Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness of Breath: The Buddha’s Path to Awakening (Part Two)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Why pay attention to breathing? Well, you could pay attention to whatever you like, but breathing confers certain advantages over other objects of attention. First, the breath
is always with you and always available to you as an object of attention. You
can’t forget to bring it with you; you don’t need any special props or
conditions to meditate. Even if you have a secret mantra that is also portable, you might bump your head and forget your mantra! The breath is your constant companion, ally, and
friend. If you’re not breathing, then you have bigger problems to deal with
than practicing meditation!

Second,
breathing is a good choice because awareness of breathing brings you into the
body, and the body lives in the present moment. By focusing on breathing, you
come into the body and the wisdom of the present. The living, present energy of the body in the form of breathing is an alternative to the future and past-oriented stories and negative
critical commentaries of the present that our minds are constantly engaged with.
The body is always experiencing some feeling, there are always sensations
occurring in the body, and these comprise the experience of now.

BS07002.jpg

Third,
your breathing is often a reflection of the emotional state you are in. Every breath we take is colored by our emotional state. Breathing is affected by anxiety and stress. Noticing the feelings of breathing
on a regular basis provides an early warning system when you move into problematic states. Making breathing your friend you will know where you are in a emotional space at any given moment. You will stay connected to your body, experience, and surroundings. 

While
focusing on breathing, other sensations in the body may arise and ask for
attention. These may be uncomfortable feelings or pain. If that happens, and
you are able to bring attention back to the breath, do that. If, however, that
sensation is particularly intense, let the awareness of the breath move into
the background, and allow attention to rest on the intense sensation for a
moment. You can even try to give the breath to that sensation and imagine the
breath flowing in and through that sensation. Sounds will also arise and
compete for your attention. See if you can let the sounds be there along with
the breath sensations without having to elaborate stories about them. Try to keep your attention firm without being rigid. Don’t resist or struggle with what is happening. Keep returning to the friendly
embrace of the breath.

When
you find that the sitting position has become uncomfortable, see if you can
hold that discomfort and come back to the breath. However, it’s best not to get
consumed by a struggle, and there is no inherent virtue of remaining perfectly
still (unless you are practicing Zen and now we are just trying to get the basics of breathing meditation down). If you need to move the posture, do it with intention, awareness, and
gentleness. In other words, when you move, move with mindfulness. The essence
of this practice is awareness. Don’t resist what is
present. Try to open fully to your experience in every moment.

For more information and audio sample, visit my website Exquisite Mind.


 

Mindfulness of Breath: The Buddha’s Path to Awakening (Part One)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

To get started with mindfulness practice, just start where you are. Posture is important and is secondary to the cultivation of awareness. If you can sit cross-legged on the floor this will provide a stable posture for practice. But if you can’t and need to sit in a chair there is no problem with that. The quality of your practice won’t be inferior. However you sit, see if you can maintain as upright and open (not slumped) posture as possible. This will allow your breath to move freely. Mindfulness can also be practiced walking, standing, and lying down.  

You can close your eyes or you can keep them slightly open, focusing softly on a spot on the floor in front of your body. Select a time to practice when you will be less likely to fall asleep and less likely to be disturbed by others. You may want to turn the ringers off on (your mind will provide enough distraction).

BS07001.jpgI call this process of getting ready to practice, “taking your seat”, and it consists of both the physical posture and your intention to meditate — to be with yourself in this deliberate and unusual way (unusual given the way we typically are telling stories about the future and past). Start by bringing attention to the way your breathing feels now, and notice its physical sensations. Try to be as descriptive of these sensations as you can. That is, note the physical properties instead of your opinions or preferences. That is pay attention and when you notice preferences of like or dislike, come back to noticing. Like the mapmaker, try not to be for or against any features you find. Rather, notice each feature of the landscape as accurately as possible.

You can concentrate attention on one point such as you upper lip, or the air moving through your nose. Alternatively, you can attend to the breath in a broad way-the overall process of breathing-remaining focused on its physical proprieties at all times. Whether you choose a narrow or a broad focus, work with the natural breath, the breath as it moves in the moment without trying to make it a relaxing breath or a special breath in any way. Taking your seat includes giving yourself permission to devote your attention in this way. The practice is to keep returning to the feelings of breathing whenever attention moves elsewhere.

Your mind will surely wander and this is to be expected, and in no way suggests you are doing the practice improperly or that something is wrong with your mind. Your mind may not want to sit still in this way and you may find that you are fetching and retrieving the mind, bringing it back to the seat repeatedly. The practice of bringing the mind back repeatedly is the key to mindfulness training.

