Change can be difficult. We all have habitual ways of being and behaving that can be unskillful and cause suffering. Sometimes we feel helpless as we ride the roller coaster of our thoughts, feelings, impulses and compulsive behaviors.
The good news is that change is possible—with patient, persistent practice of the three things that are within our control. These three things are of Attention, Attitude, and Intention.
While we have little control over the thoughts and feelings that arise in Consciousness, we do have control over what we pay attention to. We have the capacity to be mindful. The first step in changing our way of being and behaving is to pay close attention to what is happening now. We practice presence. We retrieve Awareness from the stream of conscious experience so that we are not lost and swept away by it. We listen closely and look carefully. In doing so, we hear and see more clearly. We ask ourselves, “What is this?” Becoming mindful puts some distance between Awareness and the patterns of thoughts and feelings our brains generate. In presence, we stop taking our personalities personally. Our experience is all just mind-stuff arising due to the conditions that give rise to it. Mindfulness gives us some space and freedom to stop and observe so that, through inquiry, we might better understand.
The second thing that we have control over is our attitude. We can choose to adopt a friendly attitude towards our experience. This is most important when we are in pain. Whether we feel hurt, angry, anxious, lonely, empty, guilty, ashamed, or any of a hundred other negative emotions, we inwardly practice smiling at our experience. Rather than running from our pain through our default compulsive negative judgments, we face and embrace our pain, shining on it the light of our loving Awareness. If we see the brain judging, we lovingly smile upon this as well. Through this practice of loving kindness towards all experience, we cultivate a loving way of being in the world. Not only are we now more loving towards our own minds, with all the painful and unskillful emotions and urges it generates, we are also more loving in our attitude towards others.
The practices of attending to Experience with a loving attitude set the stage for us to set loving intentions to guide our actions. We have the capacity to set an intention, every day and every moment of each day, to act with love. We can make a vow to ourselves that in all that we do and say, that we will act with love—towards ourselves and towards others. With persistent repetition, our loving intention gradually informs our actions to a progressively greater degree. With time, we become coherent. Our ways of being, seeing, and doing come into harmony with one another. What we say and what we do become more consistently based in love.
One way we practice attention, attitude, and intention in in real life is through the practice of “SOUL”—Stop, Observe, Understand, and Love. When we are emotionally aroused or in the grips of an impulse, we STOP to pay close attention. We mindfully become very present. Then we OBSERVE. We ask, “What is this?” Like a scientist, we carefully note our thoughts and feelings, as well as the thoughts and feelings of others. Then we strive to UNDERSTAND. We might ask someone, “Help me understand.” Or, we might process an incident with others to deepen our understanding, especially of our fear and pain and the fear and pain of others. Since understanding breeds compassion, coming to a clear understanding helps us to feel compassionate both towards ourselves and towards others who may be triggering upset in us. With understanding, we are now equipped to respond with LOVE, as this is the intention we set for ourselves in all that we do and say. We can respond with firmness, kindness, and patience.
The practice of Attention, Attitude, and Intention works to reduce suffering and to enable us to live more skillfully. For example, I recently had an upsetting conversation with someone who I experienced as entitled, exploitative, ungrateful, and judgmental. I noted hurt and anger arising. Fortunately, I said very little. After the conversation ended, I sat with my pain, allowing it to flow through Awareness, treating it with a friendly attitude, showing myself compassion. I processed what happened with several people, who helped me to see that this person was not well and was being hurtful and disregarding out of their own pain and relational disability. Through attending to my experience with a loving attitude, understanding eventually arose—both of this person’s pain and of my own role in allowing myself to be put in the situation. Compassion then followed my understanding. From compassion arose forgiveness. I was then able to act with love for this person and myself—in this case addressing this person’s concern while limiting the relationship to minimize future opportunities for harm.
Change is possible through the daily practice of Attention, Attitude, and loving Intention. These mental actions will shape both your way of being and your behavior as you become a wiser and more loving person. With practice, your life will become richer and your suffering will diminish. I wish you happiness and peace in your practice of these three mental habits.