Thursday, May 31, 2012

"McMindfulness", MBSR, & Buddhism

     Panelists Trudy Goodman, Vincent Horn, Ethan Nichtern, Diana Winston, & Jack Kornfield explore how we can support 21st century dharma by harnessing the wisdom of the ages without dumming down into McMindfulness.
Video from the 2011 Buddhist Geeks Conference

     "One of Jon Kabat-Zinn's definitions of mindfulness (heartfulness) is 'paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally' and sometimes added on is 'with open-hearted compassion.'
     I also like a very simple way of describing mindfulness as simply observing things as they are and learning from that. ... I sometimes describe mindfulness as being an ABC skill - the A being awareness, the B being being with - actually staying with our experience, and then that leading to C choice - that freedom of how we then can use what we learned to hopefully act more skillfully in the world."
Ed Halliwell, co-author of "The Mindful Manifesto", in a Buddhist Geeks interview:

     “It is the continuity of mindful awareness that deepens concentration, that reveals the true characteristics of phenomena and develops liberating insight. Liberation is possible. Don’t be satisfied with rearranging your psychological patterns. Comfort is not a goal worthy of your sincerest efforts.” Steve Armstrong

Photo: jerste

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stories of Me, Myself and I

     Stories we create are fascinating and constantly changing - hopefully evolving in a healthy direction.
     The "story of me" is considered to be an attempt to create a solid sense of self, "a storyline" within linear time. Such stories can be helpful if they inspire eg how we overcame obstacles in the past, or handicapping if we rigidly hold onto an image of ourselves as helpless victims.
     Stories, like memories, vary greatly in accuracy. Always arising in the present, both are strongly influenced by present inputs (needs, problems etc), not to mention plain old forgetfulness.
     Neither an abiding solid self, nor continuous linear time are supported by meditative experience (nor apparently by advanced physics). Instead, our self-concept and worldview appear to be paradigms - temporary simple models - of life, and how best to relate to it. It is the nature of scientific paradigms to be regularly replaced ie upgraded when additional data helps create a more accurate paradigm that better approximates complex reality.
     For a sense of agency, a self-concept is expedient, but it is more a verb than a noun, more a fluid process than a solid entity, more of an opening ...
     See also: 

Photo: mefnj

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Faith" as a Universal Human Capacity

     "Unless we find a way of living constructively with the infinite, living in the infinite, unless we find the courage to have faith in that which we cannot begin to understand or begin to articulate, then we're going to suffer what Kierkegard called angst, we're going to suffer that anxiety."
    "Say No To Happiness" Frank Faulk's (~54 min) documentary on CBC Radio's "Tapestry" originally aired May 27, 2012

     “We human beings seem unable to survive, and certainly cannot thrive, unless we can make meaning. We need to be able to make some sort of sense out of things; we seek pattern, order, coherence, and relation in the disparate elements of our experience. If life is perceived as only fragmented and chaotic, we suffer confusion, distress, stagnation, and finally despair.
     This capacity and demand for meaning … faith … goes far beyond religious belief … the activity of seeking and discovering meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of our experience. … a broad, generic human phenomenon … to dwell in the sense one makes out of life – what seems ultimately true and dependable about self, world, and cosmos (whether that meaning be strong or fragile, expressed in religious or secular terms). … has value for secular and religious folk alike. It addresses our culture’s current hunger for a shared language about things ‘spiritual.’”
     Parks SD. “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. Mentoring Young Adults in their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith.” John Wiley & Sons, 2000. SUPERB, VALUABLE BOOK!

Photo: boar

Monday, May 28, 2012

Vedana - 2,500 years Ahead of Neuroscience

     "There are three kinds of vedana (feeling or sensation of mind, not body) - pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. ... the root meaning of the word vedana is 'experience,' moment after moment. In response to different forms of contact (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, mental) with objects (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, thought), a feeling arises. When it is pleasant, greed and attachment are likely to follow. When it is unpleasant, aversion is liable to arise, and thus condemnation. Lastly, a neutral sensation generally precipitates delusion because it often does not make enough of an impression on the mind and thus is not observed or understood clearly; that is, there is no mindful awareness.
     'These are the three roots of all evils: Greed brings attachment; aversion brings hatred; delusion brings more ignorance ... Greed will not allow you to give, to share. The positive side, nongreed, becomes dana - you can share, you can give.'  And dana ... whether small or large, as long as it is given with sincere intention, purifies the mind of greed."
        Knaster M. "Living this life fully. Stories and teachings of Munindra." Shambhala, Boston, 2010.

