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Something Tells Me It's All Happening At The Zoo

What a fantastic song. A tip of the hat to Art Simon and the Simon and Garfunkel duo-- two tremendous artists! The "zoo", for me, is the mind, and if we can find stillness and silence-- as well as our anchor (which for me, is the breath), we'll be in for a wonderful surprise. It really is all happening there.

Our bodies will always remain in the present moment-- it's the only place they can exist. But our minds tend to travel back in time, or forward, into the future-- all kinds of crazy places. As I sometimes think about it, in my Flintstonian kind of way: Body here. Mind there. Sometimes, simplicity helps.

The trick is to observe the mind as it thinks thoughts, or the body as it feels feelings or moods, then smile (figuratively) and be curious about whatever it is that comes up. Notice that we've gotten caught up in a particular thought/feeling/mood, and gently return to the present moment, resting our attention on a chosen anchor (be it the breath, a silent mantra or chant, a pleasant visual focus or other point of focus). Then wait for the next thought/feeling/mood, and begin the same cycle, again.

Simple, but not easy. Especially, if we are consistent with our practice. For me, the real benefits of meditation are: 1) learning to be dispassionately curious about thoughts/emotions/moods and, 2) training myself to let them pass, without characterizing or quantifying them, and without attaching a past cause or future outcome.

Dan Harris talks about the importance of returning to one's anchor, describing it as a "bicep curl for the brain", and who am I to disagree? But my focus is on what happens before the "bicep curl"-- the moment we let the thought/emotion/mood pass, without judgment or attachment. Brain-training that strengthens the "let-it-go muscle", which is the foundation of self-regulation.

Self-regulation of thought/emotion/mood is the essence of secular meditation. Learning to-- training to-- recognize, accept and deal with thoughts/emotions/moods (both positive and negative) without reacting by default, or resorting to the all-too-familiar tendency to catastrophize, or personalize.

Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, observed that between stimulus and response, there is a space. And it's in that space-- infinitesimal as it may be-- that we can choose to respond skillfully, rather than react blindly. For me, that's what secular meditation is all about-- finding that space, and expanding it. Bit, by bit. Through practice, and training.

Flexing muscles and doing bicep curls for our brains? What a gas--you've got to came and see, at the zoo....!


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