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Don't sit there looking for things to be mindful of. Keep your mindfulness on the breath until something else steps in and pulls your attention away. When you feel that happening, don't fight it. Let your attention flow naturally over to the distraction, and keep it there until the distraction evaporates. Then return to breathing. Don't seek out other physical or mental phenomena. Just return to breathing. Let them come to you. There will be times when you drift off, of course. Even after long practice you find yourself suddenly waking up, realizing you have been off the track for some while. Don't get discouraged. Realize that you have been off the track for such and such a length of time and go back to the breath. There is no need for any negative reaction at all. The very act of realizing that you have been off the track is an active awareness. It is an exercise of pure mindfulness all by itself. Mindfulness grows by the exercise of mindfulness. It is like exercising a muscle. Every time you work it, you pump it up just a little. You make it a little stronger. The very fact that you have felt that wake-up sensation means that you have just improved your mindfulness power.

That means you win. Move back to the breathing without regret. However, the regret is a conditioned reflex, and it may come along anyway--another mental habit. If you find yourself getting frustrated, feeling discouraged, or condemning yourself, just observe that with bare attention. It is just another distraction. Give it some attention and watch it fade away, and return to the breath. These neurochemicals minimize discomfort and stress. They are, in fact, your brain's natural painkillers and are linked to feelings of euphoria and general well-being. University of Turku researchers identified a particular kind of exercise--high-intensity interval training--that created the biggest boost in endorphin release. Dr. Ratey concludes, "Exercise is not an instant cure, but you need to get your brain working again, and if you move your body your brain won't have any choice. It's a process, and the best strategy is to take it one step--and then one stride--at a time. Start slowly and build on it. At its core, depression is defined by an absence of moving toward anything, and exercise is the way to divert those negative signals and trick the brain into coming out of hibernation."[8] Clients of mine who start moving--and then stay moving as a cornerstone of a healthier lifestyle--are more successful at reducing or eliminating symptoms of depression, now and in the future. And yet the benefits of moving more don't stop there. "Exercise is the magic pill," says Dr. Michael Bracko, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine's Consumer Information Committee, adding that "exercise can literally cure diseases like some forms of heart disease. Exercise has been implicated in helping people prevent or recover from some forms of cancer. Exercise helps people with arthritis. Exercise helps people prevent and reverse depression."[9] You already know that exercise is good for your whole body.

But let me highlight some of the most important health benefits here. Strengthen bones. Weight-bearing exercises strengthen muscles by causing new bone tissue to grow. When you think of weight-bearing exercises, you may think immediately of lifting weights, but "weight-bearing exercises" also refers to movements that cause you to support the weight of your own body. These include walking, jogging, climbing stairs, dancing, and even jumping. Non-weight-bearing exercises include swimming and bicycling. Body language is not something you can consciously control - at least not in the long run. It's a learned behaviour, like walking or riding a bike. You'll do it automatically, reflecting your internal state. There's a good reason we talked about confidence and internal states before body language - it will set the table for you to actually sit there with your arms open and your smile bright and inviting. So, until you're capable of actually feeling comfortable in the company of complete strangers, you'll need to work on a few specific body language hot spots that will help you feel more confident and in control of a situation. Eventually, your brain will pick it up and run with it, making your life much easier. Bad body language is everywhere. Walk into any crowded room and look for someone slumped in their chair or with their arms and legs crossed up. Do they look inviting or do they look bored and closed off? When you walk into the cafeteria at work, are you more likely to talk to the guy staring at his sandwich with his shoulders hunched over or the woman who is smiling genially at the cashier with straight posture, while looking you in the eye? It's a pretty simple distinction, but we almost never think about it. But when you do, you'll realize just how different bad body language makes you look to other people. As time passes, new experiences can change the memory we have for past experiences, without our even knowing it. In effect, our memory is a reconstruction of the past.

Every time we recall a past event we reconstruct that memory, and with each successive reconstruction, our memory can get further and further from the truth. As Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham state, our memory can be changed "by succeeding events, other people's recollections or suggestions, increased understanding, or a new context...truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memory, are not objective facts, but subjective, interpretive realities."2 As a result, our recall of the past is not fixed in stone. It is constantly changing--some memories are lost, while others are transformed. To illustrate this point, two British psychologists secretly recorded a discussion that occurred at a Cambridge Psychological Society meeting. Two weeks later, the participants of the discussion were asked to write down everything they could remember. It turned out that they omitted about 90 percent of the specific points discussed, and when something was recalled, nearly half of the items were substantially incorrect. The individuals transformed off-the-cuff remarks into full-blown discussions, and remembered hearing comments that were never actually made. Even our memories of surprising and emotionally charged events can be in error. Do you remember how you heard about the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters, or the collapse of the World Trade Center? The details of these flashbulb memories, as they are sometimes called, are often very vivid. We remember the place we heard the news, who told us, how we felt, and so on. Years after the event has occurred, these "facts" are ingrained in our memory. But are they always as accurate as we think they are? Shortly after the space shuttle Challenger explosion in January 1986, researchers asked a number of students how they first heard the news.4 They asked those same students the identical question two and a half years later. Most of the students said their two-and-a-half-year-old memories were accurate--but not one of their memories was entirely correct, and more than a third were very inaccurate. In addition, the students were so confident in their memories that when they learned of their inaccuracies, they still didn't believe their revised memories were mistaken. In fact, they insisted their current memories were more accurate than what they said right after the Challenger exploded! As psychologist Ulric Neisser indicated, original memories are not just there--they are replaced with new, reconstructed realities. The rules we have just reviewed can and should be applied thoroughly to all of your mental states. You are going to find this an utterly ruthless injunction.

It is the toughest job that you will ever undertake. You will find yourself relatively willing to apply this technique to certain parts of your experience, and you will find yourself totally unwilling to use it on the other parts. Meditation is a bit like mental acid. It eats away slowly at whatever you put it on. We humans are very odd beings. We like the taste of certain poisons, and we stubbornly continue to eat them even while they are killing us. Thoughts to which we are attached are poison. You will find yourself quite eager to dig some thoughts out by the roots while you jealously guard and cherish certain others. That is the human condition. Vipassana meditation is not a game. Clear awareness is more than a pleasurable pastime. It is a road up and out of the quagmire in which we are all stuck, the swamp of our own desires and aversions. It is relatively easy to apply awareness to the nastier aspects of your existence. Once you have seen fear and depression evaporate under the hot, intense beacon of awareness, you will want to repeat that process. Those are the unpleasant mental states. They hurt. You want to get rid of those things because they bother you. It is a good deal harder to apply that same process to mental states that you cherish, like patriotism, or parental protectiveness, or true love. But it is just as necessary. Positive attachments hold you in the mud just as assuredly as negative attachments.