Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Equanimity in the Face of Adversity, Controversy, and Memory

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Photo credit: The Economic Times

Photo credit: The Economic Times

The Dalai Lama recently visited with President Obama. Not such an unusual event since they have visited before, but the Chinese Government used this as an opportunity to complain, threaten, and posture.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been through a lot. The Chinese occupied his homeland in 1949 and he went into exile in 1959. I won’t go into the politics of this issues or the death and destruction that has occurred, since these have been covered elsewhere (just Google it).

What I will comment upon is the value of a non-violent approach in dealing with conflict, adversity, and tragedy. A bitter, begrudging, and vengeful attitude would seem to be justified for the Dalai Lama in reference to China. But His Holiness has eschewed that approach in favor of compassion.

Why do the Chinese do what they do? Why does anyone do what they do? How can we understand the presence of violence, hate, and coercion in the world? It’s simple. People act destructively because they are in the grips of forces they cannot or choose not to control. Namely, these forces are greed or unrelenting desire, hatred or aversion, and confusion or delusion. When people are not in the grip of these forces, they enjoy generosity, love, and wisdom. Sounds potentially self-righteous, but I wonder if it’s not true.

The power-hungry would characterize this loving approach as weak. Fair enough. But I would tender the question as to whether there is more to this existence than power and control over material? I have no doubt that Mao Zedong got an intoxicating feeling from wielding power. Was he, however, happy? I speculate that he was not. Power breads pleasure but its fleeting nature is bound to bring anxiety too. Power reinforces that sense of “me” and “my” accomplishments.

If we embrace non-contingent love as the Dalai Lama does (and Buddhists and Buddha-inspired individuals all around the world), then the outer circumstances don’t matter. “I love you no matter what.” This doesn’t mean that His Holiness does not work towards political solutions for his people. He works. Yet, he works without attachment. Again, I speculate, but I think we have it on good authority that this is his attitude.

The Dalai Lama said in an interview in the Hindustan Times, “He (Chairman Mao) appears to me as a father and he himself considered me as a son. (We had) very good relations.” – See more at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/mao-zedong-considered-me-as-his-son-dalai-lama/article1-878134.aspx#sthash.qWtSZHeZ.dpuf

Contrast this attitude to how we typically those who harm us. There is no plaintive narrative about how Mao ruined his life and wrecked his country. Instead, there is fond remembrance. Is this denial? Or is it wisdom?

What would we gain if we viewed the setbacks in our life within a fond frame of reference? Enmity, rumination, and complaint only foster negative feelings for the host, not the perpetrator. This is the wisdom of letting things be, of letting go into this moment. By letting go, the best action moving forward can be engaged because it is not being obstructed by attachments to the past.

There is freedom in relinquishing the narrative and dwelling in the present. We can learn a thing or two from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He keeps pursuing his cause but he does not appear to be base his moment-by-moment happiness upon it.

Can we be agents of unattached change in the world too?

 

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.

 

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