Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Idealization, Scandal, and Buddhist Redemption

posted by exquisitemind

Tiger Wood has announced his return to golf for the 2010 Masters. Few stories have garnered as much attention and jaw dropping voyeurism as this sexual scandal. Indeed, Tiger’s return to golf in the Master’s will be “will be the biggest media event, other than the Obama inauguration, in the past 10 or 15 years.” says CBS boss, Sean McManus.The most recent episode of South Park in its typical brilliant fashion highlights many of the issues at hand. How did they choose to represent the Tiger Woods Scandal? The episode begins with a scene between Tiger and Elin wherein she is chasing him with a golf club. The scene plays into the rumors that she assaulted him and that led to his fleeing the home and crashing his Escalade. The creative turn here and incisive social commentary is that the scene we are seeing comes from a video game being played by Cartmann and Stan. The episode then turns to the issue of sexual addiction and Kyle and Kenny are identified by the CDC as showing risk factors for developing sexual addiction. The tongue-in-cheek joke is to suggest that some degree of sexual preoccupation is abnormal, when of course it is not. Tiger’s fall from grace was more poignant because he led such a private life and gave little of himself to the media or, indeed, to his fellow players on the Tour.
In Tiger’s mea culpa he cited his Buddhist faith as a means to his salvation. He said, “People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years … Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security … “It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.” The Dalai Lama, previously clueless to the phenomenon known as Tiger Woods, commentated that Tiger’s Buddhist faith would provide, ”Self-discipline with awareness of consequences.” Well said, Your Holiness, and Tiger too. Now what? I wonder how he will play now that he is not looking outside of himself for security. How will his golf game be now that he will be, presumably, less identified with his identity as “Tiger Woods” and less invested in propping up this image. In principle, he could play better! That’s a scary prospect for every player on the PGA Tour. What if all these fornicating actually detracted from his game? What if his obsessive preoccupation with sex impaired his ability to concentrate and play his best game. How many major championships would he have now? Again, it will be interesting to see what unfolds as he moves forward. While I hope that he can restrain his behavior, without a dedication to meditation he won’t have the inner discipline to accomplish his goals. He may still chase every mental impulse and pursue unrestrained fantasies. His outer disciplines if accompanied by the inner discipline of Mind FITness will certainly help him to realize his maximum potential as a golfer and as a human being.

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health: “Your Brain on Yoga”

posted by exquisitemind

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox Massachusetts is a unique institution and community. If you don’t already know about, please allow me to introduce you to it. I just returned from directing a course there over the weekend based on my book entitled: “Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: Metaphors for Mindful Living.” Kripalu is a wonderful place situated in a landscape of soothing physical beauty in the Berkshire Mountains, it throbs with an energy of people seeking their truth through yoga, meditation, healing arts, among many other disciplines. A weekend workshop at Kripalu is a time to learn and to relax; to enjoy wholesome food and the company of dynamic and friendly people. Around the workshop times, yoga classes at different levels are offered including a yoga dance hour. I did this on Saturday. It was a fabulous workout and great fun, led by renown yoga dance teacher Toni Bergins, creator of Journey Dance. If you don’t want the structure of a workshop, you can go to Kripalu for Retreat and Renewal. Here you can partake in yoga classes and other classes, hike the grounds, sit in the sauna and enjoy the healing atmosphere of this magical place. I am pleased and proud to be a new member of the teaching faculty of this singular organization.
Kripalu offers training throughout the year for Yoga Teacher Training, Massage Therapy, and Ayurvedic Medicine. The Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL) Directed by Stephen Cope is conducting research on the brain effects of yoga using neuroimaging. Sarah Lazar who has conducted ground breaking research on the brain effects of mindfulness meditation is leading the research. Yoga has penetrated our culture with 6.9% or 15.8 million people in the United States practicing yoga. Another 8% of population are interested in trying yoga. Kripalu Yoga emphasizes compassion and witness consciousness, representing a more contemplative form of yoga than the many varieties available to the interested seeker. The yoga efficacy study conducted by Sarah Lazar tested 16 yoga practitioners, 18 meditation practitioners, and 16 control subjects. All subjects underwent brain imaging via functional MRI (fMRI). Cortical thickness was measured for each group. Meditators meditated while in the MRI tube while yoga practitioners imagined going through a yoga routine (since the claustrophobic like confines of the MRI tube do not permit actual yoga asanas). Results will be published soon. The IEL is also conducting research on the beneficial effects of yoga on musical performance (in conjunction with the famed Tanglewood  Music Center) and the effects of yoga for veterans with posttruamatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Kripalu is a non-profit organization and thrives through the generosity of its donors and program participants. Visit them at http://kripalu.org/
I am currently in the process of planning my next teaching engagement at Kripalu, so stay tuned for more details.

