Monday, October 23, 2017

On the Path towards Wisdom

     Tejaniya encourages us to “keep practicing continuously ... Eventually wisdom will outweigh the defilements***, and you will begin to gather momentum. The practice will then become interesting; new avenues will open to you. Then you will begin to see and be part of a simpler and less complicated reality …”

*** Defilements: ‘unwholesome qualities that can defile or taint the mind’ – negative qualities of mind that have the potential to make us suffer and cause trouble in our lives. Defilements in meditation practice (refer to) greed, hatred or aversion, and delusion. There are many subcategories of these three defilements …”

     We're "hard-wired" for our minds to slip into defilements: we have a fully functional brain stem that reacts automatically to even the mildest dislikes; the mildest preferences; and the many, many in-between "neutrals"; with immediate visceral feelings of, respectively: hatred, aversion, anger; or  greed, clinging, attachment; or boredom, delusion or confusion. In cave-dwelling times, this crude survival-mating focused level of consciousness helped us survive. But now, in our closely-interconnected, interdependent, collaborative world, this primitive level of consciousness causes a great deal of harm, and little if any benefit. See:
     It's also very helpful to understand how trauma ramps up the power & persistence of this fear-based level of consciousness. “If you feel safe and loved, your brain (is) specialized in exploration, play, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it (is) specialized in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.” Bessel Van Der Kolk. “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” Penguin Books, 2015. Fortunately, we have neuroplasticity & the ability to learn healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

     Secular philosophical & psychological wisdom studies, and all of the world's wisdom traditions advise us to intentionally mature from primitive egocentricity, towards the much more appropriate & evolved allo- & ecocentricity

     "Four central features of wisdom (are recognized) in both European & Asian philosophy: self-knowledge, detachment, integration, and self-transcendence. …
     (These) four features can be conceptualized as developmental stages:

     Self-knowledge is awareness of what constitutes one’s sense of self in the context of roles, relationships, and beliefs.
     Detachment refers to awareness of the transience of external aspects of one’s sense of self.
     Integration means overcoming the separation among different ‘inner selves,’ that is, accepting and integrating all facets of one’s self.
     Finally, self-transcendence refers to independence of the
self of external definitions and dissolution of mental boundaries between self and others. … ‘self-transcendence is equivalent to wisdom and implies the dissolution of (self-based) obstacles to empathy, understanding, and integrity’.”
       Staudinger UM, Gluck J. "Psychological wisdom research: commonalities and differences in a growing field." Annu Rev Psychol 2011; 62: 215-41. 

Courtesy of Buddha Doodles

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Meditation Practice

     Peacefully "gathering data", observing & learning to understand nature: the lawful unfolding of causes & conditions?  
     What IS this, right here, right now?


     Fearfully re-playing the endless "story of me" in the quicksand of obsessing about "I, me & mine"?


     Gratefully mindful that attention is noticed being off course, attention effortlessly, gently, patiently, seamlessly shifts back to reality: 
     "Just this" right here, right now.

THEN  ...

by Georgia Peschel

Friday, October 20, 2017

Over-reacting & Suffering

     When we're betrayed by someone we assumed loved us, doesn't it feel as if we've physically been "stabbed in the back"? When we're "heart-broken" doesn't it feel physically real? And there are many other examples of emotional trauma feeling as if someone had actually tried to kill us, leaving us mortally wounded.
     Threats to our sense of self are interpreted, & thus feel very much like attempts on our life. That is why we feel them and react to them so powerfully, so viscerally. We unknowingly conflate our ego (self-concept, reputation, plans, etc) with our very life.

     So we take many things way too seriously, way too personally. We over-react and therefore suffer & cause others to suffer. An insult is NOT attempted murder (even though it can feel like it).

     “Until we have developed the wisdom to see what is necessary or not necessary for our survival, we will continue to suffer. From the wisdom that we develop, a moral standard will emerge that can be the guiding principle by which we can measure all of our actions. This is a principle that is not conditioned by concepts or conceits but is one of the very principles of nature itself and can form the way in which we conduct our lives. This is right action.”
     Sayadaw U Tejaniya. “Where Awareness Becomes Natural. A Guide to Cultivating Mindfulness in Daily Life.” Shambhala, 2016.

Katie Hoffman      "Swimming in a River of Shit"

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What is the Right Effort?

     An intelligent, highly-engaged participant in an 8-week Mindfulness-based stress reduction program recently asked these questions:
     • Do you have any information (written or pictorial) on how to perform the various meditations/breathing exercises etc? We are “doing” them so there is no time to record exactly what we are doing. I find it difficult sometimes to remember (which hopefully will improve through being mindful) what it was that we did so having a sheet that outlines the steps will help me a lot with home practice.
     • Also I do not understand this: "The type of goal-oriented effort we tend to use to 'get ahead' at school and the workplace is not universally optimal nor even suitable." 

