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A Serious Operation on the Mind Print

A Serious Operation on the Mind


David Swick on the ups and downs and ups of his first Goenka vipassana meditation course.

Getting up at 4 AM I kind of enjoyed. Having only tea and fruit for supper I didn't mind. Sitting for 10 hours a day produced aches and pains, but I was coping, and I could feel my mind clearing up. Everything seemed fine until the afternoon of Day 4, when I plunged into hell.

I had been practicing basic shamatha—following the breath to increase mindfulness—regularly for four years, and read widely on Buddhist history, theory and practice. I knew shamatha and vipassana were different, so I should have been ready for something new. But I wasn't prepared for a jolting surprise.

The first 3 days we practiced anapana, which is like shamatha but with more concentrated awareness. Then on the afternoon of Day 4, S. N. Goenka—on audiotape—introduced vipassana meditation. From now on, he said, we will move our concentration over every inch of the body, and we will observe the sensations.

Okay, he instructed us, start at the top of your head and observe all sensations; then move to your forehead; then down to your eyes…observing, observing…and on down to your toes, before starting the whole process again. One sweep of the body might take ten minutes or more.

These sensations, he said, are proof that the body is not a solid entity, but energy in constant motion. Every time we observe a sensation with a calm mind, instead of wanting more or wanting it to go away, we see things as they really are—that they all share the fundamental characteristic of impermanence. This, Goenka said, is what the Buddha taught.

At the break I stumbled out of the hall, in shock and unhappy. I lay on the grass thinking, I'm going to spend the next week feeling sensations? I don't want to do this! How do I know that what he says is true? Maybe the sensations are simply created by the attention of the mind. Why haven't I heard of this before? What the hell am I doing here?"

For the next three days I struggled to do the technique, while constantly debating its validity. I knew I had a classic Western mindset. I wanted proof—proof that could only be had by experience—before trying the experience. The battle raged on in my mind. I grew frustrated and tense.

On the morning of Day 6 I reached a point of crisis. During one of the three daily sittings of "strong determination"—an hour in which you should move only if absolutely necessary—scanning my chest area revealed extreme tension around my heart. I felt as if I might explode and jumped to the idea that I was having a heart attack.

Hypochondria is not one of my usual indulgences. Knowing this helped my fear gain power, and my chest set tighter. Growing more alarmed, I stopped doing vipassana and switched to shamatha, in the hope of getting grounded. And so I survived the rest of the hour. At the break I decided to go to my tent for a minute to take stock. As soon as I pulled back the flap and was alone, I fell on the floor and burst into tears. I don't cry often and was making up for some dry years. It was a hard, pounding sobbing that continued for 10 to 15 minutes.

Afterwards, washing my face in the men's washroom, I decided I wouldn't sit any more that morning. Walking back outside, though, I saw the kindly course manager looking for me. Seeing me from a distance, he turned and headed back to the meditation hall. I changed my mind then, deciding it might be best to get back on the horse, as it were, and try again.

The rest of the morning passed without incident, and at noon I signed up to talk privately with the course teacher. I told him my experience, and after verifying I had no medical condition, he said this was just another example of what happens when mind and body interact, and not to take it seriously. Sensing his conviction, I was somewhat reassured.

Before going to sleep that night I sat overlooking a creek, thinking, "Well, friends of mine have done this and liked it. Maybe I should just gave it an honest try, even if I don't believe all the theory and doubt the history. In four days, I can throw it away." That night I slept soundly, and in the morning worked hard on perceiving sensations.

The next four days zoomed by. To my surprise, I liked vipassana meditation a lot. Sensations came in all kinds: little squirrelly curls, tiny crawling ones (twice I checked for insects), big pains, tingling, cold spots, dampness. Regarding them all with equanimity was positively empowering.

On the last day, Goenka said (again, on tape) two things I was pleased to hear. If you don't believe everything I say, he said, that's fine—what's important is to practice. And: these ten days have been a serious operation on the mind, and you should see a difference in your life. If you used to get angry with your wife for twelve hours, it should now be eight hours, or six hours, or less. You should see positive change right away.

For the next three days I looked for positive change. I drove with my horn less than usual and felt more empathy for strangers, and wondered if these would last. Then proof that something real in me had changed arrived, in a rare meeting with my father. Our relationship has been strained for decades, and we only see each other briefly every two or three years. My impatience and his poor listening skills have at times made a fiery combination.

