There’s a 50/50 chance that you made some New Year resolutions a couple of months ago; there’s an even better chance that you’ve already abandoned them. Or perhaps you’re one of the people who never makes New Year resolutions because you’ve learned through experience that they’re forgotten almost as soon as they’re created.
Whether we make resolutions or not, we see each new year as an opportunity for new beginnings: not just new years, but new months, new weeks, and new days. Our lives are full of new beginnings. But the most significant new beginnings take place at a much finer scale.
When we meditate, for example, we’re forever catching the mind having gone off and become distracted. We find, for example, that we’ve been mulling over some old hurt, or worrying about some upcoming event, or telling ourselves stories about how we think other people feel about us.
Those moments in which we’ve realized that the mind has become distracted are important new beginnings. Each time we notice that we’ve been caught up in a spiritually unprofitable train of thought, we have a crucial opportunity to let go of it, to reconnect with our present moment experience, to start over.
Sometimes there are so many of these new beginnings that it seems like we’re making little progress. But each time we let go of an unskillful train of thought, returning mindfully and compassionately to our present moment experience, we’re changing who we are. We’re changing our habits, weakening unskillful patterns and strengthening skillful ones. We’re even, at a cellular level, rewiring the brain. Each new beginning may not change us very much, but, as the Buddha said, “Drop by drop, a water pot fills.”
An ongoing commitment to moment to moment change such as this is more powerful than any number of New Year resolutions, precisely because they involve such small steps. We can’t climb a mountain in one bound — thousands of small steps over time are what’s needed.
Sometimes we might feel that our practice is repetitive. You realize you’re distracted, let go and return to the breathing, realize you’re distracted and return to the breathing. You breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, repeat. But in fact each experience we have is a new beginning. No two breaths are the same.
Try noticing your next in-breath. See how it comes into existence, is present in your experience, and then comes to an end. Try that again with the next out-breath. Now follow each in-breath and out-breathe with an awareness that you’ll meet this breath only once in your entire existence. Follow the whole cycle of your breathing: beginnings and endings, endings and beginnings. See how precious each breath, each moment, is?
Now as you observe your in-breaths and out-breaths coming into existence and passing away, notice how each breath is composed of a series of moments. There’s this moment then this moment then this moment — no two the same, and none ever returning. There’s just this endless series of new beginnings and new endings, intersecting in time, each one precious and deserving of our full attention.
Sleep Soundly – Guitar Music for Insomnia (CD) Esther Crain, Men’s Journal: Not being able to fall and stay asleep at night is frustrating, and there’s no shortage of remedies promising to score you the rest you crave, from sleep meds to eye masks and smartphone apps. But the real key to beating insomnia might be as simple as taking up a new trend in meditation. A recent study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindful meditation — the practice of being nonjudgmentally aware of the various thoughts streaming into your brain at any given time — successfully helped adult …
Click here to check out our online meditation store SuperSport: A decade spent practising the art of meditation has played a fundamental role in transforming Anirban Lahiri from an also-ran golfer into a world-class performer, the Indian said.
The 27-year-old has surged to 34th in the world rankings after winning two of the last three European Tour events, this month’s Malaysian Open and the Indian Open on Sunday.
Both victories were close calls – Lahiri pipped Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger by one shot in Kuala Lumpur and overcame compatriot SSP Chawrasia in a playoff in New Delhi.
He believes the …
Meditation MP3 – Guided Meditations for Busy People Ferris Jabr, Scientific American: Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.
Every now and then during the workweek—usually around three in the afternoon—a familiar ache begins to saturate my forehead and pool in my temples. The glare of my computer screen appears to suddenly intensify. My eyes trace the contour of the same sentence two or three times, yet I fail to extract its meaning. Even if I began the day undaunted, …
Meditation MP3 – Guided Meditations for Stress Reduction Guardian: Carnegie Mellon University’s J David Creswell—whose cutting-edge work has shown how mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults and alleviates stress—and his graduate student Emily Lindsay have developed a model suggesting that mindfulness influences health via stress reduction pathways.
