Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What Is Your Focus?

In Buddhism, we speak of the Three Trainings of ethics, concentration, and wisdom. The various practices we employ all fall into these categories. Each is a necessary part of training, and neglect of one will hamper development of the others. For example, when we develop deep powers of concentration, this allows us to deeply penetrate phenomena and our natures. Without deep concentration, we'll get caught up in the flow of our thoughts and thus never attain the wisdom of our true nature.

While of course all practice truly transcends these divisions, these categories, it often helps our mind to consider them in isolation, while keeping alive in the back of our minds how practice in ethics is practice in concentration is practice in wisdom. An especially powerful way of deepening your practice is to devote a week to focus on a single type of practice. That doesn't mean you give up your already-established practice, but you devote a small, manageable amount of time to developing yourself toward whatever end you choose.

Weekly Practice Suggestion:
Pick an area of practice to which you will devote yourself for the next week. Now, recall an experience in your life that truly enlivens this area. Next, construct a simple sentence that you will use to represent your practice area. Finally, pick something that will act as a trigger, something that you naturally encounter regularly, but not extremely frequently, throughout your day. Each time the trigger occurs, take 15 seconds to let go of what you are working on, bring to mind your experience to generate a powerful feeling within you, and say the gatha--the sentence you have constructed--to yourself. Then return to what it was you were doing, letting the brief contemplation stay with you.

For example, if I chose to work on generosity this week, an event might be that I feel a tremendous flow of generosity when I think of a time I bought a special gift for my mother. I can create a gatha: "May I be generous and helpful." And for me, I hear phones ringing about 15 times per day, so that is perfect (I could also choose my incoming email alert, for instance, but that often happens in excess of 50 times per day, too frequently for this particular practice). Now, each time I hear a phone ring, I take a breath and let go of whatever I am working on. I bring to mind buying my mom that special gift and experience the wave of generosity that arises. I then remain in that contemplation for 10 seconds or so, and say to myself, "May I be generous and helpful." I then breathe, and return to my work, retaining the feeling of generosity I have generated.

What practice will you choose? Report back here in the comments section what you pick and how it goes throughout your week.


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