Our first hour together everything seemed, unfortunately, the same as always. Then he launched into an old family story featuring me as the punch line. I could feel anger rising but decided—uncharacteristically—not to inflame matters. I thought I'd let the episode pass, but then was amazed to hear myself explaining the other side to the story. When I finished, my father looked at me in an unfamiliar way. And then he said, "Oh."

I had explained a point to my dad without passion, and he had actually listened and heard me. This may sound like small potatoes to you, but to me it was loaves and fishes.

So I continue to practice (about half the two hours a day that Goenka suggests), and know I will return for another 10-day course. I may not yet believe all the theory, and still need to look into its claim on Buddhist history, but the practice is working for me. For now, that's all that matters.

David Swick is a former columnist for The Halifax Daily News.

A Serious Operation on the Mind, David Swick, Shambhala Sun, September 2001.

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Falling Water Print
Shambhala Sun | September 2001

Falling Water


Barry Boyce visits Niagara Falls

Imagine you are making your way through thick forest, cutting a narrow pathway in uncharted territory. In the sylvan quiet you detect a rumbling. As you continue on, the rumbling becomes a roar. The ground beneath you trembles; the air above you is moist. As you emerge into a clearing, what appears to be rain turns out to be a rolling mist overtaking you. Then awestruck you stand at the threshold of a massive torrent. The Iroquois called it Onguiaahra, the strait. We know it as Niagara.

Some 12,000 years ago, this must have been the experience of the first people to stumble upon Niagara. I can scarcely imagine what they might have felt, because as many times as I have visited Niagara, each time I am taken in by its immensity. I wander about slack-jawed, unable to take my eyes from the water as it rushes over the 2200-foot-wide rim of the Horseshoe Falls.

I rarely go for more than a few hours because Niagara is not about doing something. It is just about being there. The one time I did stay overnight, my family put up on the New York side in the seediest hockey team motel in America. The last time I visited, my companions and I decided to have lunch on the Canadian side and ended up on the main drag of Niagara Falls, Ontario, distanced by several decades from the ersatz downtown next to the falls.

There is probably no place on earth where kitsch meets nature so strikingly as at Niagara. The premier attraction in the real downtown is Basell's, whose card proclaims it "The Bus Driver's Choice." Upon entering you are immediately greeted by a nine-foot-wide painting of the Parthenon on the back wall. Demitri, your server, lets you know that "Basell" has been cut out of the middle of a longer name beginning with "Papa." The counter sports mustard-colored Naugahyde seats, a Formica top printed with multi-colored irregular polygons, and a tower of flower-trimmed coffee cups and saucers heavy enough to do some serious damage. Rod Serling has already taken his seat at the back.

In the tinselly downtown near the falls, one is greeted with endless opportunities for gee-gaw hunting and amusement of the Ripley's Believe or Not, Movieland Wax Museum, or Casino Niagara variety. But the real amusement is still the falls themselves. No amount of man-made entertainment can squelch it.

The falls are really three falls, arrayed along an immense arc stretching from the main cataract of the American Falls past the small Bridal Veil Falls and on to the Horseshoe Falls. From the U.S. side, you look across the brim of the falls. In Canada, you get the full picture of a million and half gallons of water rushing toward you each second.

When you look for a while into the falls, not only is there excitement and amazement, there is profundity. If you keep looking and rest your gaze, the falls become like one of those magic eye pictures. It is both singular and plural. You see it as one thing, and then you see it as many, and then back again. The Buddhist metaphor of the waterfall is actualized. The falls appear to be one very big stationary thing-like your ego-but then you see that it is not one thing. It's never the same water: it's simply droplet after droplet, the entire Great Lakes making its way to the sea.

It's also never the same falls. It's constantly eroding, becoming a different falls with each passing day. In the 17th century, the pronounced U of the Horseshoe Falls was nearly a straight line, hundreds of feet downstream from its current location. Knowing this, you can appreciate a larger time scale: geologic time.

Because it's such an international tourist attraction (or trap, some would say) in the high season the crowds emit a buzz and clamor in a variety of languages, the tweeter to the falls' woofer. The crowds gawk and crane and weigh themselves down with bags and cameras. They appear bored and somewhat puzzled as to what to do with themselves, but a few of them crowd on to the Maid of the Mist, the boat that travels directly into the center of the horseshoe, and something happens.

