Wednesday, 25 February 2015

#645 Eyes, Mind, Heart - OPEN

               "The important thing,
               is not to stop questioning."                                 Einstein

     Our self-concept and worldview can too easily become small, rigid, fossilized. Yet there's so much to learn in this life. It's a terrible waste giving up on discovering 'who I am' and 'what's going on'. Curiosity, openness of mind and heart provide a vastly different life than shrinking into fear.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

#644 The Word We Fear the Most!

     I frequently email over a hundred people who've previously taken courses in, or have otherwise shown interest in Mindfulness. I point them to a blog I've just posted that I feel is particularly worth reading. Over the next few days, such a highlighted blog gets 60-400+ hits.
     Folks on this list are probably far more interested in deep, substantial topics than the average person. Nevertheless, whenever I include one, specific word, the blog gets the absolute lowest number of hits. And what is this most dreaded of all words? Wisdom!
     Why, even among this select, self-reflective group of people, is "wisdom" such a powerful buzz kill? I'm guessing that non-readers assume that:
          • they themselves lack wisdom, 
          • can't do anything to gain any, 
          • certainly can't ever "become wise". 

     Then there's the long history of corrupt religious authority figures who speak of wisdom, yet do so strictly for personal gain. They insist that human beings are inherently evil, doomed to burn in hell. Our only hope is to buy our way into heaven via the clergy. Corrupt clergy strongly oppose meditation, mysticism, gnosticism etc because these empower people spiritually, eliminating corrupt clergy's power, influence & wealth. Legitimate clergy embody wisdom, inviting & inspiring all to share this most magnificant journey.
     For valid reasons, a large segment of society has lost faith in organized religions, yet the old nonsense about humans being inherently evil remains buried in our collective subconscious, and bubbles forth as our current epidemic of cynicism. Most of us have low spiritual self-esteem, and incorrectly assume that there's nothing we can do about it.
     There is transformative wisdom in the world's wisdom traditions, and more than ever, each of us has ready access to these. Mindfulness provides today's educated, intelligent people easy access to access, cultivate & embody our own inherent clarity & wisdom - where all wisdom traditions meet.

Yeah, darlin'
Gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
Like a true nature's child
We were born
Born to be WISE

Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild (lyrics slightly modified)


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

#643 Choosing our Energy

     This morning I was trying to deal with the glare ice that completely covers our driveway. While chipping away at the rock-hard ice, and doing my best to stay on my feet, I became aware of how incredibly close two vastly different, competing energies resided within me.
     Adversarial reactivity, the default energy, quickly, spontaneously arose - me against the ice; anger-based - get rid of this bloody nuisance, immediately! Our reptilian ancestry remains alive and fully functional in all of us - egocentric, impatient.
     But a few seconds later, a "choice gap" opened, and I realized that I'm here to do something kind for my wife, visitors and myself - making the driveway safer, hopefully to avoid injuries. The adversarial reaction immediately morphed into kind intention; time-poverty into timelessness; tightness into openness; coldness into warmth; smallness into spaciousness; fear, anxiety & anger into stillness, peace & love.
     We can waste an incredible amount of time & energy by angrily hacking away at all the challenges (& challengers!) that arise over a lifetime. Many of us are conditioned to routinely take an adversarial approach to life's difficulties. This is fear-based, ineffective, antagonizing, and very hard on everyone, including ourself. 
     With mindfulness training, we learn to quickly recognize & drop this default, bull-in-a-China-shop approach, and immediately a better choice presents. With training, we can choose to embody & enjoy awareness, kindness, timelessness, stillness, peace and joy, under any circumstance, no matter how challenging.

     More Nuanced Energy Choices:

Ami Vitale, National Geographic

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

#642 Nurishing Social Microclimates - the Give & Take - and Tragic Missed Opportunities

     We are social beings, depending much more than we realize on society. We're completely connected in every way with everyone & everything. Thich Nhat Hanh calls this "interbeing". Another evocative term is "porousness". 
     The people with whom we choose to associate most closely form our social microclimate. The quality of the collective heart-mind or consciousness of this group has the greatest impact on our own heart-mind, consciousness, quality of life. Clearly, we must choose our friends & workmates carefully - our life depends on them.

