Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

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

Dharma Punx: Going “Against the Stream” by Noah Levine

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

In his latest book, Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries, Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx, tells us just how radical the Buddha’s teachings are in a refreshing new way. He starts, “Against the Stream is more than just another book about Buddhist meditation. It is a manifesto and field guide for the front lines of the revolution. It is the culmination of almost two decades of meditative dissonance from the next generation of Buddhists in the West. It is a call to awakening for the sleeping masses.” This revolution began 2500 years ago with Siddhartha Gautama (aka, “Sid” aka, the “Buddha”) but Levine feels it is has gotten bogged down in dogmatism and corruption of the Buddha’s original teachings. He goes back to these teachings and so this book is more about Buddha than Buddhism. It’s a “radical, and subversive personal rebellion against the causes of suffering and confusion.”

against_stream.jpg

The Buddha found a way beyond suffering, but this path does not provide insurance against pain and difficulty; it is not a meal ticket to unceasing bliss. This is one of the first planks of the revolutionary manifesto. The first plank is that there is no self, no “me” to suffer. This is discovered through real-time mindful awareness of the present moment. After his awakening, the Buddha did not set forth to teach right away. He hesitated. “To ask people to accept pain and a spiritual liberation that does not include bliss all of the time seemed crazy.” As it was 2500 years ago, this path is still hard. Levine cautions, “If you are looking for a quick fix or easy salvation, turn back now, plug back into the matrix, and enjoy your delusional existence. This is a path for rebels, malcontents, and truth seekers.”

The Buddha used a metaphor to help direct his future. He looked at a lotus pond and realized the lotuses were at different stages of development. Many were still stuck in the mud and deep under the water. Some had reached the surface, and others had broken through. If the mud is the unenlightened existence of ignorance, hatred, and greed, there were those who, no matter what, would not get the teachings. However there were others that would be more receptive, more ready to here the truth of what he taught and be willing to try it out for themselves. Thus, the Buddha set out on his 45-year teaching career.

To wake up in our society is a radical act. To reject consumerism and the relentless pursuit of pleasure is downright un-American. Levine is right in this way that there was something radical for the Buddha’s insights in the Axial age and that radical spirit persists in the Information Age. His teachings went “against the stream.”

The Revolutionary Manifesto: (1) Defy the lies (materialism, et cetera) “Human beings have created a deeply dysfunctional culture” The American ideal, oppression of native peoples, immigrants, slavery. Organized religion has a history of violence, extremism “I would reject so-called Buddhism along with the rest, because much of what masquerades as Buddhism today is in direct opposition to what the Buddha actually did and taught” (e.g., direct experience versus dogma; the example of the Shugin controversy in Tibet, should people beseech this deity?) “The spiritual revolutionary defies both the internal and external forces of oppression”

2. Serve the truth. “We must dedicate ourselves to finding the deepest compassion and highest wisdom, and from that place we can live in accordance with the truth of reality” “The spiritual revolutionary practices nonviolence … generosity …” and engagement to help others” in other words waking up from our self-centered existence that generates suffering. 3. Beware of teachers. Be a light unto yourselves” said the Buddha. “Don’t believe anything based on tradition or charismatic presentation” Sit down and discover or confirm the truths for yourself.

4. Question everything. “Accept nothing as true until you have experienced it for yourself”

Previous Posts

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 »

Time to Wake Up: Reading Your Way to Awakening
We have been asleep, collectively and individually and there is a growing call to wake up. The Buddha was the first to suggest this change in consciousness 2500 years ago (and as you know the term buddha means one who has awakened). And now there are three books that have come to my attention with w

posted 11:05:45am Oct. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Citizen of the Cosmos
I recently heard Ann Druyan interviewed on Radio Lab. She spoke of falling in love with Carl Sagan when they were working together on the Voyager mission in the late 70s, where she was in charge of developing the content that would be sent out into space for alien cultures to discover. It was a touc

posted 9:59:05am Oct. 14, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.