After exiting the elevator that takes you down to the river from the ledge above, you are handed a compact piece of blue plastic, your raincoat. When you put it on as you board, it seems silly. Who needs it? You're not actually going under the falls, only into the mist cloud. Some people get a little irritable. It's tight quarters on the boat. It's hard to maneuver your video camera wearing flimsy hooded rainwear. For the first part of the trip, the claustrophobia of being jammed together in pursuit of a tourist attraction with everybody yacking intensifies.

But at a certain point, everyone stops talking. You are entering the center. Your hearing is now surrendered to the falls. It's a heavy mist. It's a hard-driving rain. It's buckets of water drenching you. Your touch, taste, and smell are surrendered to the falls. Now your sight is given over to the falls. There is nothing else. The only remaining human sound is laughter. Peals and peals and whoops of joyous laughter. The mind is dissolved in the ionic charge of a massive dose of H2O, and you're falling like water itself.

Barry Campbell Boyce is a writer and teacher of writing. He is president of Victory Communication.

Falling Water, Barry Boyce, Shambhala Sun, September 2001.

Advancing and Retreating Print
Shambhala Sun | September 2001

Advancing and Retreating


Have you ever looked closely at your shoes? Take a look at them and you will discover how you move through the world.

Most of us tend to lean into the space in front of us. If you live in a big city you may notice that your entire body presses forward just to get on the subway, cross those crowded intersections, or shop on Fifth Avenue. I have a friend who lives in the country and drives for hours every day. Her upper body has become permanently tilted forward, so that even when she's not driving she's still hovering over an invisible steering wheel.

This is why we all need to take some time off-we are constantly in the position of advancing and to balance that we need to retreat. Recently I went to a writer's retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. The directions to get there seemed simple, but I still managed to lose my way almost immediately. Singing along with the oldies station was fun until I suddenly realized I'd been driving too long and had missed an important turn. I began a fruitless search for information. No road signs, no towns, no phones, no gas stations. I hadn't a clue how to get where I wanted to go, but in the process of focusing my attention I became very alive to where I was. I felt the clear, clean air of springtime in upstate New York and saw clouds tinged pink with a sunset that made me pull down the windshield visor of my old Buick. I liked having to slow down and drive with squinty eyes until the treetops bent over and held hands, shading the road. I pulled over to ask directions of a farmer mowing his lawn, but the pastoral scene was so exquisite that after a pause, I decided to just kept going.

This was the beginning of my retreat. No more pressing forward, planning, accomplishing, meeting deadlines, crossing things off my list. I dropped back, I relaxed. I felt light and grateful. I didn't know where I was on the map but I knew what it felt like to be me right there, right then.

Retreat is the act of withdrawing into privacy. It can be a physical refuge or a time of retirement. If a vacation or an extended retreat isn't a possibility for you right now, here is a yoga retreat that you can do at home. All you need is a 10 ft. by 5 ft. floor space, a body, a commitment, and 15 minutes.

This a complete program of yoga poses, or asanas, that work every part of your body. You will discover that you like some parts of this sequence and not others. Do the whole thing anyway. Let go of what you think you are good at and what you should look like doing this. And please let go of the idea that you have to already be flexible to do yoga. Start right now, just how you are.

    1. Mountain Pose Stand up with your arms down by your sides. Take a moment to feel the earth beneath you and the sky above you. On an inhale, lift your arms up to the ceiling and gaze at your palms.

    2. Standing Forward Bend As you exhale, bend your knees, reach your arms out to the sides and swan dive over your legs.

    3. Lunge Inhale and step your right leg back behind you. Gently lower your right knee to the floor. Place your palms on your left thigh and lift your spine up to a more vertical position.

    4. Twist Put your hands and left knee on the floor, coming on to all fours. On your next exhale, spin your torso to the right and reach your right arm up to the ceiling. Exhale and come back to all fours.

    5. Knees Chest Chin Spin your sitting bones up to the sky at the same time that you lower your chest to the floor right between your hands with your elbows up. Let your chin touch the floor too. This is challenging, but don't worry. Keep working on it and you will begin to build strength in your upper body and abdominals.

    6. Baby Cobra Slide your chest through your hands. As you inhale, lift your head, chest and shoulders up. Keep your bottom ribs on the floor and maintain length in the back of your neck.

    7. Child's Pose Press the floor away as you reach your hips back over your heels. Rest there for as long as you want.

    8. Side Bend Roll your spine up to sitting. Breathe in as you lift your right arm up and as you exhale, bend to the left. Try to maintain length in both sides of your waist and keep both sitting bones down.

