Gabriela Maya Bernadett, Tiny Buddha: “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Meditation makes you realize it’s not so much the silence as it is the not being around people that’s so profound. No human interaction, a human break if you will, is its own simple kind of joy.
Who knew that as a species who can’t function without the social ties of community, it is solitude that re-charges us and gives us the strength to go out into the big, bad world and interact with that lovely mess I like to call humanity?
In our hyper …
Garrett Heaney, Montpelier Bridge: Over the past few years, in my quest to become a perfect human, I have sought a number of different therapies, therapists, counselors, and programming — each with its own specific agenda in attending to my mental health. Through it all has been a common thread that seems to tie together each of these individual disciplines in mental health. This thread, of course, is “mindfulness.”
It seems no matter where I was physically or mentally, whether battling depression, partying too much, or sitting in a weekly session of dialectical behavioral therapy, the concept of mindfulness was always right there in the …
Phoebe Waller, Bustle: A few months ago I had no idea what mindfulness was. In fact, I thought it was just being aware of how you interact with and talk to others. It wasn’t until I started researching tips for practicing mindfulness and having a little experiment with it that I realized what all the fuss was about.
The Dictionary describes mindfulness in a couple of ways, with the first being, “The state or quality of being mindful or aware of something” and “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging …
I’m appearing in two events at the New York Insight center on Oct 9 and Oct 10.Dharma in Dialogue: Mythbusting the Dharma
The first of these is a conversation and Q&A with James Shaheen, editor and publisher of Tricycle magazine. James and I both have an interest in clearing up misconceptions about the Dharma. James has been running a series of articles by teachers such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and myself, “mythbusting” some common misunderstandings of Buddhist teachings. I run a site called Fake Buddha Quotes (“I can’t believe it’s not Buddha!”) that examines the many supposed Buddha quotes that circulate on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and that often have nothing to do with the Buddha at all.
“Mythbusting the Dharma” runs from 7PM to 9PM on Oct 9. No registration is required. There’s no fixed charge for the event”—make a donation at the door.From Me to We—And Beyond
The second event is an all-day workshop exploring our interconnectedness with each other and with the elements, with planet earth and with the universe. We’ll be delving into the Buddha’s Six Element Practice in order to expand our sense of who we are, breaking down the boundaries that make us feel separate from one another and from our world.
This event runs from 10AM until 5PM, and the registration fee is $70. (Scholarships are available). Click here to reserve a place.
New York Insight is at the heart of New York City, between Broadway & 6th Avenue, at 28 West 27th Street (10th Floor), New York, NY 10001.
If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you.
Malone Mullin, The Student Newspaper: Maybe it’s not so easy to buy happiness, but what about learning it? That’s what the Dalai Lama and UK glad-mongers Action For Happiness offer in a free class launched last Monday. The 8-week mindfulness course promises to “leave people happier and more likely to help others”, but journalists everywhere remain skeptical of wellbeing’s accessibility, asking whether meditation can really act as a cure-all for life’s woes.
To investigate, I contacted the Mahabodhi Kadampa Buddhist Centre, a registered charity in Edinburgh that offers its own mindfulness courses. “We tend to look to science for the final or definitive answer …
Eric Barker, Barking Up The Wrong Tree: You get all kinds of happiness advice on the internet from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t trust them.
Actually, don’t trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that gray blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy.
UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life. Here’s what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You …
Peter Navratil, Huffington Post: I have read a quite a few blogs and articles on meditation recently, and I get a bit confused at why so many people describe their daily practice as a painful process. Some detailing a daily ritual that sounds like torture.
Then I remind myself to think back to when I first started or attempted to meditate. Yes it was mostly frustrating. I did experience aches and pains in my body which tended to dominate the process along with many random thoughts.
At about the same time I did a series of courses where I studied the Yoga Sutras. It …
The Associated Press, Talking Points Memo: The Dalai Lama remains at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic after canceling his U.S. appearances for the month of October.
A Mayo spokeswoman confirmed Sunday the 80-year-old Tibetan Buddhist leader remains at the Rochester clinic for a medical evaluation. No other details were released.
The Dalai Lama’s office said Friday in a statement on its website that he has canceled his planned October U.S. visit after doctors advised him to rest. The statement gave no more details about the Dalai Lama’s condition, and there was no update on the website as of Sunday.