Their work, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, describes the biological pathways linking mindfulness training with reduced stress and stress-related disease outcomes.
“If mindfulness training is improving people’s health, how does it get under the skin to affect all kinds of outcomes?” asked Creswell, associate professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich …
Click here to check out our online meditation store Irish Archaeology: A remarkable study carried out recently in the Netherlands has revealed that a Chinese’s Buddha statue actually contains the remains of a mummified monk. The statue dates from c. 1050-1150 AD and is believed to hold the body of a Chinese Buddhist master, Liuquan.
The study of the mummy was carried out under the supervision of Erik Bruijn, an expert in the field of Buddhist art and culture and guest curator at the World Museum in Rotterdam. He was aided by a team of medics including Reinoud Vermeijeden, a …
Meditation MP3 – Mindfulness Meditations for Teens Emily Holland, Wall Street Journal: “Mindfulness” has gotten a lot of buzz recently, with everyone from tech executives to professional athletes to lawmakers saying they use it to combat stress, stay balanced and perform better on the job. Now some educators and psychologists think schoolchildren could benefit from the practice, too.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation rooted in spiritual teaching in which people focus their full attention on the present moment. They acknowledge what they are feeling and experiencing—and accept it without judgment or criticism. The idea is to quiet the mind …
Karma: Finding Freedom in This Moment (2 CDs), by Pema Chodron and Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche Rachael Rettner, Live Science: Meditating may help older adults sleep better, a new study suggests.
The study involved about 50 adults in Los Angeles ages 55 and older who had trouble sleeping, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or who felt sleepy during the day. Participants were randomly assigned to complete either a mindfulness meditation program — in which people learn to better pay attention to what they are feeling physically and mentally from moment to moment — or a sleep education program that taught the …
Do you want to be calmer, happier, and experience more freedom from stress? Mindfulness has been clinically proven to reduce stress, promote feelings of wellbeing, and improve mental and physical health.
The next Power of Mindfulness online course starts March 2, 2015. It’s a four-week meditation course that’s accessible 24 hours a day, every day of the week, wherever you are. All you need is an internet browser. You can even participate on an iPad or other mobile device.
The convenience makes this perfect for people who don’t have meditation classes nearby, or who work irregular hours or who can’t travel because of illness, childcare arrangements, etc.
The course is web-based, and involves readings, guided meditation MP3s that were specially recorded for this course, a discussion forum, and email exchanges with the teacher, Bodhipaksa.
Weaving together the latest scientific research with ancient Buddhist wisdom, this four-week course provides a comprehensive introduction to living mindfully. It’s not just about the skills of meditation. You’ll also learn how to take what you learn into action. This course gives you the tools to gain more insight into yourself, and be more at ease and content through life’s ups and downs.
For more information, or to register for the course click here to go to the online store.
Meditation MP3 – Guided Meditations for Busy People Mary MacVean, LA Times: One hundred fifty people sat in the big meeting room, hands on laps, eyes closed, feet flat on the floor.
“Bring your attention to this moment,” Janice Marturano instructed. “Be open to sensations of warmth or coolness, sensations of fullness from breakfast, or perhaps hunger.” Minutes later, the meditation ended with the traditional strikes of little hand cymbals.
Buddhists? Old hippies? New Agers?
Nope. The room was full of hospital executives and managers in lab coats and scrubs, jeans and sports coats at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. …
Living As a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change by Bodhipaksa (Signed copy) Chloé Morrison, Nooga.com: Meditation and mindfulness practices have become more popular recently, but I still encounter plenty of people who look at me like I’m talking about witchcraft when I mention it.
(I’m not judging if you are into witchcraft, but that’s not the point.)
