Former Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong authored the brilliant book on the Buddha’s life, entitled, simply enough, Buddha. She has also published many fine books on the history of religion. Listen to her TED Prize Talk and her invitation to compassion, a behavior, common to all religions. And, by the way, the pathway to the divine, and perhaps the way out of the mess we’ve made of the world.
Performance artist Janine Antoni provides a compelling image for mindfulness in life through acceptance of what is so. Mindfulness does not just magically make everything OK but it shows us, when we can stop resisting. She discovered this lesson while teaching herself to walk a tight rope. Here is what she said about the experience:
So I practiced tightroping for about an hour a day andafter about a week I started to feel like I’m now getting my balance. And as Iwas walking I started to notice that it wasn’t that I was getting morebalanced, but that I was getting more comfortable with being out of balance.
Iwould let the pendulum swing a little bit further and rather than gettingnervous and overcompensating by leaning too much to one side I could compensatejust enough. And I thought, I wish I could do that in my life when things aregetting out of balance. You know when you have a hard day and one bad thinghappens after another? I sort of learned that I could just breathe in and sortof set myself back up onto the rope.
The other thing that was really fascinating is Istarted to learn the bottom of my feet in a way that I had never learnedbefore. If the wire is just a millimeter to one side or the other I can feel itin my arms. I started to learn all kinds of things about the skeletalstructure. About my sternum and my sacrum and how to keep them in balance. Itwas quite a beautiful process, learning to walk on the rope.
Returning to breathing is key. Tightrope walking put Janine in her body, as can any kinetic activity when done with awareness.
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
When 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.
Drive by Shooting: Mindfulness on NPR
It's not surprising when a feature on mindfulness appears in a major media outlet. Mindfulness is popular. This time it is a sub-four minute interview on NPR. Tamara Keith spoke with Sharon Salzberg, one of the co-
No More Fooling Around: Changing the World Through Mindfulness Today I will start a series of posts about how we can change the world through mindfulness and the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings. This transformation starts with individuals and progresses through groups, corporations, and then societies. Ultimately, a global movement is possible and will be acco
Mindfulness for Introverts Mindfulness is a natural fit for introverts. The act of meditation itself is an introverted activity and at the same time equips introverts to navigate their interior without getting stuck in rumination.
I recently wrote an essay for the Kripalu Thrive blog entitled Mindfulness for Introverts.
The transformative power of mindfulness . . . As I mentioned last week, there is a special learning opportunity upcoming with Jack Kornfield. I hope you got a chance to look at his videos. Registration is now open to take advantage of studying mindfulness with one of the most beloved American teachers.
When it comes to creating real, lasting
Dr. Arnie Kozak
Arnie Kozak, Ph.D., Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapist, Author, and Speaker; Clinical Instructor Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine, University of Vermont College of Medicine. » Posts by Dr. Arnie Kozak