Beliefnet
Mindfulness Matters

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Metaphor 66 in Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness is, “The Buzzing Fly.” The fly is a metaphor for all things bothersome, especially thoughts that keep buzzing around seeking attention; moving out of what appears to be kinetic randomness. How can we deal with the fly?

One option is to continue sitting and being annoyed, or tocontinue whooshing the fly away. Another is to expand the concept of your selfin that moment to include your experience of the fly. After all, the reason thefly is annoying is because you’ve got some embedded rule or belief that says,”This fly should not be present; it is disturbing my meditation. My meditationshould feel differently than it does now. It should be flyless.” If that beliefcan be revised to include the fly, there is no longer opposition and no longera problem. The revision eliminates the resistance.

“The Fly” is a wonderful animation by Hanjin Song that likewise turns to the fly as metaphor. It’s also a metaphor for resistance — what we resists, persists — and multiplies! It’s metaphor for reactivity and invites us to consider the question: “How do I want to spend my time and energy?”

The video also presents the dharma. There is no distinction between the cherry blossom and the fly and when our minds can appreciate this, we experience nirvana (OK, that part is a little schmaltzy, but, hey, how do you portray that which is beyond all concepts?).
Our goal in meditation is not to get rid of the flies. Our goal is to accept them as part of the landscape of now. When we can do this, we experience a little taste of nirvana. 

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I’ve recently resumed painting after about a 25 year hiatus. This is my latest piece, “9 Moments” that depicts nine moments of meditation, with each circle representing the arising of talking thoughts, images, and feelings in the mind. This piece is currently part of the Helen Day Arts Center Member Show and Sale in Stowe, Vermont. It is up through 2 January 2011. I was inspired to resume painting by Odin Cathcart. Odin (aka Erik), a longtime friend. 
I am fortunate to own many of his pieces spanning the last ten years of his art career. Pictured below, hanging in the Exquisite Mind Studio is “Insouciance,” It is a magnficient piece, part low relief sculpture, part painting. It is six feet by six feet and is made from bark recovered from dead trees in the Hudson Valley where Odin did his MFA studies at SUNY New Paltz. 

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This work reflects the interface of humanity with the natural world and points to the degradation of nature that is pervasive in the world today. His recent work is an exploration of this theme and a conversation that holds the promise of awakening to a deeper truth in nature. 
This piece is featured on the big wall in the new Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio in downtown Burlington. It is one of the most original pieces of art that you will likely see in your lifetime and should be hanging in the MoMA instead of the Exquisite Mind, but for now, I have the great fortune of having it hang in my Studio! 
Odin’s styles have changed over the years from abstract expressionist action painting to

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these nature conversations. One painting on loan to the Exquisite Mind, is Hiroshima, a four foot by six foot testament to humanity’s destructive and redemptive powers. This piece was featured in the New York Times. Hiroshima is comprised of Gingko leaves. 
Art invites us to see what is before us and shows us how we often cannot “see” because we are too preoccupied with generating opinions and being plain distracted from what is before us. 
We can use a work of art as the object for meditation, endeavoring to give it our full attention and to return attention to it whenever it moves into opinions, stories, and errata. Of course, creating art can be a meditation too. Look at some art in your home or go to a gallery or a museum and try to “see” with your entire being. The artist will appreciate the attention and the world will open in a colorful, beautiful, and profound way. 
To meditate on Odin’s work, visit his website Imagine Zero.

BS15100.JPGI’ve written about sleep for my stress reduction column and I’m no stranger to difficulty sleeping. Mindfulness offers us a way to work with sleeplessness. As we lie in bed trying to fall asleep or back asleep we can do a body scan practice. Instead of tossing and turning pay attention to the sensations that are present in the body. Move to wherever the energy is strongest or move systematically from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Either one of two things will happen: 1) you will fall asleep, or 2) you will spend time meditating and enjoy the benefit of that. While not sleep, time spent in meditation can be exchanged for minutes of sleep, providing restfulness and clarity. Give it a try the next time you are having difficulty. If you are unfamiliar with the Body Scan meditation, you can listen to it and download it for free from the Exquisite Mind website



Waves, inexorable, crashing surf.
The many threads of a tapestry, unraveled
unwoven, all command attention at once
in the roar of a crashing wave, and
sometimes one by one
petitioning anxiety, 
necks crane into the future

Turning away into the seething foam
Feeling the weight of the tidal pull,
tucking the threads back into the body
until sleep comes.
Allowing gravity to do what it does,
bringing us closer to ground, 
to earth, to home.


And this night, 
the restless sea cannot wait until the light of day,
marching in the darkness
pushing from dreams of airplanes and cars
to wakefulness: 
5:46 A.M.

The imagined pleasure of coffee
in the cool darkness
is enough to get the body out of its
restless turnings and into this day of 
doing, trying to weave these threads into 
something coherent, even artful, or 
accidentally beautiful.


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The Buddha taught the dharma through metaphor. It’s right there in the first Noble Truth and, indeed, The Four Noble Truths themselves are presented in the form of a medical metaphor with the Buddha as physician.
With the First Noble Truth the Buddha diagnosed the malady of the human condition. He didn’t choose a word to describe it but an image — that of a “bad wheel.” A bad wheel on an oxcart results in a bumpy, off-kilter ride. This is what dukkha means. We translate dukkha as suffering, typically, but this doesn’t capture the pervasive and sometimes subtle sense of things being off. Anguish or pervasive dissatisfaction are, perhaps, better translations but still don’t capture the same sense as the metaphor. 
In the Second Noble Truth, the Buddha provided the explanation for the malady (the etiology of the present condition). We grasp at things, cling to them when we have them, fear that we will lose them, push the things we don’t want away, we make our sense of self-worth contingent on the things we have and the way things go, and we don’t appreciate the changing nature of reality. All of this gives rise to dukkha
The Third Noble Truth is the prognosis for humanity, and it’s a good one — full recovery from the sickness is possible. There is a way to stop dukkha and this is known as nirvana (nibbana in Pali). How to go about doing it is found in the Fourth Noble Truth and it is the Noble Eight-Fold Path. This, of course, is the treatment and it’s efficacy is potent. 
In my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, I present metaphor in five different sections: mind, self, ordinary craziness, acceptance, and practice. It’s easy to see how understanding the mind requires reference to other things like machines, the sky, and bodies of water. Self, too, is an abstract concept that requires metaphors to understand it. But it wasn’t until I was teaching from the book later that I realized that not only do we need metaphors to understand the self, the self IS a metaphor!
We are metaphors. The Buddha said this. And it is a lesson that is just as pressing today as it was over 2500 years ago. If we understand by metaphor understanding one thing in terms of another how does this apply to understanding “self.” We project a sense of me into the future by referencing memories. We understand one thing — what is happening now — in terms of another — what has happened in the past (and by extension what we anticipate will happen in the future). We imagine our selves in this way and by doing so we may miss what is really happening. Perhaps this lesson is needed more so now since we have photographic and video “evidence” of so many of our past self moments.
To explore this theme further, I’ll be teaching the dharma through metaphors at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in late February 2011. The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies has quickly become my spiritual home. You can feel the peace radiating from the stones found on the property. It’s a beautiful place and an important fulcrum for the dissemination of the dharma. I’m honored to teach there again and invite you to join me there for a weekend winter retreat exploring metaphors and practicing mindfulness meditation. The workshop is called Metaphors, Meaning, and Change: Finding Our Way to Mindfulness and runs from 25 to 27 February. 
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