Monday, December 31, 2012

Intention - Movement of the Mind - Each Moment we Train

     “‘Karma,’ (the Buddha) often said, ‘is intention’: ie a movement of the mind that occurs each time we come to understand how intentions lead to habitual patterns of behavior, which in turn affect the quality of our experience.”

       Batchelor S. “Buddhism without beliefs. A contemporary guide to awakening.” Riverhead Books, NY, 1997.

     Whatever we repeatedly intend / think, say & do, we get better at. It's ALL training. Playing the piano, following "compulsions of craving", or letting go of self-concern - practice makes perfect. We custom-design our talents.

Wooden Bowls & Photo: P. Michael Lovas

Sunday, December 30, 2012

How am I to live this short precious life?

     “What am I here for? Am I living in such a way that I can die without regrets? How much of what I do is compromise? Do I keep postponing what I ‘really’ want to do until conditions are more favorable?
     Asking such questions interrupts indulgence in the comforts of routine and shatters illusions about a cherished sense of self-importance. It forces me to seek again the impulse that moves me from the depths, and to turn aside from the shallows of habitual patterns. It requires that I examine my attachments to physical health, financial independence, loving friends. For they are easily lost; I cannot ultimately rely on them. Is there anything I can depend on?
     It might be that all I can trust in the end is my integrity to keep asking such questions as: Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do? And then act on them.” 

       Batchelor S. “Buddhism without beliefs. A contemporary guide to awakening.” Riverhead Books, NY, 1997.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Loving-kindness Intention at Work

     “Imagine whenever you meet anybody, your habitual, instinctive first thought is, I wish for this person to be happy. Having such habits changes everything at work, because this sincere goodwill is picked up unconsciously by others, and you create the type of trust that leads to highly productive collaborations. Such habits can be volitionally trained.”

       Tan C-M. Search inside yourself. The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace). HarperCollins, NY, 2012.       NOTE: the author is Google's celebrated engineer & "jolly good fellow" Meng.

Photo: P. Michael Lovas & Mandy Wintink

Friday, December 28, 2012

What holds me back?

     What holds me back from: giving more generously? being less judgmental? being more helpful? Surely it's being overly concerned about, fearful for "me, myself & I" - craving.
     But "who is afraid?"
     When ego is quiet, there is only radiating warmth, free flow of energy, harmony, timelessness

Endless piles of "stuff" for sale

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Buddhism - a Culture of Awakening

     “While Buddhism has tended to become reductively identified with its religious forms, today it is in further danger of being reductively identified with its forms of meditation. If these trends continue, it is liable to become increasingly marginalized and lose its potential to be realized as a culture: an internally consistent set of values and practices that creatively animates all aspects of human life. The challenge now is to imagine and create a culture of awakening that both supports individual dharma practice and addresses the dilemmas of an agnostic and pluralist world.”

         Batchelor S. “Buddhism without beliefs. A contemporary guide to awakening.” Riverhead Books, NY, 1997.

Wooden Bowls & Photo by P. Michael Lovas

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Caring for & Cultivating Life

     “Just as a garden needs to be protected, tended, and cared for, so do ethical integrity, focused awareness, and understanding. No matter how deep our insight into the empty and contingent nature of things, that alone will do little to cultivate these qualities. Each of these areas of life becomes a challenge, an injunction to act. There is no room for complacency …”

         Batchelor S. “Buddhism without beliefs. A contemporary guide to awakening.” Riverhead Books, NY, 1997.

Photo: P. Michael Lovas

Monday, December 24, 2012

Complete Freedom of Heart and Mind

     “The Buddha was not a mystic. His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God. He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks. Only as Buddhism became more and more of a religion were such grandiose claims imputed to his awakening. In describing to the five ascetics what his awakening meant, he spoke of having discovered complete freedom of heart and mind from the compulsions of craving. He called such freedom the taste of the dharma.”

         Batchelor S. “Buddhism without beliefs. A contemporary guide to awakening.” Riverhead Books, NY, 1997.

Ben Horne

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An Actual Way of Life, Course of Action, Challenge to Act

     “each truth requires being acted upon in its own particular way (understanding anguish, letting go of its origin, realizing its cessation, and cultivating the path) …”

         Batchelor S. “Buddhism without beliefs. A contemporary guide to awakening.” Riverhead Books, NY, 1997.

Photo: poppyjk

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mind, Buddha-nature & Confusion

     “When the mind disappears, buddha-nature naturally appears, but buddha-nature is present even when the mind is scattered and vexed. 
     One can compare the mind of vexation and buddha-nature to a wavy, moving line, and a still, straight one. The two lines may appear to be different, but if we pull the ends of the moving line taut and hold it steady, then it becomes straight and still. When the line is constantly moving, it is difficult to see clearly its true nature. We can say that the straight, still line represents buddha-nature, and the moving line represents vexation, but both lines have the same nature, and the deluded mind is not different from buddha-nature.”

