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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."

 

Dickens

 

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.

Peter

 


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Staying present in the moment is a challenge.


A bird flitted across my path this morning as I walked around Walden Pond near my home in Massachusetts.  It took maybe a second to startle, pass right in front of me and disappear into the woods. I was immediately totally present. As i walked on I tried to maintain that moment's wakefulness and awareness but in the very trying my mind had already seized on the event and begun to extract its meaning. I thought of how many moments like that make up a day and how many moments are missed as the mind churns its apparently endless stories.

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Its hard enough to remain present in the moment, even in the peace and quiet of the early morning woods. Our minds are still there hitching a ride, chattering away and stealing our attention. But we make it even more difficultr for ourselves. A minute or two later I passed a guy taking his morning walk with his IPod buds firmly in his ears.  How much harder is it to be in the moment in the peaceful woods while listening to  a play list?

 

I love using my IPod but if I couple that activity with another one - even one as beautiful as walking in nature, I find it impossible to stay present to what I am listening to. For me, multitasking is not conducive to being in the moment.

Just then I passed the site of Thoreau's cabin where he wrote Walden Pond.

His mantra: "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify" seemed particularly fitting.

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