Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Laughter and Awakening

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Photo Credit: Ramil Sagum

Photo Credit: Ramil Sagum


A recent column in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review discussed laughter. It was written by Bodhipaksa and debunks the quote that is attributed to the Buddha and something that he never actually said.

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

The article discusses the role of laughter in the suttas (the written record of the Buddha’s oral teachings). The Buddha did not appear to be sanguine about laughter. He discouraged monks from being merry when suffering was all around. In another place, he chides a comic actor becuase what he does can contribute to “intoxication and heedlessness.”


Laughter is a double-edged sword. On one edge, laughter can be the chief product of self. Bodhipaksa cites research that finds humor is often at the expense of others and thus gives rise to a feeling of superiority. This reinforces the sense of self and further girds suffering. On the other edge of the sword, laughter is a natural by-product when one has done much work to liberate from the entanglements of self.

Take the Dalai Lama for example. He has called himself a “Professional Laugher.” His jocularity does not stem from making himself superior to others but arises from his directly felt connection with everyone and everything. When we are not caught up in our personal stories and seeking to make ourselves okay in every moment, laughter will naturally leak out.


The incessant identification we have with our stories is what suppresses laughter. When the stories stop, the laughter is free to emerge.

It’s good to laugh. We know that it can improve your mood and has been reputed to aid in healing. To the extent that we can vanquish our limited sense of self, we can look to laughter as a barometer of our progress along the path.

The Buddha may not have been as jovial as His Holiness, but he did have a sense of humor–a wry, sarcastic one when it came to lampooning the religions of his day.

Laughter is very connected to the unencumbered voice. In fact, unbridled laughter is one the voice exercises that I do on a regular basis. I am not laughing at anything in particular, just laughing. In the Awakened Introvert, I explore the power of the voice and how to get beyond self-consciousness.

Give laughter a try. Rather than consuming a joke, try to laugh at the sheer joy of being alive.





Letting Go of Hopeful Remnants

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

axiom_15A friend of mine who is 70-years-old and very fit, talented, and successful has male pattern baldness–the hair line recedes until there is only a ring of hair left around the bottom of the head. One of my professors in graduate school had it and he would let his red hair grow long. I always thought he looked like Bozo the clown.

My older friend, recently got his hair cut and he was complaining to me that his hair was cut too short. While he was whining about it, I blurted out quite spontaneously, “Why are you attached to that hopeful remnant?!” I think he would look better off shaving his head completely bald as is currently the fashion.


My friend could’t stop laughing. The “truth” in that statement seemed to hit him between the eyes and expressed itself in a shocked humor.

For Bill, he wanted to retain the appearance that he still had hair but all that was left was a remnant of his lost youth. Attachment to that hopeful remnant kept him from enjoying the present moment more fully.

We all have our own version of hopeful remnants–things we are not ready to let go off, things we are not ready to proclaim dead, finished, or gone. Your hopeful remnant may be a come-over on your head, an old object, or a wistful memory. It may be the hope that something will change in an important relationship that shows no evidence of changing and likely cannot change and hasn’t for years.

Think about what you are holding onto and ask yourself if you could let it go. Just think of how liberating it will be to jettison that hopeful remnant. You’ll feel lighter as you came into closer contact with the reality of things as they are rather than as you wish them to be.


Mindful America: Are You Part of the Movement?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

9780199827817 (1)I have just finished reading Jeff Wilson’s Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. Wilson is an associate professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College (University of Waterloo).


It’s a thought provoking read and the first of its kind scholarly analysis of the rise of the mindfulness movement in America. It’s well written, entertaining, and features an extended discussion of the metaphors from my first book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness.

Wilson makes a compelling case to show that mindfulness is the new face of American Buddhism and that the science and practice of mindfulness is influencing the future direction of Buddhism.

It’s a fascinating history about how mindfulness came to be so prominent in this country. After initial exposure from Buddhist monks, the three main influences that started the mindfulness movement were 1) the establishment of insight meditation practice centers such as IMS that were founded by Americans who studied with Asian monks, 2) the popularity and success of Thich Nhat Hanh writings and teachings, and 3) the establishment of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) by Jon Kabat-Zinn. ‘


Over time is that mindfulness has been emphasized as a form of practice that was not the present in traditional Asian contexts and then it was explanted from its Buddhist context, principally in the MBSR work.

Now, there are many people who read and even practice mindfulness who do not know about its Buddhist origins. This makes it more accessible on the one hand, and raises a lot of questions on the other–questions that are explored in Mindful America. This book is mostly descriptive but now without its critique of all the possible applications mindfulness enjoys today.

Mindfulness has, indeed, become a buzzword and is now being incorporated into the mainstream. My work was cited as contributing to this mainstreaming of mindfulness and that is certainly what I intended to do when I wrote Wild Chickens.


