Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Money Sex War Karma Series (Money)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

David Loy graces us with a book of essays, provocatively titled with a compelling cover design presenting the four big human hang ups: money, sex, war, karma. (Money, War, Sex, Karma: Notes for Buddhist Revolution, 2008, Wisdom Publications). In his essay, “Lack of Money” Loy reminds us that money is a symbol. In an of itself a dollar bill can’t do much for us, unless we use it a signatory of value. The problem is that we look to this symbol to fill some perceived lack within ourselves, our “emptiness.” He cautions that we wind up knowing “the price of everything but the value of nothing.” If we look to money to fill our sense of lack, we’ll be in trouble. If we mistake the symbol for reality, then we’ll really be in trouble. Ironically, we are not too materialistic but not materialistic enough because we are in love with a symbol. “Because we are so preoccupied with the symbolism that we end up devaluing life itself. We are infatuated less with the things that money can buy that with their power and status.” He also sounds a note of caution regarding debt, how it has become the basis for our economy and by doing so, “the social result is a generalized pressure for continuous growthand expansion, because that is the only way to repay the accumulating dept. This constant pressure for growth is indifferent to other social and ecological consequences.” His final warning is to, “Those who use it to become more real end up being used by it, their alienated sense of self clutching a blank check–a promissory note that can never be cashed.”

I think he is dead-on in these observations. Money has become a proxy for worth. And it goes beyond worth to the very sense of our ontological status. “I am because I have a lot of money” (or “I am less than because I don’t have a a lot of money”). Descartes would be rolling over in his grave, “I spend therefore I am.” Of course this leaves us feel rather empty as you probably already know from your latest jag of retail therapy. Hedonic adaptation predicts this. The shiny new car gives us pleasure for a while because it is, well, new and shiny. However our brains adapt and that newness wears off, probably before the new car smell. It’s only a problem if we look to the car to do something for us other than to take us from point A to point B and back again. If we look to the car to make us whole or real, it won’t work. Such pursuits just reinforce our sense of a solid self independent of everything around us — that sense of self that “owns” the car. It also encourages greed because we can never have enough. And, of course, it flies in the face of impermanence because whatever desire we have now will change and whatever things we have now grow old, get sick, and eventually die. Just like you and me!

Amor Fati: Deep Acceptance

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

From The Onion: “Life Unfair”

“EARTH–For the 50 billionth consecutive week since its inception, life was revealed to be unfair Monday. Death and suffering continued to be dispersed randomly among the planet’s life forms, with such potentially mitigating factors as solid community standing, genetic superiority, and previous good works in no way taken into account. Despite the efforts of the Code of Hamurabi, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, life is expected to remain unfair far into the foreseeable future.

I found this pithy humor from The Onion on the  bulletin board of a staff member at Kripalu (Thanks Cody!). I wound up sharing it later in the day with my workshop participants. It embodies our invitation to acceptance and the wisdom captured in the First Noble Truth. Life is Dukkha. Shit happens. And if we can expect this, we’ll be OK. However, when we feel we deserve special treatment, deserve to be exempt from such viccisitudes, then we’ll be in trouble.

On a more serious note, Nietzsche declares in Ecco Homo that we should not only accept our fate, but we can come to love this fate. He says, “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it — but love it.” To reach this greatness we must reach deep within ourselves to find this radical acceptance. Of course, on the front end it behooves us to engineer our lives in such a way that we can come to love that fate. However and often we don’t have the ability to engineer each aspect of our life. We have physical limitations; things happen that we cannot control. Volcanos explode. Accidents occur. Illness strikes. Beings we love die. In more subtle ways we fight against our faith when we can’t have what we want. This is where we need to look deeply into the nature of desire. Why do we want this? Is it reflective of our inmost values? (Do we know what those values are?) Will pursuing this desire result in harm to myself or others? Is this desire a reflection of the desire of others? Are we just being a good consumer and obeying, albeit unconsciously, the dictates of Madison Avenue to live the American dream?

Can we love our fate that includes being imperfect, confused, and uncertain? Things are often not clear and we are invited to breathe into a space of uncertainty. To embrace doubt and not knowing. If we can come to love the imperfection that is this moment then we provide ourselves with the space to find our way to solid ground. If we pressure ourselves too much to have an answer right NOW then we constrict that space and can’t feel our way into the answers that arise from deep within the body, our truth in this moment. 

