Friday, 29 August 2014

#566 Mindfulness Meditation - Expectations & Realities

     Most of us are drawn to meditation practice because we realize that we're anxious, stressed out, depressed. We want all that mess to go away so we can be happy. We hope to use this technique like a scalpel to excise the irritants from our lives.
     But, meditation practice does not work like that. In fact, we'll actually see reality with increasing clarity. Like anything else in life, when we lack the skills to deal with a situation eg skiing down a black diamond slope, we're scared & very reasonably, highly resistant. However, with expert instruction & practice, we gradually look forward to & actually enjoy black diamond runs. 
     Likewise, quality meditation instruction & life-long practice helps us develop skills to negotiate all the slopes of life, from bunny hills to back-country trails, with awareness, kindness & joy.

     More about Challenges & Misconceptions:
     and "Meditation is Powerful":

Early morning mist

Thursday, 28 August 2014

#565 Gentle Questioning

     Can I gently question
          Why I do the things I do?
          Why I say the things I say?
          Why I even think the way I think?
          Is there an overall pattern to the way I live?

          And if there is, is it still how I wish to live my life?

     "In a perfect world", what would I wish for as the central driving force in my life?

     If, from this moment on, that energized & directed my life, how would life be?


Steve McCurry

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

#564 Curious, Open - not Gullible

     Mindfulness is not about dogmas, nor any other form of rigidity.

     "... challenge all teachings ...
     There's a lot of baloney out there. Years ago, a wonderful Hindu teacher ... said, 'The longer the beard, the bigger the fake.' And he, himself, had a beard that almost touched the floor.'"
       Larry Rosenberg. Three Steps to Awakening. A Practice for Bringing Mindfulness to Life. Shambhala, Boston, 2013. 

     Mindfulness is about trying practices found to relieve suffering and bring about peace and joy, and seeing what effect these may have on your life.
     If these improve the quality of your life, do them more. If, after a reasonable trial period, they don't, make sure you're doing them properly. If you're still getting nowhere, try something else. You may (or may not) return to mindfulness practices at a later point in life.
     An excellent approach to statements that seem novel or difficult to understand, is to let them sit, in the back of your mind, as open questions. Their meanings may gradually unfold by themselves.
     Research shows that being open and curious (psychological flexibility) has many, profound benefits over it's alternative (rigidity). 


Monday, 25 August 2014

#563 Meditation Training for Restless, Unhappy Minds

     Researchers in Virginia asked "college-students (to) spend time by themselves in an unadorned room (for 6 to 15 min) after storing all of their belongings, including cell phones & writing implements. They were typically asked to spend the time entertaining themselves with their thoughts, with the only rules being that they should remain in their seats and stay awake.
     ... simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 min was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid. 

      Research has shown that minds are difficult to control, however, and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself."
       Wilson TD et al. "Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind." Science 345 (6492): 75-7; 2014.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

#562 Suffering or Wisdom? We Get to Choose?

     Early this week our 5-year old water heater stopped working. The plumber from the company that sold it to us decided that some parts needed to be replaced, did so, charged $300., and left, but no hot water. The next day, he returned, replaced another part, left, but no hot water. Later that day, he returned, checked his work, left, but still no hot water. The next day, while waiting for him to return, I noticed that I was developing a low-grade tension headache (rare for me). Even thought the repair guy seemed like a pleasant, decent fellow, I was obviously resenting the slowness & inefficiency with which this (very minor) inconvenience was being handled. Waiting for a repairman, and waiting for hot water, was not the way my week was supposed to be! The headache helped me remember meditation teacher John Tarrant's saying:
               "Suffering is the thought 'This isn't it.'
                Wisdom is the thought 'What is this?'"

     What happens in each moment has little if anything to do with what we want or need. Instead, it's the result of innumerable causes & conditions coming together at a unique crossroads in history. It is complex beyond imagination, and impossible to predict or control. Our individual input is usually an incredibly tiny contribution, so why do we fool (inflate?) ourselves thinking we can control anything (other than perhaps our own attitude)?
     When the universe fails to unfold according to our individual desire, we can (like I did) get angry. "This sucks, I don't want this, this is upsetting all my plans ..." Nevertheless, the universe continues to unfold without consulting me, nor as far as I know, any other of earth's ~9 billion human beings. Therefore, remembering to remain curious and open to whatever unfolds moment-to-moment, seems much wiser than being constantly mad.
     Wisdom is generally understood to involve a progressive shift from egocentricity (self concerns) towards allocentricity & ecocentricity (being concerned about others & the environment).
     Yesterday, the plumber returned and succeeded in fixing the heater.

