Monday, December 9, 2019

Fruits of Meditation

      Lifelong committed meditation practice yields profound benefits, above & beyond stress reduction. But busyness, restlessness, distraction, intolerance to discomfort, and impatience tend to produce - as the parable goes - many shallow, dry wells. Those who persevere and go deep, achieve all that meditation has to offer.

      “Often when we meditate, we are not consciously aware of much happening. It just seems like we are sitting there. Much of the time, our mind may be wandering, and when our mind is not wandering, it goes to sleep. After a while, we become aware that we are physically uncomfortable, and then we come back to our object of meditation for a couple of seconds. Sometimes meditation practice goes on and on like this, and it doesn’t seem as if anything of real value is taking place. When we tell our friends what we experienced at a meditation retreat – mostly pain, sleepiness, and confusion – they may well say, ‘You paid good money for that?’
     But all the while, clarity and equanimity are slowly but surely trickling down into the subconscious. They rewire us at the most fundamental levels without us necessarily knowing it at the time. How do we know that it’s happening? We notice that things are changing in daily life. Our behavior and perception seem to be improving spontaneously. … In meditation, a lot of the learning that takes place is of this type. Meditation can clean out stored materials without necessarily requiring that you recall specific memories, traumas, and such.
     We might refer to this paradigm as the ‘trickle down’ model for reaching the subconscious. This contrasts with the ‘dredge up’ model used in much of psychotherapy. In the dredge up model, we reach down and explore a specific complex. This leads to a specific personal insight that then improves our quality of life. Dredge up and trickle down could be looked upon as mutually complementary processes. For some meditators, trickle down purification may be sufficient. But when that’s not the case, they can utilize the services of dredge up experts, that is, competent mental health professionals. It’s important to appreciate the awesome power of meditation practice, but it’s also important to realize its limitations. Sometimes other elements are required – therapy, 12-step programs, openness to social feedback, having a list of explicitly stated ethical guidelines, and so forth.” 
        Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Maturity, Growing Up, Becoming Conscious, Awakening ...

     “Maturity is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts.”
          David Whyte, poet and philosopher

      “True adulthood… is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard-won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.” Toni Morrison

     “One form of discomfort or pain arises when our lives are out of alignment with our goals, such as when what we do doesn’t fit our values, or when we have changed but our lives have not. If you notice a sense of disconnection and discomfort in your work, your job or your career, pay attention to it!”  
       Mark Lesser, “Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader.” New World Library, 2019. 

     “Women need to define success differently than men. If you don’t learn to unplug and recharge, you’re not going to be as good a leader. Look at the price we’re paying. Look at the increase in heart disease and diabetes for career women. If success continues to be defined as driving yourself into the ground and burning out, it will be disastrous for our families, our companies, and our world. We have so many people making terrible decisions, despite the fact that they have high IQs and great degrees. If success doesn’t include your own health and happiness, then what is it?” Arianna Huffington

     “Action has meaning only in relationship, and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict.” Krishnamurti

     “The problem with the world is 
       that we draw our family circle too small.” Mother Teresa

     “Rapture is not a selfish emotion. It is pure gratitude, flowing freely through the body, heart, and soul. Gratitude for what? For breath, for colors, for music, for friendship, humor, weather, sleep, awareness. It is a willing engagement with the whole messy miracle of life.”
        Elizabeth Lesser, “Broken Open”

     “I would say that the thrust of my life has been initially about getting free, and then realizing that my freedom is not independent of everybody else. Then I am arriving at that circle where one works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn't create more suffering. I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.” Ram Das

I HIGHLY recommend this wonderful, powerful 2019 movie!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sharing the Heart - a Simple Practice

     Why would Pema Chödrön's heart-centered meditation practice (below) be beneficial?