       Sheng Yen “Song of Mind. Wisdom from the Zen Classic Xin Ming.” Shambhala, Boston, 2004.

Photo: santamonica812

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cultivating Meditative Hearing - Deep Listening

     "Meditative awareness is more akin to hearing well than seeing clearly. When looking intently at a visual object, we tend to aim a narrow beam of attention onto something outside of ourselves. But when we listen mindfully, we open our awareness in all directions in order to receive the sounds that pour in. Just as one develops a meditative ability to discern ever subtler tones and harmonies in this polyphony, so one can refine an empathic ability to detect ever finer nuances in the other's plea. As the deafening chatter of self-centeredness subsides, one recovers that silence wherein one hears more sharply the cries of the world."

        Batchelor S. “Living with the devil. A meditation on good and evil.” Riverhead Books, NY, 2004.

Photo: grayowl

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Crack in Everything - That's How the Light Get's In

     “When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it’s not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or a punishment.”

       Chodron P. “When things fall apart. Heart advice for difficult times.” Shambhala, Boston, 2000. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Listen in Stillness to Silence

     “... learn to listen to the inner harmony of things ...”         Jon Kabat-Zinn

      “... wisdom cannot be told, but it is to be found by each of us in the direct experience of silence, stillness ...”           Joan Halifax

Photo: mjdundee

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pain is a Pain & Teacher

     Pain during a meditation retreat is relatively easy to see as part of one's practice. Such pain, which can be amazingly severe, at least tends to end at the end of each sitting.
     Right now I'm not on retreat, yet have been experiencing frequent unpredictable jabs of severe lancinating pain, up to 5 seconds at a time, over a two-week period from piriformis syndrome (compression of the sciatic nerve by the psoas muscle). Recently there have been hours of this same pain elicited during the last half of each in-breath - a real attention-getter! Sleep has been compromised. It's difficult not to guard, especially "in the grip of pain," but once again I've come to directly realize that guarding actually intensifies & prolongs pain! The recommended exercises have not helped so far.
     The most helpful thing has been to accommodate to the pain - to accept it as a temporary visitor, knowing that everything changes according to its own nature. And if this were to remain as a permanent guest, I would learn to accommodate to that too. What better alternative is there?
     When pain is not a signal to look after disease or injury, but a harmless "guest", whose departure time is indeterminate, one has to give up behaving like a B&B owner with OCD. We must learn to stop "crying wolf" internally and externally! While Acute pain = injury & risk of death = a call to immediate effective action; Chronic pain = just another guest in our large home. We need to accept the guest, accommodate him, but let him look after his own affairs while we live our lives.

Photo: guenter_from_munich

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Middle Way Home

     “For we are not angels but men and women of clay. All of us will be pulled off-center, we will be shaped by both disaster and delight. So we need to learn the art of returning home, returning to center, letting go of all that binds us too tightly to both fear and hope, letting go of our attachment to both doom and reward, letting go of all that leaves us wobbling. When we learn to return home in this way, we will return bearing gifts.”

       Simmons P. Learning to fall. The blessings of an imperfect life. Bantam Books, NY, 2000.

Photo: AngshuArun

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Perceptions of Time

     “If eternity includes all time, then we are living in eternity now. But we must widen our angle of view enough to see it. When we do, we feel in touch with life’s unchanging essence, the bedrock beneath the flowing stream. We enter the eternal life beneath the surface of this passing one.
     Shamans and nuclear physicists know that our limited everyday understanding of time is a result of our particular cognitive and perceptual faculties. Other forms of consciousness and thus other descriptions of reality are possible. But you don’t have to beat a drum or use a particle accelerator to see multiple periods of time at once. Simply look into the heavens on a clear night. Looking at a star one hundred light-years away, you see it as it was one hundred years ago. In the same moment you’re seeing the more distant star next to it as it was one thousand years ago. You’re not just looking into the past but into multiple pasts. Then look into the blackness between stars (you really need a radio telescope to do this) and you can look back 15 billion years to the beginning of the universe, detecting there the residue of the big bang, a uniform background hiss reaching us from the edge of all that is.”
       Simmons P. Learning to fall. The blessings of an imperfect life. Bantam Books, NY, 2000.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

MBSR has More Breadth & Depth than Assumed

     "The overall goal is to enable clients to relate in a non-identificatory and flexible way to experience ...  The ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) model holds that psychopathology is due to relating to thoughts as literal truths (cognitive fusion), as well as maladaptive attempts to escape from or control unwanted experience (experiential avoidance). The strategies in ACT include metaphors, experiential work, exposure in the service of valued goals, as well as traditional mindfulness exercises to promote non-judgmental and non-reactive awareness of internal experiences."
       Vollestad J, Nielsen MB, Nielsen GH. Mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for anxiety disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Clin Psychol 2012; 51(3): 239-60.

