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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Photo Credit: Arnie Kozak, Bodhgaya 1985

Photo Credit: Arnie Kozak, Bodhgaya 1985

July 6 will be the 80th birthday of His Holiness (HH) the Dalai Lama. I first encountered the Dalai Lama when he would have been 49 (I was considerably younger then too!)

I have had two “close encounters” with him and each event was seminal in my spiritual and professional development.

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The first occurred at the Inner Science conference in 1984 at Amherst College. Then about a year later, I sat with him along with 250,000 Tibetans in exile, 10,000 monks, and 1,000 Westerners in Bodhgaya India.

At the Inner Science Conference, I was exposed to Buddhist psychology for the first time and was also inspired a by a cadre of Western philosopher, psychologists, and scientists who gave commentary talks to the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

The time in Bodhgaya focused on Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (where I took the bodhisattva vows) and culminated with the Kalachakra Tantra–an ornate and intense 3-day meditation mostly based in visualization.

These two experiences opened me to the path that would occupy me over the last 30+ years and will continue to occupy me for the next thirty. The Tibetan Buddhist practices, however, would become my path. I think the major reason for this is that I am not inclined towards visualization and that was such a big component of the practice.

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Still, I have always held HH with great esteem and love. While he is not without controversy (what public figure isn’t?), he has made a great contribution to the world. He has helped to promote the teachings of the Buddha and mindfulness in the West, supported and encouraged the scientific investigation of meditation, and campaigned tirelessly for the plight of Tibet.

In his inimitable style, he has done all of the above with jocularity, humor, and most all, wisdom.

His teachings inspired me to work towards my own awakening as the best means and foundation for serving humanity. I am still committed to that work and will be for the rest of my life. For me, the bodhisattva is a metaphor for selfless service, humility, and an eye towards the long view. It’s not a grandiose vision of self-aggrandizement, which might suggest itself on the surface (I vow to work towards the enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings). Rather, it is a commitment to work towards self-betterment, which paradoxically comes from less self-identification.

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The summer issue of Tricycle Magazine has a series of tributes to HH from a number of well-known people such as Martin Scorsese (who directed Kundun, one of my personal favorite films). In that spirit, I will write my own tribute to HH on his birthday.

Dear HH. I imagine you find all this attention to your birthday rather silly. After all, 80 is just a number and the marking of birthdays seems to betray the sense of impermanence that underlies everything. To say, “I am 80″ is to overlook the fact that we are actually more than that number if we are counting days and hours. It doesn’t grasp the sense that in every moment we are in the process of becoming. So 80 is no different than 79 years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds nor 80 years and one second. At the same time, each moment of becoming is unique.

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You taught me early lessons on this process of becoming and for this I will also be grateful. I always smile when I see your picture, when I hear your name, or when I remember the times I have had the privilege to be in your presence or to hear or read your wisdom.

Most of all, I love your smile and laughter. I need to do these more.

If nothing else, the occasion of your birthday has turned the eye of the world towards you with reverence, affection, and love. Happy Birthday!

 

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Introverts and Extroverts at the Neuronal Level

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

9780262028981_0Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I have a thing for metaphors. Those of you who have been to my workshops know that I have a thing for the brain. I have been delighted to read Giorgio Ascoli’s book, Trees of the Brain, Roots of the Mind (MIT Press). In this illustrated book, Ascoli presents the primary metaphor of the brain: Trees. Neurons branch like trees. The photographs of trees and the colorful plates of actual neurons provide a compelling way for understanding the structure of the brain.

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Like trees, neurons have a trunk, roots. and branches. Unlike real forests, the forests of the brain are densely packed with neurons–unimaginably dense. Also, neurons are so fine that if they were trees, they would reach miles into the sky.

There are two basic types of neurons in the brain: principle neurons and interneurons. These neuron types lend themselves to a metaphor on the differences between introverts and extroverts.

The fact that pyramidal cells (principle neurons) communicate with other brain regions to stimulate activity, whereas interneurons only talk to neighbors to keep them quiet, suggests a division of labor between protagonists and supporters. In this view excitatory neurons would be the protagonists of cortical computation, representing, processing, and transmitting the content of information. Inhibitory neurons would provide a supporting role, maintain the proper tempo of activity and fine-tuning network dynamics.