     Yale professor Laurie Santos, interviewed by Christiane Amanpour, provides one perspective:
     "... we now have two decades of scientific work that is identified, exactly these behaviors that seem make us happier. And that the crux of it is that those behaviors aren’t often the things that we expect, they’re often the things that we’re putting off to do other things, thinking that those things are going to make us happy. 
     ... one of the most unexpected areas I find is the power of social connection, just literally spending time with other people and trying to connect with them. I mean, we all know social contact is important but we forget that loneliness (one of the opposites of social contact) can be as bad for us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
     We forget also that social contact can come from just simple connections with people we don’t know very well, you know, a chat with a barista at a coffee shop. Those simply kinds of things can boost our mood much more than we expect. And this is the kind of thing I worry about a lot on college campuses because loneliness is also one of these negative mental health statistics that’s increasing on college campuses today.  
     Right now, nationally, about two-thirds of students say that they’re very lonely most of the time. ... And I see why that is ... they sit in a dining hall with these big headphones on, surf scrolling & texting each other but not making contact in real life with actual humans. And so, I think that’s one of the big hints, we just need to take time to chat with people. 
     And I think we see a pattern in technology. The ATM started this revolution of folks kind of getting out of human interactions. We save a lot of time that way, it’s true, and time is very important for well-being also. But all those little mini social interactions that we have waiting in a bank line, or waiting to grab our coffee, or even chatting with the telephone operator when we’re trying to order a taxi, those simple interactions are going away.  
     And the research shows that loneliness is going up. And there’s potentially an important balance here where we do want to save some time, but we also want to make sure that we’re having these social connections in real life. They contribute to our happiness much more than we think.
     ... the problem when we design technology is that we have these mistaken notions about the kinds of things that are going to make us happy. ... we don’t realize that we need the social connection.
     There’s some lovely work by the psychologist, Liz Dunn, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia. And she has this study where she looks at whether or not just having your phone out affects smiling.
     She does this in a waiting room where strangers are waiting together. And what she finds its kind of amazing. She finds that people smile 30 percent less when their phones are around, even if they’re not really doing anything on them.  
     And so, if you multiply that by say, everyone walking around in London and the U.K. on the streets, all that decrease in smiling is probably really affecting the connection that we feel with other people. It’s probably affecting the ease with which we start a conversation with somebody new.
     These phones that we have in six billion pockets around the world are distracting us from the real life connection that we need with other humans."

      "Sharing the heart is a simple practice that can be used at any time and in every situation. It enlarges our view and helps us remember our interconnection.

     The essence of this practice is that when we encounter pain in our life we breathe into our heart with the recognition that others also feel this. It’s a way of acknowledging when we are closing down and of training to open up. 
     When we encounter any pleasure or tenderness in our life, we cherish that and rejoice. Then we make the wish that others could also experience this delight or this relief.
     In a nutshell, when life is pleasant, think of others. When life is a burden, think of others.
     If this is the only training we ever remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and everyone else as well. It’s a way of bringing whatever we encounter onto the path of awakening compassion."
                                                                                                                            Pema Chödrön

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Balanced Intelligence - Hemispheric Integration

     “You are not thinking. You are merely being logical.”
                                                      Neils Bohr, physicist & Nobel laureate     
     Isn't using "merely" and "logical" in the same sentence dangerously taboo? For many of us it is. Yet a Nobel laureate in physics might know something about thinking & logic.

     “Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind (right hemisphere) a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind (left hemisphere) was a faithful servant. 
     It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine.” Bob Samples

     Our intelligence is, of necessity, far more complex than the self-referrential internal narrative, left-hemisphere-dominant level we're all aware of, and unknowingly, tend to identify with as if it were a direct, accurate readout of all that we are & all that life is. This is a very common - almost universal, problematic form of mistaken identity ("cognitive fusion") and underestimation of ourselves & life itself.

