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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Metaphor Monday: Teach a Horse to Sing

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

In The Stuff of Thought, Harvard psychologist and author extraordinaire, Steven Pinker relates the story of teaching a horse to sing. 

According to an old story, a man
sentenced to be hanged fro offending the sultan, offered a deal to the court:
if they would give him a year, he would teach the sultan’s horse to sing,
earning his freedom; if he failed, he would go to the gallows willingly. When
he returned to the dock, a fellow prisoner said, “Are you crazy?” The man
replied, “I figure, over the course of a year a lot can happen. Maybe the
sultan will die, and the new sultan will pardon me. Maybe I’ll die; in that
case I wouldn’t have lost a thing. Maybe the horse will die; then I’ll be off
the hook. And who knows? Maybe I’ll teach the horse to sing!

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This charming story portrays a skillful relationship to hope. It banks on impermanence and does not jump to conclusions of despair. It pierces through the illusion that we can predict the future and puts us in a good orientation to humility. It reflects plucky optimism, which is different than unskillful hope (we’ll explore that topic on another Monday). 

For me, this story is a parable for the promise of science, creativity, and ingenuity.Things look bad right now but we may figure out how to solve many of the problems besetting the planet. We might also use that same science, creativity, and ingenuity to destroy ourselves.  

Likewise at work, you may be facing what seems to be an insoluble problem. Can you reach a confidence within yourself that you and your team can generate a creative solution to this problem? If you pay careful enough attention to what is happening you will increase your likelihood of finding a solution. The condemned man’s optimism gives attention a broad vista to work with, open to all possibilities like the Beginner’s Mind. 

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Mindfulness helps us to discern what is wishful thinking from thinking that is grounded in the possible. Mindfulness helps us to avert a desperate narrative when circumstances are not going as planned in the present moment. The next moment, the next breath can offer redemption. Things may look different after a good night’s sleep or the passage of a year. 

Meanwhile the process of teaching a horse to sing may have its own value. We might learn things about ourselves and enjoy ourselves along the way. It’s better to try than to give up in despair. So, enjoy teaching the horse to sing. Who knows, you might even be successful!

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Stress Reduction Blog on CT Watchdog

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

watchdog-logo.jpg

Greetings everyone. With the start of my weekly column on Connecticut Watchdog, Sundays will be “Stress Reduction Sundays.” Read my posts on how to manage stress effectively in your life. Here is my initial post:

Stress seems to be a dirty word in our culture, something to avoid at all costs, something that needs to be reduced or, even better, eliminated.

However, stress is a necessary and vital component of our lives.

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To get out of bed every morning requires a stress response, albeit a mild one, to get us upright.

Bodily systems must make adjustments to blood pressure; blood flow and thousands of integrated changes take place in this simple act.

Our bodies are fantastic machines in this way helping us to adapt to myriad circumstances, especially those that are unforeseen, such as a crisis.

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Is Tiger Woods Giving Buddhism a Bad Name?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Tiger Woods, the number one ranked golfer in the world, was
two shots from last place after the second day of play at the World Golf
Championship Bridgestone Invitational a tournament he has won seven times in
the past. In most tournaments he would have failed to make the cut and would
have gone home for the weekend, but everyone in this selective field played all
four days. Since his fall from grace and his declarations to re-avow his
Buddhist origins and practices, he has been a mediocre golfer at best. He is
currently ranked 80th on the money list (with less than a million dollars; last
year he won $10.5 million) and 111th on the Fed Ex Cup (a ten million dollar
prize he won last season). He is also at immanent risk of losing his ranking as
the number one golfer in the world after holding that distinction for 269
consecutive weeks. Tiger, the most famous athlete in the world, provided a
spectacular demonstration of the Three Poisons in action. His lust, lies, and
self-aggrandized delusion made headlines around the world. In April upon
returning to competitive golf, he said, in response to a question about what
more discipline would do for him, “I would be more centered more
balanced, that’s where I am heading towards that’s what I’m working towards
each and every day. I’m meditating religiously again like I used to. I’m going
back to my Buddhist roots.” 

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Since there was not cut in this limited field, Tiger got to
play on the weekend despite his six over par performance on the first two days.
A chance for redemption? On Saturday, he shot a 5 over par performance to put
him 11 over for the tournament. He was in 78th place in a field of 80
golfers. He has never been worse than a tie for 71st through 54 holes
since turning pro.

