Phase IIc - Clearing the site
Now that you know exactly where you want to go and how you want to get there moment-by-moment, and you have the blueprint, building materials, skills and tools you will need to prepare the site. This entails clearing away any debris, and making the surface suitable for construction of your Path. Imagine you are trying to build a road through an area that is dense with brush, rapidly spreading vines, and weeds. Unless you prepare your site extremely carefully, your road will soon become so overgrown once again that it cannot be accessed. Similarly, unless you prepare your mind for your new Spiritual self-schema, your old self-schemas will quickly take over once again. Intention and effort alone are insufficient. You will now need to use your skills of mindfulness and concentration.
Mindfulness: Regaining control over the Path you take habitually
Without your conscious awareness, the incessant chatter of your ongoing thoughts can quickly create a detour leading back to your habitual self-schema. Remember, it is into this undisciplined, untamed, cognitive setting that you are attempting to construct your new Spiritual self-schema. It is therefore essential that you prepare and discipline your mind in readiness for your new Path.
Rehearse (practice). The first step in disciplining your mind is to increase your awareness of the chatter -- the bundles of seemingly inconsequential thought snippets that float in and out of our conscious awareness. Try to spend just one day keeping this chatter in the foreground of your consciousness rather than in the background. Become aware of the complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral network in which these thought snippets are activated. Become aware also of the links in this network both within and between your thoughts, perceptions, convictions, intentions, emotions, sensations, and actions. Notice how just a fleeting thought can lead to a replay of past conversations or fantasies about future conversations or behavior which in turn have their own network of emotional and physiological links. When you increase your awareness of the intricate trail of activation through this vast network that is left behind by each seemingly inconsequential thought snippet, you will soon find that each and every thought, no matter how fleeting, leaves a trace.
Once you are aware that every thought has consequence, you will become motivated to exercise control over the incessant chatter. Of course this does not mean you will stop the chatter, but rather you will learn to direct it, and make it work for you, rather than against you. As it is your intention to follow your personal Spiritual path, you will not want to allow what you believe to be inconsequential mental chatter to inadvertently activate habitual self-schemas that are actually incompatible with experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature. Therefore, during the next five days, continue the process of preparing the site for your Path by using each of the following strategies:
- Subvocal narration of thought, emotion, and action.
Thought: Unless you are aware of the content of your "self-talk," you will be unable to prevent even a fleeting thought from triggering a cascade of physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses that may take you mindlessly away from your desired destination. Therefore, you need to monitor your ongoing thoughts, and as soon as you become aware that a harmful thought has arisen, do not attempt to block it, rather acknowledge it; say to yourself "a harmful thought has arisen in me.' Only by recognizing it as harmful can you activate alternate links in the network, such that the harmful thought subsides. Similarly, when a beneficial thought arises, say to yourself "a beneficial thought has arisen in me' and, having recognized it as beneficial, it will be more likely to return.
Emotion: In addition, by immediately identifying an emotion that is arising, you have the opportunity to prevent the emotion from reverberating uncontrolled throughout the network, activating other links that are compatible with that emotion. For example, the experience of anger quickly gives rise to angry thoughts, words, physical sensations, and actions. However, with mindfulness training you can become aware of an emotion as it arises (e.g., say to yourself 'anger has arisen in me'), and by so doing you can potentially interrupt the automaticity of your habitual pattern of network activation in response to this emotion. If at first anger seems too difficult to become aware of in this manner, begin with another emotion.
Action: Be aware that the chatter of your self-talk fills whatever is empty. Although the chatter may attempt to interrupt directed thought or directed action (i.e., mind wandering while engaged in intentional thought or action), it is unlikely to occur simultaneously. Therefore, throughout the day practice filling the emptiness with mindful self-statements. That is, silently, name what you are doing as you are doing it. While sitting, think "sitting." When standing, think "standing." When bending, think "bending." When walking, think "walking." Then gradually increase the precision of your narration to include more detail. For example, when walking, think 'right' as your right foot moves forward, and 'left' as your left foot moves forward. Narrate all your activities in this manner whenever you are not engaged in directed thought so that an awareness of each moment fills your mind rather than the uncontrolled chatter.
- Thought stopping
When thoughts that are incompatible with your Spiritual path arise, shout (silently) STOP! or visualize a Stop Sign. Then immediately resume your mindfulness practice, as above, or, as below, interject a thought, feeling, or behavior that is compatible with your Spiritual path.
- Purposeful interjection
Experiment with interrupting the network's trail of activation by interjecting an incompatible thought, feeling, or behavior. For example, when you become aware that a thought trail has led to a frown or a negative emotional state, try smiling, and see if you are able to change the direction of the trail of activation.
- Choice Points
When on automatic pilot, it is easy to miss opportunities for changing direction. Experiment with increasing your awareness of all the available forks in the road; become increasingly mindful of the choice points that each moment brings, and that each and every one represents an opportunity for returning to your personal Spiritual path. All that is required is that you shut down the automatic pilot of your habitual self-schema and change direction. Experiment with doing this in daily life. Then, once you have chosen to return to your Spiritual path, see if you can maintain your awareness of this Path and its moment-by-moment destination.
- Object Mindfulness
Increase mindfulness by carefully examining an object whose properties you usually do not notice. For example, when you peel and eat an orange mindfully, you will become increasingly aware of it as a multisensory experience. You might try to pose, and then reflect on, specific questions such as the following that were excerpted from "Do You Hear the Orange Peeling?" -- which is one example of 3-S creative expression currently featured on the 3-S Reflections link:
- When I hold the orange in my hand in readiness to peel it, do I experience its weight, do I notice how my fingers curl spontaneously in response to its roundness?
- Does the peel's intricate texture capture my interest, or am I so busy chasing after my runaway thoughts that I fail to notice it?
- As I begin to peel it, do I notice whether its rind is thin or thick?
- Does the rind yield readily to my touch, falling off in large unbroken segments with just a flick of my fingers and wrist, or does it cling tightly to the fruit inside permitting only small pieces to be tenaciously picked away?
- Do the segments cling tightly to each other in a tight orb or are they easily loosed from their connective tissue?
- As I carefully separate each segment do I notice that enclosed within are hundreds of tiny membrane-covered sacs filled to bursting capacity with nectar?
- As I raise a segment to my mouth, do I notice the heavy scent of citrus in the air?
- Am I mindful of the way that teeth, tongue, saliva, movement of the jaw, all work together as I take my first bite?
- Is my first response to what is now in my mouth a judgment as to its quality, its sweetness, its juiciness?
- If I am not rewarded with sweet fruit, do I think it any less an orange?
- Do I understand that this orange co-arises with my sensory experience?
- Do I listen for what the orange can teach me ...
- about itself? about myself? about non-self?
There are a number of excellent books available describing the practice, and benefits, of mindfulness practices. It is recommended that you include at least one on your list of schema construction materials (for suggestions see the 3-S Reading List).