Sunday, 29 December 2013

#466 Timelessness?

     Linear time may seem quite rational. Timelessness may be something you experience as equally if not more reasonable, in time. Yes, both time and timelessness.

Steve McCurry

Saturday, 28 December 2013

#465 On a Journey

     Doesn't life feel like a journey? As we get older, don't we recognize recurrent themes? Aren't these repeated opportunities to finally "get it right" - much like the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day"?

     Hopefully, we grow a bit wiser as we get older ...

Steve McCurry

Friday, 27 December 2013

#464 "Little Needs, Much Contentment"

     "If we have few needs and much contentment, we experience the wealth of the world around us, and when we experience that wealth, there's nothing we need to renounce and nothing we need to add to it."
     Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel

Steve McCurry

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

#463 What is Most Solid?

     Standing on stardust
     Ephemeral energy
     One thing endures

Steve McCurry

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

#462 Gratitude, Perception & Quality of Life

     What do I feel grateful for right now?

     Can I savour & rest in this attitude? 

     How does this attitude affect my overall perception?

     How does my perception affect my overall quality of life?

Steve McCurry

Monday, 23 December 2013

#461 Paradox of Two Perspectives

     The usual (default) way in which we perceive things - ourselves & everything else - is based on a (dualistic) self-concept which is separate from, & in an adversarial relationship with everyone & everything else. We therefore automatically expend considerable energy avoiding (aversion, anger)  stimuli we reject; while chasing after to get & keep (craving, clinging) stimuli we want. This reactive reflex is hard-wired into our fully-functional brain stem. The typical mode of existence within dualism is suffering.

     A very different way of perceiving reality (rare without training) is experiencing one's self as an inherent part of the physical universe (nondualistic). A sense of wholeness & interconnectedness ("interbeing") is usually the result of a very gradual, radical shift in perception / way of being, brought about by consistent mindfulness meditation practice. This mode of existence is characterized by wonder, gratitude, love & joy
     One remains fully aware of the former perspective & way of being, but it is no longer the only way, so one is no longer trapped within dualism

     From within dualism, the concept of nondualism may seem attractive, but the experience of it cannot be imagined. A practical approach is patient, consistent, persistent, mindfulness meditation practice. Intelligent sustained practice inevitably cultivates & matures this natural, universal human capacity.

Steve McCurry

Sunday, 22 December 2013

#460 Waking Up - OR - Suffering

     “We become disabled, unable to function in areas of our lives that evoke feelings we’ve never learned to tolerate. Turning away from this primary pain creates a second, ongoing level of suffering: living in a state of contraction and constricted awareness.”                          John Welwood

        Glickman M. “Beyond the breath. Extraordinary mindfulness through whole-body Vipassana meditation.” Journey Editions, Boston, 2002.

      “The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique:
a change of heart.”                                                       John Welwood

      “We have little choice about anything, moving around as we do in a sleepy, anxious cloud of habit and conditioned response. … The only choice we have anyway is to wake up.”                                                               Stephen Butterfield

       Welwood J. ed. “Ordinary magic. Everyday life as spiritual path.” Shambhala, Boston, 1992.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

#459 What If?

     what if we acknowledged the wise place within each of us that can give us intelligent guidance? Then we could begin to look at our present life circumstances, whatever they may be, as the raw material of our learning. But in order to do this, we must stop regarding ourselves as victims of circumstances, and start to acknowledge that we are not here purely by accident. The master within is trying to help us wake up by confronting us with our current life situation, which contains all the lessons we need to learn in order to grow into more fully developed human beings.”

       Welwood J. ed. “Ordinary magic. Everyday life as spiritual path.” Shambhala, Boston, 1992. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

#458 Nothing is Hidden

     "The ninth century Zen master Siubi was asked: 'What is the secret of Zen?' 'Come back when there is nobody around and I shall tell you.' The inquirer returned. Siubi took him to a bamboo grove, pointed at the bamboos and said: 'See how long these are. See how short these are!'
     Suddenly the questioner saw, 'had a flash of awakening.' What did he see? He had a revelation of sheer existence. Where there is revelation, explanation becomes superfluous. Curiosity is dissolved in wonder."

       Welwood J. ed. “Ordinary magic. Everyday life as spiritual path.” Shambhala, Boston, 1992.

     How does the story above strike you? With patient, persistent practice, our ability to see things clearly - as they are - gradually (at times suddenly) improves.

