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Softening into Experience

The Fall 2012 issue of Inquiring Mind includes an excerpt from Phillip Moffitt's book Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully. In discussing challenges — mental, physical, emotional, financial, etc. — Moffitt offers a brilliant metaphor, that of "softening" rather than tensing up when facing troubles. He explains:

The untrained mind naturally reacts unskillfully to difficulties because it does not realize that there is an alternative response, which is to soften into the experience. By this I mean that you can learn to relax your attention and cease to resist the unpleasant feelings that arise in response to difficult situations.

Attention is the capacity of your mind to focus where you direct it, and the quality of your attention can vary dramatically depending on your life circumstances. During difficult times, when it is disturbed by tension, your attention may have a jumpy, rigid, fixed, or fuzzy quality. As a result you may be unable to effectively respond to difficult circumstances. Therefore it's crucial to cultivate relaxed attention.

In relaxed attention your focus is neutral. There's no tension in your attention, so you feel more at ease in the face of difficulty. You cultivate relaxed attention by practicing noticing the tension underlying your attention whenever you experience something difficult and remembering your intention to relax your attention. Most of the time the tension will release immediately. If you are deeply enmeshed in a difficulty, it may take some time for this release to happen, but with continued practice you will develop the ability to focus on any degree of difficulty without added tension.

Relaxed attention sets the stage for softening into your experience. I like to use the phrase softening into your experience because it captures the felt sense of relief that occurs when you become mindful of your resistance to the difficult and then release it. Softening into your experience isn't about collapsing or quitting on yourself but rather about fully accepting that difficulty is a natural part of life. When you stop objecting to the difficult, two benefits arise: you suffer less, and you have more energy at your disposal to skillfully deal with the difficult when it arrives.

Relaxation, acceptance, letting go — all quite unnatural, and so paradoxically central.

(cf. AikidoSpirit (2003-12-09), ...) - ^z - 2012-11-12

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