Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Finding the Fall Line: The Technique of Practice

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Stowe_1As I was meditating this morning, I came up with a new practice metaphor. There were times when I was clearly in the flow of my body, very attuned the myriad body sensations and there were other moments where I was somewhere else or trying to manage some aspect of the moment, almost as if I was trying to push the clock forward to be finished.

That in-flow feeling reminded me of being in the fall line while snowboarding. The image works for skiers too. When you are in the fall line, you are flowing with gravity and heading in a parallel fashion down the mountain. It’s exhilarating and requires skill to maintain a sense of control. This control can feel effortless and preconscious. In fact, it is best done without narrative self-consciousness. This starts to sound like meditation.

That fall line experience is always present since the body never stops generating rich sensations. It gets obscured by the activity of the mind. I notice there are two types of obscuration: micromanagement and macromanagement.

Macromanagement are obvious gestures of resistance: shifts in postures (for me it is usually cracking my neck), checking the clock, or some other outer action. Micromanagement happens with attention. Instead of enjoying the fall line, I am rehearsing some future scenario or reviewing some past one. I am trying to get everything just right and this effort gets in the way of that flow.

Recognizing the similarity between practice and riding helped to keep me in the fall line. I know from snowboarding that fear or a lack confidence keep me from the fall line. I am braking excessively and sometimes instead of having more control, I have less, perhaps even falling as I linger too long on my heel-side edge. Physics is begging me to let go but sometimes the mind does not want to release. Sound familiar?

When you are in the fall line either on the mountain or on the cushion, time passes more quickly since there is no self-consciousness marking time. You are in a natural state unencumbered internal dialogues and their incessant wish to control things. Releasing into the fall line requires confidence that relinquishing the micro and macro attempts to manage are not required.

It is a spiritual experience because we have transcended our individual narratives for at least a few moments. Chance are, things will be okay if you relinquish thinking for the moments that comprise a practice session and just enjoy the subtle thrill of the fall line.

Prime Time, All the Time

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

378An add for television streaming service Hulu states, “Every minute of every day should be considered prime time.” This clever quip has a double meaning. On the one hand, it reflects the tyrannical notion that every experience that we have should be exciting, entertaining, and novel. On the other hand, it embodies the wisdom that all we have is the present moment, therefore it is prime time.

Mindfulness is an essential tool for living our lives in prime time. As I have discussed before, holidays such as Thanksgiving mark that particular day as “prime time.” It’s the day to be thankful, express gratitude, and be with loved ones. My observations, however, see it more as a sanctioned opportunity for gluttony (guilty of this myself).

There is a paradox here. Each moment is precious and at the same time it is no big deal. No one moment is any more valuable than another (although something significant may happen) and when we can set aside our expectation that the moment should be special, extraordinary, or exceptional in some way, we can enjoy it more.

It’s a worn cliché that live must be lived now and not at some distant point in the future, like when the kids are grown or when you retire. Each second that passes is a second closer to our eventual demise. We know we should try to make the most of each moment but life often conspires against this. Life is impossibly busy. We are stressed, overwhelmed, and tired.  We know we should slow down but have you looked at the kids’ hockey schedule?

Now often feels squeezed, pressured by relentless to do lists. As the holidays approach, these demands ratchet up. Can we even remember to savor the moment? How can we make more of our life prime time?

Mindfulness practice can help. If you can, practice daily: 20, 30 minutes or more. These formal practice sessions will spill over into the rest of your life.

If you don’t have big chunks of time, take smaller chunks. Do a one to three minute practice. You might find cracks in your day that you otherwise fill with interacting with your smartphone. Instead, do some breathing meditation.

When the day does not permit even brief practices (and even when it does) piggyback your practice onto activities that you are already doing like walking and driving. Instead of going over your to-do lists and rehearsing real and imagined conversations, attend to the sensations of the moment while walking.

When minutes aren’t available you can also practice in seconds. You will get benefit from punctuating your internal dialogues with moments of presence. These moments may not eradicate the busyness of your mind but they can help to keep you from going off the rails.

Each moment of mindfulness throughout the day is a bit of prime time.