Steve McCurry

Thursday, 19 December 2013

#457 Why Practice Mindfulness

     The need for self-regulation takes priority over and necessarily precedes self-exploration & liberation. The critical thing to remember is that adequate self-regulation is NOT "as good as it gets" and that mindfulness practice is an effective, well-trodden path for self-exploration, and beyond.

     "the intention behind traditional Eastern mindfulness practice is transformation, liberation, & compassion for all beings,
     whereas in the Western context, the intention includes more secular motivations such as time-out from daily stress, development of better coping mechanisms, or as a means of self-regulation."

       Thurman SK. Review of 'Neuroscience, consciousness & spirituality.' Mindfulness 2013; 4(3): 286-88.

      "The goal of meditation at its deepest level has been liberation from the egoic self; developing a sense of harmony with the universe; and the ability to increase one's compassion, sensitivity, & service to others. These goals may include, but go beyond, personal self-regulation or self-exploration."

        Shapiro DH. Examining the content and context of meditation; A challenge for psychology in the areas of stress management, psychotherapy, and religion/values. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1994; 34(4): 101-135.  


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

#456 Awakening to Things as They Are

     We progressively awaken to the moment-to-moment reactions we have to life by noticing how each reaction is preceded by a felt physical sensation. Two amazingly frequent sensations:
     1) closing off, tightening / hardening of the body - particularly the heart-mind - towards stimuli that we negatively judge. This is aversion or hatred - a rigid, adversarial reaction.
     2) aching hunger - particularly in the gut - towards stimuli we judge to be enticing, desirable. This is craving or clinging - a wanting, wishing, pining away for, desperately desiring to keep reaction.
     In aversion / hatred we're running from / fighting off stuff, in craving / clinging we're running after / desperately hanging-on to stuff, based on the fundamental misunderstanding: that things as they are, are unacceptable. 
     And how actually are things as they are? Fluidly changing, ephemeral - far more like inner transient energies than solid external chunks of matter, that can either be accumulated in our bedrooms, or hauled far away to be buried.
     These are not dogma, simply observations at a given stage of mindfulness meditation practice. From a Western psychological perspective, it represents a normal, healthy shift from rigidity towards psychological flexibility & accepting reality.

St. Andrews by John England

Monday, 16 December 2013

#455 Learning to Open Up to & Depend on Others

     "In Roger Ebert’s review of Sean Penn’s poignant movie of Into the Wild, Ebert wrote, 'This is a reflective, regretful, serious film about a young man swept away by his uncompromising choices. Two of the more truthful statements in recent culture are that we need a little help from our friends, and that sometimes we must depend on the kindness of strangers.
     If you don't know those two things & accept them, you will end up eventually in a bus of one kind or another.'"

The Search for Meaning

Science, spirituality, and our desire for satisfaction
by Galen Guengerich PhD


Sunday, 15 December 2013

#454 Divided Life - or - One Continuous Mindfulness Practice?

     For some of us, dressing up, going to school or work, behaving professionally and doing our tasks, all feel phoney. It all feels like "acting" to earn money so we can put food on the table, and be able to do the things we really enjoy doing & be ourselves. The sense of having to work, having to expend (minimal) effort, producing products & services that (barely) meet standards under tight supervision, are the natural result of living a divided life. This breeds an us-against-them, adversarial attitude between students & teachers, between staff & management. There's no engagement, no personal investment or initiative - the "real me" wants to be elsewhere. This is presenteeism - the land of the walking dead. A huge desire, & unrealistic expectations arise for any opportunity to escape drudgery: weekends, holidays, and the holy grail - retirement. Such students & workers complain because they're truly unhappy, & externalize their unhappiness, believing that the cause lies outside of themselves. Their teachers & bosses usually don't understand the underlying psychology, but do look forward to replacing them with far more collaborative, vital, engaged people.
      Of course it's perfectly normal to sometimes have "a part" of us want to stay home from work - go skiing or read a good book. However, it's also perfectly normal & healthy for another "part" of us to want to go to work and fully, authentically engage in our profession. All play & no work also makes Jack a dull boy! Judging either work or play all good or all bad is extreme, unbalanced & unhealthy.  
     Even retired wealthy individuals feel the need to contribute meaningfully to society. So how can healthy young people possibly feel phoney by working? Is it not that their ideas of "meaning", "self" & "worldview" require maturation?
     These are not simple matters of morality. None of us have had ideal childhoods, full of unconditional love, stable healthy wealthy wise families, friends, etc. But we do have to start where we are - right here, right now. The opposite of externalizing all our problems is seeing all that we encounter as a learning opportunity. We can choose to be fully engaged with, directly experiencing every moment of life with our heart-mind open.
     It is possible to live authentically through continuous mindfulness practice.

