Approaching Gorillas

Luang Por Pasanno • August 2012

We are trying to bring mindfulness to our day-to-day activities. We need to keep reminding ourselves of that. It’s easy to say to ourselves, Just be mindful. But we hear it so often that it can seem trite and can lose its impact. The practice of mindfulness, the application of mindfulness, learning how to direct mindfulness, are key foundations of our practice and training. Once we learn how to establish and balance mindfulness, we can more clearly understand the mind and its reactions.

The biologist George Schaller was the first person to study silverback mountain gorillas. People who read his studies were amazed that he was able to get close enough to the gorillas to observe their habits and social structure and even the primitive language they used. People would ask how he was able to achieve this. His answer was that he approached the gorillas in a manner that was very different from the way others had tried and failed: he never carried a gun. This allowed him to establish a trusting relationship with the gorillas and approach them with a sense of ease.

Now think of what our minds are doing all the time. We carry weapons around—our “guns” of views and opinions, our moods and biases, our tendencies toward reactivity, and all our extra baggage. They keep us from getting close enough to clearly see what the mind is doing, its underlying tendencies, or what its potential capability might be. We’re not able to approach our experience mindfully.

We need to put down the weapons of our likes and dislikes, our views and opinions, and the constant chatter and commentary that we’re always overlaying onto the world around us. These weapons constantly separate us from the world and from our experience. Once we’ve put our weapons down, we can take up the fundamental quality of mindfulness. We can pay attention and be aware without moving in with reactivity. That way, we can begin to establish a quality of real peace, while also learning to coexist with our own minds.