     An overlapping perspective on this phenomenon is the Western psychology's "approach-avoidance dichotomy" - search for "approach" on:
     A third overlapping perspective on this phenomenon is neuroscience's primitive brain stem, its influence on our perception, which in turn promotes reptilian reactivity (as opposed to well-considered executive control). Search the above blogsite for "brain stem."
Buddha at IMS, Barre MA

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Complexity, Change, and Unpredictability"

     Complexity, change, and unpredictability (CCU) are surely the buzzwords of our time. Meanwhile, the reptilian portion of our brains continues to function in the same old very simple binary yes-or-no fashion: yes this (one) thing in front of me is good, I'll eat it (or mate with it) OR no this (one) thing in front of me is no good, I'll bite its head off (or run away from it). 
     CCU is clearly completely beyond the scope of brain stem reflexes, which nevertheless continue undaunted to color (prejudge) all our perceptions and urge us toward reptilian reactivity. We daily observe simple reptilian responses to complex issues: uneducated poor people in crime-ridden neighborhoods with high unemployment become addicts and or drug dealers, so money pours into capturing and incarcerating addicts and dealers; peoples with ancient cultures are "bombed back into the stone age" for their oil; all evidence shows that industrial pollution is destroying our environment at a critical rate, but world leaders remain fixated only on profit. 

     “Recognized in all cultures of the world for its intrinsic and transformative qualities, mindfulness is a universal human faculty that is not limited by cultural boundaries. It has acquired a fundamental place in behavioral medicine, which explicitly recognizes the interconnection of body and mind in its scientific understanding of disease and health. ...
     In cultivating mindfulness, we learn to shed light on the unconscious, integrate conflict, go beyond contradiction and embrace complexity, so that we begin to experience a sense of wholeness. We thus discover deep realms of equilibrium, calmness and insight within ourselves. The resulting experience of inner peace and acceptance lies at the heart of both health and wisdom.

Homer Simpson, created by Matt Groening

Friday, May 25, 2012

Concepts of Self

     “The image of flowing water rather than a tray of ice cubes captures well the existentialist conception of identity.
     Existentialism recognizes selfhood as a more or less managed process of self-creation based on the interaction of choices (human agency) and the social context in which such agency occurs (culture and structure). This is a matter of maintaining what is referred to as ‘ontological security’. This term refers to the important need to maintain a sense of security in a context of constant change and potential threat. Ontological security is what is lost when, at times of experiencing a major loss or a trauma, we lose our sense of who we are.”
     Thompson N, Pascal J. “Reflective practice: an existentialist perspective.” Reflective Practice 2011; 12(1): 15—26.

     Buddhism, and perhaps other non-dual wisdom traditions, has a more challenging perspective on "self": enlightened practitioners experience that there is no solid, abiding, unchanging self. The advice is not to worry about this, it can't be grasped through intellectual analysis alone. The realization comes on its own, when we're ready for it.

The Superstore (on Dutch Village Road in Halifax) now sells Enlightenment - only one brand for now.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The way

"This holy life does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit ...
or the attainment of concentration for its benefit.... But it is this
unshakable deliverance of mind that is the goal of this
holy life, its heartwood, and its end.

The Buddha, MN 30.23

        Knaster M. Living this life fully. Stories and teachings of Munindra. Shambhala, Boston, 2010.

Photo: David A. Lovas

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Which to seek?

     "before my enlightenment ... I too, being myself subject to birth, sought what was also subject to birth; being myself subject to aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I sought what was also subject to aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement. Then I considered thus: 'Why, being myself subject to birth, do I seek what is also subject to birth? Why, being myself subject to aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, do I seek what is also subject to aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement? ... Suppose that, being myself subject to aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I seek the unaging, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbana.'"     Buddha

Bhikkhu Bodhi ed. In the Buddha's words. An anthology of discourses from the Pali canon. Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2005.

Photo: scooper1

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Of course it's possible

     "If you're really enthusiastic, if you want to experience Dhamma, there is a way. Awakening is possible in this very life. This is a relearning, reeducation. Buddha said everything for the path is so clear, there's nothing to be in doubt about."                      Anagarika Munindra

       Knaster M. Living this life fully. Stories and teachings of Munindra. Shambhala, Boston, 2010.

Blossoms at the Insight Meditation Society, Barre MA, May 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Human potential

     "As human beings, we have the potential to attain all kinds of happiness, all kinds of higher experiences. But as long as we are in the world of senses and concepts, certain forces pull us down. Those forces are called nivarana (hindrences) - sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt. As soon as we try to practice meditation, to collect our mind, these hindrances come on the way. When concentration is highly cultivated, one comes to the jhanic plane, experiencing absorptions, a state of stillness, a blissful state. Then the five mental hindrances are suppressed, go down to the bottom."      Anagarika Munindra
        Knaster M. Living this life fully. Stories and teachings of Munindra. Shambhala, Boston, 2010.

