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Mindfulness Matters

Stuart Brown’s fascinating TED talk was the most popular video of 2010. As we move into the new year, we can take his talk under consideration. 2011 can be a year of play no matter what we are doing if we can tap into our natural way of being. We tend to live from this place when we drop the story lines and exchange imagination for a close appreciation of the reality of now. 

We tend to think of play as something kids do and as frivolous for adults in our work-ethic driven culture. But as Stuart Brown demonstrates in this TED talk, play is anything but frivolous and not just for kids. Since animals play, play is part of our genetic inheritance and serves important developmental biological functions. It’s too bad that as a culture we don’t nurture play into adulthood. I view play as integral to exquisite self-care and something that we should do often and with others. Play often provides a spontaneous form of mindfulness. We naturally fall into mindfulness when we are engaged in play. Having fun holds great power to move us into the present moment. So have some fun today!

It snowed 30 inches in parts of New Jersey yesterday and I’m enjoying being stranded. An unexpected and welcome extension of the holiday weekend. I’ll be back in Vermont tomorrow and we’ll resume our regular meditation schedule at the Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio.

As I’m reading through the Mindfulness Matters posts this post on Mindful Politics was well “liked” at least by Facebook standards. 

As the year draws to a close the lame-duck congress was busy passing legislation on taxes, nuclear arms treaties, and repealing “don’t ask; don’t tell.” Lauding congress for doing its job is a bit like NFL football players (especially on the defense) celebrating after making routine plays. “Isn’t that what you get paid for?” Likewise, it’s a sad state of affairs when what should be routine work in congress stands in such contrast to what is actually business-as-usual.

Here is the post from 2 October 2010

As the mid-term elections approach, political rhetoric is ramping up and along with it the usual fervor, apathy, distortion, and promulgation of hope (mostly false hope, I’m afraid). Here is a mindful perspective on politics from renown  Buddhist author and editor, Melvin McLeod.

Melvin McLeod edits the volume Mindful Politics (Wisdom, 2006). “Politics is really about how we live together as human beings, and all spiritual practices point to one simple but profound truth about human life–that only love leads to peace, hatred never does. This is as true for nations as it is for individuals.”

His proposed political platform: (if The Buddha was a politician and the Brahma Viharas)

  • May all being enjoy happiness and the root of happiness
  • May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
  • May the not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering
  • May they dwell in the great equanimity free of passion, aggression, and ignorance.

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Universal in application — all. Politics is emotions gone awry — vengeance, war, intolerance of difference, and so forth. 

As Buddhism (particularly through mindfulness) promotes emotional and social intelligences it might have something to offer the world as an antidote to hostility, inequity, and damage. The dualistic and false sense of “us” versus “them” underlies much of the conflict. 

If we are not in this all together than we are divided one against another. According to McLeod the keys to change are: forgiveness, awareness, kindness, and selflessness. Politics is ultimately about relationships and all relationships brook in power and conflict. 

How will these conflicts be resolved? With mindful awareness or through the perpetuation of the Three Poisons (which seem to be an apt laundry for the world’s problems).

Individual transformation is the prerequisite for societal transformation. The first step is not to save the world, but to save your self. If each individual works to limit or even eliminate hatred, greed, and ignorance the world will be a better place through the aggregation of this absence.

From Buddhist Monk and Vietnam veteran, Claude Anshin

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 Thomas in his book At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace.

Peace is not an idea. Peace is not a political movement, not a theory or a dogma. Peace is a way of life: living mindfully in the present moment … It is not a question of politics, but of actions. It is not a matter of improving a political system or even taking care of homeless people alone. These are valuable but will not alone end war and suffering. We must simply stop the endless wars that rage within… Imagine, if everyone stopped the war in themselves –there would be no seeds from which war could grow.” (Quoted in Mindful Politics).

This is one of my favorite metaphors. It’s an axiom to live by: “being comfortable being out of balance.” So no matter what is happening we can be comfortable. This is equanimity in action. Here is my post from 16 August 2010.