Giving Thanks 2014: Still a Lot to be Grateful For

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

IMG_4078There is not now, nor ever, a shortage of tragic, unjust, and violent events occurring around the world. The news media exploits these events and brings them into our brains 24/7 with an unrelenting insistence.

Our nervous systems are vulnerable to these kinds of information. They signal danger and set anxiety on edge. Could ebola come to my town? Will someone I know get beheaded by ISIS? Watching the news can make it seem like the world is coming to an end.

Still what we miss could be more important than what we get fed from the news.

There are countless non-events that don’t get registered by attention. All the acts of kindness, cooperation, and love that go unnoticed. While there is rioting in Ferguson, our cities don’t burn on a daily basis. While there is crime, corruption, and cruelty, there is a greater abundance of the absence of these actions.

Spend a day trying to notice all the things that are going right (or not going wrong) just under your nose both in your personal life and your community. This shift in perspective is akin to switching the figure and ground. It’s not that unwanted things don’t occur, we choose to highlight the hidden occurrence of the mundane.

For me personally, I am grateful for many things in my life: family, people, dogs, travel, experiences, and opportunities. It’s been a rich year. Thank you!

I am also grateful that the world hasn’t blown itself up. When I was in college during the 1980s nuclear disarmament was the most pressing issue. We seemed convinced that MAD would be realized (if you recall, MAD is the acronym for “mutually assured destruction”). That never happened.

I am grateful that I get to write more and more. I will have two books coming out in 2015 (The Awakened Introvert and Mindfulness A-Z) and some other exciting writing projects.

I am grateful for my readers who have persisted in reading this blog despite my frequent absences.

I am grateful for the teachings of the Buddha and the practice of mindfulness that he recommended. Without these, I’d be lost. I am grateful that I live in a time and culture that is receptive to these teachings.

I trust that you have much to be grateful for as well. It is my wish that you don’t have to look to hard to find these.

Peace to everyone on this snowy day of Thanksgiving!

Buddhist Icon–Thich Nhat Hanh Recovering in Hospital

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

thayBeloved Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH) has experienced a severe cerebral hemorrhage and remains in critical condition. He recently had his 88th Birthday. I surmise that he is, along with the Dalai, Lama, one of the two most readily recognized Buddhist figures in the world today. Affectionately known as “Thay” TNH has written seemingly countless books on mindfulness including the classic The Miracle of Mindfulness.

A eulogy seems premature. He had been in a coma and expected to die but it appears he is not ready to go just yet and he has emerged from his coma.

Like so many others, I have appreciated his teachings–especially his earlier writings that were straightforward and heartfelt. I especially appreciated his work with Vietnam veterans and forgiveness. I often relate a story that I heard him tell about one of these veterans. Without forgiveness, he remained in prison. This time, a prison of his own design.

I also love his phrase “no mud, no flower” pointing to the necessity of messiness for growth.

His more recent work on power and work, I found less compelling and often too moralistic. This can be an issue with Asian teachers and I have also found this, at times, with the Dalai Lama.

Thay is the embodiment of the gentle mindfulness practitioner so much so that he is ready caricature. As mindfulness burgeons in popularity, we will need to expand the image of mindfulness from the peaceful, soft-spoken monk to an image that suits the way most of us live–as ordinary human beings finding our way through the world.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to be able to channel that peaceful monk once in a while.

Buddhists around the world are sending their well-wishes and prayers to TNH. Here is an excerpt from the Interdependence Project:

Thay is still in the hospital. He is OK thanks to the patriarchs. If someone want to send healing energy to Thay please ask them to keep one day per week avoiding eating beef, pork, chicken and fish (vegetarian) per week and send the merit to offer life to Thay.

With my secular approach to the Buddha’s teachings, I am not sure what to make of this prayer recommendation. I don’t know if it will help TNH, but it may make you feel better if you do this.

Better yet, the legacy of any teacher is embodied in their teachings. Grab one of his books off of your bookshelf or go and get one like Peace is Every Step and celebrate the life of this great yogi by trying to embody the wisdom he has generously offered through his words and life example.


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