Buddha_golf.jpg

Why is Tiger playing so poorly? It is hard to know exactly
why, and Tiger is reclusive with the press. I wonder, though, if this is not
karma and conditioning in action? For many years Tiger engaged in delusive and
greedy mental and physical sexual exploits. Perhaps, such karma cannot be undone
in a mere matter of months. I wonder, too, whether his ability to play at the
superhuman level he was playing at before was somehow facilitated by his
reliance on greed and delusion. That is, he was great not in spite of his
sexual peccadilloes, but because of them. Again, this is conjecture. S. N.
Goenka clarifies three levels of mental conditionings or sankharas. The
first is like drawing your finger along the surface of water. The ramifications
of this action are short-lived. The ripple moves for a few moments and is gone.
The second level is like drawing your finger through sand. This is a bit more
enduring, but eventually water or wind will erase its former presence. The
final kind is like etching a line into solid rock. This sankhara will
take eons to break down. Tiger’s sankaharas
are likely more of the latter kind. These strong mental patterns have created
enduring ramifications, and I wonder if this is what is being seen in the
breakdown of Tiger’s performance. A dysfunctional balance is still balance, and
it may take some time to re-establish his balance no matter how much meditation
he has done in the past few months. 

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An April 2010 Wall
Street Journal

article asked if “Buddha Can Help Your Short Game?” It opined that
Tiger’s reaffirmation of Buddhism might make him a better golfer. “A
growing number of golfers and golf coaches all over the world are warming up to
the idea that the ancient religion, which teaches followers to let go of their
egos, attachments and desires in order to attain enlightenment, could be the
faith most suited to making somebody a holy terror on the links.” Buddhism
is becoming more visible on the PGA Tour as more players come from Asia and as
Western golf gurus recruit this ancient wisdom. Other players with an avowed
interest in Buddhism include Vijay Singh, Y. E. Yang Justin Rose, and Se Ri Pak
and Christie Kerr of the LPGA.

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Tiger has offered mechanical reasons for his poor
performance and not ones from his personal life. He hasn’t said, “Well, I
really miss all the lying and incessant fornication and this has thrown my game
off.” Instead, he has said, “Well, I drove it
terrible, hit my irons terrible, didn’t putt well, and it added up to a
lot.” 
Day Four of the Bridgestone Invitational; things only
get worse. Tiger shoots seven over par culminating in his worst performance
ever, including his days as an amateur, at a time when he needed it the most. Unless
he plays well at the PGA Championship next week, it’s quite likely that he will
not qualify for the Tour Championship playoffs starting with the Barclays
Tournament the last weekend in August.  

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So, of course, Tiger isn’t giving Buddhism a bad name, but
his all-too-human performance shows that Buddhism is not an easy fix. Indeed,
as Noah Levine has said, “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
PGA Championship presented another opportunity for Tiger to play golf at the
level the world everyone is accustomed to. He showed glimmers of his old form,
but he was not a factor.

Redemption is
available on each shot, if you can train your attention on the present. I would
suggest that not only should Tiger persist in recruiting his Buddhist origins
and practice to heal his life and his game, he can also use his game as a
spiritual path — to become a better Buddhist. This is the dharma of
golf. Keep meditating Tiger!

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Powerless

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

sunflower.jpgAbout two-thirds the way through online Morning Meditation, I heard what sounded like a gun shot and then complete power failure. A sudden and irrevocable intrusion of reality into the moment. I apologize to those of you in the classroom for my sudden disappearance. I felt “powerless” to do anything about it since we were connected through the Internet and with no power to run the computer or the modem there was no way to connect. Such intrusions of “reality” pierce the bubble of illusion that we live in most of the time.

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The power failure was caused by a squirrel getting into trouble on the power pole. His execution caused the power outage. This has never happened before in twelve years living in this place.

On the way back from my morning vigil trail run with my dog Ruki I noticed a black-capped chickadee adhered to a burdock bush. As I feared, it was dead. It’s tiny precious life captured by that prickly fate for no particular reason.

20 Million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan.

Somewhere, every moment contains these unexpected and unfortunate events. They can serve to awaken us to the preciousness of life. Yesterday, on the Writer’s Almanac Garrison Keillor read a quote from Bill Clinton whose father had died in car accident before he was born. Clinton said:

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My father left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people, and that if I did it well enough, somehow I could make up for the life he should have had. And his memory infused me, at a younger age than most, with a sense of my own mortality. The knowledge that I, too, could die young drove me both to try to drain the most out of every moment of life and to get on with the next big challenge.

So, as we move through the day today we can notice the cycles of life around us. The sunflower that is starting to decay yet still sings to towards the sky. We can try to be awake so that when unexpected things happen we can use these events to awaken to the fragility of life around us and the gift it is to be alive and breathing.

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posted 7:29:06am Jun. 03, 2015 | read full post »

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