The point is that a good number of people whom I know to be intelligent and open-minded don’t seem to care much about meditation/mindfulness, despite the fact that the practices have become more popular and mainstream—and despite the fact …
Meditation MP3 – Guided Meditations for Busy People David Brendel, Harvard Business Review: Mindfulness is close to taking on cult status in the business world. But as with any rapidly growing movement—regardless of its potential benefits—there is good reason here for caution.
Championed for many years by pioneering researchers such as Ellen Langer and Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is a mental orientation and set of strategies for focusing one’s mind on here-and-now experiences, such as abdominal muscle movements during respiration or chirping of birds outside one’s window. It is rooted in ancient Eastern philosophies, such as Taoism and Buddhism. Contemporary empirical …
Meditation MP3 – Guided Meditations for Busy People Margarita Tartakovsky, Psych Central: Mindfulness helps us move out of autopilot, where we think thoughts, feel emotions and act on behaviors without any awareness — without even realizing we’re having these experiences. Without any awareness of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, we can get caught up in negative cycles.
Our mind buzzes with anxious thoughts. We engage in habits that aren’t fulfilling or even healthy. We get swept up in anger and lash out at our loved ones. We get caught up in judging ourselves, and our stress only expands.
Mindfulness also …
Abiding in Mindfulness Volume 1 – The Body – Joseph Goldstein – 7 CDs (8 hours) Suzanne Phillips, PSY.D., ABPP, Psych Central: Research has shown mindfulness and meditation-based programs to hold promise for treating a number of psychiatric conditions, including depression,anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Adding to this, a recent study by Harvard researchers soon to appear in Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging will report that participating in an eight-week mindfulness mediation program actually appears to make changes in the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The study validates that reported improvements are not just …
Meditations to Change Your Brain, by Rick Hanson PhD & Richard Mendius (3CDs) Alice G. Walton, Forbes: The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed with fMRI or EEG. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Below are some …
Forever young: meditation might slow the age-related loss of gray matter in the brain, say UCLA researchers
Click here to check out our online meditation store Mark Wheeler, UCLA: Since 1970, life expectancy around the world has risen dramatically, with people living more than 10 years longer. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that starting when people are in their mid-to-late-20s, the brain begins to wither — its volume and weight begin to decrease. As this occurs, the brain can begin to lose some of its functional abilities.
So although people might be living longer, the years they gain often come with increased risks for mental illness and neurodegenerative disease. Fortunately, a new study shows meditation could be one way to minimize those risks.
Building on their earlier work that suggested people who meditate have less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter, a new study by UCLA researchers found that meditation appeared to help preserve the brain’s gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons.
The scientists looked specifically at the association between age and gray matter. They compared 50 people who had mediated for years and 50 who didn’t. People in both groups showed a loss of gray matter as they aged. But the researchers found among those who meditated, the volume of gray matter did not decline as much as it did among those who didn’t.
The article appears in the current online edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Dr. Florian Kurth, a co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, said the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the difference.
“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” he said. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
As baby boomers have aged and the elderly population has grown, the incidence of cognitive decline and dementia has increased substantially as the brain ages.
“In that light, it seems essential that longer life expectancies do not come at the cost of a reduced quality of life,” said Dr. Eileen Luders, first author and assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “While much research has focused on identifying factors that increase the risk of mental illness and neurodegenerative decline, relatively less attention has been turned to approaches aimed at enhancing cerebral health.”
Each group in the study was made up of 28 men and 22 women ranging in age from 24 to 77. Those who meditated had been doing so for four to 46 years, with an average of 20 years.
The participants’ brains were scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging. Although the researchers found a negative correlation between gray matter and age in both groups of people — suggesting a loss of brain tissue with increasing age — they also found that large parts of the gray matter in the brains of those who meditated seemed to be better preserved, Kurth said.
The researchers cautioned that they cannot draw a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving gray matter in the brain. Too many other factors may come into play, including lifestyle choices, personality traits, and genetic brain differences.
