Adaptation Practice – Mindfulness – CBT.

Even a journey of a thousand leagues starts with the first step. That first step is necessary: without it there is no journey. But alone it is not enough: it has to be followed by the next step and the next for as many steps as it takes to go from where we are now to that other place. That ‘other’ place might be where we imagined we wanted to be and thought the journey would lead us to, but everything changes as we walk along. We grow stronger, we become familiar with the way, our point of view changes.

Mindfulness is a first step. But only a first step. In its original Buddhist form mindfulness is regarded as necessary for the reasons below. The sole purpose is to prepare to put an end to the suffering that afflicts us. It is a start, a first step. As such it is easy. But from then on the successive steps are more difficult and an experienced guide is needed for us to go further.

Pay attention

A teacher at school asks a pupil what he thinks about the lesson so far.

Embarrassed, the pupil says, ‘I’m sorry but I wasn’t paying attention.’

‘Of course you weren’t,’ says the teacher, ‘you were looking out of the window. Now face the front and pay attention!’

To learn anything, either in the head or in the body, we first have to pay attention. This ‘paying attention’ has to be learned through practice.

Buddhists do this through a practise known as mindfulness: that is, they train themselves to pay attention without distractions and so allow awareness to arise. Paying attention is the prerequisite to learning new skills and to changing how we behave and how we feel. But alone, it is not enough.

Actually, it is a matter of what we are aware of. We all know that at times when reading a book or magazine, the eyes see the words but the meaning stays on the page. As often as not, the eyes continue with the print while we pay attention to thoughts, memories, phantasies, worries, plans and ruminations. When, as pupils, we face and listen to the teacher, or, as doctors, we face and listen to the patient, we often fail to see what is right there in front of us because our inner gaze has turned to thoughts, concepts, ideas and, in the case of doctors, to diagnoses and treatments.

How we behave is often due to instinct or habit. It can be hard enough to change ingrained habits but it is always harder to transcend our instincts and not be controlled by them. Even deeply ingrained habits can be changed and many of our instincts can be transcended, but to do so requires prolonged training and practice under the guidance of someone who has done that training and practice themselves.

Fortunately, it is only necessary to change our behaviour that leads to and contributes to suffering, our own and other people’s. This is what Adaptation Practice and the training it comes from is designed to do. It is not new: it has been practiced and refined over more than twenty-five centuries and passed on throughout the generations from teacher to student and thereby keeping it alive. The desired changes will only come if we apply ourselves to the practice and follow it carefully.

The practice has long known a simple truth: that trying to get rid of the pain of emotional distress tends to prolong the suffering and make it worse.

When something goes wrong, or is wrong, for us, emotion flares up in us and drives us in what we say, do and think. The emotion gives rise to and fuels the thoughts just as fire gives rise to smoke and sparks. Smoke chokes us and blinds us and sparks burn us. It is no use trying to get rid of them or analysing them or channelling them a different way. We need to deal with the fire that gives rise to them.

Similarly, it is no use analysing or challenging our negative thoughts and trying to understand them or to replace them with pleasanter thoughts. This is to add thoughts to thoughts.

The Practice is not intellectual or cerebral, it focuses on the ‘doing’, physically in the body, especially when emotion is involved. The whole practice, including sitting meditation, is training the heart (as the metaphorical seat of emotion): not training the mind, as is often misunderstood in the West.

Through suitable practice a shift occurs away from the head full of thoughts into the body full of life, emotion, moods and feelings. As we learn to work with and cope with emotion we become less worried about ourselves, less anxious about what might happen, less self-concerned, less preoccupied with ourselves. We become less afraid, less irritable, less despairing and less depressed. At the same time we become more tolerant, more patient, more willing and more compassionate.

Adaptation Practice is not a quick fix. But then, the roots of suffering are so deep in us that no quick way can even reach them, let alone help deal with them.