     Can you comment on this statement to make it clearer? I take the “goal-oriented striving effort” to mean you work hard and strive for accomplishment. You have steps you have mapped out to reach your goals. I would take that as ensuring you are doing your daily practice etc. If that is an appropriate example I do not understand why it would not be optimal.
     • Also “psychological health involves skillful balance between goal-oriented effort and acceptance”. What does this mean? Can you offer an example?

My response:
     I hope you’ve received the 10-Minute Guided Meditation audio file, which I hope clearly reviews the key meditation instructions. 
     Ideally, we can patiently follow the instructions as we perform the mindfulness practices together & in this way we effortlessly internalize them - allowing / welcoming them in. If instead, we worry about getting it right or perfect i.e. remain in a future-oriented striving mode, instead of engaging fully in the present-moment practice, we “remain in our heads” & may well become confused & stressed. The urge to use the default goal-oriented effort, & want to write all the steps down on paper, is completely natural, understandable & very common (more on this below).

     RE: "The type of goal-oriented effort we tend to use to 'get ahead' at school and the workplace is not universally optimal nor even suitable."
     Our usual attitude of mind or level of consciousness is based on ancient survival instincts: if I can achieve X in the future, then I’ll survive, and perhaps even thrive & have offspring. This has allowed the human & less evolved species to survive for a very long time, and is generally beneficial for basic survival

     But what if this were the ONLY or STRONGLY DOMINANT attitude of mind or level of consciousness we could access, and: we’re at a romantic get-away, birthday party, massage, wine tasting, poetry reading, music class, fine art exhibition or symphony? OR attending a Mindfulness-based stress reduction course, or silent meditation retreat? How would Sheldon, from the "Big Bang Theory," appreciate / enjoy such events?
     Yes, our usual goal-oriented effort does help us achieve certain goals, but it actually gets in the way of achieving many others, which require a completely different set of attitudes & far more evolved level of consciousness or state of being: acceptance, a quiet ego, quiet mind, stillness, silence, patience. 

     North American society seems to operate almost exclusively on a relentlessly fast-paced schedule of goal-oriented “doing”, mostly ignoring “being” who / what we already are. Silent self-reflection, asking deep questions like “Who am I?”, “What’s going on?” “What is the meaning to all this?” are drowned out by the noise of rushing to get / become more / bigger / faster. Yet, no matter how much fame, money, power etc we amass, we’re no happier, - in fact the opposite. At some level we all know that racing towards goals, and or trying to run from our demons through continuous distraction, only makes us exhausted & frustrated. Quantity simply can’t replace quality.

     The key is a healthy balance between looking after ourselves AND seriously investigating & investing quality time in what brings about real quality of life & deep meaning. We require 2 very different AND complimentary attitudes of mind or levels of consciousness to live full, deeply meaningful lives. As we mature, this healthy balance involves a progressive shift from self-concern, towards concern for others and the environment.

     More about this:

Marc Chagall "I and the Village"

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Who is Minding the Mind?

     A toddler breaks his favorite toy and experiences perhaps his first "shipwreck" - his whole world crumbles and cries his heart out. His grandmother sees this, smiles, and gently reassures the child, who then fabricates a new worldview, one that now includes the possibility of life even after one's favorite toy breaks.
      The toddler's quality of life is completely dependent on & controlled by his external circumstances. He reacts automatically - almost machine-like - to his environment. Such reflexive reactions typically bring about "short-term gain", which we realize at some point, usually comes with "long-term pain." Reactivity can remain a dominant, destructive force throughout one's entire life.
      A very wise individual's quality of life can be stunningly independent of external circumstances. See: Instead of reflexively reacting to environmental changes, they experience a gap in time, during which they can choose from a variety of possible responses ranging greatly with respect to the probable long-term effects on themselves, others & the environment. The wisest choice is that which is thought to bring about the most long-term improved quality of life, & least amount of suffering for all concerned. When wisdom is the highest priority, true happiness & peace arise.
      Reactivity increases from reacting mindlessly to situations. Wisdom increases from responding wisely to situations. Whatever we choose to train in, becomes stronger & easier to use. Prolonged patient continuous mindfulness practice inevitably leads towards greater wisdom-based happiness even under the most challenging situations.
      So we always have a choice: prioritizing the practice of minding our mind - OR - allow the mind to continue running on autopilot?

     "Our true nature is far more ancient and encompassing than the separate self defined by habit and society. We are as intrinsic to our living world as the rivers and trees, woven of the same intricate flows of matter/energy and mind. Having evolved us into self-reflective consciousness, the world can now know itself through us, behold its own majesty, tell its own stories, and also respond to its own suffering." Joanna Macy

     The wisdom level of our consciousness ("the wise grandparent") is inherently part of us. The often dominant autopilot reactivity ("self-centered todler") is ALSO an inherent part of us. We need to explore, get to know & accept ALL aspects of ourself (all our subpersonalities) and thus gradually stabilize in the wisdom level of our consciousness.