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.

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. So I have started over from where the book mark was in the book. My plan is to go back and do the ones I did earlier over again, to make this page complete. But I'll see how I feel about it when I get to the end of the book.

Now, presenting what I'm doing on the web page is kind of tricky. My first thought was to list the exercises and my experiences with them, but listing all the exercises would basically give you the meat of the whole book. Even if I gave all of my thoughts, you might be able to figure out what the exercises are. So I decided just to give you the things I noted on Atom Cards from working on these mindfulness exercises, as long as it doesn't give away the exercise. I may change the text of the Atom Cards to obscure the exercise.

  • There are infinities in the things around us that we never notice.
  • We frame so many things in our lives like we are trying to trap them.
  • Our tendency to categorize things is subtly apparent all throughout our world.
  • Looking at things carefully gets you to look at them in different ways.
  • We often don't notice what we as a society hide from ourselves.
  • We massively fail to pay attention, even to ourselves.
  • I find it disturbing how much I am not aware of my life.
  • There are so many things in my life that I never really touch, even there are no social customs against it.
  • Your patterns of thought manifest themselves in the actions you take.
  • Looking for things with specific features makes us more of those things.
  • There is far less color in our world than I realized.
  • Even if you don't get any direct insight from a mindfulness exercise, it has value just in making you think in different ways, getting you out of your patters of thought.
  • Sometimes your mind absolutely rejects looking at things different ways. I am not sure if it is inability to handle it, or fear of losing the perspective that the self defines itself with.
  • Some activities are harder to be mindful with, because we are more used to thinking rationally while doing them, or they bring up more mental associations.
  • I am totally out of touch with the desires that drive me, in some ways intentionally.
  • Good intentions are not enough for good karma.
  • It is much harder to be mindful of abstract concepts.
  • When trying to be mindful of abstract concepts, try to be aware of their material aspects.
  • Don't give up on being mindful just because it is hard.
  • I am attached to being different.
  • The practice is very much a path, and how we find our way when we are lost or otherwise can inform how we practice.
  • We can never pay attention to everything. By continually changing how we look, how we pay attention, we can see more and more.