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Mind Training Can Lead to a Wholesome and Happy Life

17 Feb 2019 12:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Thanks to Carol Green, Naples Sangha, for this article about the Winter retreat on mind training, written just before the beginning of the Spring Dharma Path Intensive studying mind training, or Lojong.


Our minds are going to think, no matter what we do. So why not use that amazing, mysterious capacity to build a wholesome, happy life, rather than an unhappy, uneasy, frazzled one?  Sounds simple, doesn’t it? 


That was the theme behind the winter FCM retreat led by our teacher Fred.  He even named the four-day event “Mind Training: How To Use the Thinking Mind to Support Your Transformation (Rather Than Sabotaging It!).” Throughout the retreat, he drilled the challenge home:  Become aware of what is in your mind and act on your ability to mindfully choose what your mind is thinking.  


Truly radical stuff.  You mean I can choose what my gnarly, swirling mess of a mind is thinking? But it has “a mind of its own…”

Right on, Brothers and Sisters!  I can take the steering wheel of my mind.  Whoa, this is a Big Deal!


Fred told us to learn the difference between reality and our thoughts about reality.  We were sitting at 6:00 am in pre-dawn light of the Franciscan Center shivering in the chill when we could have been snoozing under a warm blanket and I forgot to put on my socks, and my feet were cold. This was my reality.  If there was drama, it was our fabrication, he told us.  (Yep, I dramatized it).


My Storehouse Consciousness thought this chilly sleepiness was real and projected barriers, blew up a big deluded balloon of a Self, and didn’t want to meditate.  This Self was a Trickster, the Joker of King Arthur’s Court, the Kokopelli of the Navajo.  Its role was to continue to create problems.  It popped up at the most inopportune times. I looked this Self over. Not pretty.  


This is why mind training is so important, Fred reminded us.  When unwholesome, negative or distracted “stuff” arises, if we use mind training -- plus mindfulness and awareness -- we will see our thinking is distorted and can change our thoughts – and thus our emotions.  If we are mindful, we can see the “stuff” when it is arising and make choices.  


Mercifully, my mindfulness returned.  I saw reality: It was simply 30 minutes before dawn beside the Hillsborough River and I was sitting in a room with 40 friends trying to wade through the morass of Self and Distortion and find Calm.  The irony was that Calm was sitting right there on a peaceful morning.


Fred continued to spoon feed us with great love and deep patience, a nibble at a time.  Do you want to “get” this?  Or not? Turning to the Vitakkasanthana Sutta: Relaxation of Thoughts, he gave us five steps to train our minds.  Fellow retreat attendee Dan Vantreese creatively came up with an anacronym – STAIRS:


ST – Substitute Thought:  Substitute a wholesome thought for an unwholesome thought.  If that isn’t enough, and doesn’t tame the unruly mind, go to the next step:


A – Analyze/examine:  As yourself: What suffering will this thought bring me if I don’t change it?  If that doesn’t work, go to the next step:


I --  Ignore/distract:  Ignore or distract yourself from the thought.  If that doesn’t work, continue to the next step:


R – Relax:  Relax, calm yourself.  Then go deeper and ask: What underlies this thought?  If that doesn’t work, you must be really attached to this unwholesome thought. It’s time to get stern:


S – Stop it!   Tell yourself you have had enough.  Simply order yourself to “Stop it!”  Stop thinking the unwholesome, negative thought that causes you to suffer.


And finally, Fred threw in one last helpful suggestion. As you consider the thought that is causing you to suffer, ask yourself:  Are you sure?  Is it (this thought) true?


The retreat was a wonderful preliminary to the Dharma Path Intensive beginning this week, “Living the Bodhisattva’s Life: The Seven Points of Mind Training (Lojong).”  

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