Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

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

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak



Meditation. What images does this word bring to
mind? It mind be a saffron-robed longhaired Indian swami or a seated and
smiling Buddha. While the mention of the word meditation may evoke exotic
images, it can also be more accessible and approachable than you might think.
In fact, I would suggest that all athletes have experienced a meditative state
worthy of a swami or a Buddha. Sport becomes a form of meditation when we
engage it with our full attention. Understanding mindfulness and mindfulness
meditation can help to bring you closer to the phenomenon of sport.  Sometimes the sport captures this
spontaneously and other times we must give this attention to the activity
through a conscious choice. I call this phenomenon sport-samadhi. Samadhi is a Sanskrit term for meditative
concentration. This type of focused and absorbed concentration is likely
familiar to anyone who has slid down a snow-covered mountain at high speed,
pushed the pain barrier on a long-distance run, or felt at one with their kayak
as it shot a set of rapids. The talking mind becomes quiet, and fully absorbed
in the action of the moment. We are not lost in thoughts about the past and
worries or planning for the future. We are not telling stories about the
activity or anything else. We are present. There is a steady living presence in
the fullness of the moment. This is the state of mindfulness. Mindfulness can
be thrilling even if the activity is rather ordinary. Mindfulness experiences
can arise at any moment, but typically come when we have reached some level of
expertise with a sport, and not usually during the fumbling of the learning
process.

Triathlon.jpgWhen we are learning a new sport, the initial
stages are filled with self-consciousness and deliberate testing and
application of what we are learning. When we get to a certain proficiency
point, absorption into the activity can occur. This happens when our bodies
come to know what to do and how to move and we can let our trying or thinking
minds get out of the way. Typically, this makes for the best performance and
the most enjoyment. However, as we grow more expert and can relegate the
complex motor and sensory skills required for the sport to an unconscious
level, we open the door once again to the storytelling mind. The Zen teacher
Shunryu Suzuki said, “the beginner’s mind knows many possibilities; the
expert’s few.” I see this process in action around playing tennis, which I have
some proficiency a, but do infrequently. When I return to the court my body
knows how to stroke, especially my forehand. And the first few minutes of
volleying are wonderful, with great smooth strokes that place the ball low and
deep. After a few minutes, though, I lose that beginner’s mind and start thinking
and trying too hard, and my game deteriorates accordingly. Thinking is
incompatible with performance. A defense against this re-incursion of the mind
often develops naturally as we increase the degree of difficulty required for
the sport – fiercer opponents, steeper slopes, more efficient turns, and so
forth. The increasing demands on moment-to-moment attention bring the mind back
into a state of required concentration. However, some activities do not lend
themselves to this ratcheting-up of expertise and instead require increasing
stamina (running and road biking, in particular). These activities are
especially vulnerable to the storytelling mind and its potentially deleterious
effects. Alternative ways to keep the mind focused are needed during these
activities. Expertise itself does not insure focus, and can soon reach a point
of diminishing returns.


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posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

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Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art from the Asia Society, New York Times Slideshow

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
View images in a New York Times slideshow from a recent show at the Asia Society entitled, “Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art”
pilgrimagebuddhist.jpg

Shinzen Young: Basic Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Shinzen is one of the world’s most unique meditation teachers and he happens to live in Vermont. That’s very fortunate for us here and fortunately for everyone else, Shinzen travels around the country offering retreats and has a YouTube channels with talks and interviews (see below). He has a very approachable, structured, and fun way for learning mindfulness and I have been fortunate to have him as a dharma brother and meditation colleague.

Shinzen Young has enjoyed a lifelong interest in Asian language, culture, and philosophy. Fascinated by a samurai movie when he was a kid, he started learning Japanese and enrolled in an alternative Japanese-American school in Los Angeles. When he learned that Japan was influenced by China, he learned to speak Chinese. When he learned of the impact India had on China through Buddhism, he learned Sanskrit. In 1968 he entered a Buddhist studies doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin. Three years later he was ordained as a Buddhist monk at Mount Koya, Japan. He later encountered Vipassana and also sat Zen in America at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in Southern California with Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Shinzen has been conducting meditation retreats throughout North America for over 20 years.

Central to Shinzen’s interests is the merger of Eastern meditation with Western science. In recognition of his contributions to this field, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology recently awarded him an honorary doctorate.

He teaches an astute style of Vipassana meditation. Astute in how he teaches working with the geography of the mind. He refers to three objective factors or spaces including what you see, what you hear, and what you feel as physical sensations in the body. The three subjective spaces include thoughts or “talk,” emotions or “feel,” and images. The mind will typically be engaged with one of these mind spaces, either exclusively or in combination with one another. He works with students interactively and uses his background in mathematics and physics to guide students with moment-by-moment decision trees. These decision trees are being developed into an interactive computer-based program. Shinzen is a mindfulness innovator and leverages upaya (“skillful means”) through his teaching style, making the teachings accessible to people through modern technology, computer-based algorithms, and innovatively using music on iPods to teach mindfulness to inner city kids.

To help reach people who cannot afford the time or expense to travel to retreats, Shinzen offers phone-based weekend “mini-retreats.” Here is what Shinzen has to say about the purpose of these distance programs, “Many people experience immediate positive effects from Mindfulness, but its real power to foster broad and deep psycho-spiritual transformation only becomes evident through ongoing practice. The problem is that most people are not able to get away on a regular basis to do extended retreats. Without regular retreats it is usually difficult to realize the exponential growth potential of the practice. Family and work responsibilities, the expenses involved and the travel required prevent the vast majority of those ready to take on a regular practice from doing so.”

Shinzen is the author of Breakthrough Pain: How to Relieve Pain Using Powerful Meditation Techniques that helps people “turn abject suffering into spiritual purification,” and the Audio CD, The Beginner’s Guide to Meditation. He maintains two websites Shinzen.org and Basic Mindfulness. You can also watch Shinzen videos on his YouTube channel Expand Contract and interviews on YouTube Channel Shinzen Interviews.


“If I were forced to give a short description (of enlightenment), I would say it is knowing for sure there never has been a thing inside you called self. Enlightenment is not a peak experience. It’s a permanent shift in paradigm that deepens day by day.”


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