Photo: Janolus

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Systematic sustained investigation

     "One of the first things that Munindra said to me when we met was that if I wanted to understand the mind, I should sit down and observe it. The great simplicity and pragmatism of this advice struck a very resonant chord within me. There was no dogma to believe, no rituals to observe; rather, there was the understanding that liberating wisdom can grow from one's own systematic and sustained investigation."                      Joseph Goldstein
        Knaster M. Living this life fully. Stories and teachings of Munindra. Shambhala, Boston, 2010.

Photo: Cary Maures

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Samadhi OR Hypnotic trance?

     Many meditation teachers advise students to put serious effort into focusing attention on one object eg the breath, in order to stabilize awareness. Some Zen teachers state that one must achieve samadhi first before making any real progress in meditation practice. This forced mental effort goes hand-in-hand with forced physical effort, "breaking through barriers" of pain. Stable one-pointed awareness can indeed be achieved by some using this marine-style method. However, those who have some variant of attention-deficit disorder, and or low pain threshold, and all of us when we have a lot going on in our lives, are not marine material.
     Hallmarks of samadhi include the end of "self-talk" (the obvious loud stuff at least) and complete physical ease of sitting (for prolonged periods). Both of these are major reliefs, so there's subtle euphoria, and the tendency to think "I've got it!" - delusion!! It's a small, very early step, in a lifelong journey.
     What's not commonly appreciated, is that a self-induced hypnotic trance can easily be confused with samadhi. One can literally escape the prolonged mental and physical strain by going into a trance state. In trance, one feels "locked-in on target" (like a jet fighter's canon) on the focus of attention.
     In the samadhi one cultivates with open-awareness meditation (Vipassana, Zen etc), one should be able to slowly move physically, look around, etc and REMAIN in samadhi. If doing these things ends the state ("breaks the spell"), it was self-hypnosis - a good hypnotist can help get you there in 10 minutes.
     We are trying to wake up! Samadhi - fully conscious, awake and aware - is cultivated through dedicated skillful mindfulness practice that is unforced, but continuous throughout one's (initially) waking hours.

Photo from Insight Meditation Society's website:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Minding the mind

"There is no place to seek the mind:
it is like the footprints of the birds in the sky"      Zenrin Kushu

     "How much effort do you need to know seeing, hearing, heat, cold, touching, or tiredness? Do you need to focus to know any of these? Is that tiring or difficult? See how easy observing is? Would it be tiring to practice like this the whole day?"
Ashin Tejaniya "Dhamma Everywhere: Welcoming Each Moment with Awareness+Wisdom."

     “not every kind of mental, spiritual, or psychological effect can be achieved by dint of hard work and control. Like falling asleep, some spiritual tasks require a more glancing approach.”
     Dreyfus H, Kelly SD. All things shining. Reading Western classics to find meaning in a secular age. Free Press, NY, 2011.

     Tejaniya's "particular way of teaching is now influencing a number of Western vipassana teachers. He emphasizes practicing in a relaxed but continuous manner rather than forcing one’s effort; opening the field of awareness to all experience rather than beginning with a primary object to establish concentration; walking at a regular rather than slow pace on retreat; not imposing a fixed retreat schedule; and focusing on one’s relationship to objects rather than on the objects themselves. The integration of these elements appears to strengthen the five spiritual faculties (indriya)— faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, wisdom — and deepen practice in everyday life."                                Mirka Knaster

Photo from Insight Meditation Society (IMS) website:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Strengthening the mind

     "Your watching mind must be strong and purified, with less defilement. If your mind is ready, understanding arises. So take care of your mind, take care of your practice and take care of your watching mind. Cultivate it so that it is stronger and stronger. 

Depending on your quality of mind,
the object may be perceived differently and the view changes. 

     Our duty is to make the quality of awareness stronger. Stronger awareness means awareness and wisdom are working together continuously. This is awareness with the right view, right attitude, right idea, and right thought. If this is continuous, then the mind is stronger and stronger. We only need to do this. If the mind becomes stronger it can do its job. Dhamma does its job and nature does its job."
Ashin Tejaniya "Dhamma Everywhere: Welcoming Each Moment with Awareness+Wisdom."

Photo: RuthC

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thriving or Stalled?

     "The practice has stalled if the current level of understanding is about the same as the previous level of understanding. Knowing and wisdom should not stand still but always be advancing. As much as knowing and understanding increase, so too does one's skill in the practice of meditation. This means the meditation is thriving."                        Ashin Tejaniya