     We've all seen decent people led astray by lousy friends. The most tragic examples are apparently decent but troubled, marginalized youth, only able to find "friendship" online - in some cult, among fundamentalist extremists, 'Columbiners' etc.
     Desperation, loneliness and impatience invariably result in terrible choices. If we don't take care of our troubled, marginalized children, brothers & sisters, sociopaths are eager to abuse them. We are our brothers' & sisters' keepers.
     We not only need for ourselves, but must also provide for others, a social microclimate that nurtures our innate human kindness, goodness and wisdom.


Monday, 16 February 2015

#641 Learning to Intentionally Engage with what's Meaningful & Challenging

     • "How do we prepare students to cultivate their own inner resources of spirit and moral courage? 
     • How do we enable them to engage moral and social dilemmas with clarity about their own values . . . ? 
     • And, how, without proselytizing, do we foster students’ own development of character, conscience, and examined values?

     Contemplative exercises expand students’ learning from the conceptual faculty of mind to the contemplative (non-conceptual) dimension. In other words, (we can) learn to step back from mental-emotional-behavioral phenomena and 'watch' them unfold, as if from the observer standpoint. The goal is to observe one’s inner and outer activity without judgment. According to scientific research from the last twenty years, it is precisely this contemplative 'observer' faculty that has the power to bring about lifelong learning and shifts in consciousness.

     Contemplative pedagogy (eg Mindfulness) is not about a goal, an outcome, or even effort. It is about being alive to the lifelong path of self-evolution – thereby becoming a beneficial presence in the world, to all beings. Isn’t that what any effective pedagogy aims to do?"

       Fran Grace. "Learning as a Path, Not a Goal: Contemplative Pedagogy – Its Principles and Practices." Teaching Theology and Religion 2011; 14 (2): 99-124.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

#640 The Value of One Human Being

     Bedazzlement with "science", but most powerfully, the pervasive intrusion of multinational business, has reduced our respect for individual human beings.
     Anyone should be able to reproduce a scientific experiment and obtain identical results - technique & technology rule, individuals are unimportant, interchangeable to science. 
     It's "good for business" to shut down factories at home, putting countless people out of work, and move production to third world countries where slave-labor conditions are standard - neither our unemployed nor the newly-employed have any value at all to big business. It's all about production & profit. The individual person's quality of life (QoL) is of no concern to business.
     Most shocking, we ourselves are ignoring the value, the meaning, of our own individual life. If you doubt this, review your own self-care habits:
     • do I eat a healthy diet?
     • do I exercise regularly?
     • do I get enough quality sleep?
     • do I spend enough quality time with family & close friends? 
     • do I lead a healthy, balanced life? 
     Chances are you're ignoring self-care because you too prioritize production & profit over the value, the QoL of the individual - yourself! 
     Yet our own individual QoL is intimately linked with & thus critical to the QoL of all other humans. Each individual is as profoundly interconnected with & important to the rest of humanity as any one cell in our body is interconnected with & vital to all other cells in our body.

     We must prioritize recovering our profound respect for our own, and each other's dignity as magnificent mysterious evolving vitally important individual human beings.


Thursday, 12 February 2015

#639 Mindfulness in the Real World

     Many of us, even if we have some mindfulness practice under our belts, underestimate the practical importance and impact of mindfulness on our day-to-day life.
     We (incorrectly) tend to assume that our usual way of being & doing things (ie mindless / autopilot) is practical, effective - "necessary to survive in the real-world".
     Conversely, we (incorrectly) assume that mindfulness is impractical - akin to "being the nice guy" in a world where only SOBs "succeed".
     However, our mindless default state, being egocentric, mostly ignores others, where we are, the present moment - so it's profoundly alienating. Everyone keenly notices whenever we lack interest, attention, caring. There's no engagement, no quality of connection, no quality of life. We may well be seen as irrelevant, burdensome, an energy drain.
     When we're being mindful, others readily perceive our "presence". They feel the vitality of a powerful connection between us: attention, caring, empathy, kindness flows unobstructed. Quality engagement defines interpersonal quality of life. We cultivate a "magnetic personality".
     Mindfulness is a product of sincere, open-hearted practice. It's not easy, but nothing of profound value is.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