Don Pentz - Flood Tide, Broad Cove

Saturday, 14 December 2013

#453 Mindfulness - Only Because it Works Well

     Thich Nhat Hanh defined mindfulness as "the energy to be here and to witness deeply everything that happens in the present moment, aware of what is going on within and without.

     Staying focused in the present, fully aware of the immediacy of the task at hand, is important to (Hanh), since, as he predicts, 'If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert. With the fork in my hand, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the texture and the flavor of the dessert, together with the pleasure of eating it will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment."

       Brinkerhoff MB, Jacob JC. Mindfulness and quasi-religious meaning systems: An empirical exploration within the context of ecological sustainability and deep ecology. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 1999; 38(4): 524-42.

     Compare this with basketball legend Michael Jordan's attitude towards training:

Sea Fog from Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market this morning Dec 14, 2014

Thursday, 12 December 2013

#452 Meaning in Life & Levels of Well-being

     "Meaning in life is regarded as a critical facet of well-being, referring to people’s judgments that their lives are coherent, make sense, & are endowed with a sense of overarching purpose. Most research on meaning in life (& the closely-related construct, purpose in life) has drawn from adult samples. Across hundreds of studies, higher levels of meaning in life consistently are related to greater well-being & better health, as well as lesser psychological distress & reduced impact from physical illness, including death. Although research on meaning in life within adolescents is more scarce, a similar pattern of results emerges, leading some to suggest that meaning in life is foundational to positive youth development."
       Henry KL et al. The potential role of meaning in life in the relationship between bullying victimization and suicidal ideation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 2013 DOI 10.1007/s10964-013-9960-2.

      The depth of each person's interest, investigation & direct experience of life's meaning, self-concept, & worldview can vary greatly from blissful ignorance to transcendent joy, with a broad band of "ordinary unhappiness" in between.
     "People might search for meaning if they feel like their lives are meaningless or if they were motivated to continually deepen their ideas about what their lives mean. The definition of search for meaning accounts for both kinds of motivations. Essentially, the presence of meaning is about the destination and search for meaning is about the journey."
       Steger MF, Kashdan TB. The unbearable lightness of meaning: Well-being and unstable meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology 2013; 8(2): 103-115.

     Mindfulness practice is a wise, life-long, progressive path from ignorance & unhappiness, towards joy. 

     "When you're walking through hell,
       Keep walking!"

Monday, 9 December 2013

#451 Creativity, Growth, Change ... All Live Here

     Competitive athletes achieve both training effect & winning performances at a potent borderland - past their comfort zone, just short of injury. Creative folks create in this borderland - past the known, just short of chaos. Extreme sports enthusiasts thrive here - past normal safety, just short of recklessness.

     During sitting meditation we ride the energy of this potent borderland directly, without a saddle. In this laboratory of the mind, there are no buffers - no gym equipment, no art materials, no climbing gear - nothing to shield us from the raw energy of life - the "anxious quiver of being" - the "growing edge."
     Releasing the mundane, resting effortlessly in the timeless present, alert, curious, energized, at home in liminality. This is mindfulness practice.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

#450 Growth & Integration are Lifelong Practices

     "Everyone is equal" (see: is a popular concept, but may not be reasonable across the board. Specifically, are conservers (who seek the security & harmony of living in accord with social norms), achievers (who value social recognition & achievement), and seekers (who seek personal knowledge & independence of social norms) all equally evolved psychosocially - OR - does each person need to become a "seeker"?

     The most obvious drawback with being a conserver or achiever is that their priority to "fit in" with any status quo (government, corporation, gang, cult, friends etc) always comes at a personal & societal cost.
     Seekers do not blend seamlessly into existing cultures. A good part of their energy is - & IMHO everyone's should be - directed towards following an internal compass pointing towards a life of increasing depth, breadth & meaning. Nelson Mandela was a wonderful seeker.

       Helson R, Srivastava S. Three paths of adult development: conservers, seekers, and achievers. J Pers Soc Psychol 2001; 80(6): 995-1010.