    9. Downward Dog Come back to all fours, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up. Reach toward the floor with your hands and heels and up to the sky with your seat.

    10. Downward Dog Split. On an inhale, lift your right leg up behind you. It doesn't have to go high.

    11. Lunge On an exhale, swing that top leg forward and place your right foot between your hands. If it doesn't get all the way there, try it again and make sure you are bringing your pelvis forward along with the leg. If it still doesn't get there, use your right hand to move it into place. Lower the left knee and place your hands on your right thigh.

    12. Forward Bend Place your hands back on the floor and as you exhale, step your left foot forward to meet your right. If you feel any strain whatsoever on the back of your body-lets, neck or lower back-bend your knees. This will all open up with time, but you cannot force it without creating injury. Breathe and be patient.

    13. Mountain Pose with Prayer Hands Inhale as you reverse your swan dive, lifting your hands all the way up over your head. As you exhale, draw your palms down in front of your heart and stand in mountain pose.

Repeat this sequence stepping back with the left leg (#3), twisting to the left (#4), bending to the left (#8), and stepping forward with the left leg (#10). You can work up to doing the whole program four times on each side.
After you finish you asana practice, lay down on your back, close your eyes and rest for five minutes.

The word asana is sometimes translated as "to sit with." Let your daily yoga retreat be a time to sit with yourself, to let go of your agenda, to make your own acquaintance. Yo will gradually discover that yoga pracice will not only give you a stronger body, deeper breathing and a more stabilized and spacious mind, but it will awaken your senses and open your heart. Anyone can experience this. It might even change the shape of your shoes.

Cyndi Lee is founder of the OM Yoga Center in New York and co-creator of OM Yoga in a Box, available at

    Advancing and Retreating, Cyndi Lee, Shambhala Sun, September 2001.

"Friends, There is Suffering" Print

"Friends, There is Suffering"


"Friends, there is suffering." These words represent the beginning of the Buddha's first teaching after his enlightenment. Why is the Buddha stating the obvious? Did he really think his listeners were unaware of the fact of suffering? Did he find something particularly insightful or profound in this observation?

It is an odd beginning for one of the world's great spiritualities, to say the least, particularly one that holds joy and liberation as its goal. Why is the Buddha starting his 35-year teaching career and setting in motion a 2500-year tradition with the solemn declaration, "There is suffering"?

Suffering certainly seems to be an unavoidable and undeniable fact. We live most of the time with some level of distress, whether physical, economic, psychological or social. Many of us have to endure unresolvable situations—painful relationships that will not be healed, physical illness or disability that resist treatment, emotional problems that won't go away, the constant pain and sorrow of those around us, and the fear and seemingly perpetual agonies of our world. Within this context, what is the possible value of affirming the existence of suffering?

In fact, in the Buddha's declaration, "Friends, there is suffering," we find encapsulated all of the doctrines, methods of transformation and fruitions of Buddhism, no matter the tradition and no matter the time or place.

According to the Buddha, there are four great things that we need to understand about suffering: first, the full extent of its existence; second, why we suffer as we do; third, that in reality suffering is not what we think; and, finally, that it is suffering alone that holds the key to genuine liberation. It is only through our relation to suffering that we can fulfill our life's ultimate purpose. These are, of course, the well-known "four noble truths" that make up the substance of the Buddha's first teaching. In this column, we will explore the first two, and in the next issue, truths three and four.

Taking a Closer Look

It is critical to realize that none of the four noble truths departs from the truth of suffering and that all are, in a sense, contained in the first. Truths two, three and four are merely commentaries that show us the full depth of the statement, "Friends, there is suffering." In fact, one of the early Buddhist schools insisted that if we fully understand the first noble truth, the others become unnecessary.

In drawing our attention to suffering, the Buddha is suggesting that while we may intellectually acknowledge that "there is suffering," we do not actually admit it, at least not emotionally, as an enduring part of our experience. In fact, we are terrified by suffering, and owing to our fearful, highly charged relationship to it, there is something terribly wrong with our awareness of it. There is always something "off" about how we relate to it. In fact, the Buddha says, all of our human dilemmas—even samsara itself—derive from the twisted and perverted relationship that we have to suffering.

How can we rectify this relationship, and what may we expect in return? First, we have to see that the Buddha is pointing to something that runs through our entire existence. "Suffering" is an imperfect translation of the much broader Sanskrit term duhkha, which includes the meanings of discomfort, dis-ease, frustration and dissatisfaction, as well as the more blatant pain, misery, torment and grief. Taken in this broader sense, the Buddha suggests, duhkha is coextensive with human life. It points to the fact that life never quite measures up to what we want or expect. There is always something unsatisfactory about each moment of our lives.