Among the Dalia Lama’s canceled appearances next …
Dov Seidman, Quartz: As those of us in the Northern hemisphere settle into the autumn, I’m mindful of persistent advice from business gurus telling me that I should be practicing mindfulness, but I’m even more mindful that mindfulness has become one of the most overused, watered-down tropes of the year.
The television series Silicon Valley nails this problem on the head, when it has Gavin Belson, the chief executive of Hooli, the show’s Google-like fictional technology company, consulting with his spiritual advisor for ways to use yoga and meditation to crush his opposition.
There’s nothing wrong with mindfulness in itself. But what we have …
Kriti Malik , NDTV: We live in a world marred by distraction. Our minds are always racing, and we constantly seek some thing or the other to meet our needs and desires. As Buddha says, we’re hurling from one pleasant experience to the next – “What’s for lunch?”, “how will my boss like the new proposal I printed out and left on his desk hours ago?”, “how do I want to plan my weekend?” – it’s an endless rant which doesn’t pipe down till you hit the pillow.
Eckhart Tolle refers to this as your inner voice, an inner narrator who constantly seeks perfection, validation or consciousness. …
I often receive questions by email. Although I’ll sometimes reply directly to them, it strikes me that the best use of my time is to share my responses publicly, so that others might benefit.
Here’s the question, which came from someone who I’ll call Josh.
For a while now, I have been meditating and my body has remained tense – as I am usually quite tense – but my mind relaxes, but in a negative way; it is as if I begin to mentally and emotionally feel numbed out and lost. I would like to be able to meditate on the tension, on emotions, on really anything that’s going on within me, but I end up frustrated and confused because I feel that sense of numbed out and unable to reconnect. I wanted to ask if this is as at all common and if you had any suggestions on how to reconnect and deepen the practice regarding this issue.
Decades ago, when I was first starting to practice meditation, I’d occasionally hear warnings from my teachers about how certain approaches to practice could result in emotional “alienation.” The founder of the tradition in which I practice had come back to the UK from India, and came across (or heard about) a few individuals who had become disconnected from their own experience to the extent that they were “robotic.” One of the things they’d been doing, apparently, was “noting,” which means adding a silent mental note, describing what’s going on in one’s experience.
Noting in this way can be a valuable practice, helping us to be more mindful and clear. But in the case of these people, the mental experience of noting became a replacement for the actual physical experience that was being described. While saying “arm lifting, arm lifting” and “sipping tea, sipping tea,” the thoughts, rather than the actual physical experiences, had become the focus of attention. And having become disconnected from the body, emotional disconnection would follow. Apparently some people became hospitalized as a result of this emotional disconnection, which we now call “depersonalization.”
Despite having heard warnings about the danger of this, I never actually came across anyone who seemed to have suffered in this way. But in recent years (probably because on the internet you can find anything) I’ve heard several people say that this, or something very similar to it, has happened to them. The Brown University psychiatry researcher, Willoughby Britton, has started a project to document and study this and other troubling phenomena that may arise in meditation.
I don’t know if this depersonalization is exactly what’s happened with Josh. Most people who write to me about their meditation practice forget to mention what kind of meditation practice they’re actually doing, but probably he’s doing some form of mindfulness practice. He may not be doing “noting,” however.
But, mindfulness practice isn’t enough. The warnings I’ve referred to were in the context of emphasizing how important lovingkindness (metta), compassion, and other more emotion-based forms of meditation are. The Buddha himself taught a wide range or practices, and encouraged an all-round path of moral and emotional development.
The Triratna tradition in which I practice stresses the importance of balancing mindfulness practice with metta practice. I suggest to my students (as it was suggested to me) that practice consist of alternating metta meditation with mindfulness practice. One suggestion is to do these practices on alternate days, making sure that you don’t skip one of them because you find it more challenging. It may, however, be acceptable to focus on one practice more intensively if it’s genuinely needed. For example when you’re exceptionally distracted, you might focus more on mindfulness for a few days, or if you’re in a chronic bad mood or tend to be very critical you might want to do much more metta practice for a while—perhaps even for weeks or months.If you like my articles and want to support the work I do, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s. Or you can make a donation.There are other practices that are useful as well. Kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship) is a valuable way to connect with others on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Devotional practice can also awaken the heart. Physical exercise and the enjoyment of the arts are also ways that we can stay in touch with our emotions.
One thing to beware of is long periods of intensive practice that involve only mindfulness. Some people do fine with that, but if there’s a tendency to lose touch with the emotions, then it would be best not to be too “gung-ho” about practice, and to be gentle with oneself.
