Beliefnet
Mindfulness Matters

AK_studio_2.jpg

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. 

Advertisement

BS07001.jpg

Silence is a rare commodity in our lives. Our culture does not value silence, does not provide us with rituals to cultivate it, and we often finds ourselves in an “uncomfortable” silence. Why would that be? Silence in those moments is seen as a problem, a deficit to be avoided. It seems alien — what am I supposed to do with this? And the assumed pressure that something must be done with it because sitting in silence is not OK.
Mindfulness meditation practice helps us to bring silence into our lives, to value it and to nourish it. When we sit in silence, our surroundings may be from the “noise” of conversations, reading, television, status updates, and so forth. However, our internal landscape may be anything but silent. That’s fine, of course, and what we work with in practice. Each time we retrieve attention back from the noise of the future/past we experience a moment of silence — however fleeting. 
Silence is a powerful mode of our being and one that waits for us to arrive, and, like the breath, is always available when we give ourselves permission to notice it. We can seek to become intimate with silence and to notice that it is not blank, but energetic. Energetic silence is what the Buddha would have considered the most accurate representation of our true nature. That is, who we are when all the stories stop. It’s nibbana (Pali) or nirvana (Sanskrit) — what we experience when the  clinging and grasping stops. 
To help with the cultivation of silence, familiarize yourself with these meditation practices. I have posted CD 4 of the Exquisite Mind guided meditation series in the “Learn” section of my website exquisitemind.com. These practices are called “advanced” not because they are better than the basic practices, just more challenging and probably not the first practice you’ll want to try. The “Mind Scan” looks at all objects of attention including sound, thoughts, and feelings, noticing them as they arise and change. The second practice is simply called “Emptiness” and provides approximately forty minutes of mostly silence to structure your experience of silence. Listen and download these mp3s by clicking here

Advertisement

Dan Gilbert’s research was recently published in Science and featured in the New York Times and discussed in my blog entry from 20 November 2010. Here is an excerpt in case you missed that:

A recent article in Science (reviewed in the New York Times) lends support to what practitioners of mindfulness already know. First, our minds wander a lot. According to the study about 47% of the time (and the percentage of wandering varied considerably by activity). Second we are happier when concentrated on what we are doing. Not surprising being engaged in sex produced the least amount of stray thinking (only 10%) and the highest level of happiness. 

In this talk, he discusses the power of imagination–the “experience simulator.” Simulator bias is a fault in the system and one that mindfulness can help to overcome as we become less beholden to imagination and more keyed to reality. He also talks about “synthesizing” happiness, pointing to the constructed nature of experience — especially in the realm of emotions. Again, here, mindfulness can help us to “synthesize” the experience we want through the power of accepatnce. 
Enjoy this informative and funny talk. 

Advertisement

BS13030.JPGThe Squid Eye metaphor comes from business consultant and coach Susan Scott in her book Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today. It refers to the ability of squid hunters to detect their prey hiding on the bottom of the sea floor. Squid are good hiders so the hunters have to hone their eye to catch perceptual “tells” that reveal the location of the squid.

In the business context, Scott describes squid eye thusly: 
It’s the ability to see the Squid while he is blending into his natural environment. The ability to see him just being himself, even when he doesn’t want you to see him, even when he is hiding. Having Squid Eye means you see many things others cannot and do not see. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind, you are a selective and efficient information gatherer. This is what Squid Eye really means. So for a fierce leader, with Squid Eye, they begin to spot the tells that let us know that these “best practices” aren’t working.

Squid Eye is a metaphor about perception and taps into the fascinating realm of selective attention. In any given moment we are inundated with information — data coming from our sensory organs for one and then, perhaps, other information in media and communication. We can’t process all of it. In fact, we can only be consciously aware of about one out of a million of those sensory bits in any given second. That’s not a typo, I meant one out of a “million.” No kidding.

This statistic comes from the neuroscientist Nor Torreanders. He calculates that our sensory organs take in about sixteen million bits of information per second and we can consciously process only eleven. Not eleven million but eleven: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. And that’s all folks!

So we select. And how we select depends a lot on context — both external and internal. Internal context comprises our beliefs, assumptions, and metaphors. Exposure to some idea or something in our environment will activate parts of our memory and steer attention towards seeing something linked to that, in other words, bias. 

If we think about concentration as paying attention to whatever is most important in any given moment, the Squid Eye is a concentrated way of perceiving the world and one that mindfulness practice will facilitate. Mindfulness can help us to become aware of biasing factors and to increase our attentional capacity beyond eleven bits per second (the upper limit may be close to fifty bits or an almost five-fold increase). 

Mindfulness, of course, helps us to see the world, others, and ourselves with increased clarity — more like it is rather than how we would like it to be. Mindfulness is also fierce in how it show us reality more clearly. Once we see this, we’ll have more choices on how to proceed. Going back into denial and bias is always an option, but one we’ve gotten tired of using. Instead, we can deal with what is right in front of us with authenticity, courage, and ferocity.


Previous Posts