I was giving instructions at a meditation retreat yesterday and I heard myself say,"Try repeating these blessings for feelings of joy and contentment for yourself and for others over and over in your mind. It's important, on behalf of cultivating these feelings, to be rhythmic and steady and continuous, moving from one to the next, not lingering to think about each blessing analytically." Then, as I sat with the group, all of us quietly practicing, I found I wanted to add, "Except, if you find as you practice that one or another of those feelings---joy or contentment---arises in your mind strongly, delighting it and filling it with ease, stop the recitation of blessings and rest all of your attention in the feeling." I said, "I have the sense, when I do that, that I am marinating my neurons in joy or contentment, habituating them to those feelings so that they become more and more the natural context of my mind."
As I said that, I thought, "I'll say exactly this when I teach with my friends Barbara Bogatin and Cliff Saron next month at Spirit Rock." Barbara is a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony who has studied and practiced mindfulness for decades. She describes her practice of the cellist in similar terms. "Sometimes I'll play the same note over and over," she might say, "listening for when it is exactly right and then repeating that note." I have the feeling as I listen to her play that Barbara and the cello and the note are not separate from each other. Her husband, Cliff Saron, a neuroscientist, will teach about how the research on mindfulness practice confirms what mindfulness practitioners have always reported, that dedicated practice transforms the mind from habits of suffering to habits that create happiness, like joy and contentment.
Barbara, Cliff and I will be teaching the day-long class "Tuning Your Instrument: The Buddha, the Brain, and Bach" at Spirit Rock on February 21, 2016. Click here for information.
Here is a video of Barbara and her cello visiting the Wednesday morning class at Spirit Rock and teaching about mindfulness and practice!