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While admittedly oversimplified, this distinction is a metaphor for the differences between extroverts and introverts and why both aspects are necessary for function. There are exceptions to the rule that interneurons are always inhibitory, but mostly they are.

Introverts have always provided a heedful, inhibitory function in groups. Within an individual, introverted qualities provide the quiet tendency to pause and reflect and not to act (when action would not be appropriate).

The extroverted neurons are the stars of the show–flashy, active, and brash. The introverted interneurons quietly go about their business making the show run behind the scene.

While a metaphor, it is interesting to speculate how the basic personality difference between introverts and extroverts is mirrored in the basic building blocks of mental life (indeed all of life).

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This is also an equalizing metaphor. Neither type of neuron is better than the other. They are both required and we can’t function without both the noisy and quiet aspects. Within ourselves, too, we can see both action and reserve as necessary parts of life. Extreme imbalance in either direction will result in the extroverted circus on the one hand or immobilization on the other.

As with all metaphors, not every aspect fits perfectly. Introverts can and do provide supportive roles, working behind the scenes. However, we can also take the lead role, like the principal neurons, engaging in quiet leadership, thoughtful action, and wise resolve.

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Set Aside Greed and Distress with Reference to the World

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Photo Credit: Benjamin Balázs

Photo Credit: Benjamin Balázs

The Buddha encouraged his monks to be “ardent, alert, & mindful” and to put “aside greed and distress in reference to the world.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about these recommendation lately. What does it mean to set aside greed and distress? First, what is greed and what is distress?

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Greed is desire. It is wanting things to be a certain way. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting things but greed is more than just the natural inclination towards pleasurable outcomes. Greed becomes a problem when we identify with that satisfaction of that greed. That is, how we are is make or break on the results.

Greed is intimately connected to distress. If the desire isn’t satisfied we feel distressed until it is. If the desire is satisfied, we might want it to last and there is a background anxiety about losing it at any moment, now or in the future. Or, once satisfied, we may just be on to the next desire.

Pretty much everything humanity does is tinged by greed–not overt greed like you would see on Wall Street but more subtle in the dance of desires.

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Being in nature where there has been very little evidence of humanity, presents a situation in which, at least externally-imposed, greed and distress have been put aside. We can still engage in our own versions of greed and distress but there isn’t massive evidence of it around in the form of traffic, malls, and masses of people hurriedly moving through the world.

This separation from human-made greed and distress is an aspect of nature that I hadn’t considered before. Going into nature we can enjoy solitude, a respite from the demands of the world.

The “greed signatures” if you will made by human beings can have a corrosive effect. Even if we are not consciously buying into them, exposure creates at least a subtle form of stress, or distress. Getting away from it all is certainly no panacea, but it can be a healthy part of self-care, especially for introverts but really for anyone and everyone.

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Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 2

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Source: Marek/Dollarphoto.com

Source: Marek/Dollarphoto.com

The second part of my interview with Self-Promotion for Introverts author, Nancy Ancowitz, is now available on her Psychology Today blog or her .

In case you missed the first part, here is the link to that.

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Here are the links to the interviews on her Self-Promotion for Introverts blog: Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 1Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 2

Previous Posts

Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama
July 6 will be the 80th birthday of His Holiness (HH) the Dalai Lama. I first encountered the Dalai Lama when he would have been ...

posted 2:06:43pm Jun. 30, 2015 | read full post »

Introverts and Extroverts at the Neuronal Level
Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I have a thing for metaphors. Those of you who have been to my workshops know that I have a thing for the brain. I have been delighted to read Giorgio Ascoli's book, Trees of the Brain, Roots ...

posted 12:11:28pm Jun. 23, 2015 | read full post »

Set Aside Greed and Distress with Reference to the World
The Buddha encouraged his monks to be "ardent, alert, & mindful" and to put "aside greed and distress in reference to the ...

posted 2:29:24pm Jun. 14, 2015 | read full post »

Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 2
The second part of my interview with Self-Promotion for Introverts author, Nancy Ancowitz, is now available on her Psychology Today blog or ...

posted 7:34:40am Jun. 08, 2015 | read full post »

Laughter and Awakening
A recent column in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review discussed laughter. It was written by Bodhipaksa and debunks the quote that is attributed to the ...

posted 7:29:06am Jun. 03, 2015 | read full post »

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