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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
31 summer 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly That’s when I discovered that mindfulness practice itself is the open heart. and here’s how it works: first you start out on the cush- ion (or chair for the less pretzelly inclined) and you attend to your present moment expe- rience, no matter what it is—good, bad, or ugly. and as you practice and get some skill— “Hey I can sit here and be okay in the midst of knee pain, in the midst of my aching back, my frayed nerves”—then you realize just this: the capacity to be mindful means having an open heart. It’s not a theory, it’s a heart/body- felt insight. why is this so? Because as you sit there, hour after hour, you learn to say yes. Yes to your jagged breathing, yes to your itchy scalp. Yes to the leaf blower dude across the street, yes to your grief and pain and shame and grandiosity and fear. not because you want to act on these things, but because they’re true, and fleeting, and simply part of who you are (but not the half of who you really are). Your nervous system begins to relax—at last you’re acknowledging the truth of things. Saying yes means attending to and surren- dering to your experience, whatever it is. It means feeling your body when you’re in the midst of a strong reaction or emotion, and letting whatever you find be there. It means coming back to your breath, again and again. It means noticing that thoughts and feelings and sensations come and go. You say yes to your pride, your stupidity, your murderous rage. naturally you don’t act on your murderous rage, but you allow it to be true within you. It is a very inclusive prac- tice. nothing is ever left out. You discover that if you are pushing away your experience, even ever so slightly, your mindfulness is not fully realized, not quite formed. It is tainted by aversion, even just subtly. now sometimes you truly can’t say yes, and then you say yes to the no: I hate that I’m not feeling okay, but I’m actually okay with not being okay. Saying yes in mindfulness practice even- tually begins to spill over into your every- day experience. You start to say yes—with awareness—again and again: yes when that guy cuts you off in traffic, yes when your email box is spammed to the brim, yes when your doctor is an hour late, yes even when I’d lIke To ProPoSe that mindfulness— true blue mindfulness—is the open heart. Sure, the purists can define mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment with an open and curious stance,” but that definition can be staid, sort of dull, and inadvertently can take the heart out of a practice, which is, in truth, all heart. I remember in my early years of mindful- ness practice, I got attached to subtle mental states of concentration. I was intensely curi- ous and amazed by my mind, but secretly I felt the practice was a little dry—too much in the head. So I spent a few years seeking out gurus in India, hoping for a bhakti hit to make my practice juicier. I later realized I was looking for love in all the wrong places— outside myself instead of inside. Saying Yes to an Open Heart By Diana Winston ©KaThLeenmcDonaLDPeDroBaLBisPinTo