions that get in the way of clear perception.
As part of an ongoing search for ways to return to seeing 'with the eyes of a child'  I have begun working a practice stemming from Rick Hanson's wonderful book Buddha's Brain. The practice is called 'Taking in the Good' and my adapted version is described in detail in an earlier post to this blog. In brief, as a regular part of every day set aside time for a 'Taking in the Good' walk. As you walk, keep your eyes open for things that please you. Immediately you notice something, pause, breathe and be with the inner felt sense of the moment of pleasurable connection. Try to avoid labeling, comparison, criticism, skepticism. Stay with the pure connection for 10, 20, 30 seconds. Don't be in a rush. After, offer a silent acknowledgement of gratitude for the experience. Walk on until another thing that pleases you catches your attention. Repeat the sequence as often as you like.
For those who have become disconnected from 'beginner's mind', exercises like these are helpful. Modern research in neuroscience has demonstrated that neural networks can be repaired and restored by regular use of these kind of practices.  The "freshness, gentleness, and capacity for being pleased" Charles Dickens writes of are certainly qualities that I want to maximize in life. I'm working on it.



Posted By Opening the Heart

Charles River, Elm Bank

" I am tremendously blissful!" was one of the often repeated statements of my spiritual teacher Osho.
"Yeah…. right," sneered my skeptical mind — even though I felt great love and respect for him. I just didn't get how it could be possible to live in a constant blissful state.
Recently I've been reading Rick Hanson's wonderful "Buddha's Brain, The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom." It is a remarkable affirmation and celebration of the correspondences between Buddha's teachings and the discoveries of modern neuroscience. Chapter 4, "Taking in the Good" has proved to be the key to opening the door of blissfulness.
My daily walks were already positive experiences for body and spirit. The sense of aliveness engendered by robust walking addresses one of my essential needs. If I don't exercise, my systems rapidly come to resemble stagnant pools collecting all kinds of old rubbish, as opposed to clear flowing streams.
I am fortunate to live in a town with lots of open space and great walking trails. However, until reading Hanson's book, I was missing an opportunity that my daily walks offered. Hanson makes the point that, when if comes to negative experiences our brains are like Velcro, but when it comes to positive experiences, our brains are like Teflon. We have a predisposed tendency to hang on to and remember negative stuff and to quickly forget about — or not even notice — the positive. So — he writes — "Whatever positive facts you find, bring a mindful awareness to them — open up to them and let them affect you……….Savor the experience…………Make it last by staying with it for 5, 10, 20 seconds". When we are mindfully aware of positive experiences the neurons in our brain fire in a distinct pattern. The longer or more frequently we engage with the positive the more durably the neurons are wired together.
I don't know how many walks I have taken with some "shoulda, woulda, coulda" issue churning away in my brain, completely oblivious to my surroundings, but, after reading Hanson, I made a conscious decision to follow his advice.
What I can tell you is that it works! My walks take me along routes that are packed with "opportunities for positive response." Not necessarily beautiful scenery or a captivating flower — though these are certainly positive experiences — but also a well crafted building detail, the playfulness of a puppy, the gurgle of rainwater falling into a catch-basin, the starkness of winter trees silhouetted against the setting sun, the smile of a stranger on the path. I discovered that I was deluged with these opportunities, and that, if I stayed conscious of my positive response to these stimuli, I could easily access a taste of the blissful state that Osho was referring to.
Of course, I'm still working on "having it stick." Too easily I fall out of the state and into the familiar, everyday mind churning. But the more I practice, the more "wired" the state of blissfulness seems to be getting. I really encourage you to try it! Oh yes, if you're planning to purchase Rick Hanson's book, please purchase it through the link in our blog. Just scroll down the left hand side bar. The small kickback we receive from Amazon goes into our Opening the Heart Scholarship Fund.

Wishing you many blissful experiences of 'taking in the good.'


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