In illustration, Buddhism identifies three increasingly subtle levels of duhkha.

First, most of our experiences are colored by some level of pain. This could be the out-and-out distress of old age, disease and death; of troubled relationships, the loss of those we love, and the presence in our lives of people we don't like; and the constant friction and frustration we feel that things are never quite right.

Second, and more subtlely, even moments of true accomplishment, genuine happiness and real communication with others are never free from the shadow of impermanence. We cannot escape the bitter-sweet quality of their transience. On some level, we sense that we can never hold on to them and that they are always slipping away.

Finally, and most subtle of all, there is the suffering implicit in the very way we "take" the world. We are always cramming our experience into the pettiness of our thinking, reservations and self-serving judgments. In the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins' evocative phrasing, "All is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man's smudge and shares man's smell." The more sensitive we are, the more excruciating this third level of suffering can be.

Strategies of Denial

In the face of all this suffering, the Buddha further suggests, we are in a state of continual and relentless denial. Dukkha does not fit into our idea of who we should be or could be, and we set ourselves against it.

Sometimes, we try to distract ourselves from suffering through work, relationships, entertainment or compulsive shopping. At other times, we may seek to deaden our sensibilities through sex, overeating, drugs or alcohol. Again, we may attempt to feel better by rationalizing our duhkha with sophisticated philosophical, religious or psychological dogmas. Often we try to relieve ourselves by blaming other people or external situations.

Some of us cope with our suffering by imagining that we can do something about it—thinking up ways we can alleviate it and applying ourselves to getting rid of it. In the background is our idea that once we do so, things will be better and we will feel okay. We never seem to notice that once one form of suffering is eliminated another appears to take its place.

Ironically, often in the very act of trying to eliminate one kind of discomfort, we create much more discomfort for ourselves and others in the process. In fact, the Buddha suggests, all ordinary activity is based on the mistaken premise that duhkha can be definitively removed and lasting happiness attained.

As a last resort, we blame ourselves for our suffering. Can't we get it together to manage our lives properly? What mistake or sin have we committed that we are physically sick, that we are emotionally troubled, that we can't get along with other people? Why is even our happiness overshadowed by pain? Can't we ever stop thinking and judging everything? What is wrong with us?

In all these strategies, we have only one agenda: to deny the fact that suffering is an inherent part of our lives and that we will never be able to remove it once and for all. But what are we so afraid of? What is so threatening about admitting that suffering is and will always be with us?

We are driven by thirst, trsna, the second noble truth. This is, in Walpola Ralula's words, "the will to live, to exist, to re-exist, to continue, to become more and more." We want to maintain this "I" that we conceive ourselves to be, and to make it grander, stronger, less vulnerable and more successful. In contrast, the truth of suffering says, "As long as I am around, you will never attain the comfort, satisfaction and happiness that you desire."

Suffering insults us by calling into question our self-sufficiency and integrity as individuals. It humiliates us by suggesting that we are weak, powerless and incompetent. Acknowledging that suffering is part of being human—as much a part of our lives as our breath and heartbeat—is not something we want to do. From this viewpoint, suffering is our ultimate enemy. It is terrifying because it shows the fallacy of our entire approach to life. Of course we don't want to face it. How could we do anything other than try to avoid and deny it?

Ironically—and this is what the second noble truth reveals—the more we fight our suffering, the more we try to master it and banish it from our lives—the worse it becomes. What we do not realize is that suffering's existence depends entirely on our resistance. It continues as an intractable problem in our lives solely because we are constantly struggling against it. It is thus not suffering itself that is the problem, but rather our relationship to it.

This, of course, suggests the possibility of some resolution to our dilemma: that if we could discover a different way of relating with our suffering, we might have some hope of unlocking its riddle.

Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D., is Professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University and teacher in residence at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center. He is the author of Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet.

"Friends, There is Suffering", Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D., Shambhala Sun, September 2001.

Taking the Time Print
Shambhala Sun | September 2001

Taking the Time


As a species, we humans possess some unique capacities. We can stand apart from what's going on, think about it, question it, imagine things being different. We are also curious. We want to know "why?" We figure out "how?" We think about what's past; we dream forward to the future. We create what we want rather than just accept what is. So far, we're the only species we know that does this.

