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Mindfulness and Awakening

When asked, "Are you a God?
Gautama, the person who became the Buddha replied, "No."
"Then what are you?" he was asked again.
Gautama's answer was, "I am awake"
Buddha means: Awake

Consider a time when you were driving your vehicle along a familiar route, and you were so absorbed in your thoughts that you didn't notice passing a certain landmark along the way, or the music from the vehicle's sound system, or the feel of the steering wheel in your hands. And even though your conscious mind was so completely preoccupied that it didn't notice all these things, a part of you was driving the vehicle, and operating it perfectly safely.

Asleep at the Wheel

Since your conscious mind was preoccupied with its thoughts, who was operating the vehicle? It must be a non-conscious part of you. This experiential processing system is capable of guiding complex performance while making little demand on your finite conscious resources. Indeed, most of the time you are not consciously operating the bio-psycho-social vehicle you inhabit, because your attention is focused elsewhere, or not at all.

By contrast, "mindful" driving means being fully present in the here and now, and focused on operating the vehicle. The ability to concentrate on your driving is particularly useful during high-risk situations such as ice storms.

To extend this analogy, during a relapse crisis it is essential that you pay attention to what is going on at the moment and to your core motivation. This often involves awakening yourself from a mindless behavioral sequence so that you can mindfully act in accord with your interests and principles.

A Surprising Path to Awakening

Ordinarily, we attempt to change to world to conform with our desires, and when we cannot change the world attempt to change ourselves to accommodate to the world. This Doing Mode involves continual evaluation and performance to achieve the desired outcomes. The discomfort of hunger motivates food-seeking behavior. However, when engaged in an important task, one might tolerate the discomfort so as not to waste time preparing food. At any given moment there is a hierarchy of discomforts and desires that motivate actions. There seems to be a never-ending series of problems to be solved and discomforts to be eased.

You may find it refreshing to try something completely different: Take a vacation from all the doing and just accept what is without trying to do anything with it or even make sense of it. The alternative to doing is simply to notice the experiences of being the creature you inhabit. This mode of being is so different than the ordinary mode of doing, that you have to awaken from your automatic thinking habits to make it happen.

Mindfulness refers to paying attention to present experience with acceptance - that is, without any motive to change or evaluate anything. Acceptance is neither positive nor negative. Acceptance of the tyranny, child abuse, or shoddy workmanship is certainly no virtue. However, cultivating your capacity to shift from doing mode to being mode makes it possible for you to exercise will. The following experiential invitation is offered to get you started:

Thought Experiment: Mindfulness Meditation ─ Focus your attention on the sensation of the air as it passes in and out of the nostrils with each breath. Each time a thought or feeling arises, notice it, but don't analyze it or judge it, and return your attention to the breathing. Don’t approach this exercise with the expectation that anything special will happen (that is the very trap we seek to escape through this exercise). As you follow your breath you will notice that all sorts of thoughts, images and sensations arise in your consciousness, to which you will react. Your task is to intentionally suspend the impulse to characterize or evaluate what you are experiencing, and instead to experience the here and now directly without filtering it in any way.

The Serenity Prayer is the Guide to Living Mindfully > > >
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