Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Teachers & Talks: Tara Brach

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Tara Brach, Ph.D.,  is a beloved dharma teacher and the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, and teaches Buddhist meditation at centers in the United States and Canada (such as Kripalu and Omega). A clinical psychologist and author of Radical Acceptance- Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, she has taught extensively on the application of Buddhist teachings to emotional healing.http://www.tarabrach.com Visit her website: www.tarabrach.com. 


I have had the honor to sit with Tara and she is a warm, compassionate, and genuine teacher. 

Wisdom Wednesday: Mindfulness and the Metaphors We Live By

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s Wisdom Wednesday! In a previous entry, I discussed how the Buddha loved to teach with metaphors. Each Monday I present a new metaphor for your enjoyment, education, and inspiration. For previous metaphors see the entries on Teach a Horse to Sing, Being Comfortable Being Out of Balance, Everybody Needs a Tap Code, and “Her Belly May Be Full But Her Spirit Will Be Empty.” 

Today, I’ll talk about the wisdom inherent in metaphors. Robert Frost warned, Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had
your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” 
And metaphors are not just colorful devices to spice up language, they are a fundamental part of how we speak and think. Whether we realize it or not, we are using metaphors all the time. 
In one compelling example, the late psychologist Julian Jaynes discussed how the verb ?To
be
comes from the Sanskrit bhu that mean to grow or to make grow. “Am” and “is” evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmi that mean to breathe. He concludes, “It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular
conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man
had no independent word for ‘existence’ and could only say that something
‘grows’ or that it ‘breathes.'”
This, of course, is fascinating to me because breathing is the foundation of mindfulness meditation practice.

Emily Dickinson tells us:

BCBS_Buddha.jpg

A WORD is dead            

When it is said,           

  Some say.           

I say it just           

Begins to live                

  That day.

She is right. The words we utter to each other and in the privacy of our own minds matter, and can make the difference between happiness and misery.

Everything we see, feel, hear, and understand is filtered through the metaphorical structures of our minds. There are very few experiences that are not colored by metaphor. The linguist George Lakoff suggests that all of our concepts are formed by the frames and metaphors shaping our brains. 
This includes the concept of self. While he cautions the media plays a large role in forming our political opinions, our internal “media” provides a powerful form of self-indoctrination. 
Mindfulness can help us to become aware of how we may be indoctrinating ourselves with certain “political” views about ourselves. For example, mindfulness can help us to see where we are making our sense of OK-ness contingent on what other people think of us or how certain things go, neither of which we can control. With that awareness we can make choices about what words we believe about ourselves.  
Here is an example from my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness. It’s metaphor 43 called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”

We’ve all been admonished not to believe everything

we read–after all, the press is fallible and marketers

are always selling you something. The best approach

to the written word is to develop a healthy skepticism.

But what about the cogitated word?

I’ve seen a bumper sticker that neatly sums it up

for us: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”

If we validate thoughts as truths simply because

they originate within our own skull we’re going to be

in all sorts of trouble. What might it mean to recognize

thoughts as just thoughts and develop a healthy

skepticism toward them, without mistaking our

thoughts for Ultimate Truths? Is there a way to do this

without becoming cynical or debilitated?

We can start with the mental objects that have a

negative flavoring, the ones that are critical in nature.

When they arise, first ask, “Is there any important feedback

for me here; is there something for me to learn?”

If so, identify that important feedback, say “Thank

you” to the critical thought, and move on, integrating

that feedback to the extent that it is useful and possible.

Often, however, there is no useful feedback or corrective

action to take, such as when you are dealing with

a generalized criticism like, “I am no good.”

Mindfulness practice will help you to become

“suspicious” of these thoughts and less sucked into

their negativistic stories. It takes some practice and

time to develop the sensitivity to recognize the feeling

flavor of what I call the strident self–the inner voice

screaming thoughts and hawking them as the final

words on all matters.

With mindfulness practice, you can bring a degree

of distance and incredulity to such interior utterances.

You can smile and ask patiently, “Says who?”

Thumbnail image for Wild chickens revisions 3.jpg

I’ve collected 108 these metaphors for mindfulness in my book that was published last year by Wisdom Publications. Some of these metaphors are classic Buddhist teaching metaphors and others I’ve invented or adapted myself using images from among other things modern technology and, for those of you who know my work already, Star Trek. 
Sign up for the Exquisite Mind Newsletter and receive a five chapter excerpt from the book. 