“Still, our results are promising,” Luders said. “Hopefully they will stimulate other studies exploring the potential of meditation to better preserve our aging brains and minds. Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice, not only in the framework of healthy aging but also pathological aging.”
The research was supported by the Brain Mapping Medical Research Organization, the Robson Family and Northstar Fund, the Brain Mapping Support Foundation, the Pierson?Lovelace Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, the Tamkin Foundation, the William M. and Linda R. Dietel Philanthropic Fund at the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, the Jennifer Jones?Simon Foundation, the Capital Group Companies Foundation and an Australian Research Council fellowship (120100227). Nicolas Cherbuin of the Australian National University was also an author of the study.
I only started meditating in December 2014 and was seeing this girl for a while, we went on a couple of dates, the first went well and the second went ok. We continued messaging each other but she seemed less keen, then today she told me she felt we didn’t click and didn’t want to meet again. She said I paid her too many compliments and was too nice. I’m just so angry because I felt like she was leading me on and we had been speaking for at least two months as I first met her in December but I went home to university and so didn’t see her again until 2 weeks ago where we had the two dates and I thought things seemed to be going well. I just want to know what I’m supposed to think I guess. From what I’ve learned for my short period of meditation is that we should love each other, but when someone tells me they don’t want a relationship because I’m “too nice” it makes me question what I’m doing. Like should I stop being nice to girls I want potential relationships with, and how am I supposed to not get angry at her for me being too nice. What is so wrong with the world that people don’t like being treated nicely, it perplexes me.
Sorry if this doesn’t read smoothly, I’m writing this immediately after I found out and my almost immediate reaction was to question how I am supposed to think like a Buddhist when bad things happen to me for being too nice.
Euan’s comment raised questions that I thought are worth exploring in a blog post.
Euan’s experience is not unique. I’ve been there myself in the past, and when I was young I found myself astonished and sometimes angry at the way some women I’ve been interested in gravitated to men who seemed to me to be jerks. And although my anger never turned into a general hatred of women, this evidently happens with some men. But I still had a lot to learn.
So I want to talk about “being nice,” from the point of view of a man who’s realized that “being nice” is not as “nice” as “nice men” like to think it is. I’m not advocating being unkind, and certainly not advocating ill will or hatred. I’d like to talk about how “being nice” is not actually kind, is a form of manipulation, and is not, in most cases, what women need or want. And I’m sorry, Euan, but some of this may be hard to read. I don’t mean to be unkind or to hurt your feelings, but instead want to act as a kalyana mitta (spiritual friend) who points out things we need to know but may not want to know.
What’s a “nice guy”? A “nice guy” is a man who thinks that the way into a girl’s heart (and bed) is by being agreeable and flattering. Here are a few characteristics of “nice guys,” drawn from a Wikihow article:
- They offer to do things for a girl they hardly know that they wouldn’t normally do for just anybody else they know.
- They avoid conflict by withholding their opinions or even become agreeable with her when they don’t actually agree.
- They try to fix and take care of her problems, they are drawn to trying to help.
- They try to hide their perceived flaws and mistakes.
- They are always looking for the “right” way to do things.
- They have difficulty making their needs a priority.
- They are often emotionally dependent on their partner.
The psychology of “nice guys” has been written about a lot. Here’s a great analysis of the whole phenomenon from Geek Feminism Wiki.
Being a “nice guy” is a strategy. It’s not who someone fundamentally is, although “nice guys” are very conscious of and attached to their identity (self view) as “nice guys.”
Copyright, Callmekatto.The purpose of the strategy, as I’ve said, is to attract and keep a woman. A cartoon by Callmekitto about “nice guys” shows a woman jubilantly holding up a card, similar to one of those “Buy ten cups of coffee and get one free” cards. She’s saying to the young man beside her, “That’s the eight stamp on your Nice Guy Card! Now you can stop pretending to care about me as a person and we can have all that sex you deserve!”