My advice to Josh would be to stop whatever practice he’s currently doing and to take up lovingkindness and compassion practice. I’d suggest focusing exclusively on those for at least six months. If possible he should connect with a sangha (a flesh and bones one rather than an online one) on a regular basis. A sangha that encourages discussion and friendship would be more valuable than one in which people merely sit together but don’t socialize or even communicate much. And the other things I’ve suggested—physical exercise and enjoyment of the arts—are something I’d also strongly encourage. Retreats focusing on lovingkindness and compassion might also be helpful.
Fortunately what Josh describes isn’t common. And I’m fairly sure that the approach I’ve described will be helpful. I’ve taught thousands of people to meditate and so far I’ve never heard of this kind of depersonalization happening to anyone I’ve known.
Developing Self-Compassion is a 28-day online event starting October 5th.
Self-compassion is the radically healing practice of treating ourselves with the kindness, respect, and gentleness that we would ideally offer to those we love.
We’ll be developing self-compassion and bringing it into our everyday lives.
In this 28-day event you’ll learn how to:
- Cultivate compassion for yourself (and others)
- Identify the habits of self-blame that hold you back and cause you pain
- Distinguish sorrow, pity, and genuine compassion
- Learn how to appreciate your strengths and relate healthily to “mistakes”
- Avoid creating unnecessary pain for yourself through reacting to pain
- Embrace perspectives that help you develop emotional resilience
This event is suitable for people of all levels of experience, including complete beginners.
Zoë Krupka, The Conversation: Almost every person who walks through my practice doorway is anxious in some way. And so they should be. While their anxiety might be blasting messages at an overly high volume, the messages themselves are worth paying attention to: abusive relationships, significant losses and workplaces that have squeezed their personal, physical and spiritual lives into a corner too small for a hamster to burrow in.
Most come in hoping that the volume of their anxiety will be turned down, but many also hope that the messages themselves will go away. Like all of us, they want to find a way …
Last weekend I taught meditation on a workshop along with another teacher who talked about the importance of goals as part of one’s spiritual path. This is something I often talked about in the past, although it hasn’t been a prominent part of my teaching recently. I think the last time I wrote about it was in my 2010 book, Living as a River.
My own presentation at the weekend was on mindfulness, appreciation, and gratitude: being in and valuing the present moment.
These two themes might seem contradictory, and it was interesting to explore how they’re actually not, but are (or can be) complementary.
One exercise I’ve done myself and which I recommend others to do is this: Imagine it’s 10 or 15 years in the future. You walk into a large room, and to your surprise it’s full of friends, relatives, colleagues, and members of your spiritual community. They’re all there for you. One by one people stand up and talk about you. They talk about the positive influence you’ve had on their lives. They rejoice in the qualities they admire in you. They celebrate your accomplishments.
I suggest to students that, having done this reflective exercise, they write down the main points of what they’ve heard.
What’s happening when you do this exercise is that you’re getting in touch with your deeper values and aspirations. It’s easier to do this than when you simply sit down and ask the question, “What are my values and aspirations,” because when you do that you’re speaking in your own voice—the voice of your everyday ego, riddled through with doubt, pride, and fear. In hearing others’ voices you bypass the ego and hear a more direct and unfiltered account of what you most value. In fact, what you hear from these “others” is often surprising!
I call this “The bud dreaming the flower.” The bud looks deeply into its nature and sees its own potential. This is the resolution of the apparent paradox of having goals and ideals (which inevitably involve the future) while being completely in the moment. When you do an exercise like the one I’ve suggested, you’re seeing yourself more truly than when you’re simply mindful of who you are right now. This is because “who you are right now” is not something static. It’s a process.
There is no being, only becoming.
You’re always changing. Who you currently are is only a snapshot of an ever-unfolding and ever-changing process. You’re an arrow in flight, completing the long arc from birth to death. Being aware of what’s arising for you right now is like taking a still photograph of one moment from the long curve of your life.
It seems as if a bud need do nothing in order to transform into the flower, but that’s because we don’t see the immense effort that goes into its growth. The bud’s growth is not conscious, however.
Our own growth will often not take place unless we consciously become aware of our potential, unless we consciously work at overcoming the fears and doubts that hold us back, and unless we consciously apply ourselves in our lives. This deeper form of mindfulness is called sampajañña, or “mindfulness of purpose.”
