Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness in Sport: The Embodiment of Awakening (Part Two)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s Sport Saturday. This entry continues an essay on using sport to awaken. Click here to read part one.

Non-gravity sports such as road running, road biking, and
swimming offer a ready opportunity to full body awareness. Instead of a
gravity-induced absorption, the immersion in the present moment includes the
entire body. 

Take running, for instance, where we can experience a
moment-to-moment connection with our total body experience, even when this
experience includes pain and discomfort. The challenge is to stay with the
experience at the level of sensation. That is, experiencing it as a pattern of
gross and pointed sensations instead of labeling it “pain.” 

However, our minds
have a tendency to move us out of the moment of experiencing sensation and perception
and to start evaluating and judging the experience. Ultimately, we start to
tell stories about the experience. “Oh, damn it, there is that pain again” …
“this is going to ruin my run” … or “I can’t take this anymore.” 

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When the mind
is engaged in those sorts of evaluative and judgmental thoughts and spins its
stories of suffering and woe, it is not attending the present moment. It is
pulled into thinking about the future (or even reflecting on the past –
“remember what happened the last time??”). 

When we can be mindful of the
present, the artificial distinctions between mind and body disappear and yield
to an awareness of being. Gravity sports such as snowboarding and skiing,
mountain biking, trail running, kayaking, and rock climbing require more exquisite
attention to the environment than non-gravity sports. 

For instance, when I am
running on the rocky trails behind my house, inattention or becoming engrossed
in my internal dialogue is met almost invariably with tripping on one of the
rocky protrusions that make up the trail. In this activity, as with
snowboarding in the trees, awareness includes my body awareness and a
connection with the terrain. While I might have the opportunity to get lost in
an extensive conversation while riding my road bike, any such diversion on the
trails is met with a reminder (sometimes not so subtle) that exquisite
attention is demanded and required. Numerous bruises, sprains, and broken bones
are the living testament to the perils of my approaching sport without
mindfulness. 

One particularly instructive incident happened during the winter
of 1999 into 2000, which was a stellar snow season. Jay Peak reported getting
600 inches of snow (that is 50 feet!). On New Year’s Day, I was out enjoying
the fresh powder on my snowboard. I did a run through Kitz Woods negotiating
the turns around the trees with alacrity, fluidity, and velocity. 

Towards the
end of that run, things flatten out, and I relaxed from my vigorous turns of a
moment ago. For whatever reason, I started having an imaginary conversation
with my mother in my mind. With the reduced pressure of the environment, my
storytelling mind encroached. 

It is exceedingly difficult to injure a knee
snowboarding, given the way the feet are anchored onto the board. Somehow, in
my distracted state, I managed to insinuate my ride between some saplings, and
in doing so, created a forward torque that gave me a grade 2 medial collateral
ligament sprain. I missed the next six weeks of the best winter riding in
recent history.

 

Kalyanamitra: The Spiritual Friend

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Kalyanamitra (Sanskrit) or kalyanamitta (Pali) refers to the “spiritual friend.” This friend can be a spiritual teacher that guides on the path and also refers to peers that travel the path along with you. The sangha (community of people who follow the teachings of the Buddha, that is, dharma) would then be comprised of spiritual friends, supporting each other in the work to awaken. 

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I’d like to think of everyone who reads this blog as a spiritual friend. We are traveling this path together bringing more mindfulness into our lives. Writing Mindfulness Matters is an important reminder for me of the importance and diversity of mindfulness and a helps it to be an ongoing thread throughout my day. 
So, too, is daily meditation practice. I hope that these entries will inspire you to practice, if you are not already doing so. And I hope they help inspire you to find your own spiritual friends in a local sangha and invite you to join the global sangha through the eMindful.com Morning Meditations
Joining a sangha does not necessarily require you to be a “Buddhist.” It does invite you to be “Buddha” — pursue the universal path of awakening. 
I am honored to be your spiritual friend and to have you all as my spiritual friends. We’ve embarked on this journey together and I invite you to comment and to request entries on particular topics. We can also do some mindfulness-based problem solving. If you’d like to send me your questions via email to drkozak [at] exquisitemind [dot] com. 
With blessings and gratitude,
Arnie. 

