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Jan 08
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Accepting Small Improvements

A small gathering in good company leads to great insight, based on the Sakyong’s experience training falcons

by John David Smith

hawkLast Tuesday night a small group of us gathered in the smaller shrine room to read some of Sakyong Mipham’s Turning the Mind into an Ally together.  The Meditation Warriors book study group meets the first and third Tuesday after the regular open sitting practice.  Reading bits of a book together like that is a great way to glean insights that apply to a daily meditation practice.  And it’s open to everyone.

On  Tuesday our reading included a paragraph on page 33, where Sakyong Mipham recounts how he trained falcons when he was young.  It was challenging and very slow, using little bits of meat to get the bird to respond to his whistle. He writes:

The Sakyong with Garuda, his hunting hawk-eagle, 1976. Photographer unknown.

The Sakyong with Garuda, his hunting hawk-eagle, 1976.

“Training them for many months in captivity taught me the value of accepting small improvements. After the trust was there, I could release the bird into the wild. That was the moment of truth: when I blew the whistle, would the bird return to my hand? This is very much like how we train our minds to return to the breath in peaceful abiding. It takes patience.”

As we discussed this story, one fellow told a story about learning to accept small improvements at work.  He had spent three days solving a problem with with a new member of the team.  At the end of the three days they spent some time reviewing what they had done together.  It seemed like the new team member didn’t fully understand everything that they had done together.  Would the junior team member really be able to work through similar problems on their own in the future?  Were there missed opportunities for mentoring and teaching during the past three days that had been missed?

Sky through a window Oct 2012, photo by David Whitehorn

Photo by David Whitehorn

As he reflected on this collaboration, our story-teller realized that there was some impatience involved in his expectations for the three days.  There had actually been many small steps.  And further reflection suggested that being patient, with a new team member for example, does not necessarily feel comfortable.  More often what we experience directly is our impatience.  It takes an extra step to accept the small improvements.

It seemed like a big insight for a small group in the smaller room at the Shambhala Center, all from a vignette out of the Sakyong’s life: a meditation practice calls on our patience; letting our impatience guide our practice can set us up to miss the moment of truth.

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