The cartoon is brutally frank, but it’s making the point that acting as a “nice guy” assumes that relationships are a form of transaction: I’ll pretend to be the kind of person I think you want, and then you’ll give me sex and approval.
As the cartoon indicates, the man who is playing at being a “nice guy” isn’t actually relating to the woman as a full human being. He’s not being himself, and may even have lost touch with who he is. He doesn’t want to express his needs and won’t challenge his intended partner in any way because he thinks that risks pushing her away. In fact the opposite is the case. Few women want a partner who doesn’t express himself and who avoids conflict. A conflict-averse partner is neither going to stand up for you not stand up to you.
The “nice guy” is far from practicing metta, or kindness. Metta is based on empathy (anukampa), which is an awareness of the other person as a person — as a feeling being who has needs. In fact the “nice guy” role is based on craving. You desperately want something (sex, companionship, approval, the status of “being in a relationship”) and you go through the moves that you think will get you that thing. But there’s no actual awareness of the other person, which is unattractive, and so as a “nice guy” you’re constantly finding that you don’t get what you want. In fact it’s not just that you want the things I’ve mentioned: you deserve them. After all, you’ve given the endless compliments, you’ve refrained from expressing what you really want in just about any situation (“No, any movie you choose is fine with me!”), you’ve studiously avoided expressing any needs (“No, it’s not a problem that you stood me up”). You’ve been nice. You’ve cranked the handle on the machine, and how it’s time for your reward!
When the reward doesn’t come the first few times, you might be depressed. But then you get angry — but not just at the girls who rejected you, because you start to realize that almost no girl is going to give you what you deserve. And you do, you think, deserve the sex and the love you want, because you’re not even conscious that “nice guy” is a role you’re playing, and you think it’s who you are. So you both want and hate women, or “bitches,” as you may think of them. As another cartoon (actually it’s more of a “meme”) says, “Women never date nice guys like me. I hate those bitches.” Frustrated craving turns to hatred.
I want to re-emphasize that the “nice guy” is a role that men play. It’s not who they fundamentally are. So in criticizing the actions of “nice guys,” I’m not saying that there’s something irretrievably flawed about them. Just that they need to so some work in becoming more self-aware, braver, more honest, and more genuinely empathetic and loving.
The Wikihow post I linked to above has some advice for stepping out of the “nice guy” role, but I’ll say just a few words about developing the qualities I just mentioned.
- Become more self-aware: Realize when you’re acting out of craving and expectation. Let go of the label of “nice guy.” Seriously, never refer to yourself or think of yourself as a “nice guy” ever again. The role has become a trap for you, and it’s preventing you from seeing who you really are. Take responsibility, and take a good look at yourself: if your attempts at relationships all end up the same way, the common denominator is you, not “women.”
- Be braver: Don’t cling to your preferences, but don’t be afraid to express them. Express how you feel. If you’re upset or afraid or hurt, it’s OK to express those things. And I mean express them directly, in words (“When you stood me up I felt really hurt”), not throwing a tantrum or trying to punish the other person. The Buddha was not a “nice guy.” He called people on their bullshit.
- Become more honest: Stop trying to be “nice” all the time. But being honest doesn’t mean saying whatever happens to be on your mind. For example, Euan said that this girl has been “leading him on.” He may think that telling her that is “honest.” Actually, saying “I think you’ve been leading me on” is technically honest, because he has had that thought. But saying “She’s been leading me on” isn’t the truth, but a story. What from Euan’s point of view seems like being led on, might well be, from the girl’s point of view, giving the relationship a little time in order to see if she actually likes this guy. When you take your interpretations and present them as if they were the absolute truth, you’re not being honest.
