Training the Elephant

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I have this book called How to Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays. It is full of weekly mindfulness practices that the monks at her monastery did. Each one comes with a short discussion of what the monks experienced and learned. There's a wide variety of exercises. Some of them are visual, like notice the color blue. Others are more physical, like open doors with your other hand. Some are more conceptual, seeing how things like compassion crop up in your life.

I've had this book for a while, and I got part way through it (about four months). But like the rest of my practice, it all fell apart under the stresses of my job. So I have always wanted to get back in and finish it. Even in retirement I kept running into problems doing it. I would forget to get a new exercise for the week, or just forget to do the current exercise. Then I would go back and repeat that exercise until I finally actually did it. A couple times I even got distracted by coming up with my own ideas, like giving my cat my full attention for at least two minutes every time he jumped in my lap.

I think it's an amazing book, even for a person like me who is doing daily mindfulness of everyday tasks. It made me realize how much there is to pay attention to out there, and how it's really impossible to pay attention to everything that is going on. Brad Warner talked about this in one of his books, how it would be impossible to pay attention to everything going on while playing bass guitar at a punk show. But even just walking down the street it's impossible to really notice and pay attention to everything.

Even things you think you pay attention to a lot. Trees have always dumbfounded me when being mindful, especially in the winter when you can see all the intricate structure of the limbs, or in the wind when they make so many different movements and sounds. Like patterns in how we plant trees, and how we plant trees, and where we plant trees (I live in the DC area, so almost all the trees are planted ones).

I like this book and the exercises so much that I'm going to continue the practice. Each week I'm going to come up with my own mindfulness exercise, and see where it takes me.