Teachers and Talks Thursday

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Thursdays will be a day to feature teachers and talks that I have sat with or are familiar with through their writings. As I think back over my 27 years of spiritual practice I’ve had the honor, pleasure, and good fortune to learn the dharma in many different ways from many different teachers.

Before I started practicing vipassana meditation in 1989 with S.N. Goenka, my journey “officially” started in 1983 when I was introduced to Siddha Yoga (the spiritual practice and guru featured in Eat, Pray, Love; stay tuned for a number of entries on Gurumayi that have been rekindled by the popularity of this book and movie).
AKwbuddhaatmet-thumb-350x262-14316.jpgThe other teachers I have met include (in no particular order): Tara Brach (already featured), Shinzen Young (already featured), Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Melissa Myozen Blacker, Florence Meyer, Ferris Buck-Urbanowski, Susan Woods, Grace Schireson (see a book review), Barry Magid, Jason Siff, Joe Bobrow, Larry Rosenberg, Corrado Pensa, S. N. Goenka, Master Bo In Lee, Taihaku Gretchen Priest, Mu Soeng, Ram Dass, Gurumayi Chidvilasanada, Swami Muktananda Paramahansa*, Swami Nityananda, Bhagwan Nityananda*, Swami Chetananda, Hosal Dorje Rinpoche, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 
Teachers whom I have not met in person and know and respect through their writing include Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Thich Naht Hanh, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sri Ramakrishna, Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Ken Wilber, Stephen Batchelor. and many others. Of course, The Buddha, would be on this list.
Some of these teachers I have known directly and others indirectly through a lineage, reading, and talks. They have all shaped my spiritual path over the past 27 years. 
*These teachers I never met in person, face-to-face, but have had direct encounters with in meditative states. They are the guru of my guru’s guru. 

Does a Tiger Have Buddhanature?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s Wisdom Wednesday. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant recounts the story of a wounded Siberian tiger that tracks and kills the poacher, Vladimir Markov who had previously wounded him. After being shot in the paw the tiger went to Markov’s cabin, killed his dogs and destroyed everything with Markov’s scent. He encircled the cabin, leaving a ring of his tracks. He sat and waited and eventually killed Markov on his return. This story is corroborated by Yuri Trush, the game warden who investigated Markov’s death and leader of an anti-poaching squad. 

We think of vengeance and murder as uniquely human capabilities, but in this story, the tiger apparently demonstrates the sentience required to commit what Yuri Trush described as “no random killing”. “It was a case of premeditated — and justified — murder.”

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It would be one thing if the tiger killed Markov on the spot. That would just be instinct.  But the murder took place long after the injury and in a remote place relative to the site of the injury. 

Is it fair to say that we underestimate the cognitive capacities of animals? Does this action suggest sentience on behalf of the tiger? This possibility is both chilling and fascinating.  

As my miniature version of the Tiger (a seven pound “grey tiger”) lies sleeping next to me, I think about these questions in regards to him. So, too, to my 100 pound Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

What do you think? Was this tiger sentient? That is, did he have self-awareness? Was he able to imagine a future and make choices about it. Did he make a conscious decision to stalk and kill Markov?

I’m not an ethologist, so I don’t know the answer to these questions and I’m not even sure they could answer this question with certainty. I’m interested to know what you think. If this tiger is sentient what then? What are the implications for us?

There is a famous exchange in the history of Zen where Joshu was asked if a dog has buddha-nature. His response: “mu” (no-thing/emptiness). Can a tiger discover his or her own buddha-nature? Perhaps the answer is “mu”!

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