Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfully Green: Can Buddhism Save the Planet?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Nhat Hanh warns, “If we continue to live as we have been living, consuming
without a thought of the future, destroying our forests and emitting greenhouse
gases, then devastating climate change in inevitable. Much of our ecosystem
will be destroyed. Seal levels will rise and coastal cities will be inundated,
forcing hundreds of millions of refugees from their homes, creating wars and
out breaks of infectious disease.”

to legend, just before the Buddha became awake, he touched the earth so the
earth could serve as witness to this momentous event. What would he think if he
touched the earth today?

Kazak teaches “a green practice path” in her book, 
Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual
Guide to Whole Earth Living
. She
  suggests taking action on
the issues that are most concern for you. You can’t save the entire planet, so
pick one cause and give that your energy. And you’ll need your Buddhist
training to do this difficult work of trying to ameliorate the suffering on
this planet. She cautions, “this requires patience and equanimity in the
face of disturbing realities–a clear cut forest reduced to stumps, a once-lush
river deadened by chemical waste, a coral reef blasted by dynamite fishing. It
is not easy to base clear-eyed at these troubling results of human
activity.” Furthermore, “
Buddhist systems-thinker involved in environmental controversy would ask as
much about he the human actors and their attitudes as about the affected trees
and wildlife.” 

Mindfulness is integral to
establishing this courage. She goes on to say that mindfulness provides an
authenticity that can “provide a stable mental base from which to observe
the whole catastrophe of human impact.” The illusion of separation
contributes to this catastrophe, so, too, does culturally conditioned ideas
that look upon the environment as a resource for humans to exploit. The
Buddha’s concept of dependent origination can speak to environmental
challenges. Everything is interconnected; actions in one place have
ramifications for other places; something that affects one species will have an
impact on many other species. In environmental science this is known as systems
thinking. If you want to devote your energies to the environment you can become
an “ecosattva” a bodhisattva committed to end environmental
suffering. First do no harm, second do what you can to relieve suffering. It’s
bound to be a slow process and is part of what the Dalai Lama has called
“ethics for a new millennium.” Everyone must take responsibility for
the well-being of the planet. This requires both compassion and restraint.
Being mindfully green means to consider this question: “what is really
important now, both in my own life and the world?”


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

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

distraction that might arise is feelings of impatience, restlessness, or
boredom. Typically, this happens when the mind projects itself into the future
or tries to make this practice into something other than this simple looking at
the breath. You can acknowledge these feelings, without buying into their
stories. They are concepts and hold no necessary power other than the power we invest in them. In response to impatience, restlessness, and boredom, and to take their power away, you can give
yourself permission to be with the breath, and return to the present without
needing to make this moment anything more than it actually it is. You can investigate whatever arises during practice with interest and gentle curiosity. 


back to this moment as it unfolds. You are learning about your mind and how it
works, the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and images that emerge, and how
there is a tendency to move away from the present moment. In response, try to
give yourself permission not to get frustrated or discouraged. Frustration or berating yourself for not being concentrated is just another story to come back from. Keep coming back
to the feelings of the breath. That’s the practice. And if you can do this in a matter of fact way, you’ll be moving into mindfulness. The goal here is to practice, to sit with yourself rather than produce a certain “outcome.” It’s the process that’s important and not the destination. There is no destination; it’s a journey to become intimate with your lived experience in this moment and then the next. 

that awareness of breathing can happen at any time, not just when you sit down
to meditate. Throughout the day, many times a day, you can try to remember
yourself in this way. You can touch the breath, bringing awareness to a few
cycles of the breath as you are hurrying through the day or coping with
something stressful. You can bring yourself into the now by giving your
attention to the breath. Try a 3-minute breathing space exercise by doing a mini-practice session. Come back to the formal practice described above on a regular basis as a
way to strengthen your awareness and your ability to remember to be mindful
throughout the rest of your experience.

When Siddhartha Gautama sat under the pipal tree working towards awakening he was doing breathing meditation. 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”). This process is explained in the Satipatthana Sutta or the “Discourse on the Awakening of Mindfulness” A beautiufl explanation of this sutta can be found in Larry Rosenberg’s Shambhala Classic: Breath By Breath: The Liberating Process of Insight Meditation. 

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

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!

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.


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. 

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.

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.

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