#638 Two Paths to Wisdom

    “Juan Pascual-Leone has argued that there are basically two paths to wisdom*
     One is through what he calls ultimate limit situations** - situations, crises, obstacles in life, but really more devastating than that. I would argue, actually, that wisdom also develops through the minor crises and obstacles in life -- basically learning from negative experiences in life. You can also learn from positive experiences, but the negative experiences jolt people out of their everyday rut and sometimes might force them to change priorities. Somebody loses a job at mid-life and questions what is really important in life; and then they start a new career or something that might be more meaningful … and they might want to contribute more to society. In this way, Pascual-Leone would argue, this is one pathway to wisdom. 
     The other pathway, what he would argue, is meditation.

     He would say that we don't necessarily have to have those traumatic experiences. One can just sit and reflect on what is important … without necessarily having this really big event. So negative experiences can actually be the teacher that help to develop wisdom. 
     People say learning from experiences is really important to develop wisdom, but the key is learning from experiences, not just having experiences. It doesn't mean that every negative experience will automatically lead to wisdom. It could also lead to despair and devastation. It's not automatic. But a negative experience might lead to post traumatic growth***.”
       Monika Ardelt PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law, University of Florida

Sunday, 8 February 2015

#637 Inevitably

     "He made me so mad", "I had no choice in the matter - I had to do it" ... The longer we live, the less we believe such excuses.
     Nobody, no circumstance can force us to abandon our own authentic nature. We keep dropping internal friction, inner noise, needless suffering. We keep simplifying till we return home to our core essence: loving conscious energy.

Seaport Market, Halifax, Nova Scotia, February 7, 2015

Saturday, 7 February 2015

#636 With Wise Persistence, Everything is Workable

     "The image of water is used over and over again in Taoism to describe the qualities of humility, flexibility, adaptability, persistence and acceptance. Water is described as giving life to all things yet not contending, flowing down to the humblest levels, adapting itself to whatever shape it finds itself in, and embodying patience and perseverance in its ability to cut through mountains, drop by drop.
     Over and over, Taoist writers use the image of water to emphasize the soft overcoming the hard. Water can overcome obstacles, not only by going around them but by simply biding its time and slowly eroding the obstacle, bit by tiny bit, until eventually a canyon is formed! This is a central tenet in Taoist philosophy. We can meet obstacles in our lives and find ways to creatively and constructively deal with them. The idea is not to avoid or run away from them or, on the other hand, try to ram head-on into them. But by slowly and assuming the quality of water, we can, perhaps, find a way to flow around, over or under them. Like water, we must be patient and persevering enough to realize that in time things will change, because that is the nature of things. The only constant is change."

       Solala Towler. "Chung Tzu - The Inner Chapters. The Classic Taoist Text. A New Translation of the Chuang Tzu with Commentary." Watkins Publishing, London, 2010. pxvii 

Friday, 6 February 2015

#635 Investments - Bullish or Bearish or "Don't Want to Think About It"?

     How do we handle our life savings? Are we "bullish", actively trading stocks; "bearish", hiding cash in our freezer; or do we "not want to think about it", and hand over complete control to a financial adviser? It all depends on our overall understanding of economics, and specific interest & competence in managing personal finances.
     Similarly we may ask, how do we manage our life energy? Are we investing it consciously; holding most of it back; or do we not really want to think about it?
     Like money, our energy is a finite resource. Both can so quickly & easily be squandered. Only after they're gone do we truly appreciate them. 
     Intelligent, conscious, judicious use of our life energy is beautiful & rare - being accomplished in the art & science of living - living mindfully. Continuous intentional evolution of consciousness, repeatedly recognizing & letting go of thoughts, speech & actions that cause needless suffering, and recognizing & increasing thoughts, speech & actions brings about joy, peace, happiness.
     Direct, open heart-minded living, is a choice we can all make in each successive split second. Can we make it a life-long habit?

