If you suddenly lost a huge manuscript that you were working on, how would you react? Could you receive this news with equanimity and pick up your pen and start writing all over again?
This is what happened to Thomas Carlyle, as recently presented in the Writer’s Almanac (Sunday 4 December 2016). I have had this happen with short pieces of writing, like a blog post, but I’ve never lost anything more book length. Here is how Garrison Keillor describes it:
It was as a philosopher and social historian that Carlyle found his calling. He wrote The French Revolution, an immense tome, only to lend it to fellow philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose maid accidentally tossed it into the fire. Undeterred, Carlyle rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch.
For many of us, such a loss would be the start of a long winter of discontent. What would keep us from moving into the next moment without a great sense of loss? It’s hard to do because we tend to attach ourselves to the things in our lives, including our work, relationships, and ideas about ourselves.
We can complain about the time it would take to re-do the effort. There is a certain entitlement embedded there. Since we’ve done the work, we shouldn’t have to do it again. But, if you consider this, why is that necessarily so? Who said that had to be true? We need to get over our sense of personal deprivation. We manufacture this; it doesn’t exist in nature.
Imagining this scenario for myself, once I got over my self-importance, I would be fearful that I would not be able to re-produce what I had already done. There is a letting go here into a space of unfamiliarity. While, we may not be able to produced the same exact thing, we might be able to come up with something that is better. Of course, worse is an option too. These executions are real practice in non-attachment.
In the publishing world, Faulkner made the phrase “kill your darlings” famous. The point being that in order to write well, we must be willing to relinquish cherished words, phrases, and passages because, while cherished, they don’t fit with the larger thrust of the work or the work is simply too long.
Carlyle’s dramatic example is a metaphor for all of life’s disappointments, a wake-up call for whenever life doesn’t go the way we’d like it to go. Almost every day, there are moments, events, and situations where we are confronted with a choice: do I flow with this moment or do I fight against it?
Example: I was heading out the other night to the Member’s Art Show at the Helen Day Art Center where I had a piece on display. I especially wanted to bring my phone so I could Instagram a picture of myself standing next to my painting. About ten minutes down the road, I realized I forgot to bring the phone.
I was flummoxed. How could I have forgotten when I made it a point to bring it? Now I wouldn’t be able Instagram and that little attachment gave rise to a lot of anguish (if briefly experienced).
I was not in the flow of the moment, moving with the new contours of now. instead, I was caught in a story, fighting against what was actually so. Initially, I wasn’t willing to accept what had happened and my mood suffered.
There was no real problem here, other than an expectation that got disappointed. I used my wife’s camera to take pictures and posted to Instagram when I got home later that evening. The only drama existed in my own mind.
How unfathomably admirable was Thomas Carlyle’s ability to set aside attachment to rewrite is now classic tome. His is a powerful lesson for all of us.
Hold up the mirror of his example to your life and see what attachments you find. Whether large or small, we carry a lot of these around with us. If you feel intrepid, you can even practice letting go of things. Draw a picture, and crumple it up. Write a paragraph and then delete it.
Carlyle would have been unfamiliar with the term mindfulness but this is might have been what he was practicing when he sat down at his desk and began re-writing.
The celebrations of Thanksgiving have seen travel, entertaining, and being entertained. I am now recovering from all the socializing, eating, and cheer. I’ve tapped out my introvert reserves and am enjoying some quiet time now. I know this season is challenging, especially the introvert amongst us.
Starting a few years ago, after reading Susan Cain’s revolutionary book, Quiet, I started thinking about my own introversion and writing about. I’ve written two books on the topic. The Awakened Introvert explores mindfulness and Buddhist concepts in a practical workbook format. The first book I wrote: The Everything Guide to the Introvert Edge is a playful, encyclopedic treatment of this important topic.
The Awakened Introvert: Practical Mindfulness Skills for Maximizing Your Strengths and Thriving in a Loud and Crazy World, is dedicated to my fellow introverts in the world to bring a greater measure of sanity to their lives.I am thinking about why I wrote this book. This book was a labor of love. I was really writing to myself and through myself. Three reasons come to mind:
1) It came out of my own awakening to the bias against introversion (some of this bias self-imposed). For years I knew about introversion as a psychological concept and I readily identified myself as one. However, it didn’t realize the prejudice that I and other applied to this introverted way of being. I felt guilty that I wasn’t more “out there,” “on,” and “positively cheery” all the time.