      All of the above is included in Jon Kabat-Zinn's MBSR, particularly if the facilitator makes skillful use of the language of Western psychology. The components of MBSR form an organic whole, the purpose of which is identical to Buddhist practice ie awakening. The effectiveness of any of these practices is inversely proportional to how goal-oriented (to self-regulation***) the participant remains, regardless of what brought them to the practice. See also:

Photo: chennai srobin

Friday, December 14, 2012

Physical Processing & Neuroscience

     "primates have a distinct cortical image of homeostatic afferent activity that reflects all aspects of the physiological condition of all tissues of the body. This interoceptive system, associated with autonomic motor control, is distinct from the exteroceptive system (cutaneous mechanoreception and proprioception) that guides somatic motor activity. The primary interoceptive representation in the dorsal posterior insula engenders distinct highly resolved feelings from the body that include pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, muscular and visceral sensations, vasomotor activity, hunger, thirst, and 'air hunger'. In humans, a meta-representation of the primary interoceptive activity is engendered in the right anterior insula, which seems to provide the basis for the subjective image of the material self as a feeling (sentient) entity, that is, emotional awareness." 
     Craig AD. Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Curr Opin Neurobiol 2003; 13(4): 500-5.

     Anxiety sensitivity (AS) ... is the fear of arousal-related sensations, arising from beliefs that the sensations may have harmful physical, social, or psychological consequences. AS is composed of 3 (or 4) dimensions: 
• fear of physical sensations, 
fear of cognitive dyscontrol,
fear of publicly observable anxiety reactions ±
fear of respiratory sensations. 

     AS is a potential common vulnerability factor in PTSD & chronic pain.
     "Interoceptive exposure (IE) is among the most effective methods for decreasing AS. IE involves exposure to feared bodily sensations through harmless, brief exercises (e.g. repeatedly hyperventilating). Through repeated exposure to these sensations, patients learn that the sensations do not lead to catastrophic outcomes, and thus their AS abates." 
       Wald J et al. Posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic pain arising from motor vehicle accidents: efficacy of interoceptive exposure plus trauma-related exposure therapy. Cogn Behav Ther 2010; 39(2): 104-13.

     "Approaching the pain itself, wherever it is most prominent in the body, with bare attention, open-heartedness, and alert interest even for very brief moments, if that is all that we can muster in any moment, can be profoundly healing, restorative, and illuminating. And if practiced over days, weeks, and months, potentially it can make a difference in the quality of your life for years and years going forward. What we are talking about is really befriending your experience at the level of the body and at the level of the mind and heart, and seeing what unfolds.”                           Jon Kabat-Zinn 
       Gardner-Nix, J. “The mindfulness solution to pain. Step-by-step techniques for chronic pain management.” New Harbinger Publications Inc, Oakland CA, 2009.

Photo: Janolus

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Samsara AND Enlightened Behavior

     The bible says that the poor will always be with us, yet advises giving to the poor. Even more striking is the Bodhisattva vow:
     "Beings are numberless, I vow to free them;
     Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them;
     Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them;
     The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it." 

     Interestingly, problem-focused thinking (which rarely works) is about trying to quickly, definitively fix what's perceived as being broken - eg eliminate poverty by "declaring war" on it. Solution-focused thinking (which does tend to work) is all about fostering small, incremental improvements.

Photo: rok urankar

Monday, December 10, 2012

We can't afford to Freak out or be Overwhelmed when there's Real Danger

     A few times I've been in life-or-death situations, as when I was driving on the highway during a winter storm with my wife and (at the time) young sons. Our car suddenly did three 360° spins on a busy highway. Everything occurred in slow motion, silence - no self-talk, complete calm, as I tried to slowly correct for the spin with my steering. It was only after the car came to a complete stop, safely off the road, that fear / anger arose - "what if ...?" Our sons burst out laughing in the back seat, thinking I'd just pulled off a great Dukes of Hazard stunt. Meaningless things - like Halifax drivers who only signal to celebrate the completion of a turn - still bother me.
      I've also seen a number of people who tend to behave badly, become really centered and wise when they're in serious trouble eg diagnosed with cancer, or when a loved one dies. Then after they get over the traumatic event, they're back to being their "old selves".
     Hard times do seem to bring out the best in us. Ajahn Chah reportedly would ask his students: "Are you suffering?" and when they said they were, he'd laugh and say "Good!" I'm convinced he did this out of "grandmotherly love."

See also:

Siobhán Gallagher

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Do I TRUST ???