     “If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet.” Neils Bohr
     “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
Neils Bohr
     “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
Neils Bohr
     “True words seem paradoxical.” Lao-Tzu
        “The maturity and wisdom of a human being comes when it is possible to see multiplicity, paradox, and complementary differences with a spacious mind and an open heart.” Jack Kornfield 
        “… a mature adult … can hold both conviction and paradox.” 
        Sharon Danloz Parks. “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. Mentoring Young Adults in their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith.” John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

     “The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. But the opposite of one profound truth, may be another profound truth.” Neils Bohr
     Black-and-white, {either / or} thinking is essential for survival - to quickly, narrowly-focus down on a specific object & definitively categorize it either as 'grab & eat this', or 'run / fight.' This same objectively-distanced mode of thinking is essential for many straight-forward, practical tasks eg math, science & technology etc. 
     But the left-hemisphere alone is severely unequipped to deal with nuances, subtleties & complexities: relationships / social interactions - personalities, cultures, races, religions etc; the arts & humanities; collaboration / negotiation / mediation; depths of meaning, values, existential issues, etc. 
     Also, the left-hemisphere 'doesn't know what it doesn't know' - it was never meant to stop, question & analyze its own judgment. So there's no room for re-evaluation or negotiation, resulting in deadlock: 'I'm right / reasonable / good; You're wrong / crazy / bad.' Populists, dictators & political / religious extremists all seem to fit this mold of rigid, simplistic black-and-white snappy slogans that grab & hold the hearts & minds of fervent supporters and make mature reflective adults shake their heads in stunned disbelief. Indeed, we see left-hemisphere vs left-hemisphere 'partisanships' locking horns on the news every night
     To effectively appreciate subtlety (many shades of gray) & to manage complexity (metaphor, paradox etc), a quick either / or decision is not enough. The left hemisphere's detail-orientation MUST BE KEPT IN CONTEXT by the right hemisphere's ability to appreciate the big picture, complexities & relationships. Our complex, constantly changing, profoundly interdependent cosmos requires a both / and approach: BOTH a quick either / or decision when called for eg when doing CPR; AND a much slower, much more careful consideration of as many variables as possible, when called for eg deciding on whether to marry a person; or mediating a peace deal between long-time warring factions. 
     For individuals & cultures to thrive, mature, harmonious, left / right hemispheric integration is essential.

     Here's an ultra-condensed summary of 20-yrs of research culminating in a 588-page book: Iain McGilchrist. “The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.” Yale University Press, 2019.
     “If I had to sum it up, I’d say the world of the left hemisphere is dependent on denotative language & abstraction; yields clarity & power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless.
     The right hemisphere by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings, within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known. And this world exists in a certain relationship.
     The knowledge mediated by the left hemisphere is however within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but the perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.
     There’s a problem here about the nature of the two worlds. It offers two versions of the world and obviously we combine them in different ways all the time.
     We need to rely on the (left hemisphere) to manipulate the world.
     But for a broad understanding of it, we need to use knowledge that comes from the right hemisphere."
        Iain McGilchrist. “The Divided Brain.” TEDtalk RSA Animate:

     “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.” Neils Bohr

Monday, November 18, 2019

What is this? - - Who am I?

     These may be the most basic, meaningful, open questions, koans or topics to contemplate. Some thoughtful peoples' reflections:

     “I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”
                                                                                                                        R. Buckminster Fuller

     "My own working assumption is that we are here as local Universe information gatherers. We are given access to the divine design principles so that from them we can invent the tools that qualify us as problem solvers in support of the integrity of an eternally regenerative Universe." R. Buckminster Fuller

      “Hara means nothing other than the physical embodiment of the original Life center in man.
     Man is originally endowed and invested with Hara. But when, as a rational being, he loses what is embodied in Hara it becomes his task to regain it. To rediscover the unity concealed in the contradictions through which he perceives life intellectually is the nerve of his existence. As a rational being he feels himself suspended between the opposite poles of heaven and earth, spirit and nature. This means first the dichotomy of unconscious nature and of the mind which urges him to ever-increasing consciousness; and second, the dichotomy of his time-space reality on this earth and the Divine beyond time and space. Man’s whole existence is influenced by the tormenting tension of these opposites and so he is forever in search of a life-form in which this tension will be resolved
     What is man to do when he feels himself suspended between two opposing poles? He can surrender himself to the one or to the other and so, for a time disavow the contradiction; or he can seek a third way in which it will be resolved. The only right choice is the one which will not endanger the wholeness of his being. Since man in his wholeness must include both poles his salvation lies only in choosing the way which unifies them. For man is destined to manifest anew the unity of life within all the contradictions of his existence. The way to this unity is long. The integration of these two poles – the unconscious, and the conscious life of the mind, as well as between life in space time reality and the Reality beyond space time – constitutes the way to human maturity. Maturity is that condition in which man reaps the fruit of the union he has regained. The realization of this union means that he has found his true vital center. Basis, symbol, and proof of this is the presence of Hara.” 
        Durckheim KG. “Hara – The Vital Center of Man.” Inner Traditions, 1975. (originally published 1956 - hence the dated terminology)

