Mindfulness Matters

As the mid-term elections approach, political rhetoric is ramping up and along with it the usual fervor, apathy, distortion, and promulgation of hope (mostly false hope, I’m afraid). Here is a mindful perspective on politics from renown  Buddhist author and editor, Melvin McLeod.

Melvin McLeod edits the
volume Mindful Politics (Wisdom, 2006). “Politics is really about how we
live together as human beings, and all spiritual practices point to one simple
but profound truth about human life–that only love leads to peace, hatred
never does. This is as true for nations as it is for individuals.”

His proposed political
platform: (if The Buddha was a politician and the Brahma Viharas)

  • May all being enjoy
    happiness and the root of happiness
  • May they be free from
    suffering and the root of suffering.
  • May the not be separated
    from the great happiness devoid of suffering
  • May they dwell in the
    great equanimity free of passion, aggression, and ignorance.


Universal in application
— all. Politics is emotions gone awry — vengeance, war, intolerance of
difference, and so forth. 

As Buddhism (particularly through mindfulness)
promotes emotional and social intelligences it might have something to offer
the world as an antidote to hostility, inequity, and damage. The dualistic and
false sense of “us” versus “them” underlies much of the

If we are not in this all together than we are divided one against
another. According to McLeod the keys to change are: forgiveness, awareness,
kindness, and selflessness. Politics is ultimately about relationships and all
relationships brook in power and conflict. 

How will these conflicts be
resolved? With mindful awareness or through the perpetuation of the Three
Poisons (which seem to be an apt laundry for the world’s problems).

Individual transformation
is the prerequisite for societal transformation. The first step is not to save
the world, but to save your self. If each individual works to limit or even
eliminate hatred, greed, and ignorance the world will be a better place through
the aggregation of this absence.

From Buddhist Monk and
Vietnam veteran, Claude Anshin


 Thomas in his book At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s
Journey from War to Peace.

Peace is not an idea. Peace is not a political movement, not a theory or
a dogma. Peace is a way of life: living mindfully in the present moment … It
is not a question of politics, but of actions. It is not a matter of improving
a political system or even taking care of homeless people alone. These are
valuable but will not alone end war and suffering. We must simply stop the
endless wars that rage within… Imagine, if everyone stopped the war in
themselves –there would be no seeds from which war could grow.” (Quoted
in Mindful Politics).

The psychotherapist Connelly turned to William Carlos Williams to elucidate the “poetry” of living. Williams said, “The underlying meaning of all [our patients] want to tell us
an have always failed to communicate is the poem, the poem which their lives
are being lived to realize”

The philosopher Suzanne Langer reminds us that a “Poem has the capacity to bring about a moment of
intense awareness of many feelings, paradoxical, yet confluent.”  

Poetry is often used in teaching mindfulness and there are many poems that make the rounds in mndfulness teaching circles. Wonderful poems, by Mary Oliver, Rainer Maria Rilke, Derek Walcott, Wislava Symborska, Rumi, and many others.

One of m favorite discoveries is a poem by W. S. Merwin entitled “One of the Butterflies” This poem captures the core of the Buddha’s teaching — how we create anguish for ourselves through our relationship to desire.

Merwin says:

trouble with pleasure is the timing


can overtake me without warning

be gone before I know it is here

can stand facing me unrecognized

I am remembering somewhere else

another age or someone not seen

years and never to be seen again

this world and it seems that I cherish

now a joy I was not aware of

it was here although it remains

of reach and will not be caught or named

called back and if I could make it stay

I want to it would turn into pain

(from The Shadow of Sirius)

When we are not being mindful, we are reaching missing our joys because our minds are preoccupied with some memory or some anticipation. We can our entire lives in anticipation and memory, the now abstracted into a story.

When we cultivate mindfulness, especially through mindfulness meditation, we train ourselves to linger in experience before transforming it into memory where we attempt to hold onto to it. Life becomes a stream of experience and in that stream there is only joy, sadness, and beauty. There is no anguish or pain until we start to think about these experiences. 

Merwin captures the Four Noble Truths. There is pain and its self-inflicted. What Merwin only implies is the way beyond this self-imposed anguish. And that way includes mindfulness as a central practice. 

Back by popular demand, here is another video by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

If you are on in the LA area you have an opportunity to see Jon speak live and support Breast Cancer Research:

Jon Kabat-Zinn, best-selling author and authority onMindfulness and Integrative Medicine, at UCLA Royce Hall, October 6, 2010 tokick off National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Los Angeles, CA – September, 2010 – Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn,PhD, one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Mindfulness andIntegrative Medicine and one of the first to conduct actual clinical trials onthe use of meditation techniques to cure pain, anxiety, stress and illnessis coming to Los Angeles to do a benefit for the LA County Affiliate ofSusan Komen Race for the Cure.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine emeritus at theUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School, studied with Zen Masters andwas a founding member of the Cambridge Zen Center, before the Buddhistteachings led him to medicine and the creation of a technique he calledMindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). 