Wong Heng Meng

Saturday, 7 December 2013

#449 Advanced Self-development: Self-actualization, Self-transcendence & Personal Wisdom

     "Advanced self-development is characterized by mature self-awareness, self-insight, openness to experience, open-mindedness, comfort with ambiguity, & cognitive complexity in terms of self & others. These personal qualities represent an integrated type of self-development that is considered to be a form of actualization tendency.
     The concept of self-actualization ... refers to a developmental process that involves the actualization or full use of one’s abilities or potential. ... the most agreed upon attributes of self-actualization ... include: meaning in life, positive self-esteem, personal responsibility, self-awareness, intimacy, empathy, realistic perceptions, insight, and resistance to undue social pressure. ... the construct of self-actualization is represented by two essential traits: openness to experience and self-reference or centeredness. 'The first depicts interest in varied experiences for its own sake (interest or pleasure) whereas the second describes awareness and consciousness of what is taking place in one’s personal experience.' Thus ... self-actualization is 'a process through which one’s potential is developed in congruence with one’s self-perception and one’s experience.' 
     Self-transcendence is the ability to see oneself & the world in a way that is not hindered by the boundaries of one’s ego identity and, thus, it involves a heightened sense of meaning and connectedness with others and with the world. 'Being able to detach from the external definitions of the self and dissolving rigid boundaries between self and other allows for self-transcendence.' Self-transcendence is considered by wisdom researchers to be a consequence of advanced self-development or self-actualization posited that the capacity for self-transcendence is an aspect of ego growth that is motivating during each developmental period and, thus, it can be realized at any age through practice and mature coping. The key is “having a strong identity”.  
     In summary, self-actualization involves advanced self-development or actuation of growth, whereas self-transcendence involves an ability to expand or transcend the boundaries of one’s ego identity. Together, self-actualization and self-transcendence include a rich form of self-knowledge and awareness that is characterized by openness, self-reflection, and insight based in a mature identity that is not hampered by ego preoccupation. Thus, these two attributes encompass or provide a pathway to personal wisdom.

       Beaumont SL. Identity processing and personal wisdom: An information-oriented identity style predicts self-actualization and self-transcendence. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research 2009; 9(2): 95-115.

Friday, 6 December 2013

#448 Health to Better Health - Transcending Limiting Self-concepts & Worldviews

      An intelligent, curious, open-minded individual is very much more likely to practice mindfulness than someone who's averse to self-reflection, denies any need to change, and is content to conform to the status quo. Interestingly, mindfulness practice further cultivates the attributes of the - already healthiest - informational identity style.

     "Identity is defined as ‘an internal, self-constructed, dynamic organization of drives, abilities, beliefs & individual history’. ... a clear & committed sense of identity provides the personality coherency necessary to adapt positively to the demands of adulthood.
     Defense mechanisms are patterns of involuntary thoughts, feelings, & behaviors that function to hide or alleviate anxiety-causing stressors. Although some defenses (e.g., denial) can be maladaptive because their use involves disregarding or distorting reality, other defenses are considered to be adaptive in that they represent a form of involuntary coping with stressful life events that provides a means for adjustment. Thus, the maturity of defense use can be viewed as an indicator of adaptive adjustment to life stress.

     ... an individual’s sense of identity is formed & maintained by a preferred style of social-cognitive processing, along with related dispositional & behavioral characteristics. ... three different styles that individuals typically use to process and adapt to self-relevant information:
     • information-oriented or informational identity style is used by individuals who actively confront self-relevant questions and problems by critically evaluating information.
     • norm-oriented or normative identity style is used by individuals who conform to the expectations of significant others in dealing with personal decisions and identity relevant issues and, thus, they are presumed to be defensive about self-relevant feedback. 
     • diffuse-avoidant identity style is used by individuals who tend to be low in self-awareness and avoid dealing with identity issues. 