      “We are consciousness itself, knowing itself, being itself, expressing itself out of the void into form.” Jack Kornfield

      “The enlightenment instinct is the instinct for the ground of being to become fully conscious of itself.” Adyashanti

     “By means of thousands of hours of observation, Buddhist contemplatives claim to have penetrated into ordinarily hidden dimensions of the mind that are more chaotic, where the order and structure of the human psyche are just beginning to emerge. Examination of the deep strata of mental processes reveals layers previously concealed within the subconscious. Finally, the mind comes to rest in its natural state: the ground from which both conscious and ordinary subconscious events arise. This is true depth psychology, in which we observe deep ‘core samples’ of the subconscious mind, cutting across many layers of accumulated conceptual structuring. The culmination of this meditative process is the experience of the substrate consciousness (Skt. Alaya-vijnana), which is characterized by three essential traits: bliss, luminosity, and nonconceptuality. The quality of bliss does not arise in response to any sensory stimulus, for the physical senses are withdrawn, as if one were deeply asleep. Nor does it arise in dependence upon pleasant thoughts or mental images, for such mental activities have become dormant. Rather, it appears to be an innate quality of the mind when it has settled in its natural state, beyond the disturbing influences of conscious and unconscious mental activity. 
     … The substrate consciousness is not inherently human but is also the ground state of consciousness of all other sentient beings. It is from this dimension of awareness that the human mind emerges, so the substrate consciousness is prior to and more fundamental than the human conceptual duality of mind and matter. Both the mind and all experiences of matter are said to emerge from this luminous space, which is undifferentiated in terms of any distinct sense of subject and object. This hypothesis rejects Cartesian dualism, as well as the belief that the universe is exclusively physical. Moreover, this hypothesis may be put to the test of experience, regardless of one’s ideological commitments and theoretical assumptions.”
       B. Alan Wallace. “Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic. A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice.” Columbia University Press, 2012. 

     “The perennial philosophy states that the omega experience (not the description, but the actual experience of union with the Divine) is identical in all the mystical branches of all the world’s religions. This has implications for how we should live our lives, which Aldous Huxley succinctly laid out in his Minimum Working Hypothesis: 
     · That there is a Godhead, Diving Ground of Being, or Brahman that our reality depends upon for its existence.
     · That this Ground both transcends the world and is imminent as the world.
     · That it is possible for human beings to love, know and, virtually, to become actually identical with the Divine Ground.
     · That to achieve this unitive knowledge is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence.
     · That there is a Way or Dharma that must be obeyed if people are to achieve their final end, and this Way is a way of peace, love, humility and compassion.”
        Dana Sawyer “Huston Smith: Wisdomkeeper. Living the World’s Religions. The Authorized Biography of a 21st Century Spiritual Giant.” Fons Vitae, 2014.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Getting Along Perfectly ???

     “If we think we already know what there is to know, it is difficult to see things in a new way. Everything seems dry, boring, sterile, and repetitive, but in reality, nothing is that way. Only our minds are, when awareness is absent. Being present is something we learn to love. It is an acquired taste. Being present in meditation is training ourselves in sustaining wakefulness, whether the content of the moment is pleasant or not.
     We can apply don’t-know mind to our relationships. One common habit of mind in relationship to others is to judge and evaluate according to our views and opinions about how others should behave (as one saying goes: it’s easier to see an ant on another’s nose than a yak on your own). However, we can try seeing differently and with greater understanding and compassion. As Rumi wrote: 'Half of any person is wrong and weak and off the path. Half! The other half is dancing and swimming and flying in the invisible joy.'

