How to Train a Wild Elephant

reviewed by Kristine Morris

How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD

While it is becoming more and more evident that the practice of mindfulness is life-transforming and healthenhancing, many people say that they don’t have the time to engage in the practice or the resources to go off on a meditation retreat to learn it. Jan Chozen Bays, a long-time meditation teacher and resident of a Zen monastery, who is also a pediatrician, wife, mother, and grandmother, shares the mindfulness exercises she developed while she was learning how to be more aware, happy, and at ease in her own busy life. Defining mindfulness as “deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you — in your body, heart, and mind,” and engaging in “awareness without criticism or judgment,” she shows how mindfulness can most easily become a part of all that we do in each moment of our busy days. “Much of our dissatisfaction with life will disappear, and many simple joys will emerge, if we can learn to be present with things just as they are,” she says.

Dr. Chozen Bays explains why the Buddha said that taming the mind was like taming a wild forest elephant. She teaches how mindfulness conserves energy, allows the mind to rest in the present moment, brings peace to the practitioner and his or her immediate environment, creates intimacy with oneself and with other people, reduces struggle, conquers fear, and makes possible a spiritual life of continuous prayer. With simple exercises designed to bring mindfulness into daily life and with gentle ways to remind ourselves to practice, the author leads practitioners to the discoveries and deeper lessons that each exercise can reveal. With her help, mindfulness practice becomes a powerful yet delightful gateway to the inner peace that is within the reach of us all.

Mindfulness, much like what has been called a “peak experience,” or “being in the flow,” unites the body, mind, and heart in pure, focused attention. “When we are thus unified,” says Dr. Chozen Bays, “the barrier between ‘me’ and ‘everything else’ becomes thinner and thinner until, in a moment, it vanishes! For a while, often a brief moment or occasionally a lifetime, all is whole, all is holy, and at peace.”

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