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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Teachers and Talks Thursday :: Noah Levine

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

One of the freshest voices in the community of Buddha, Noah Levine, provides a brief meditation tutorial. He eschews Buddhism in favor of Buddha and recommends a revolutionary path. He suggests that we:

•• Defy the lies

•• Serve the truth

•• Beware of teachers

•• Question everything

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He has authored two books, his memoir Dharma Punx, Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Revolutionaries, and the forthcoming this spring, The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha’s Radical Teachings of Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness. You can also check out the documentary film, Meditate and Destroy (note his tee shirt). 

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Wisdom Wednesday :: Is Your Dog a Pessimist?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

A British veterinary study reported in the New York Times finds that dogs who have separation anxiety can demonstrate what the researchers call “pessimism” — a more enduring state of negative emotion.

We’ve known for a long time that dogs are capable of complex emotions. As mentioned in my entry from yesterday, Martin Seligman pioneered the research in learned helplessness and the experimental paradigm was established with dogs.
My Rhodesian Ridgeback, Ruki, is a member of the Exquisite Mind Sangha. He attends all the meditation sessions, usually sprawled out snoring on the rug as we sit around meditating. He’s a dharma dog and a great teacher.
It’s clear that dogs are capable of experiencing a range of emotions, pleasant to unpleasant. Ruki has demonstrated during his long life joy, exuberance, anxiety, fear, anger, indifference, and desire — relentless desire for more and more Milk Bones.
His brain is heavily limbic, that is, the emotional brain. He can suffer. And as a being who can desire he can be frustrated, expectant, and disappointed. As a non-human animal he, like all dogs and non-human animals, is subject to our
projections of human qualities.
While he can suffer pain and frustration, I don’t think he can suffer anguish because he has no ongoing story of “me.” While he knows his name is Ruki I don’t think “Ruki” exists as an enduring entity the way “Arnie” does for me and “fill in the blank” does for you. In other words, there is no fixed concept of self, no constructed identity, nothing to experience anguish.
When he doesn’t get what he wants what does he do? Does he moan and complain? Does he feel bad about himself; feel like he is a bad dog, unworthy? Of course, we really don’t know what he is experiencing, but I find it highly unlikely that he feels bad about himself in this way. These feelings are reserved for human animals.

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Usually, when he doesn’t get what he wants he just goes to sleep. He is a champion sleeper and great teacher in this way. On the infrequent occasion when he has spent a long day alone, I expect him to be pacing the floors when I come. Instead, I am always rousing him out of a deep sleep.
Granted Ruki does not have a clinical case of separation anxiety, as the dogs in the aforementioned study did. Dogs with separation anxiety clearly suffer and again in a way that is different from our brand of suffering.
It’s my observation that Ruki is wonderful embodiment of what the Buddha called anatta or “no-self.” He is a sensate, sentient being, but I don’t think he is capable of projecting an ongoing story-line starring himself into the future. Nor do I think he can dredge one up from memory. He can associate and learn, but I don’t think he can fret in reference to a sense of “me.” Because of this his suffering is shorter-lived, more local than it can be for us.
Our capacity for imagination can prolong, elaborate, and compound suffering into anguish. We not only feel the sting of loss and disappointment, we feel bad about ourselves; we feel a sense of lack.
Ruki, like all dogs cannot persist that sense of lack and I think he sleeps better at night (and during the day!) because of it.
Dogs are wonderful dharma teachers, so I bow to you my teacher!

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TED Tuesday :: Martin Seligman on positive psychology

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Martin Seligman is one of the biggest names in the field of psychology. He did the original research ont he concept of learned helplessness and has now helped to found the field of positive psychology with concepts like learned optimism. He, and the field, have come full circle from a view of humanity that has shifted from “what is wrong with you” to “what is right with you.” Humorous and enlightening, this talk provides an historical overview of the field. 

Seligman presents three considerations for happiness: pleasant emotions, engagement, and meaningfulness. Mindfulness is mentioned in the context of pleasant emotions, and while not specifically mentioned in the engagement portion of happiness it is present there too. The concept of “flow” is a mindful state — there is no separation between you and the activity; no self consciousness. The third path of meaningfulness emerges from being involved with something larger than your self. Mindfulness as part of the path to awakening is critical to this path of self-transcdendence.
Enjoy!

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Metaphor Monday :: Plow Your Own Field

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

A recent Tricycle Daily Dharma (click here to receive these daily emails with brief excerpts of writing from Tricycle Magazine) the great Thai teacher Ajahn Chah gave the metaphor of plowing your own field. 

When people genuinely meet the dharma, they realize it directly within themselves. So the Buddha said that he is merely the one who shows the way. In teaching us, he is not accomplishing the way for us. It is not so easy as that. It’s like someone who sells us a plow to till the fields. He isn’t going to do the plowing for us. We have to do that ourselves. Don’t wait for the salesman to do it. Once he’s made the sale, he takes the money and splits. That’s his part.That’s how it is in practice. The Buddha shows the way. He’s not the one who does it for us. Don’t expect the salesman to till your field. If we understand the path in this way, it’s a little more comfortable for us, and we will do it ourselves. Then there will be fruition.

We are a culture of convenience. Look at all the inventions designed to make our lives easier. In spiritual circles we can succumb to the same mentality. Instant enlightenment. Instant transformation. There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of self-help gurus (myself included) who promise transformation.

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And as Ajahn Chah reminds, no one can do the work for you. Not even the Buddha. I’m reminded of the Buddha’s admonition, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Beware of teacher’s promising instant transformation. Change is hard and requires long effort. Real change requires a fundamental restructuring of our concepts — the deep frames and metaphors that shape how we see ourselves and the world.

I have found that meditation practice is a reliable way to do this restructuring. We deconstruct our concepts and stories when we sit and familiarize ourselves with unfolding phenomenological reality that lives furtively beneath the stories. We can reconstruct ourselves in a way that is more free. 
The Buddha’s wisdom and emphasis on mindfulness can be the plow that allows us to do this work.

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