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Sometimes I sit & think, sometimes I just sit.

Posted Dec 03 2008 6:18pm

When I taught Aikido it was very common to see students struggle through learning a technique. Instead of just doing the exercise, it was obvious that they were thinking a lot about how and why it did or didn’t work. They had ‘analysis paralysis’. They were so busy thinking about the ‘how’ that they missed the ‘doing’.

There is a Buddhist story about a man shot with an arrow. The gist of the story is that it doesn’t do any good to think about who shot the arrow, what bird did the feathers come from, what type of tree is the shaft made from, etc. All of that doesn’t help the patient with his problem of having an arrow sticking out of him. That is the #1 problem that needs to be addressed immediately. We need to remove the arrow as quickly and safely as possible.

My Tai Chi teacher used this story the other day to illustrate why his students had such a hard time learning the art. “When I tell you to relax, instead of just relaxing, you think of how and why should you relax. You are looking at the feathers on the arrow & thinking about their color and the bird they came from. It isn’t that complex, just use less.”

Depression is a big arrow.

Walking the black dog you soon discover that it’s easier to think about life than experience it. Thinking or ruminating gives us the illusion of control. Like my worrying about my son and his passing his barber’s exam a couple of months ago. All my worrying did was keep me from living the moment to the fullest. Instead of experiencing a right of passage with my son, I was consumed by thoughts that it was going to fall apart and he wouldn’t get his license and so would lose his job. If he lost his job then my stress would go up as I feel responsible to help him emotionally and financially, etc. etc. I was looking the feathers on the arrow. It’s a domino effect. Before you know it all of your emotional dominoes are falling over.

So how do we stop the thought train and experience life? For me it’s by practicing mindfulness. I practice formally at least 5 times a week. Usually over the lunch hour instead of eating, I sit and watch my breathing, observe my thoughts and just listen and watch without making any judgments. If a car goes by I don’t think about what kind of car it is or where the driver is going, I practice just hearing it without adding a lot of thoughts to it. Of course my mind does wonder and before I know it I am daydreaming about who’s in the car and why don’t they slow down, etc. but even that is an opportunity to practice. When I notice my mind doing that, I let it go and go back to my breath, to just listening and just seeing, just being. Accepting things as they are.

My mind isn’t exactly clear, but I am working on it. From the classes on Buddhism that I took they talk about learning to let go of always attaching thought to things. One of their sayings is that when your mind is clear it’s like a mirror. When red comes, only red. When white comes only white. A dog barks, “woof, woof.” There’s no thought of I like red but not white - or they should let that dog in, it’s too noisy!

One of the teachers there related a nice little story about how one night years earlier after practicing meditation he was walking to his car to go home when he saw an orange VW parked on the street. Between the moonlight and streetlight hitting it he said it just hit him with its ‘orangeness’. There was no thought about how bright or brilliant it was - or that it was a cool car. For him it was a direct experience of ‘ ORANGE ‘ - nothing else. Shortly after that experience he came back to his thinking mind and try as he might, he couldn’t grab that experience again no matter how hard he tried.

You can’t make it happen. You can only set the stage to allow it to come. Water will settle down on its own when you stop stirring it up!

For me it’s an excellent addition to the TLC program and it’s proven it’s effectiveness is taming the black dog.

Depression Treatment: Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy As Effective As Anti-depressant Medication, Study Suggests

Be sure and check out the many links to related stories. There’s a lot of good news about treating depression.

Also check out my earlier posts -

http://walkingtheblackdog.com/2008/01/05/the-mindful-way/

http://walkingtheblackdog.com/2008/02/19/mindfulness-with-jon-kabat-zinn/

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