Dining at the Trough: Mindful Eating in an Age of Gluttony

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

New Jersey (or anywhere in the United States), I am returning from a meal at a Japanese Sushi buffet. All you can eat sushi? This sounds too good to be true. The restaurant is as big as a supermarket and four times the size of any restaurant I’ve seen in Vermont. The array of choices and the volume of food is staggering. Oysters, clams, sushi, sashimi, nori rolls, maki rolls. And if you don’t want raw, you can eat cooked Japanese and Chinese entrees by the dozens. Perhaps you’d like some tempura or BBQ, crab legs or roasted octopus? None of this is to mention desert. Unlike supermarkets, this is all meant to be eaten now. And people were eating, including myself, lining up like pigs at a trough. The Buddhist meal chant prepares us to eat in a mindful manner. It can be translated as follows:

This meal is the labor of countless beings, let us remember their toil.

Defilements are many, exertions weak, to we deserve this offering?

Gluttony stems from greed, let us be moderate.

Our life is sustaiend by this offering, let us be grateful.

We take this food to attain the Buddhaway.

We can throw moderation right out of the window. This expereince is designed for gluttony. People, myself among them, make multiple trips to the buffet expanse. At least we’re getting some exercise as we do so. It’s hard to conceive al lthe actions that resulted in this meal being oferred. Even a simple meal comprises countless events. The food must be grown, harvested, transporrted, prepared, and served. The soil must be nurtred by earthworms and bacteria. Rain must fall. The sun must shine. When we eat in this way, boudndless entincing food that just appears, we can’t possibly appreciate the complex intertwining events that bring this miracle of food to our table. How many fish offerered their lives? How much reverence do we offer in return? Early humans worked hard to secure food or perished. We inherit the tendency to gorge to balance the eventual famine. But today, we have no famine. Food is never ending, always available, and as a result we tend to become obese. Approximately 25% of Americans are obese and the trends are getting worse. The sheer abundence of such “all-you-can-eat” dining options can’t be helping the problem. The second stanza of the Buddhist meal chant asks if we have made sufficient effort to warrant this food? Have we worked to be mindful? (and if we are at such a trough it’s likely we are risk for mindlessness).

While our life is susatined by this food we could be sustained by much less. When I look around at my fellow human beings at the trough, I don’t detect gratitude. I sense entitlement. I pay my money (and a ridiculous low amount at that) so I get to eat as much as I want. And this is why people come, to eat without restriction. This gives us a distorted sense of how much food there is on this planet. It obscures the fact that in many regions of the world, including the United States people don’t have enough to eat (in fact, 1 of 4 children in the U.S. do not get adequate nutrition).

We take this food to attain the buddhaway? Why do we eat? For obvious reasons, of course, but why do we eat in this way? This restaurant was packed; the concept of all-you-can-eat is popular. I’m still digesting my meal, hours later. 

Dalai Lama Op-Ed in New York Times: “Many Faiths, One Truth”

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
His Holiness The Dalia Lama wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday 24 May 2010. He begins by saying, “WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.” He points out extremism on all ends of the spectrum from religious fundamentalism to atheist anti-religionism. He urges that our interconnectedness “demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.” This is a lofty ideal and an invitation towards what the Buddha might have called upekkha (equanimity/interest). The result of this interest might be the possibility that people could pursue their own faith and simultaneously, “respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.” Upekkha seems to be what is absent in the world today. We can find this lack of interest at so many levels — in politics, religion, and in our day-to-day interactions with each other. Every group as an agenda, it seems, and that agenda is to further their own interests. The underlying sentiment is that my beliefs are better than yours, more true, more necessary. For this reason, His Holiness’s message of acceptance is crucial and his admission that his beliefs are no better than the beliefs of other religions is unprecedented. His Holiness reflects on his meetings with the Christian monk, Thomas Merton in the 1960s and the centrality of compassion for both faiths (a point lost to Brit Hume when he urged Tiger Woods to return to Christianity because Buddhism had nothing to offer on forgiveness).  In fact, compassion is central to all faiths. This sentiment is echoed in Brad Warner’s irreverent treatise, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality when he says:
It’s only when people believe that their beliefs are above questioning, that their beliefs alone are beyond all doubt, that they can be as truly horrible as we all know they can be. Belief is the force behind every evil mankind has ever done. You can’t find one truly evil act in human history that was not based on belief-and the stronger their belief, the more evil human beings can be. 

We always have a choice between identification with our own stories and the stories of our religious affiliation and interest in the millions of colors available to our eyes. Identification tends to lead to division, a duality between “us” and “them,” “you” and “me.” Identification leads to a duality within ourselves between the potential richness of our lived experience and the idea about that experience. To paraphrase the of quote William James, in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, our intellectual life consists almost wholly of substituting a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. It is in this perceptual order that we can find the space for compassion. Compassion arises when we don’t feel beholden to ideas we must defend, agendas we must forward, and boundaries we must protect. His Holiness urges that, “Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world.” The way to harmony is through interest in what is around us, including the beliefs of other people. 
By the way, Happy 75th Birthday to His Holiness:

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