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Join Our Email List

I invite everyone to check in on Mindfulness Matters everyday. My general posting schedule will be:
    • Metaphor Mondays
    • TED Tuesdays (mindfulness-inspiring talks from the TED conferences)
    • Wisdom Wednesdays
    • Teachers and Talks Thursday
    • Free From Friday
    • Science/Sport Saturday
    • Stress Reduction Sunday
I will also be posting links to guided meditations and everyone is invited to join me every Friday morning for a free live online guided meditation (from 8:00-8:45 EST). To login click here
Together through mindfulness we can live an awakened life, improving our own lives and the world around us. I am heartened to have you on the journey with me.
With blessings and gratitude,
Arnie. 

TED Tuesday :: Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman asks, “What is the currency of life?” The answer shouldn’t surprise you, it’s the present moment! In this talk he explores the perils of happiness and how memory plays a role versus direct experience. The experiencing self lives in the present; the remembering self is responsible for the storytelling mind. His talk portrays how the remembering self tends to dominate our lives. He wonders how we spend the 600 million moments we have of the psychological present. 

I would add that without mindfulness, we might wind up squandering our precious moments of the psychological present. Enjoy this important talk. 

Metaphor Monday: Teach a Horse to Sing

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

In The Stuff of Thought, Harvard psychologist and author extraordinaire, Steven Pinker relates the story of teaching a horse to sing. 

According to an old story, a man
sentenced to be hanged fro offending the sultan, offered a deal to the court:
if they would give him a year, he would teach the sultan’s horse to sing,
earning his freedom; if he failed, he would go to the gallows willingly. When
he returned to the dock, a fellow prisoner said, “Are you crazy?” The man
replied, “I figure, over the course of a year a lot can happen. Maybe the
sultan will die, and the new sultan will pardon me. Maybe I’ll die; in that
case I wouldn’t have lost a thing. Maybe the horse will die; then I’ll be off
the hook. And who knows? Maybe I’ll teach the horse to sing!

This charming story portrays a skillful relationship to hope. It banks on impermanence and does not jump to conclusions of despair. It pierces through the illusion that we can predict the future and puts us in a good orientation to humility. It reflects plucky optimism, which is different than unskillful hope (we’ll explore that topic on another Monday). 

For me, this story is a parable for the promise of science, creativity, and ingenuity.Things look bad right now but we may figure out how to solve many of the problems besetting the planet. We might also use that same science, creativity, and ingenuity to destroy ourselves.  

Likewise at work, you may be facing what seems to be an insoluble problem. Can you reach a confidence within yourself that you and your team can generate a creative solution to this problem? If you pay careful enough attention to what is happening you will increase your likelihood of finding a solution. The condemned man’s optimism gives attention a broad vista to work with, open to all possibilities like the Beginner’s Mind. 

Mindfulness helps us to discern what is wishful thinking from thinking that is grounded in the possible. Mindfulness helps us to avert a desperate narrative when circumstances are not going as planned in the present moment. The next moment, the next breath can offer redemption. Things may look different after a good night’s sleep or the passage of a year. 

Meanwhile the process of teaching a horse to sing may have its own value. We might learn things about ourselves and enjoy ourselves along the way. It’s better to try than to give up in despair. So, enjoy teaching the horse to sing. Who knows, you might even be successful!

Previous Posts

Finding the Fall Line: The Technique of Practice
As I was meditating this morning, I came up with a new practice metaphor. There were times when I was clearly in the flow of my body, very attuned the myriad body sensations and there were other moments where I was somewhere else or trying to manage some aspect of the moment, almost as if I was tryi

posted 10:13:53am Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Prime Time, All the Time
An add for television streaming service Hulu states, "Every minute of every day should be considered prime time." This clever quip has a double meaning. On the one hand, it reflects the tyrannical notion that every experience that we have should be exciting, entertaining, and novel. On the other han

posted 9:31:08am Dec. 08, 2014 | read full post »

Giving Thanks 2014: Still a Lot to be Grateful For
There is not now, nor ever, a shortage of tragic, unjust, and violent events occurring around the world. The news media exploits these events and brings them into our brains 24/7 with an unrelenting insistence. Our nervous systems are vulnerable to these kinds of information. They signal danger and

posted 8:56:43am Nov. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Buddhist Icon--Thich Nhat Hanh Recovering in Hospital
Beloved Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH) has experienced a severe cerebral hemorrhage and remains in critical condition. He recently had his 88th Birthday. I surmise that he is, along with the Dalai, Lama, one of the two most readily recognized Buddhist figures in the world today. Af

posted 6:27:39am Nov. 18, 2014 | read full post »

Mindfulness with a Capital "M"
A recent Telegraph column asked if mindfulness lives up to its hype. The author, Polly Vernon, predicts that "mindfulness" will be the OED's (Oxford English Dictionary) word of the year. That would not surprise me. She goes on to give a favorable if at first skeptical review of the practice. Having

posted 12:19:27pm Nov. 04, 2014 | read full post »


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