The bud, dreaming the flower, comes to know itself more fully. It comes to see itself not as a static “thing” but as an ever-unfolding process. It comes to see itself in terms of its potential. Having seen this potential, its life becomes more conscious. When decisions are made—whether large or small—they become tools for steering oneself toward our potential future self. Every action becomes, potentially at least, a small step toward the full flower of our potential.
This awareness of our potential is an important practice in Buddhism. It’s why Buddhists commonly chant the refuges and precepts before a period of practice, paying homage to our potential and to the practices that enable us to manifest it. It’s why Buddhists visualize Buddhas and bodhisattvas (this is called “Buddhanusati”), and chant mantras—these are ways, once again, to dream the flower, seeing our own potential enlightened selves.
Kristin Gourlay, RIPR: Changes to diet and exercise can have a big impact on health. But sticking with a new regimen can be tough. Scientists are wondering whether a practice called mindfulness can help. Now a team of Brown University researchers has won a multi-million dollar federal grant to find out.
Mindfulness uses meditation to improve attention and self-awareness. Its effects have been shown to reduce stress. But Brown University epidemiologist Eric Loucks wants to try it on high blood pressure, or hypertension.
“So far no one has ever customized a mindfulness intervention to a hypertensive patient population,” Loucks said. “So that’s what this …
Brett Berhoff, The Good Men Project: Noise is very interesting. The spectrum ranges from noise pollution to beautiful. Sometimes it can hold us back or help us get through the day.
It is more productive to take a look at the noise that may hold us back. This isn’t always the noise you may think about; barking dog, leaf blower, etc. It is the noise of life that can derail our drive to achieve our goals.
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple has famously stated that he had taught himself to be better at blocking out the noise. He has a tremendous amount of …
The history of Buddhist scriptures has, to simplify a little, two main phases. There were the initial teachings, recorded in a number of languages and passed on first orally and then in written form. The sole complete version of these that we have is called the Pali canon.
Then there are the Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) scriptures, which often claim to be the word of the Buddha, but which were clearly composed much later. The style of these indicates that they were composed as written works, and didn’t go through a phase of oral transmission.
The fact that the Mahayana scriptures don’t literally come from the Buddha doesn’t invalidate them as sources of wisdom, of course. I love a lot of the Mahayana Sutras and take inspiration from them. The Perfection of Wisdom sutras (including the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra) and the Vimalakirti Nirdesha are works that I consider to be the profoundest spiritual documents in the world. In fact the claim that the Mahayana sutras came from the Buddha himself points to something very interesting about the nature of insight.
These scriptures were composed by people with genuine spiritual insight at a time when other early schools had largely slipped into scholasticism. Just to take one example, some of the key terms of the Mahayana, like “shunyata” (emptiness) are found in the early scriptures, but you get a sense that the people passing those teachings along didn’t really understand them. The Mahayana kept alive a spiritually vital understanding of what the Buddha meant by that term.
The Mahayana authors chose to present their explication of those teachings as scriptures (writings purporting to be the word of the Buddha) rather than commentaries (the writings of later teachers). There’s a sort of dishonesty implicit in that, unless you consider the possibility of the teachings having emerged in visionary states, in which case the “composers” of the Mahayana sutras might well have believed that they were passing on teachings that mystically came from the Buddha. It’s quite literally possible in a meditative state to “hear” teachings from the Buddha.
There’s plenty of this is the Pali canon, by the way. There are many discourses where a disciple was pondering a question, and the Buddha appeared to them in a vision and gave them a teaching. For example, one time a disciple of the Buddha was trying to meditate, but falling asleep. We’re told that the Buddha then appeared to him (although he was physically elsewhere) and gave him instructions on how to stay awake.
I take this to mean that a deeper level of intuitive insight arose in the disciples, but was presented in the Buddha’s voice.
We all have the experience of having conversations in our head with other people we know well. We’ve internalized their thought patterns and mannerisms to the extent where we can run a mental simulation of them. Sometimes, though, when we’re very familiar with a teacher’s mode of presentation, we can “hear” them answering a question that’s in our mind. It’s not a psychic transmission, but our own wisdom appearing in the teacher’s appearance and voice. Although this is “our” wisdom, we hear insights that are new to us, and that surprise us.
So I think that this may have been what happened with the Mahayana scriptures — that they did come from the Buddha, in a sense, but not the historical Buddha. Instead they came from insights that arose in the minds of deep practitioners of the Dharma, manifesting in the guise of the Buddha.