But as the world speeds up, we're forfeiting these wonderful human capacities. Do you have as much time to think as you did a year ago? When was the last time you spent time reflecting on something important to you? At work, do you have more or less time to think about what you're doing, and are you encouraged to spend time thinking together with colleagues and co-workers?

In this culture, we've begun to equate productivity with speed. If it can be done faster, we assume it's more productive. A recent trend in some companies is to hold meetings standing up. These meetings (or perhaps they should be called football huddles) are touted as more productive, but only because they take less time. No one measures the productivity of these meetings by asking whether people have developed wiser solutions, better ideas, or more trusting relationships.

If we could pause for a moment and see what we are losing as we speed up, I can't imagine that we would continue with this bargain. We're giving up the very things that make us human. Our road to hell is being paved with hasty intentions. I hope we can notice what we're losing-in our day-to-day lives, in our community, in our world. I hope we'll be brave enough to slow things down.

Thinking is the place where intelligent actions begin. When we pause to look more carefully at a situation, we can see more of its character, think about why it's happening, and to notice how it's affecting us and others.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire used critical thinking as a non-violent approach to revolutionary change. First in his home country and then in poor communities around the world, he taught people how to think about their lives and the forces that were impoverishing them. Nobody believed that poor, exhausted and struggling people could become intelligent thinkers. But it is easy for people to develop this capacity when they see how thinking can save their lives and the lives of those they love.

To think about whether you're losing anything of value in your life, here are some questions to ask yourself: Are my relationships with those I love improving or deteriorating? Is my curiosity about the world increasing or decreasing? What things anger me today, as compared to a few years ago? Which of my behaviors do I value and which do I dislike? Generally, am I feeling more peaceful or more stressed? Am I becoming someone I admire?

If answering those questions helps you notice anything in your life that you'd like to change, you will need time to think.

But don't expect anybody to give you this time to think-you will have to claim it for yourself. Thinking is always dangerous to the status quo and those benefiting from the present system have no interest in your new ideas. In fact, your thinking is a threat to them, because the moment you start thinking, you'll want to change something. You'll disturb the current situation. So we can't expect those few who are well-served by the current reality to give us time to think. If we want anything to change, we are the ones who have to reclaim time to think.

Notice that in American culture, thinking is not highly prized. In our frenzy to make things happen, to take action, we've devalued thinking and often view it as an impediment to action. We talk about needing to get things done NOW. We've created a dualism between thinking and acting, between being and doing. Personally, I find this both dangerous and nonsensical.
There is no distance between thinking and acting when ideas mean something to us. When we look thoughtfully at a situation and understand its destructive dynamics, we act to change it. We don't sit around figuring out the risks or waiting until someone else develops an implementation strategy. We just start doing. If an action doesn't work, we try something different.

Governments and organizations struggle with implementation, and in any bureaucracy there's a huge gap between ideas and actions. That's because we don't buy into the ideas-we didn't invent them, we know they won't really change anything, and we won't take risks for things we don't believe in. But when it's our own idea, a result of our thinking, and we see how it might truly benefit our lives, then we will act.

Taking the time to think about things that might truly change our lives always provides us with other gifts. Determination, energy and courage appear spontaneously when we care deeply about something. We take risks that are unimaginable in any other context.

Here's how Bernice Johnson Reagon, a gifted singer and songwriter, describes her own and others' fearless acts during the civil rights movement: "Now I sit back and look at some of the things we did, and I say, 'What in the world came over us?' But death had nothing to do with what we were doing. If somebody shot us, we would be dead. And when people died, we cried and went to funerals. And we went and did the next thing the next day, because it was really beyond life and death. It was really like sometimes you know what you're supposed to be doing. And when you know what you're supposed to be doing, it's somebody else's job to kill you." (Quoted in Lovingkindness, by Sharon Salzberg.)

Most of us don't have to risk our lives like that, but we may be dying a slow death. If we feel we're changing in ways we don't like, or seeing things in the world that make us feel sorrowful, then we need time to think-about where we are now and how we might start to change things. We need time to develop clarity and courage. If we want our world to be different, our first act is reclaiming time to think. Nothing will change for the better until we do that.

Margaret Wheatley, Ed.D., is president of The Berkana Institute. She is author of Leadership and the New Science, and co-author with Myron Kellner-Rogers of A Simpler Way.

    Taking the Time, Margaret Wheatley, Shambhala Sun, September 2001.

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