Stained Glass Window in Ireland

Thursday, 5 February 2015

#634 Personal Quality of Life - Professionalism - Citizenship

     We can all agree that every one of us is very interested & highly motivated to have & enjoy maximal personal health & quality of life. What constitutes professional behavior & good citizenship, and how best to promote these is more controversial & challenging.
     Yet I've come to understand that an individual's attention to self-care & wellness, their professionalism, good citizenship overlap greatly. From the other direction, I suggest that it's not possible (except perhaps for sociopaths) to enjoy optimal health while behaving unethically. If someone commits a horrific crime, chances are s/he will be found criminally insane (innocent by virtue of insanity). But I suggest that anything short of consistent prosocial, civilized, allocentric / ecocentric behavior is unhealthy - creates needless additional suffering - for the individual "actor" and society. Individuals (except sociopaths) are an integral part of society and nature - whatever benefits or harms one, has the identical effect on the other.
     So progressive maximal personal evolution of consciousness, fully integrated into one’s life, is the path to maximal health & well-being for oneself (wellness), one's profession (professionalism) and society at large (good citizenship).
     Teaching self-care - at the deepest level eg via mindfulness (MBSR) - is I suggest, a highly effective way of teaching professionalism and good citizenship in our multicultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic society. Our world is literally dying for these qualities.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

#633 Consciousness Evolving

     "The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself."                 Teilhard de Chardin

                      Teilhard de Chardin, P. "The Future of Man." Harper & Row, NY, 1964
quoted in: Roger Walsh. “The World of Shamanism. New Views of an Ancient Tradition.” Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minnesota, 2007.

        Consciousness Shines:

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

#632 Awareness Shines

     "Awareness is like a beam of light that shines endlessly into space. We only perceive that light when it is reflected off some object and consciousness is produced... Awareness is the light by which we see the world... We mistake the clear light of pure awareness for the shadows that it casts in consciousness... We forget that we are the light itself and imagine that we are the densities that reflect the light back to us." 

                                                                         Stephen Levine                                               

       Beyond Concepts:

Alastair Cochrane ARPS

Monday, 2 February 2015

#631 Understanding

     "The most direct way to understand our life situation, who we are, and how our mind and body operate, is to observe with a mind that simply notices all events equally. This attitude of non-judgmental, direct observation allows all events to occur in a natural way. By keeping the attention in the present moment, we can see more and more clearly the true characteristics of our mind and body process. "

                 Jack Kornfield                                        

Sunday, 1 February 2015

#630 Satisfying the Heart's Longing

     "Choose a question that speaks most deeply to your longing. Sitting in an upright posture, settling in to your breath and body, breathe your question in. You can ask, for example, 'Who am I?' And then breathe out, 'Who am I?' However you frame your inquiry, stay with it. If your mind wanders, gently return to your question.
     The discursive mind, our companion ever since we developed the capacity for language, enjoys being in charge of everything, and will rush in to give obvious answers: 'I'm a women, I'm Melissa, I'm sixty years old, I'm a teacher, a parent, a wife. I'm horrible, I'm wonderful.'
     Every time one of these answers arises simply set it aside and ask again. Eventually, this kind of answer stops coming, and may be replaced by a feeling of profound wonder. This feeling, sometimes called 'great doubt,' is highly valued in Zen.
     If you are not working with a teacher, at this point in your practice you must be your own Zen master. Patiently and firmly redirect yourself away from intellectual understanding and toward immediate and intimate experience. Don't settle for anything that doesn't completely satisfy your longing.
     In this state of great doubt, something surprising might reveal itself to you. As you continue to set aside all of your conventional answers, you also set aside all of your expectations and explanations. The mind will want to turn your experience into theories and memories. Don't let anything turn solid.
     Keep asking and don't give up. Eventually you will learn to live a new kind of life - one that is continually surprising, profoundly ordinary, and full of wonder."

       Melissa Myozen Blacker. "Who Am I?" Shambhala Sun, March 2015