Performance artist Janine Antoni provides a compelling image for mindfulness in life through acceptance of what is so. Mindfulness does not just magically make everything OK but it shows us, when we can stop resisting. She discovered this lesson while teaching herself to walk a tight rope. Here is what she said about the experience:

So I practiced tightroping for about an hour a day andafter about a week I started to feel like I’m now getting my balance. And as Iwas walking I started to notice that it wasn’t that I was getting morebalanced, but that I was getting more comfortable with being out of balance. 

Iwould let the pendulum swing a little bit further and rather than gettingnervous and overcompensating by leaning too much to one side I could compensatejust enough. And I thought, I wish I could do that in my life when things aregetting out of balance. You know when you have a hard day and one bad thinghappens after another? I sort of learned that I could just breathe in and sortof set myself back up onto the rope.

The other thing that was really fascinating is Istarted to learn the bottom of my feet in a way that I had never learnedbefore. If the wire is just a millimeter to one side or the other I can feel itin my arms. I started to learn all kinds of things about the skeletalstructure. About my sternum and my sacrum and how to keep them in balance. Itwas quite a beautiful process, learning to walk on the rope.

Returning to breathing is key. Tightrope walking put Janine in her body, as can any kinetic activity when done with awareness. 

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On Christmas Day when gluttony may be a strong temptation, I am posting one of your favorite entries from the archive (originally posted 20 July 2010). Accept my sincere wishes for a wonderful holiday and an invitation to be mindful throughout!

New Jersey (or anywhere in the United States), I am returning from a meal at a Japanese Sushi buffet. All you can eat sushi? This sounds too good to be true. The restaurant is as big as a supermarket and four times the size of any restaurant I’ve seen in Vermont. The array of choices and the volume of food is staggering. Oysters, clams, sushi, sashimi, nori rolls, maki rolls. And if you don’t want raw, you can eat cooked Japanese and Chinese entrees by the dozens. Perhaps you’d like some tempura or BBQ, crab legs or roasted octopus? None of this is to mention desert. Unlike supermarkets, this is all meant to be eaten now. And people were eating, including myself, lining up like pigs at a trough. The Buddhist meal chant prepares us to eat in a mindful manner. It can be translated as follows:

This meal is the labor of countless beings, let us remember their toil.

Defilements are many, exertions weak, to we deserve this offering?

Gluttony stems from greed, let us be moderate.

Our life is sustaiend by this offering, let us be grateful.

We take this food to attain the Buddhaway.

We can throw moderation right out of the window. This expereince is designed for gluttony. People, myself among them, make multiple trips to the buffet expanse. At least we’re getting some exercise as we do so. It’s hard to conceive al lthe actions that resulted in this meal being oferred. Even a simple meal comprises countless events. The food must be grown, harvested, transporrted, prepared, and served. The soil must be nurtred by earthworms and bacteria. Rain must fall. The sun must shine. When we eat in this way, boudndless entincing food that just appears, we can’t possibly appreciate the complex intertwining events that bring this miracle of food to our table. How many fish offerered their lives? How much reverence do we offer in return? Early humans worked hard to secure food or perished. We inherit the tendency to gorge to balance the eventual famine. But today, we have no famine. Food is never ending, always available, and as a result we tend to become obese. Approximately 25% of Americans are obese and the trends are getting worse. The sheer abundence of such “all-you-can-eat” dining options can’t be helping the problem. The second stanza of the Buddhist meal chant asks if we have made sufficient effort to warrant this food? Have we worked to be mindful? (and if we are at such a trough it’s likely we are risk for mindlessness).

While our life is susatined by this food we could be sustained by much less. When I look around at my fellow human beings at the trough, I don’t detect gratitude. I sense entitlement. I pay my money (and a ridiculous low amount at that) so I get to eat as much as I want. And this is why people come, to eat without restriction. This gives us a distorted sense of how much food there is on this planet. It obscures the fact that in many regions of the world, including the United States people don’t have enough to eat (in fact, 1 of 4 children in the U.S. do not get adequate nutrition).

We take this food to attain the buddhaway? Why do we eat? For obvious reasons, of course, but why do we eat in this way? This restaurant was packed; the concept of all-you-can-eat is popular. I’m still digesting my meal, hours later.