As attention wanders away from the breath, with gentleness and kindness, usher attention back to the breath. There’s no defeat in having the mind wander; it is a natural feature of the mind and it happens to all minds. So, pay attention to this process of moving away from the breath and coming back to the breath. As you do so, you will become familiar with this movement of attention, coming back again and again, and cultivating a sense of patience and gentleness with yourself.

This process is quite similar to the process Siddhartha Gautama used while sitting under the pipal tree working towards awakening. He kept bringing his attention back to his body and the experience of now. He vowed not to get up until he was fully awakened and became buddho (“awake”)

For more information and audio sample, visit my website Exquisite Mind.

Dukkha: The Buddha’s Metaphor for All That Ails You

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Dukkha is
a Pali term central to the Buddha’s teaching. It’s difficult to translate.
“Suffering” captures some but not all of its aspects. Dissatisfaction captures
another portion of is variance. Even if were to speak Pali as the Buddha did,
the word wouldn’t be enough. Dukkha translates to “bad wheel.”
The Buddha had to turn to metaphorical images to convey the sense of dukkha,
for instance, an oxcart whose wheel was off its axle, for
example. This conveys the notion of things being “off,” “awry,” or “out of
balance.” The “bad wheel” will exert its effect on everything we do; every
experience, every perception, every everything.

While sitting in a large group of meditators at the Green Mountain
Coffee Roasters (GMCR) headquarters with Shinzen Young recently, I bumped into
another metaphor for dukkha – background radiation. As I sat
I noticed a pervasive sense of feeling, feeling with an emotional coloring.
Although subtle, it was clearly perceptible. It seemed to be a tinge of
sadness, poignancy, or some such quality as that. It was radiating in the
background of my awareness. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant, and I
wondered if that was dukkha? As long as there is a story of me there
will be this background radiation. When it is no longer present, I suppose I’ll
be enlightened, but I don’t expect this anytime soon!

This background radiation can be understood as a pervasive and
unconscious feeling tone. Much of mental life (over 99%) occurs outside of
conscious awareness, and this is true for feelings and emotions too. It seems
as if this background radiation is a repository or a dumping ground for all the
“selfing” that goes on throughout the day. All the aspects of what the Buddha
called, “I, me, mine.” The things I want, the expectations I have that may not
be met or I fear may not be met. It all boils down to desire and what I do with
it.

When you meditate you will no doubt notice this background radiation
when you sit. Fitting the definition of dukkha
it is pervasive, permeating every cell in the body, coloring in some subtle way
every thought, image, and conscious emotion we experience. This is not a bad
thing, although I think it behooves us to become familiar with this energy and
to see what memories and images it is connected too. It is also the case that
my background radiation likely feels different than yours because I have had a
different life history and have different genetics. Let me know what your
background radiation feels like.

To find it, turn your attention to your body and away from stories of
the future and past. Turn your attention from talk to the feeling tone of the breath
and body and keep returning your attention whenever it moves away. Tomorrow, I
will present detailed instruction on how to practice mindfulness meditation. 

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

250px-Louis_Oosthuizen_Telkom_PGA_Championship,_Fourth_round,_24_Feb_2008.jpgSunday 18 July was the 92nd birthday of Nelson Mandela and fittingly the British Open Championship was one by a South African, Louis Oosthuizen (pronounced “woost-hazen”). He walked down the 18th fairway, accompanied by his caddie of seven years, Zack Rasego; white and black walking together to victory. Oosthuizen was raised by farmers and needed help from the Ernie Els Foundation to afford to play golf. Zach calls them the “Rainbow Team.”

This is South Africa’s greatest sport summer, first with the World Cup and now with one of their own winning one of Golf’s Major Championships. During apartheid, South Africa was banned from International sport. 
Oosthuizen maintained his composure on the world’s biggest golf stage to extend his 5-stroke lead going into the final round. One commentator described the round as “boring” but I found it quite riveting. Would this 27-year-old kid, ranked 54th in the world, be able to maintain his composure and his lead? This is extraordinarily difficult. Many before him have faltered.
“It was a battle for me to keep calm round this course. That was the biggest goal for me, to keep calm. It’s probably going to hit me tomorrow or the week after what I did,” said Oosthaizen after his victory.

He did so, in part, by focusing on a red dot applied to his golf glove. This red dot served as a trigger to bring him to mindfulness before he made his swing. By his own admission, his thoughts are all over the place, but this dot helped him to draw his attention to now. The results were remarkable. He finished 7 strokes ahead of his closest competitor, leaving names like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the dust (he beat them by 14 and 18 strokes respectively). 

Upon receiving the Claret Jug, his first words of thanks were Happy Birthday to Nelson Mandela

To read more, visit PGA Tour.com
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