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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

The Mindfulness Revolution Continues

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

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Naomi Morris wrote an article for the L. A. Times entitled “Fully experiencing the present: a practice for everyone, religious or not.” The article focuses on the pioneering mindfulness work of Jon Kabat-Zinn (featured here on Mindfulness Matters a couple of times). Jon has taught mindfulness through Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a secularized practice of training attention. In the article he says,

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“I don’t have to use the word ‘spiritual,'” he said. “Part of it is the
power of silence and stillness. And part of that power is the power of
healing that happens when you move from the domain of doing to being.
It’s transformative.”

In fact, there have been rabbis, priests and even an imam who have
taken Kabat-Zinn’s eight-week MBSR training course and told him that it
deepened their experience of their own faiths.

The imam told him the practice was “totally consistent” with Islam,
Kabat-Zinn said. Priests said MBSR reminded them of why they first went
into the seminary and allowed them to transmit their faith more
effectively to their flocks. Kabat-Zinn noted that even Mother Teresa
described her conversations with God as mutual silence.

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“Is silence Jewish or Christian or Buddhist? Is awareness Jewish or
Christian?” said Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness principles are found on every
continent in every culture, he added.”We’re born with this capacity.
It’s about cultivating it.”

Secular doesn’t suggest a dilution of the dharma. It’s intact in MBSR; just not explicit.

Mindfulness, thanks to articles like this, is becoming a household word. MBSR has gone from the original Stress Reduction Clinic at the U Mass Medical Center in 1979 to 200 medical centers worldwide and hundreds of individual practitioners like myself who teach mindfulness in their communities.

Join the revolution!

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Wisdom Wednesday :: Dismantling the Work-Life Balance Myth

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

In an age when the work week enroaches more and more into the hours of each day and even reaches its hand into weekends, holidays, and vacations the notion arises that we need to have good work-life “balance.” I would like to suggest, however, that work-life balance is a myth, and a dangerous one at that. 

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The term work-life implies a duality. Work is set against the rest of life. These are now in competition for our precious time and energy. If one wins, the other loses. 
However, life is a unity. Any separations we make are constructions, arbitrary boundaries drawn on the seamless fabric of life. 
An article from the New York Times from last October on integrating Mindfulness in Medicine (How Mindfulness Can Make for Better Doctors) provides this example:

One night during my training, long after all the other doctors had fled the hospital, I found a senior surgeon still on the wards working on a patient note. He was a surgeon with extraordinary skill, a doctor of few words whose folksy quips had become the stuff of department legend. “I’m sorry you’re still stuck here,” I said, walking up to him.

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He looked up from the chart. “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’m just fine.”

I had just reviewed the next day’s operating room schedule and knew he had a full day of cases. I began to contradict him, but he held his hand up to stop me.

“Time in the O.R.,” he said with a broad grin, “is not work; it’s play.”

There is no duality for this surgeon, no opposition of forces. Work is play, and thereby presumably joyful.


We spend approximately half of our waking life in the service of work and as suggested above that percentage continues to grow. 

David Whyte in his elegiac volume, The Three Marriages: Reimagining, Work, Self, and Relationship, says

“We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold
competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way. These hidden
human dynamics of integration are more of a conversation, more of a synthesis
and more of an almost religious and sometimes almost delirious quest for
meaning than a simple attempt at daily ease and contentment. “

In his first book on working life, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, he offered this bit of wisdom: 
“Human beings must, in a
sense, always, in order to create meaning, in order to create an ecology of belonging
around them, must bring the central questions of their life into whatever they
are doing most of the time.” 

 Well, that would be work.  


The Buddha threw down the gauntlet challenging us to awaken. To be awake is not part-time or divided. It is always now and in every thing. No separation, no division, no preference. Instead, a stark, beautiful, and breath-taking (and breath-giving) engagement with being alive. 

Our challenge is to be awake on our way to work, while at work, and on our way home from work. Our challenge is strive towards being open, receptive, and truthful with each moment. 

Work is our life in this moment and we’d be best served not to squander it with wanting to be somewhere else. 

This is not to say that work can’t be difficult, miserable, or the wrong-fit for us. Obviously, we need to pay attention to this and make changes if necessary and possible. 

However, these difficulties can be calls to awakening. “How can I transcend myself in this moment?” “How can I get beyond my story of how awful things are?” “How can I find meaning and grace in what is happening now?”


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TED Tuesday: Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf: Lose your ego, find your compassion

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
This is the last installment of the Charter for Compassion talks with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (the Imam at the center of the controversy over the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero). He gives a brief overview of the Muslim faith in the context of compassion. 
I won’t get into the particulars of that controversy; I’ll only say that I’m fairly certain that many people have spoken from emotions rather than reason, that they haven’t thought through the issues carefully and they haven’t listened to this Imam speak.
So, here he is. He speaks of Rumi to find metaphors for the spiritual path. He speaks of transcending ego and the esoteric aspects of his faith. 

 

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Metaphor Monday :: Stop, Drop, & Roll

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

We all learned “Stop, Drop, and Roll” in fire safety.

This mnemonic helps to avert panic and the proliferation of the fire. In fact, when done correctly you can put the fire out limiting its destructive impact. 
In the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, he warned, “Monks, everything is burning.  And what is burning? Monks, the eye is burning, visual consciousness is burning, visible forms are burning…Burning with what? Burning with the fire of desire, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion.”
Our minds could use the same safety approach. We often “burn” ourselves with anguish, anxiety, and stress. We catch on fire, getting engrossed in a story of how someone has wronged us, or how things are not going as we would like. 

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The mindfulness version of “Stop, Drop, and Roll” is accomplished through attention. Here it is:

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Stop the story.
Drop into the body.
Roll with the moment.
Just like that. This metaphoric axiom can help us to avert panic in a pressing situation. Stop, Drop, and Roll can help us to keep the problem from proliferating. 
No story; no proliferation. We can’t be anguished without a story. Of course we need to recognize that we’re engaged with an anguish-producing story; we have to know we are on fire. 
Mindfulness practice will help us to see that we’re on fire. Once we’ve seen that we’re in the story there is a moment where we can stop. With enough discipline we could just stop the story cold. However, it is often helpful to refocus attention on something concrete that is happening now. 
The story will give rise to emotions and emotions will give rise to sensations in the body. That is our concrete now. Drop into the body and notice what is going on. Explore these sensations with interest, curiosity, and perhaps even fascination.
What then? Whatever comes next. We can Roll with the present as it cascades into the future, one moment at a time. 
If we can handle a problem this way, we deal with whatever is most pressing right now. This isn’t a story but a practical approach to the moment. “What does this moment require?” “What’s the best way for me to take care of myself?” Now we’re rolling!
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