Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

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.”


How Did the Buddha Use Metaphor?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

The Buddha used metaphors as upaya, which translate to skillful means. One Buddhist scholar said, “The Buddha’s skill in teaching the Dharma, demonstrated in his ability to adapt his message to the context in which it was delivered. Parables, metaphors, and similes formed an important part of his teaching repertoire, skillfully tailored to suit the level of his audience.” Of course Buddha itself is a metaphor, a buddha is one who has become buddho – awake. In this case awakened to the nature of reality. This reality includes what he called dukkha. This is a tough concept to translate from the original Pali, and is often translated as “suffering” Suffering but literally translates as “bad-wheel”. Suffering captures some of the concept, but not all of it. Dissatisfaction captures another portion or a sense of something being off with all our experiences. The Buddha explained dukkha through the metaphor of the bad wheel an oxcart whose axle was out of one of the wheels creating a wobbly, uneven ride down the road. That image captures the sense of dukkha that can’t be captured in words themselves. It pervades everything and biases how we think and feel.

BS07006.jpg

The Buddha used metaphors relevant to the material of his time: fire, water, earth, wind, war, and so forth. The suttas are rife with metaphor. For instance, the self was likened to a fire; it has some kind of existence but changes moment by moment. It’s a process not a solid thing. When I wrote my first book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, I used a lot of the the Buddha’s metaphors, but at the time I didn’t realize how pervasively he relied upon them. I also knew that to understand the mind we must turn to metaphors and the self too. What I didn’t realize until later when I was teaching workshops based on the book that not can we only understand the self through metaphors, the self, itself, IS a metaphor. Our understanding of ourselves in this moment is understood and experienced through reference to previous moments of self (remembering) or anticipated moments of self (imagination). This is what the Buddha meant when he said the self was empty — anatta (no self). 

From The Archive: Mind

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

mind.jpgMind, in the sense that it is used here, means the totality of our experience of awareness and includes both the intellect (thinking) and the heart (feeling). Becoming familiar with the various aspects of the mind is an important part of developing the Exquisite Mind. This section is organized in six sections (principles, mental factors, mechanics, layers, skillful, and unskillful) each with a number of their own pages provide an overview of the different aspects of experience that come into play with mindfulness practice. Most of what we know as mind is storytelling, and this important facet is discussed in the layers section.

There was a funny Matt Groenig cartoon that I saw in graduate school. Bart Simpson asks Homer, “Hey, Dad, what is mind?” Homer replies, “no matter.” Bart queries again, “What is matter?” Homer waxes philosophic, “never mind.”

Mind is our psychology including the brain and its function. But is the mind just the brain? Some believe that the mind does transcend the body; others feel the mind dies with the brain. Whatever your philosophical or theological position, the mind can serve as or ally or our adversary. The mind is matchless tool, capable of beautiful creation, and also capable of darkness and violence. Most of the time it is simply a pain-in-the-ass! Mindfulness helps us to have a more positive relationship with the mind and to have it serve us, instead of us serving it. And who, by the way is us, if we are talking about the mind? Good question. Us is the the observing self, the self that appears to exercise choice, and the one who gets to direct attention. Much of the mind is automatic and conditioned like a reflex response whenever something happens out there in the world, or from within. The pages in the following sections will help in the pursuit of making the mind into a better friend. 

(This page was published on the original version of the Exquisite Mind Website in 2002. “From the Archive” will feature these classic pages).

Stuart Brown Says Play is More Than Fun

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s TED Tuesday!

We tend to think of play as something kids do and as frivolous for adults in our work-ethic driven culture. But as Stuart Brown demonstrates in this TED talk, play is anything but frivolous and not just for kids. Since animals play, play is part of our genetic inheritance and serves important developmental biological functions. It’s too bad that as a culture we don’t nurture play into adulthood. I view play as integral to exquisite self-care and something that we should do often and with others. Play often provides a spontaneous form of mindfulness. We naturally fall into mindfulness when we are engaged in play. Having fun holds great power to move us into the present moment. So have some fun today!

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