      The meditator’s path is not about trying to become perfect. It is a path that leads to inner freedom. I have found meditators to be some of the most idealistic people in the world. It makes sense that we would be; after all, we are aiming for the highest happiness. But when idealism is self-centered – as in ‘I’ have to be perfect – it is debilitating and exhausting, certainly for ourselves but also for those around us upon whom we are projecting our need for perfection. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki reminds us, practice is making one mistake after another.  
     … Aiming for perfection can be seductive and compelling. Given that the society in which we live supports the idea that perfection is attainable, it can feel like our own personal fault if we are not.
     Here it’s worth noting that there is a difference between harm and hurt. Harm is when we intentionally cause someone pain. Hurt is what happens in relationship, when more than one person is involved. Hurt is inevitable because of our differences. Of course, to apologize when we’ve hurt someone is skillful. But to hold the moments of hurt that occur in all relationships as equal to the times we have engaged in harmful actions is unwarranted.”
       Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018. (A wise, warm, well-written book IMHO)

       There’s an old story about the changes monks undergo from moving into a monastery and living in close quarters with the same group of people. At the beginning, each monk’s idiosyncrasies are like angular protrusions jutting out from the surface of a pebble. Initially, there are a lot of (at least potentially irritating) protrusions. But the years spent together in the monastery, has a similar effect as keeping a handful of pebbles in one’s pocket continuously for a long time. The pebbles eventually wear each other smooth.

     "The road to wisdom? Well, it's plain and simple to express:
Err and err and err again, but less and less and less." Piet Hein

      “When we see clearly that every single human being, regardless of fame or fortune or age or brains or beauty, shares the same ordinary foibles, a strange thing happens. We begin to cheer up, to loosen up … we find ourselves among friends. We sit back, and enjoy the ride.”

     Elizabeth Lesser. “Broken Open. How Difficult Times can Help Us Grow.” Villard, 2005.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Perspectives on our Left-Brain-Dominated Culture

     Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist painstakingly uncovered how most of us today, swept along by popular culture, are unknowingly left-hemisphere dominant. This has profound effects on every aspect of daily life, and our future.  
     Some aspects of left-hemisphere dominance is generally very useful (science & technology); while others, not so much (conflict, aggression, impatience, loneliness, disorientation, meaninglessness, despair, degradation of the environment, etc). McGilchrist argues for the urgent necessity to re-balance the influence of the two hemispheres:

      From our ancestral right-hemisphere dominance, the pendulum has now swung to the extreme left - "hyper-rationality":
     Hyper-rationality is the unquestioning faith in the efficacy of reason. This is something of an irony, since those who take the hyper-rational approach to reason are violently opposed to "faith" of any sort. They (rightly) condemn "faith" as "irrational," but they then go to the opposite extreme of making reason supreme. In so doing, they inadvertently turn reason into a sort of surrogate god, to whom they must pay homage at all costs ("yet another form of partisanship"). This is rationality carried to the extreme, beyond rational limits, hence the term "hyper-rationality.
     In his book Descartes' Error, Antonio Damasio has amassed an impressive body of neurological evidence to show that at the biological level of brain processing, reason cannot, and does not, function on its own. Emotions are inextricably interwoven into our most 'rational' decisions and thoughts."
       Michael Mendis

      Isn't it entirely reasonable to assume that there's an appropriate 'time & place' ie context for EACH of our ways of perceiving & knowing: logical reasoning, contemplation, intuition, spirituality etc?

     Isn't it optimal to intentionally cultivate, resuscitate & integrate ALL of our powers of perception & knowing, in a balanced, harmonious manner?

      "Contemplation is a third way of knowing – a missing link – that complements & enhances the rational & sensory. The contemplative mind is opened and activated through a wide range of approaches – from pondering to poetry to meditation – that are designed to shift states of mind in order to cultivate such capacities as deepened awareness, concentration and insight. Historically, the contemplative has been used throughout the wisdom traditions as fundamental for developing interiority and understanding the most essential knowledge, yet it is almost entirely absent from contemporary education." 

     Tobin Hart. "From Information to Transformation. Education for the Evolution of Consciousness." Peter Lang, 2009.