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How To Train a Wild Elephant (that would be me)

Hi, my name's Brett. I'm new here, and I'm training a wild elephant -- me.

At the beginning of this year, I was coordinating the inaugural Meditation in Everyday Life course at the New York Shambhala Center, co-taught by the co-wonderful David Perrin and Lodro Rinzler. The new year is a bountiful time for meditation classes, with so many new faces eager to get to know their minds; we had 72 such. At the end, the teachers gave me a small present, a dharma book, How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays. I wondered what they were trying to tell me...

At the time, I was deep in the grip of the incredibly light read that is Reginald Ray's Indestructible Truth.  When I finished, I was looking for something else when I chanced back across my present, no pun intended.

The book is structured into 53 mindfulness exercises, each to be practiced for a minimum of a week. I picked an exercise at random: "Leave no trace," it said. "What the hell does that mean?" I wondered back. However, the practice was a simple one, consisting of leaving each room as though you hadn't been there, no stray bits and detritus, no dirty dishes in the sink, no messy stack of papers. I followed the instructions and tried to be mindful at home, at work, anywhere I went, to leave as little trace that I had been there as possible -- I assumed that putting flowers in the vase on my shrine didn't count. The experience, to say the least, was transformative, and my home and office are both much tidier places.

The next week, I again chose at random. The exercise: Don't use filler words. Uhs, umms, hmmmsss, wells... the list goes on. I was terrible at it. Not only did I realize that I use these words all the time, I couldn't remember to remember and came face to face with how difficult it is to watch my own speech. The book even recommended recording myself (yeah, right) or enlisting my friends to watch me (they already think I'm crazy), but instead, I just quit in frustration. Then I had a slightly different idea: Get the Sangha to be my witness.

I'm here to invite you on an adventure. It's going to be a long adventure: one exercise, every week, for 53 weeks. I'll be doing them in the order they appear in the book. You can just follow my antics, 'cause I am anticky. You're also free to ambush me in real life to see how I'm coping with my mindfulness exercise. If you're feeling a little brave or completely crazy, you could follow along, and we could share stories and compare notes. I will tell you that there is more to the book than just the exercises, with each exercise containing sections on "Discoveries," "Deeper Thoughts," and even "Final Words." But in fairness to the author, if you want to know about those parts, you'll have to buy a copy for yourself.

This week’s exercise: Use your non-dominant hand for at least some activities every day - eating, brushing teeth, writing, painting. I’ve been doing this for a couple of days now and will discuss the experience in more detail next week. Needless to say, it's been interesting thus far.

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