- Become more genuinely empathetic and loving: Ah, right: there are all these tips you’ve read on “how to show empathy.” You nod, and look concerned, and ask questions, and reflect things back to the other person, and make little “uhuh” noises to let the other person know you’re listening. But those things are not empathy. They’re what empathy looks like, and they can all be done without any real empathy at all, without any real appreciation that the other person is a fully human being with needs and desires, who in all likelihood wants to be with another person who has needs and desires, and not with someone who is going through the motions of “being nice” and “being empathetic.” To be genuinely empathetic you have to be self-aware, prepared to take risks, and to be honest. Ask yourself, would you want to be with someone who was acting the whole time?
Euan said, “From what I’ve learned for my short period of meditation is that we should love each other, but when someone tells me they don’t want a relationship because I’m ‘too nice’ it makes me question what I’m doing. Like should I stop being nice to girls I want potential relationships with.”
Buddhism does teach us to have metta (kindness) and karuna (compassion) and to be empathetic, but that doesn’t mean “being nice” and it certainly doesn’t mean “being manipulative.”
The men a “nice guy” thinks of as “jerks” — the ones they see girls with all the time — are more enjoyable for just about any human being to be with, let alone a romantic partner, than any self-consciously “nice guy.” They aren’t acting. They’re more inclined to be honest about what they want and feel. When they give compliments it feels sincere because they’re not doing it all the time. They offer challenge. They call out bullshit. We all need that.
I’m not saying that every “jerk” is really a good guy. Some jerks cheat or are violent. Those are real jerks. But even a real jerk might be more fulfilling to be in a relationship with than someone you don’t know because they’re constantly playing a role, and when there’s the underlying threat, which isn’t that hard to pick up on, that they’ll turn nasty when they don’t get what they want. Better the devil you know than the one pretending to be “nice” all the time, perhaps.
So being a “nice guy” isn’t nice. It’s fake. So yes, “nice guys” should stop being “nice.” But that doesn’t mean being unkind. It doesn’t mean treating people badly. It means becoming self-aware. It means “manning up” and having the courage to be honest so that you can be in a genuine relationship with another human being rather than acting out a role in order to get a reward.
The Enlightened Brain: The Neuroscience of Awakening, by Rick Hanson (7 CDs) Daemion Lee, Eugene Weekly: In 1992, two neuroscientists, Richard Davidson and Clifford Saron, trekked into the hills around Dharamsala in north India to measure the brain waves of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Although the journey did not yield empirical data, it was a turning point in the careers of both men, and they went on to become leaders in the science of meditation.
On Feb. 9, they will be guest speakers at the Second Annual Symposium for Mindfulness and Society at the University of Oregon. Davidson, a professor of …
The Taliban may have destroyed the two historic Buddha statues of Bamiyan, but in a sort of compensation, three new statues have been excavated by Afghan archaeologists in the historic city of Mes Aynak. These aren’t giant sculptures, like the ones at Bamiyan were, but they’re still life size and one has escaped damage by looters.
The earliest Buddhist remains in the city are almost 2,000 years old. Mes Aynak, an important stop on the Silk Road, was at the peak of its prosperity between the fifth and seventh centuries. It went into decline in the eighth century and the settlement was finally abandoned 200 years later.
The Buddhist ruins were scheduled to be destroyed at the end of July 2012 for the purposes of mining copper, but for reasons that include political instability, this has been delayed, although the destruction may take place later this year.
Wildmind helped sponsor the making of a documentary, Saving Mes Aynak, by Brent E. Huffman, showing the work that archaeologists are undertaking in order to retrieve as much as possible of the ancient city’s precious past.
You can help save priceless discoveries like these by buying a limited-edition film poster today. The proceeds of these poster sales go to Afghan archaeologists working at Mes Aynak.
Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Teens, by Amy Saltzman (CD) Karen Pace, Michigan State University Extension: Research shows the practice of mindfulness can help youth navigate stress more effectively.
For many young people, adolescence is a time of opportunity and risk—as well as significant stress as they navigate school demands, body changes and sometimes challenging relationships with peers, parents and other people in their lives. Some youth experience the added strain and trauma of poverty, violence, bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression and abuse. During this stage of life, adolescents are also tasked with developing a …