For us, the important voices to listen to are our conscience and our intuition. This is one reason it’s crucial that we learn to calm the mind in meditation, so that there’s less inner chatter going on. Through meditation we can create a quiet inner space in which the quiet murmurs of our unconscious wisdom can make themselves heard. Eventually, these voices may appear in the guise of the Buddha, or some other figure who represents wisdom. But that’s not what matters. It’s simply important that we learn to still the mind, and to listen.
Blayne Pereira, CMI: What is it? Like many buzzwords, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact (and concise) definition for ‘mindfulness’.
Professor Mark Williams of the University of Oxford, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field, has given a comprehensive description of mindfulness.
“It is a translation of a word that simply means awareness,” he says. “It’s direct, intuitive knowing of what you are doing while you are doing it. It’s knowing what’s going on inside your mind and body, and what’s going on in the outside world as well. Most of the time our attention is not where we intend …
Joy LeVine Abrams, Minuteman News Center: Imagine a life where you felt comfortable, relaxed and light-hearted. When someone said something unsettling, you paused and chose your response. You realized that a lot of what you spend your time doing is truly not a priority for you. In nature you’d be vibrantly aware of the sights, sounds, scents and the extraordinary beauty around you.
When someone very dear seemed upset; you’d listen openheartedly and not give advice. During a difficult emotional moment you reminded yourself that it was all right to be feeling this way. Life has these aspects and your feelings will change soon …
I’ve had a lot of opportunity to teach metta, or “lovingkindness,” over the last two years. One thing I’m doing differently as a result is referring to metta as “kindness,” rather than “lovingkindness. The “loving” part of “lovingkindness” doesn’t, to my mind, add anything, but rather takes what’s a concrete experience and makes it seem rather abstract. It’s easy to picture what it’s like when someone is kind to you, but it’s harder to imagine someone relating to you in a way that demonstrates lovingkindness.
The simple word “kindness” seems to be an ideal term to translate “metta.” Kindness, after all, is simply relating to another being in a way that respects their desire to be happy. When we’re kind we take others’ feelings into account. We recognize that their feelings are not just important to them, but are as important to them as ours are to us. We want to act in ways that put them at ease and bring them happiness, and we don’t want to do anything to cause them pain.
Metta starts with empathy. I’ve realized that it’s common for us to try to cultivate kindness without first establishing a sense of empathy. We sit down, call someone to mind, and then wish them well. Now wishing someone well can lead to empathy arising, but if that doesn’t happen then our well-wishing can be dry and mechanical. In order to prevent that happening, I’ve been making a point of connecting empathetically with myself—and with others—before starting any well-wishing.
How do I do this? I drop in two reflections, and then extend myself an invitation.If you like my articles and want to support the work I do, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s. Or you can make a donation.The first reflection is this: “I want to be happy.”
I let this thought sink in. I check out whether it’s true for me right now. I think about times I’ve been happy or unhappy in the past. And I realize that I always have a desire for happiness (or perhaps something more like peace or wellbeing).
The second reflection is this: “It’s often not easy to be happy.”
I let that sink in, too. I recognize that happiness can be elusive, and the suffering can be an all-too-common visitor to my life. I realize that being human isn’t easy.
The invitation is this: “Recognizing that I’m doing a difficult thing simply in being human, can I offer myself support, encouragement, and kindness?” I find that there’s always part of me that wants to do this. The way of expressing support is simply to repeat the metta phrases. I’ll often say: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be at ease. May I be kind to myself and others.” In this way I empathize with myself before beginning to wish myself well.
In the other stages of the practice I introduce the same reflections: My friend (or the neutral person, or the difficult person) just like me, wants to be happy, but finds happiness elusive. We’re both doing this difficult thing of being human. Empathetically knowing this, can I offer this person support and encouragement? Yes! “May you be well…”
There can be a sense of heart-ache when reflecting in this way—acknowledging that life is often difficult. Those feelings may be uncomfortable, but they aren’t bad. In fact they’re part of the empathy that makes metta possible. They should be accepted and received kindly.
The result of doing the practice this way is that my efforts to cultivate kindness feel much more grounded and real than ever before. My meditation is more heart-felt.
Cultivating connection and empathy before cultivating metta can bring our practice to life.
PS. A reader wrote complaining about my use of “kindness” instead of “lovingkindness” to translate “metta.” She said, “If it’s good enough for the Dalai Lama it should be good enough for you.” :)