MBSR, which, as Dr. Kabat-Zinn told the LA Times, brought”the heart of Buddhist meditation without the Buddhism into the mainstreamof Western medicine,” contributed to a growing movement of mindfulness ininstitutions such as hospitals, schools, corporations, prisons andprofessional sports organizations. At UMass Medical School, 

Dr. Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness inMedicine, Health Care and Society, and the world-renowned Stress ReductionClinic. 

Over 200 medical centers and clinics nationwide and abroadnow use the MBSR model. 

The New York Times best-selling author of Full CatastropheLiving and Wherever You Go, There You Are, Dr. Kabat-Zinn was featured in BillMoyers’ PBS Special and book, Healing and the Mind. He serves on theBoard of the Mind and Life Institute, which organizes dialogues betweenthe Dalai Lama and western scientists and scholars to promote ways ofunderstanding the mind, emotion, and reality.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s appearance at Royce Hall is part of TheLynn Lectures and kicks off National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. MariaShriver is the event’s honorary chairperson.

Event Information: 

Date & Time: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.with a reception for VIP ticket holders at 5:30 p.m. 

Location: UCLA’s Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles,CA 90095 

Pricing: Event ticket prices range from $10-$100 with aVIP Package* for $300. 

VIP Package includes admission to an intimate receptionwith Dr. Kabat-Zinn prior to the lecture, admission to 

the lecture and event parking. 

Ticket Purchase: To read more information and to purchasetickets visit

All proceeds from this event will benefit the Los AngelesCounty Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, with 75 percent goingdirectly back to local community efforts in the form of research grants, breastcancer support programs, screening, diagnostic tests and treatments forbreast cancer. The remaining 25% of the funds raised goes directly to Susan G.Komen national research. 

For questions and more information about the event, pleasecontact:

Trying to explain the potential value of mindfulness to a new patient, someone in prolonged and severe chronic pain, I started by talking about resistance. We have a tendency to develop a relationship based on resistance to chronic pain. But it is not just when pain is present. How much of of our entire exisitance is based on resistance — obvious and subtle to what is actually so? If complaints were dimes, we’d all be millionaires! More of this, less of this, the presence of a, b, & c; the absence of x, y. & z.

The uber bad guys in Star Trek Next Generation, the Borg, were infamous for their saying, “Resistance is Futile.” The alternative to resistance is acceptance.

This can lead to confusion. How do we draw the line between passive acquiescence on the one hand and acceptance on the other? What does it mean to accept rather than resist?

Acceptance starts from the vantage point of contact. First, we must know what is going on; what’s actually happening. Second, we bring interest to this phenomenon, even if it is unpleasant and unwanted. That’s probably enough.


Contact and interest are enough to transform our relationship to any phenomenon. Contact brings awareness into focus and interest hones perception. There’s no room for a grievance narrative; no room for the mind to generate a story wishing things could be otherwise; no room for judgment of like and dislike, want or now want. 

When we resist we give more power to the phenomenon. There is a folk saying, “what we resist persists,” and there is some truth to this because we are giving the event more attention. By resisting we are making the unwanted experience more salient and thus our emotional brain takes over and makes it into a “problem” to be solved.

But most of the situations we resist can’t be resolved with our usual problem solving tactics. The emotional brain evolved to solve problems like finding food and eating food that wouldn’t poison us. It’s well-suited to those sorts of problems but not well suited to “solving” that which we resist.

Take any example. Something happens. The event is in the past. Time only moves in one direction — forward (at least that we can perceive). We are upset by this event. We generate a story about it, wishing it hadn’t happened. This story leads to anguish, misery, or suffering. 

Acceptance doesn’t mean we like the event; that we’re happy it has happened. It means recognizing it has happened (contact) and noticing the implications of this event (interest). 

When I cut my finger open on the 4th of July, I initially resisted the event (see Shambhala Sun guest blog post). But then I made contact and brought interest to bear on the situation. I noticed bleeding and tissue damage. The pattern of tissue damage suggested the need for stitches and a trip to the walk-in clinic. When I resisted, I was in anguish. I castigated myself and swore like a sailor. When I accepted the event, equanimity prevailed. This is what is so in this moment; deal with it. And I did. While the tissue damage remained, the anguish was transformed. 

Mindfulness practice helps us to move more fluidly from resistance to acceptance. It helps us to recognize the resistance story and to replace it with contact and interest. By doing so we transform anguish into equanimity.

(photograph by Arnie Kozak)