Mud Season: The Way Beyond is Through

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Mud season has arrived early in mid-march. Warm days and sunshine are melting the snowpack and the ground is thawing, partially in places and yielding to soft pools of mud in many spots. A sign at the nature preserve near my house has a sign encouraging hikers to walk through the mud and not around the puddles. To do so will help the ground to heal and will not prolong the proliferation of mud by extending the vulnerability of the trails by foot traffic.

In our emotional life we might heed the same advise. To heal we need to walk through the mud and not seek to go around it. The classic wisdom urges: the way beyond is through. When we avoid our difficult situations we prolong the muck. Healing happens through courageous exposure to the painful situations of our life. There is an old Buddhist saying: “Hot Buddha sweats; cold Buddha shivers.” To this we can end “Buddha walking in mud season gets wet and muddy feet!” That’s the reality of walking through the mud, our feet get wet and mud gets between our toes. That is what is so.

But we might add something to this — a resistance to this simple moist and cool reality. We don’t “want” to get our feet wet and we are willing to walk around the puddles to avoid this. In the process of doing so we damage the trail, prolong its “healing.” And what is this wanting all about? What’s wrong with wet feet? What’s the big issue with muddy toes? We typically don’t reflect on these questions and go directly to a conditioned response of aversion. And this aversion can lead to avoidance. And this avoidance can lead to an inability to heal from the situations that confront us, if we take the metaphorical suggestion of the trail to its logical conclusion. Behavioral psychology has shown us that avoidance prolongs fear conditioning.

Our natural tendency is to avoid situations that make us anxious. The avoids relieves that sense of anxiety and thereby becomes a potent reinforcement (negative reinforcement in this case). Therefore, the next time anxiety arises we are more likely to avoid it again, engaging the behavior that has been reinforced. This avoidance can become a habit, even a way of life. So the best counsel is to take a straight line path through the mud.

Notice how the mud feels, its coolness, its dampness, its texture, and so forth. If we are open to noticing in this way we might even remember the pleasure of playing in the mud as a child, long before we insisted on things being just so. There was a freedom we once had and have now lost when we impose so many conditions on the conditions we confront. To realize our Buddha nature we just need to feel the mud between our toes. If we can do so with interest and a smile we are well on our way to recapturing that lost freedom.

Metaphor as Upaya (Skillful Means)

posted by exquisitemind

Much of what we communicate relies on comparing one thing to another; something known to help us understand something less known. This is the most basic sense of metaphor: understanding one thing in terms of another. When the Buddha gave his first teachings some 2500 years ago, he made ample use of metaphor. He continued to rely on metaphor throughout his long teaching career. Buddhist scholar Damien Keown emphasized this when he 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.” Upaya or skillful means is embodied by the Buddha’s use of metaphor in his teaching. When it comes to understanding mindfulness – a core component of the Buddha’s teachings – it is hard to do so without turning to metaphor. I would dare say it is impossible to do so, and I have explored a variety of ways in which this can be done in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness (Wisdom Publications).
Some metaphors are dead. The imaginative power they once invoked has long been worn down by the passage of time. For instance, we are unlikely to think of our heads when we refer to the head of a table. Other metaphors are not dead but remain hidden from view. These are everyday metaphors such as the notion that the mind is a container that things can come into and out of; a space where things can happen and do happen like thoughts and images. Some metaphors are deliberate and obvious, as the ones we use in poetry. Indeed Robert Frost warned, “Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” Metaphors powerfully influence everything we think and say, and the metaphors we use can determine our happiness—or lack thereof. Recognizing and changing our metaphors can move us toward greater joy.
In a modern day context, Shinzen Young, engages upaya by using mindfulness of music meditation to reach young people. This adaptation helps troubled youths get the benefits of mindfulness without having to cut through any of the cultural obstacles that may stand in the way of embracing meditation. They are understanding one thing (mindfulness) in terms of another (music). This transfer of meaning from one domain to another facilitates learning. These kids get wise without having to try to do so. We all use metaphors and follow in the steps of the Buddha when we do so.  I humbly follow in this tradition and invite you to do the same.
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To learn more about metaphors read Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness and attend the workshop based on the book Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: Metaphors for Mindful Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains, 12-14 March 2010.

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