The Train to Chicago

1. The mind-body disconnect: driving on instinct
Have you ever been driving and gotten so lost in your thoughts, you no longer noticed where you were going? Maybe you ended up at your intended destination by instinct; or maybe you ended up at home when you’d meant to stop at the store. Either way, your mind was in one place, your body in another, and you were not fully aware of either.
We often use instinct to our advantage – we don’t have to remind ourselves to breathe, we naturally smile when someone we love crosses our path, we instantly release our hand from a hot stove, we steer our child away when he wanders toward the street. Even so, we can be aware of our instincts and reactions. And with practice, we may find ourselves choosing responses more and more, whether that’s stopping at the store on the way home from work or not saying harsh words to our partner when she/he does something annoying.

From a peaceful center
we can respond instead of react.
Unconscious reactions create problems.
Considered responses bring peace.
With a peaceful heart
whatever happens can be met
with wisdom.

-Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace p153

2. Noticing thoughts
Sometimes the mind seems to get on a train to Chicago and we don’t even know it’s taking a trip until it’s half way there. We look up, and… Hello Kalamazoo! We can start to notice the journey the mind is taking earlier and earlier. We don’t have to control the journey, just notice.

During meditation, a simple method in which we use thinking to stay present rather than carrying us away is ‘mental noting’. This is the practice of using a simple “note” to calmly name – as a whisper in the mind – what we are experiencing.
-Gil Fronsdal,

Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” provides a beautiful take on this idea.

3. Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Practice mindfulness of noting at least twice.
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.
  4. Try to notice one moment each day in which you feel especially good. What triggered it? Notice how your body reacts – your lips, your eyes, your heartbeat.

4. Resources – the website that accompanies a nice book. Recorded meditations available.


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