I thought something might be wrong with me. “Maybe I’m depressed or self-sabotaging,” I would wonder. But then I realized that, indeed, my reserved quiet was an introvert asset rather than a liability. It was endemic to who I am as a human being and it is the starting point on my path to spiritual awakening.
This discovery, if you will, is the main thrust of the book. I share what I know about being an introvert in an extrovert-dominated world and then provide a series of contemplations, exercises, and practices that can actually make a difference in how you cope moment-by-moment, day-by-day in the world.
2) I realized that my decades long mindfulness path was in some large measure facilitated by being an introvert. People often ask me how I got into meditation and I never have a clear answer for them other than the fact that meditation has also held an intuitive appeal for me. I like to be quiet, I value stillness (even though it can be challenging to realize), and I know how difficult it is to manage my ADD-like mind.
Meditation is a natural fit for introverts because it embodies quiet, stillness, and provides a technology that can actually change our brains likely increasing our capacity to withstand stimulation such that it is no longer experienced as aversive. It also gives us tools that we can use to better manage our energy.
3) The Buddha was an introvert (likely so). The Buddha recognized that the path to awakening was an inside job. It didn’t come about by impressing others, doing amazing feats, or being loud. Instead, his enlightenment happened in the quiet solitude of meditation and this is what he advocated for his followers 2500 years ago. The path of quiet is just as relevant and necessary today as the world becomes more and more self-preoccupied with attention-seeking. His basic teachings, included in the book, are a roadmap for introverts (and those intrepid extroverts, too, willing to do the inner work). I’ve devoted my life to trying to understand and live these basic teachings, and it is my honor to share them with you.
The Awakened Introvert is unique from other books by and for introverts because it is a workbook. You can work through the issues in writing, which is often a helpful way to make sense of things, connect to material, and to hear yourself thinking.
The Everything Guide to the Introvert Edge
For those of you looking for a general introduction on introversion will enjoy the Introvert Edge. This book hasn’t gotten as much attention as some of my other book, an oversight you can correct this Holiday season.
Here is the Top Ten List from the beginning of the book, which gives a preview of what the book covers:
1. There is nothing wrong with you! Introversion is normal and valuable—it is a connection to your interior that gives you an edge!
2. Introverts revolt! There is an introvert revolution underway and introverts are reclaiming their rightful place in society
3. Don’t believe the messages extroverted society has told you. You don’t need to apologize for who you are and how you want to be.
4. Living in the extrovert culture, you will have to take care of yourself in special ways.
5. There are more introverts in the world than you realize. Half the population may be introverts.
6. Many famous, influential, and creative people throughout history have been introverts.
7. Being an extrovert is not ideal; it ignores the power of solitude, quiet, and contemplation.
8. Contemplative practices are the key to nurturing your introvert.
9. Introverts are subject to bias, discrimination, prejudice, and stigma especially in school and the workplace.
10. The Introvert Edge is available to extroverts, too, when they are able to tap into their interior depths.
Support your local bookstore: purchase on IndieBound
I’ve been writing about mindfulness for almost ten years now, practicing it for almost thirty (a few years shy of that). Despite the fact that there are too many mindfulness books in the world already, I can’t help myself–I keep writing!
My two mindfulness-focused book are now a lovely matched set–each a collection of 108 short chapters. These books are gifty in that sense that they don’t need to be read straight through. You can keep them on your night stand and dip into them as you please.
I am also pleased to announce that my first book–Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness is being re-released under the title 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness: from Wild Chickens to Petty Tyrants. It has the same metaphors that many people have grown to love and trust in their daily mindfulness practice in a new book design (astute obersvers will notice that it is very similar to Mindfulness A to Z. Here is an excerpt from the preface that I wrote for the new edition:
Since the initial publication of 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness in 2009, I’ve come to appreciate further the Buddha’s mastery with metaphors. Indeed, Buddhist scholar Damien Keown said, “The Buddha’s skill in teaching the Dharma, demonstrated in his ability to adapt his message to the context in which it was delivered. Parables, metaphors, and similes formed an important part of his teaching rep- ertoire, skillfully tailored to suit the level of his audi- ence.” The Pali Canon, which is the written record of the Buddha’s teachings, contains over 1000 met- aphorical references addressing over 500 different concepts.
Mindfulness A to Z is something of a memoir because it contains a variety of personal stories about times that I was mindful and times that I was not. The book is organized as the title suggests as a dictionary of mindfulness terms with listings literally from a to z. You’ll find entries on acceptance, Buddha, compassion, equanimity, and so forth.
