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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Wisdom Wednesday :: Short Sleeves in Late October

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS25063.jpgYesterday was an unexpected pleasure here in Northern Vermont. At at time when there can be snow on the ground, it was 70 degrees and sunny. A gentle breeze came off Lake Champlain and the world seemed to slow down.

It’s easy to be mindful on such a beautiful day. Such pleasant weather is out of context. The mountains have already seen snow; frost has not been a stranger to our nights. This out-of-contextness captures our attention in a way that a 70 degree and sunny day would not in July.

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It’s easy to contact joy on such a day, especially if you get to spend some time on the beach overlooking the water. Downright blissful is not out of the question.

However, counting on sunny and 70 degree days in October to find joy is probably not the best strategy. This would make mindfulness only an occasional joy, unreliable, and out of reach most of the time.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for the exceptional to connect to the beauty that is available at any moment. Mindfulness practice will help to make joy available now — even when it is cloudy and gray, raining and cold, bitter cold.

Any experience can inspire wonder if we pay close enough attention to it, regard it with interest, curiosity, and even fascination. This is especially the case for those experiences we regard as less than ideal, like rainy days.

After a driving rain this morning, the sun is smiling again here on 27 October 2010 in Northern Vermont and I’m enjoying the bliss again, if only in small sips. Tomorrow it will be different and I’ll need to look a little harder to find it, but it will be there. It is always here, right now.

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Metaphor Monday :: Running Stitch

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

running_stitch.jpgAccording to Wikipedia, “the running stitch or straight stitch is the basic stitch in hand-sewing and embroidery, on which all other forms of sewing are based. The stitch is worked by passing the needle in and out of the fabric.” 


Sounds like the breath, no? Our breath is the running stitch that runs throughout our days and nights. As the running stitch is to sewing, breathing is to life — the basic movement that keeps everything together. 

Of course, without breathing there is nothing. We may take breathing for granted, never give it a second thought. We may consider breathing boring. But if you can’t breathe, the breath becomes very interesting all of a sudden. 

Since we are breathing always, the breath becomes a natural place for focus. It’s always waiting to receive our attention and like the running stitch can be a thread that runs throughout our day. It’s quite possible to stay in close proximity to the breath as we prepare for work, as we work, and as we transition from work.

Breathing can be our ally and companion, connecting us to our bodies and the present moment. The more we tie in to the breath, the stronger the fabric of our life will be. There will be more presence, more continuity, and more heart.

So get out your needle and thread and stitch your life together. Pay attention to the breath that is occurring now and then again now. Each time we come back from a story to this singular breath we touch peace. No story; no strife. 

Breathe. 


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Stress Reduction Sunday :: Sleep-Deprived Society: Getting A Better Sleep, Part 2

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

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It’s Stress Reduction Sunday. Read my weekly post in the Connecticut Watchdog, This week’s entry, Sleep-Deprived Society: Getting A Better Sleep, Part 2

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In last week’s entry, we started talking about “sleep hygiene.” We’ll continue with some general and specific guidance on getting a better night’s sleep. You may find that you need to modify these to suit your particular lifestyle. However, even if some of your old patterns are hard to give up, like snacking before bedtime, you are invited to experiment with these changes to see if they have a salubrious impact on how you sleep.

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Sleep hygiene includes, of course, getting enough sleep. A recent column in the Miami Herald speaks of the dangers of sleep deprivation that afflicts a majority of American men and women. “Disrespect for sleep has become a national epidemic and many of us have forgotten the feeling of being rested,” the article cautions.

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Read more …

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The Architecture of Bliss: Devoting a Day to Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Studio_01.jpgI led a mini-mindfulness meditation retreat at the new Exquisite Mind Studio. The Studio was drenched with sun the entire day.

We spent the day doing sitting and walking meditation in alternating fashion with two hours of practice in the morning session and two hours in the afternoon. In between we talked about practice and the dharma.
Daily practice is crucial, of course, and there is another dimension that extended practice in a retreat environment provides. First is symbolic. We give our old conditioned habits of mind a clear message when we commit a day or part of our day to practice. 
Next there is the continuity of practice. Extended time in silence is a magical opportunity to explore ourselves and the energy of the moment. Going on retreat, even a mini-retreat like this, closes some of the escape hatches where attention escapes. It creates a durable container — a crucible — for looking at ourselves.
Inside that crucible, old conditioned habits of mind arise, like fear. Fear of pain came up for one participant; fear of hunger came up for me. I had run out of the house that morning in a bit of a rush to get to the Studio to open the door for the retreat. In my haste, I forgot to eat. As I settled into the first sitting session I realized that I had not eaten. Enter stage left, the old conditioned habit of mind, manifesting in the automatic thought: “Oh no, I forgot to eat, I’m going to be wracked with hunger for the rest of the morning; this is awful!!!” Of course, it was not “awful.” It just was what it was. Here was an opportunity to deconstruct this old and irrational conditioning. What was present were sensations — energy in my belly. Clearly, I wasn’t about to starve, so there is no reason my emotional brain needs to be involved. There’s no threat here. Instead, I turned my attention to the energy itself and examined it with interest. After a short while the hunger pangs subsided into the background radiation of sensation.
When we move from this conditioned “story” to the energy of the body we are firmly in mindfulness. When we do this practice in a supportive group in a setting devoted to mindfulness, we have a chance to taste the three bodies metaphor (trikaya in Sanskrit).
The first body is the nirmanakaya or the emanation body. This is our physical body, the one that shows up to practice. Perhaps in the extended work (or play, as one participant suggested) of practice we have a chance to taste sambhogakaya — the bliss body. Practice can be pleasurable and even blissful. Of course if we aim for bliss we’ll miss it, but bliss can be a fairly reliable by-product of doing the practice. It shows up when we don’t strive for it. 
The dharmakaya arises in brief glimpses each time we move from story to energy. There we experience the ultimate nature of things — the dharma — not as an intellectual appreciation but as a full body experience.
We’ll be holding these retreats on a monthly basis, either as a full-day or a half-day of practice. If you are local to Burlington check the Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio website for the schedule and plan to join us. If you are not local to Burlington there are places to practice mindfulness around the U.S. and the world. 
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