Justin Jung, National Geographic

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

#561 Towards Clarity of Vision & Wisdom

     While the news tends to focus on human beings at their lowest, our destiny is qualitatively, spectacularly beyond what most of us can currently imagine. And we do have what it takes within us to get there.

     "I salute the light within your eyes where the whole Universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you, and I am that place within me, we shall be one."                              Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota Sioux (circa 1840-1877)

Zoran Stanko, National Geographic

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

#560 Doing Less of What Doesn't & More of What Does Work

     Can we learn to become aware of & fed up with strategies that don't bring us long-term peace, contentment & joy? Can we persevere with practices that do? It really is that simple.
     We should not become jaded & cynical when buying junk we don't need, eating junk food, or getting drunk leave us feeling lousy. Of course there's infinitely more to life!

Gretel with toy, August 17, 2014

Monday, 18 August 2014

#559 Holding Reality in Spacious Awareness

     "The point of mindfulness isn't to change experience, but instead to allow experience to be witnessed, or held in the heart of mindfulness that says 'Yes, this is the way things are just now. It's like this.' ... (observe) ... and make space for it all."

       Jack Kornfield: The Case for Mindfulness and Wisdom in Law

Sunday, 17 August 2014

#558 NEITHER Avoiding, Stopping, NOR Pushing Away

     "The reality is that we are a river - a living energy system of sensations & sights & sounds, an energy system of changing feelings & thoughts. And the point of meditation and mindfulness isn't to stop the river - which you can't do.

                    "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."

     That's really the point of mindfulness and meditation - to allow the experience you're having, which is always changing - and to find your composure in it."

       Jack Kornfield: The Case for Mindfulness and Wisdom in Law


Saturday, 16 August 2014

#557 "Getting It"

     Many of us assume that our very survival depends on automatically grabbing what we want, avoiding what we don't. See: Thus, our complex, highly evolved brain is allowed to function at the level of an amoeba's cell membrane.

     In meditation, we learn that our quality of life improves as we recognize, then progressively let go of addictions & aversions. We learn that our prefrontal cortex is highly competent to bring about long-term happiness for us as individuals, for our fellow human beings, other living creatures, and the environment. Our fabulous, underutilized brains & hearts are ready & eager to function at an infinitely higher level. All we need to do is, like a good gardener, provide the right conditions for our higher functioning to flourish.

Friday, 15 August 2014

#556 Whose Life am I Living?

     Resisting doing what we know is best, is very common, and of course, very strange! It's like the old image of a tiny angel sitting on one shoulder whispering good suggestions, while a tiny devil sits on the other shoulder whispering self-destructive alternatives. We buy into this more than we realize. Regardless of which "voice" we obey, it's NOT really OUR OWN choice. Instinctively we resist conforming to other peoples' ideas - living other peoples' lives. We highly value agency, freedom of choice

     So it's worth spending quality time & energy investigating our own deepest values - what precisely gives most meaning to our lives? - then intentionally living life according to this internal compass, as closely & as consistently as possible. In this way, we can live the highest quality, "undivided life".

Thursday, 14 August 2014

#555 Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time

     Don't we err a lot? How often do we look back on situations and say "YES, I did precisely the right thing - exactly as I should have!"? Why is messing up so common, while behaving appropriately is so rare?

     Could it be that we're supposed to learn to become more & more mindful, wise, & appropriate?


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

#554 Interpersonal Engagement

     It's both fascinating and sad to closely observe a person's eyes as you speak to them. The listener's eyes obviously glaze over when they become disengaged - when they don't want to hear what you're saying.
     Why does such disengagement happen SO OFTEN?
     It surely can't be due to lack of importance of the subject matter. After all, most of our conversations are "small talk" ie the topic itself is of minimal importance. Small talk is a way of socializing. And it probably isn't the quality of the delivery of the message - most of us are far from being gifted speakers.
     Two major possibilities remain: the listener already knows or thinks they know what is being said (potential boredom) OR the listener is not ready to hear what's being said (potential stress).

      Could the cause be common mindlessness? Could intentionally remaining open mind-heartedly engaged - despite (supposedly) knowing all that your friend is about to say, or despite assuming that you can't take it all in - be a more powerful form of human bonding than common small talk? Could this become a practical part of your mindfulness practice?


Early Morning Mist on Eagle Lake

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#553 Forgiveness & Emotional Intelligence

     “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”

     “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

     “You can either practice being right or practice being kind.”

       Anne Lamott