Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Sit Still

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

AA039964If you listen carefully to my meditation instructions, you might detect a contradiction. On the one hand, I de-emphasize the posture because I don’t want people to get deterred by the physical difficulties of sitting. On the other hand, I encourage everyone to sit still and to resist the reflexive tendency to scratch every itch. Sitting practice opens to a new dimension when you are not compelled to relieve every discomfort that comes your way.

So, which is it? Don’t sit still or sit still? Perhaps the contradiction is avoided by viewing the transition from not worrying about the posture to being still like a rock through time.

I have observed in my own practice that whenever my attention leaves the present moment to explore some story, my body starts to move. I re-adjust my posture, crack my back or neck, and scratch itches without realizing it. I recently came across some notes on embodied cognition, a fascinating field of research that confirms that many of our concepts reflect embodied states. Giving someone the cold shoulder or a weighty idea are not just flourishes of language, they represent actually embodied states. That is, people feel colder when they are socially rejected; a clipboard with important ideas feels heavier.

These findings from embodied cognition have implications for meditation practice too. If the body is moving, perhaps the mind is moving. If the body is still, perhaps this gives the mind a better chance to be still. I say a better chance because we certainly no that it is not a guarantee. The physical posture of sitting becomes an embodied metaphor for stillness. You come to understand the potential for stillness in the mind by experiencing stillness in your body.

If you read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, you will find detailed instructions on how to sit. In fact, these are pretty much the entirety of Shunryu Suzuki’s meditation instructions. The practice of sitting and sitting still is the practice. If you start out trying to sit in a rock-solid technical way, you might be deterred from practice. This is why I de-emphasize posture for beginning students. However, if you don’t eventually work at becoming still, your practice will get stuck.

At the same time, you can get stuck by focusing too much on the physical posture. Some people are just good at sitting and the mind can still be off the leash. As with everything, we seek balance. Try to firm up your posture and notice what effect this has on the mind.

Enjoy sitting still!

P is for Perfectionism; M is for Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

1704_1083img16The February Kripalu Compass Newsletter featured an article I wrote on perfectionism and mindfulness. You can read it here.

“My basement was a disaster for months, a dumping ground for junk: empty boxes, retired appliances and gadgets, books, old LPs, outdoor gear. Each time I walked through the clutter, I felt anxious. I also felt stuck. And, because my studio is down there, no creative work was getting done.

Perfectionism can be a limiting force in our lives. When we’re not mindful of its effects, it can keep us stuck, disappointed, and frustrated.”

Read more.

I will be teaching at Kripalu in March. Find out more and register now:

Mindfulness A-Z: Getting Unstuck from Regret, Perfectionism, and Procrastination

 

The Mindful Revolution Comes of Age: Cover Story in Time Magazine

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

TimeMindfulness made the cover of Time Magazine this week in an article entitled: The Mindful Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture.

This is not the first time meditation has graced the cover of time. For a review of the gender politics of these covers that both feature beautiful blondes meditating, see Joanna Piacenza’s Huffington Post critique.

This is good exposure, cover notwithstanding, for the proliferation of mindfulness in our culture. A good shot in the arm. But the article does not cover much new ground.

It starts in the right place with the writer Kate Pickert taking an MBSR course. It follows Jon Kabat-Zinn’s story of founding MBSR in 1979 and give some contemporary updates.

The one interesting tidbit I gleaned from the article is how it is now so trendy to do mindfulness in Silicon Valley that if you’re not doing it, eyebrows will be raised. I hope this continues.

 

Report from the Internal Front: A Week of Silence

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

IMSGreetings everyone. I have a report from the meditation retreat I embarked upon in early December. I should have written sooner when the impressions were fresher, but daily life has a way of asserting itself.

The week in silence feels like a blur now. The interminably long days have given way back to days that just don’t have enough hours. There is a fascinating relationship between the quality of attention and the experience of time and also the agendas we attempt during the course of a given day.

On retreat, life is elemental. The principle activities of the day are sitting and walking meditation. These comprise about nine to ten hours each day. In between cycles of sitting and walking meditation are meals with some break time.

One of those break periods are for work practice where yogis do a housekeeping or kitchen job and continue to practice mindfully and silently. I also got outside walking and running. In the evening, the teachers, Narayan Liebenson Grady and Rodney Smith, gave dharma talks–lectures on Buddhist psychology, ethics, and practice.

The day is long when you do nothing other than sit and walk and eat and all the other little things that happen during the course of a day deveoted to presence.

It’s easy to have expectations for a week like this. It takes a lot to make the arrangements, to say good-bye to loved ones to enter into silence, and letting go off all your daily responsibilities, goals, and commitments. When you show up, you naturally want to make the most of this time. However, if that desire takes the form of striving that effort will get in the way of getting the desired results. It is only by not trying that you can get what you want.

It’s easy to get caught up on marking time on retreat. I certainly did this. After the first day on Saturday, a day that seemed to stretch on forever, we had completed one of the six full days of the retreat. Only five more to go! The more I did these tabulations, the slower time moved. The paradox of time reveals that it is only by not counting time that it starts to flow. A solid week of silence is interminably long yet the week is really comprised of this moment followed by the next moment on and on until the final bell has rung.

Retreat time is an opportunity to train the mind. It’s like boot camp–dedicated, intensive, out of the bounds of the usual. Patience is one of the primary trainings. Just trying to dwell in presence reveals how impatient the mind usually is, at least my mind. It took three solid days of leaning into the future to finally arrive, fully, in the present moment. This occurred on Tuesday morning, the fourth day of the retreat. I was over the mid-way mark, and perhaps this helped my mind to let go. I woke up as I did each morning at 5 AM and that morning I had energy. Sitting was effortless and time lost its shoes (as Pablo Neruda might have said).

I became presence. Just dwelling in the moment with very little talking in my mind. I was alive and without stories to confirm, doubt, and worry, a great peacefulness accompanied the sitting. At the end of the retreat, my perceptions of the world had changed. The sky, snow, and trees had a dimensionality that I had heretofore missed. I could feel how the trees were alive and how we were all, in some way, connected. The only thing that separated us were the obstacles created by thinking.

I encourage everyone to have a retreat experience of their own. The Insight Meditation Society (IMS) is a wonderful place to go on retreat. People have been dwelling in silence there since the late 1970s and I can think of no better place to do this work. The facilities have been recently updated and every retreatent gets a private room. The food is nourishing and wholesome and the teachers wise, warm, and available. You can find out more by visiting dharma.org. 

 

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