     What do I trust? is a fundamentally important open question to ask. Our self-concept and worldview are based entirely on our current most reliable information / paradigm about what is true, trustworthy, reliable (in this shifting, changing, uncontrollable world).
     What do you trust? a Rolex? a yacht? a Mercedes (German-built of course)? being right while everyone else is wrong? a 10-million-dollar bank account (in Switzerland)? a special diet? another special diet? a really, really special diet? working harder, smarter, longer & longer & longer? a respected well-paying profession? special people to work with? much more special people to work with? washing your hands till they're really, really, really clean? a magic spell to let you live for 100 disease-free years? MANY people chase after at least some of these 'magic potions' COMPULSIVELY for a LIFETIME. "And how's that working for you?"
     What if someone told you (gently) that what you're betting your life's happiness on is complete & utter crap? Would you let go, re-evaluate & formulate a more reasonable paradigm? Or do you "pride" yourself for hanging on to your opinions, right or wrong, like a bulldog? Do addicts drop gambling, booze, or cocaine based on the heart-felt advice of loved ones, counsellors, physicians?
     Do you truly trust anyone? Has your basic goodness / sanity / Buddha-nature recognized the very same perfection in another person? If yes, then that person is trustworthy - at least as much as you are - which is shy of 100% isn't it? Because there's dukkha - unsatisfactoriness, imperfection - in ALL PHENOMENA, including you & me - despite our core of perfection.
     At some point, some (but not all) of us eventually learn that staking our "one precious life" on transient crap ... is crap.
     This is serious. Our hair IS on fire - life is fleeting. What do I trust? Who am I? What's going on here? - critical open questions to orient oneself in a world of addictive distractions.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We All Live in Deep Time

     "Lately I have been thinking about the past, the long long past. Each life comes out of it, and, at the end, each life returns to it. When you forget this - when you think your life is just your own little life - you can feel very lonely and lost. But when you remember it, your life takes on a great weight and a great meaning. You do what you do not only for your life but for the lives that have gone before and for the lives that will come. This means we all live in deep time. 

     The older I get the more I appreciate my parents, my grandparents, and the many generations that have gone before. And the more I appreciate my teachers, and their teachers, and the teachers who have gone before.  The Dharma is a precious thing. It's not for us - we experience it for a minute, and then we pass it on to others who will experience it for a minute and pass it on. It's the passing on, in time, through time, as time (the Dharma may be nothing other than time) that really counts. That counts now, as we live this life with its full power."                   Norman Fischer


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dukkha - AND YET - All Manner of Things Are Well ...

     Near the end of my professional career, I'd like to be taking it easier at work, sorting through my large collection of clinical cases and putting them into a suitable format to serve as teaching material, writing a few papers for publication - essentially summing up my career. Instead, I'm taking on more and more routine tasks. Part of the reason for this increased busyness is serious illness of some of my colleagues, forcing them to retire prematurely. So I'm "sharing the load".
     I feel fortunate being able to help, rather than having to retire early. Soon enough, I'll be the one who can no longer provide help. Then I hope to have enough humility & wisdom to accept help gracefully - something with which I, like most health-care professionals, have minimal experience or skill.
     This is a unique part of life, when one's fully aware of life's fragility, yet healthy enough - ever so briefly - to have agency

     "Once you feel in your bones and throughout your awareness the emptiness of your mind, you are at peace. Even when problems and difficulties arise, there's still the thread of peace woven in at the heart of them."      Norman Fisher 
       Shambhala Sun January 2013

Photo: RuthC

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Congruent Healing Metaphors Transform

     "At the heart of any healing practice are metaphorical transformations of the quality of experience (from feeling ill to wellness) and the identity of the person (from afflicted to healed). 

     metaphorical thinking conjoins sensory, affective and motivational levels of representation in ways that can help account for psychophysiological effects of symbolic interventions. Imagine a hierarchy of mental representational ‘spaces’ in which the lower levels correspond to the processing done by phylogenetically older parts of the brain involving sensory qualities and basic motivational valences, whereas other levels or layers correspond to representations of experience in terms of emotional states and more abstract conceptual structures. Metaphors transform our perceptions and representations by moving them through sensory, affective and abstract conceptual spaces. According to how this movement occurs within these independent spaces, any communication gives rise to multiple interpretations.These hierarchically stacked levels of meaning are text and subtext, literal and metaphorical strands of meaning in communication and action. Importantly, these multiple levels of interpretation go on in parallel and may reinforce each other, giving experience profound depth and resonance, or contradict each other creating complex experiences of irony, ambivalence and ambiguity."

       Kirmayer LJ.  The cultural diversity of healing: meaning, metaphor and mechanism. Br Med Bull 2004; 69: 33-48.

Photo: Bill Bentley