     Generally speaking, the diffuse-avoidant identity style was found to be associated with maladjustment whereas the normative & informational styles were associated with positive adjustment. For example, individuals who prefer to use a diffuse-avoidant style reported poorer adjustment to university, lower self-esteem, & greater life distress & depressive symptomatology ...
     personality & cognitive characteristics underlying the informational identity style appears to provide the basis for better adjustment than does the normative style. For example, in addition to having committed beliefs, individuals with an informational identity style are high in openness, self-reflectiveness, introspection, need for cognition, & cognitive complexity whereas normative individuals are less open, self-reflective, cognitively flexible, and have a high need for closure. 
     ... the informational style has also been found to be uniquely & positively related to emotional intelligence, proactive coping, personal growth, hardiness, & personal wisdom. In contrast ... individuals who prefer a normative identity style might employ avoidant coping strategies & operate in a defensive manner."
       Seaton CL, Beaumont SL. Identity processing styles and defense styles during emerging adulthood: Implications for life distress. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research 2011; 11(1): 1-24.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

#447 Shutting Down instead of Growing, Learning

     While it's relatively easy to think & talk about various physical or psychosocial capacities, embodying these is a qualitatively distinct matter - see:
     It's both fascinating and sad to see someone shut down, while I'm talking to them about a level for which they're not ready. Their eyes suddenly loose sparkling aliveness - like blinds suddenly dropping to quickly cover the scene beyond their status quo. Retreat to safety is their sudden silent cry. Though they may continue to agree, it's a dull, lifeless agreement which means "no".
     Skillful teaching, mentoring, coaching, psychotherapy, etc involves helping people feel safe while experiencing liminality - their growing edge. This is exceedingly challenging, because people normally feel vulnerable, exposed, out of control here. The resultant fear often leads to simple avoidance - "shut down," but can even manifest as anger & aggression - see:
     A good educator requires many of the same qualities & skills a good psychotherapist possesses. Students, especially today, have extremely fragile egos, which makes learning particularly traumatic for them and thus may well project this outwardly, misperceiving educators as adversaries.
      Students with the will & skills to succeed 
1) recognize their own boundaries, & do not mistake these for solid, permanent barriers; 
2) do not mistake educators, therapists etc as enemies, but recognize them as collaborators; 
3) confidently, persistently, keep opening up to more & more broadly encompassing knowledge.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

#446 Gratitude, Service & Responsibility

     The great philosopher Huston Smith summarized a profound approach to life:

"Infinite gratitude towards all things past;
infinite service to all things present
infinite responsibility to all things future."

     Can we acknowledge how this, and only this, total timeless engagement with life is right, natural, our only home?
     Can we recognize that anything less than such an openhearted mindful embrace of the whole is partial, incomplete, inadequate, and therefore - painfully unsatisfying?
     Can we then reduce suffering by settling for nothing less?
     Can we recognize how this is as plainly reasonable & practical as pulling a splinter out of our thumb?


Kristiina Lehtonen - "A Message to Eternity"

Friday, 29 November 2013

#445 Barriers, Limits, Ceilings, Friction, Noise ...

     "psychological maturation can continue far beyond our arbitrary, culture-bound definitions of normality. There exist further developmental possibilities latent within us all. As William James pointed out, 'Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness.... We all have reservoirs of life to draw upon, of which we do not dream."

       Walsh R, Vaughan F eds. Paths beyond ego. The transpersonal vision. Penguin Putnam Inc, NY, 1993. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

#444 Dancing in Constant Change

     “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.”           Isaac Asimov

     "The psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man's existential problems change."                                                       Clare W. Graves (1914-1986) 

      “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”           William James

Steve McCurry

Monday, 25 November 2013

#443 Our Self-concepts & Worldviews Must Mature

     Normal human psychological maturation or development is an iterative stepwise process of learning - an evolution of consciousness. We always have a self-concept & a worldview. Regardless how conscious or unaware we may be of these basic personal models of reality - these paradigms - they powerfully guide & shape our lives. Our life experiences in turn gradually modify - and at times, traumatically destroy - the current working paradigms, and so we must gradually erect a more reasonably accurate, more workable model. Then further life experiences gradually or suddenly force further renos, and on it goes, in repeated cycles.
     Life transitions are not rare, but occur constantly. Even normal transitions - eg puberty, menopause, retirement - are variably traumatic. Death of loved ones, though also a "normal" part of life, can be very traumatic - a veritable "shipwreck." How well we manage the constant upgrading of our self-concept & worldview paradigms is of fundamental importance - it determines the quality & direction of our lives. We can accomplish this work intentionally, wisely, mindfully.

     See "Beyond 'Stress Management' - Resilience for Real Life":
     "Adult Psychosocial Development & Maturation":
     "Readiness for Change":
     "Stories of Me, Myself, & I": 

Two Hands