My understanding for mindfulness has evolved over the six years since that book came out. I appreciate its Buddhist context much more now, especially as it is described in the Abhiddhamma, which were ancient manuals of the Buddhist psychology.

Mindfulness is not just paying attention to the present moment. It is a particular way of paying attention that does not involve grasping and aversion–the constant pushing away and pulling towards of experiences that the mind engages in, and much more. When we meditate, we can see that process in action. Mindfulness in this larger sense is instrumental in deconstructing our sense of self in a way that can not just make life more vivid or satisfying but free us from suffering.

This radical vision is usually absent in treatments of mindfulness but I am trying to revive that connection and you’ll see that in evidence in my forthcoming book, Mindfulness A to Z: 108 Insights for Awakening. Like Wild Chickens, it contains 108 short chapters but instead of being organized by metaphors it is an index of terms and concepts relevant to mindfulness and the teachings of the Buddha, colored with many personal stories of my successes and failures with mindfulness practice. It will be out in September and you can preorder your copy now.



Introvert Overload: Redefining Rest

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

13255700373_ba79650d8a_zThe other day I had an unusual Thursday. My typical Thursday involves an afternoon of clinical practice. This particular Thursday, in addition to my clinical hours I had a number of extra-curricular activities. It was a concatenation of extrovert-like activities intensified in a day.

First, I volunteered to man the booth for the Coaching Center of Vermont at the business expo. This was 2.5 hours of the kind of random, awkward, and draining encounters that I tend to aver as an introvert. I went to this event knowing that it would be a challenge because the “cause” is important to me. I am part of the Coaching Center’s new initiative: Vital Leadership Coaching (more on that in the future). I was happy when my time was done!


From the business expo, I headed to a business-related luncheon meeting, exploring an opportunity to teach mindfulness to an organization.

From the lunch meeting, I went to my office to do my psychotherapy practice. From there I went out to dinner with friends.

It was bad planning to schedule multiple social events on the same day I had a big introvert challenge. But I soldiered through the day, enjoying myself throughout.

How did I do that? First, I recognized that I was spending a lot of energy and running a deficit. This helped me to frame the day and help me to prepare the best that I could.

Second, I looked for opportunities for micro-solitude in the midst of this busy day. I found these while walking to and from each of my appointments for the morning. It was a lovely spring day, and I used the walking time to be quiet in my mind and recharge some of my energy so I had my best energy to be present at each of my commitments for the day. During lunch, I enjoyed sitting in the glorious sunshine.


Third, rather than resisting the schedule (or castigating myself for poor planning), I decided to ride the wave of extroverted energy. It was actually fun to do this, so long as it was just one day and not something I had to do everyday.

Fourth, I knew I’d need substantial recovery time. I had a window on Friday where I would have to take impeccable care of myself, especially because we had company arriving for the holiday weekend. That self-care needed to be restful.

I have recently been thinking about what it truly means to rest. Recall that “Get some rest” is the first step in your GPS for success.


Getting adequate sleep is, of course, a necessary but still elusive foundation for most people. As a nation, we are sleep deprived. Assuming you are one of the lucky few who gets a decent night of sleep (I shouldn’t say lucky, but rather skillful), there is more to rest than being rested.

To rest is to be in a place where few demands are being placed upon us. We are beholden to no one in the moment. We don’t have anything we “need” to do. To this end, I set aside social media for the day and imposed no particular agendas on myself. I had a productive day but I tried to view each activity as a want rather than a should. A should places demands upon us and squeezes out the restfulness of any moment.


Rest requires being unplugged for a period of time from our devices and media and also from the demands of our own storytelling minds. To this end, meditation helps and I certainly spent some time doing mindfulness practice. I also spent time doing nothing in particular. I gazed at the trees that are now in bloom, I watched the dogs play with each other and played with them too. I meandered from moment-to-moment with no particular agenda. This was rest and it helped to restore my energy.

Rest can be active or still. Sometimes trail running in the woods can feel like rest and at others times it is exhausting. Yesterday I decided to defer on the run. Being in a natural setting helps. By the end of the day, I had closed the extroverted energy deficit that I had accumulated the day before. Needless to say, I kept communications to a minimum whether by phone, text, or email.


In The Awakened Introvert, I created an exercise for monitoring our energy in terms of activities that build energy and those that drain. You can monitor them throughout the week and tally the balance. Knowing how much you’ve expended can guide you towards restoration. published an excerpt of another energy monitoring exercise and if you haven’t seen that you, you can view it here.

Right now, I feel like I need some more rest and when I finish writing to you, Dear Readers, I will turn off my computer and get some!


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