The book has been beautifully produced by Wisdom. It’s not the kind of book that you’ll read cover to cover. You can march through the entries in order or you can skip around. You’ll want to read one or two per day and sit with the wisdom and guidance that it sets forth.
It is my hope that this book through its candid revelations about my own attempts to live a mindful life can help you to live more mindfully too. Each brief chapter contains some important teaching relevant to mindfulness and grounded in the teachings of the Buddha.
Here are some samples:
E is for Effort
Mindfulness A to Z official release is tomorrow!Here is an excerpt from “E is for Effort”
We may need to encourage ourselves gently in the direction of practice. Challenges arise. Daily life is complicated and busy; it may seem like we have no time to practice. But the effort required to be mindful in any given moment is small. After we bring our attention to what is happening now, the onrush of life works to pull us back into our story. Effort is the aggregate of many small moves, many small corrections in the direction of attending to the here and now. It is not about forcing our minds to stand still like statues. It’s about simply bringing attention back again and again. Good effort is the art of the gentle return to now.
N is for Nirvana
Mindfulness A to Z official release is 7 Days Away!Here is an excerpt from “N is for Nirvana”
Nirvana is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in Buddhism. It literally means “blown out,” as when the flame of a candle has been extinguished. Because of its usage in popular culture, nirvana is often imagined to be a transcendent reality—an ultimate existence that is more real than our ordinary lives. It is true that nirvana is a state quite different than our normal state of experience, but the idea has been blown somewhat out of proportion in popular culture. The Buddha chose the metaphorical term “nirvana” to describe his enlightenment, not as an otherworldly transcendent experience, but as the final extinction of the fires of suffering in himself.
The early part of 2017, I’ll be presenting workshops, two with my friend and spiritual brother, Jaimal Yogis. Most of these are on the East Coast and I am also excited to be teaching in California with Jaimal. Please join me or us for some mindfulness training, solitude, and the opportunity to develop some resilience, inner strength, and equanimity in the uncertain times we are living in.
Riding the Waves of Life
I am teaming up again with Saltwater Buddha–Jaimal Yogis. After our wonderful teaching together at Kripalu this past summer I am super excited to be co-leading a workshop at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA (in Marin County). This Sunday workshop will focus on the healing power of water and the unity we can feel when we recognize our place in the natural world–the vastness that surrounds us and that we are in every moment. Sunday January 22, 9:30-4:30 (CE credits available) Please join us for a great weekend together. For more information and to register, click here >>
Mindfulness A-Z at Kripalu
Freedom and self-compassion are the promise of awakening, available whenever you skillfully engage your attention with mindfulness in the present moment. This program combines training in mindfulness meditation and the Buddha’s psychology with a creative narrative process called Story Art to free you from self-inflicted obstacles.
Please join me for a 5-day workshop at the peaceful, beautiful, and fun Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health 12-17 February 2017. We will explore mindfulness and meditative journaling practices to liberate ourselves from regret, perfectionism, and being stuck. Registration and more information is available at Kripalu.
Self Is a Metaphor
A new consensus is emerging both within Buddhist studies and in the cognitive sciences that the self, as we experience it, is—itself—a metaphorical process. The Buddha’s teaching of anattā (not-self) can be understood through the cognitive science of language, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology. The Buddha was a master metaphor maker, and in this workshop we’ll look at his original teachings on not-self, dukkha, nibbāna, and the three fires as all cast in metaphorical terms.
I am once again teaching a course on metaphor. This time, instead of a general approach to mindfulness using metaphors, I am apply the power of metaphor to the self, itself. Join me for this exploratory weekend at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 17-19 February 2017. Registration is open >>
SOLITUDE AND THE VIRTUOUS LIFE
The unrelenting stresses of the information age devalue solitude and make it difficult to realize. Without solitude, we are lost. This afflicts introverts and extroverts alike, and especially those more prone to the interior. Mindfulness is the path to solitude and can help us to become impeccable in our lives: embracing uncertainty, valuing vulnerability as a means to growth, and being in the world as ethical agents. The Buddha’s example as a solitary, quiet, and inward looking teacher can lead us to wisdom
Come join me for a heartfelt weekend of reflection and solitude at the contemplative Copper Beech Institute, the weekend of 24-26 February 2017. Registration is open >>
No matter how turbulent the ocean of life, meditation can help you ride the waves. Mindfulness and other meditation techniques can bring you a sense of oneness, providing refuge, sanctuary, and deep inner peace.
Once again, I’ll be teaching with Jaimal Yogis. This time, it’s a 5-day retreat at Kripalu Center. Come meditate and learn with us, April 16-21 2017. Registration is open >>