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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

The Other Kind of PDF: Public Displays of Frustration

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

RoryThe world’s number one ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy made a spectacle of himself yesterday during the World Golf Championship tournament at Doral. After pulling his long approach shot into the water on hole number 8, he then launched his 3-iron into the lake. It sailed 60 or 70 yards before splashing into its watery grave.

This incident captures my attention in a couple of ways. First, I sometimes coach golfers to approach the game with more equanimity and less frustration. I can certainly understand his frustration and the urge to act it out in the way that he did. When amateur golfers get frustrated like this, it is always because they have unrealistic expectations of how they should perform. But when you are the number one player in the world, those same expectations are reasonable.

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Still, Rory has been struggling. He missed the cut in his season debut last week at the Honda Classic. He wants to be competitive. It also appears that throwing the club jump started his round and he finished the day tied for 11th at 1 under par.

Second, this incident piques my interest from the perspective of buddhadharma. What might the Buddha say about this?

Was there another way? Perhaps, but we can become purist in our admonitions. I am reminded of the Buddha saying, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” We can become attached to being “moderate” just as we can become attached to anything else. Rory is human, therefore fallible. At 25-years-old, he’s barely got a fully matured brain. I think we can grant him this behavior without condemnation.

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He recognized that while it felt good to release his emotion in this way, it was not a skillful act. I doubt it will become a pattern for him. He said,

I think every golfer feels it because I don’t hit shots like the one I hit on 8 on the range. So that’s what really bothers me, the fact that I get out on the course and I hit shots that I’m not seeing when I’m in a more relaxed environment. So it’s a little bit of mental, a little bit of physical. It’s just everything is not quite matching up.

What Rory forgot is, while he is currently the best golfer in the world, impermanence still prevails. Golfers are not machines and performance will vary week by week. Performance is also tied to energy and trance-like states. Throwing the club jarred him from that trance state. Of course, there are other ways to accomplish this–mindfulness being one of them.

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He could have breathed, let out a deep guttural vocalized exhale, like a lions roar and moved on. He could have just laughed or smiled and moved on. Still, for the rest of us who have felt this frustration, it helps to put things in context. We don’t need to berate ourselves for getting frustration on the golf course or anywhere else.

This is not to condone or encourage such acting out but to appreciate that life is difficult and sometimes we fall down. The Buddha would encourage us to pick ourselves up, strengthen our resolve to awaken, and start again in the next moment.

 

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Mindful in Relationship: The Biggest Spiritual Challenge We Face

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Tara-WoodsyOur closest relationships are often the most challenging places to be mindful. We may be prone to feelings of unworthiness, superiority, and fear as well as a host of other feelings that push us around.

When we can bring equanimity to our relationships we are progressing along the path. When we can sustain an attitude of gentle curiosity whenever things are not going as expected, we are becoming true mindfulness yogis.

I’d like to let you know about a special opportunity with my dharma friend Tara Brach who is one of the more authentic and beloved mindfulness teachers teaching today. She is author of the bestsellers Radical Acceptance and more recently, True Refuge.

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She is offering a six-week online course through NICABM that will guide you through how to be mindful when it matters the most. The course is practical and direct teaching of mindfulness skills and can be especially beneficial for clinicians to help their clients and patients with relationship issues. You can do the course at your own pace and also tune into an additional six hours of live contact with Tara via teleconference.

Just click here to take a look now.

Throughout this innovative program, Tara will share with you the wisdom that so many have benefited from. She will be your guide in empowering clients to ease away from self-criticism, transform negativity, and open their hearts to more compassion and love. Continuing education credits are available.

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Here’s the link again where you can find out more.

Lotus flowers in garden under sunlight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Translating the Experience of the Moment

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

winter_springWhether we know it or not, we are all amateur translators. Instead of translating a poem from one language to another we put into words what previously existed without words: we translate experience into language. Mostly, we are unaware of this process and mistake our verbal productions for a ironclad truth.

If we cling to the “truth” of our translations, then we are bound to feel stress, dissatisfaction, and even suffering, especially when we don’t account for the enormous gulf that separates experience and language.

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Translation is difficult and it is more an art than mechanical process. A good translator tries to inhabit the mind of the subject and represent the words in way that has an emotional as well as literal truth. Different translators make different choices. Take for example the following three translations of Rilke’s poem, The Swan.

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying—to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day –
is like his anxious letting himself fall

into the water, which receives him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draws back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

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Translation by Stephen Mitchell from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

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Translation by David Whyte from his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea

This toil and struggle—passing on, ponderous
and as if bound, through what remains undone,
is like the makeshift walking of the swan.

And dying—this letting go
of that ground we stand on every day,
is like his uneasy letting himself down–:

into the water, which receives him gently,
and which, as if happy in its passing,
withdraws, beneath him, wave on wave;
while he, quiet and infinitely assured,
with ever greater majesty and freedom
and serenity is pleased to glide.

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Translated by Edward Snow (1984) from New Poems

As you can see, each poem makes different choices about language. The differences are not merely synonyms in every case. Each poem expresses a different mood, a different sense of the swan as he walks down to the water and then moves within it. The each describe the same event, yet with a unique character. No one translation is more right and even if we were to read Rilke’s original german, we as readers are making our interpretations of the meanings conveyed in the poem.

I came across this quote by Proust recently:

Every reader as he reads is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the books says is the proof of the book’s truth.

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We are readers and translators of ourselves in every moment of existence. Here are some guidelines for making the most of these translations.

  1. Know that we are engaged in a translation task and make our best effort. We are aiming for the best approximation we can muster in this particular moment.
  2. Seek to improve our craft by getting to know our subject matter. In this case, the subject matter is our moment-to-moment lived experience that resides before and without language in our bodies, senses, and minds. To become experts, we practice. In other words, we improve our craft by cultivating an intimacy with our experience through mindfulness meditation.
  3. Be humble and recognize the limits of what we are doing. We are not producing truths but our best approximations of truth. Translations are always subject to revision. There is no final word, only the living process of breathing and translation.

We are well-served by this humility and commitment to the process. Mindfulness is integral to knowing ourselves well enough to make decent translations. We can also spend more time on the experience side of things and forego the compulsion to translate everything into words. Our goal, as Proust pointed out, is to read ourselves and to find an emotional truth in the moment.

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The Three C’s of Self-Forgiveness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

4.1.1Imagine a situation where you “lose it.” You get angry, your blood boils, you may yell at the person who has occasioned this anger or you may throw something or swear in vain. This feeling is no stranger to me. Sometimes, a situation catches us off guard and we react instead of meeting it with equanimity.

At other times, the situation simply outstrips our ability to cope with whatever is happening. The storyline is too compelling and we react. We may be tired, irritable, or haven’t been spending enough time in meditation lately and this makes us more likely to react.

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If you reading this blog, you are interested in mindfulness and interested, if not already committed, to living your life with less reactivity. This is a noble quest, one that most people don’t undertake.

Think back to the last time you got angry in a way that you regretted. How did you receive this behavior? Did you add rancor, recrimination, and revulsion? Chances are you did, since anger sometime gang tackles us. It’s one thing to do something unskillful by erupting in anger, it’s another thing on top of that to get angry at ourselves. The proverbial adding insult to injury.

Instead of beating yourself up, consider the three C’s of self-forgiveness: compassion, clemency, and credit.

Compassion: There is a reason why you reacted the way you did. The conditioning event or events may stretch all the way back into childhood and if you were omniscient you could figure out what all these conditionings were. Sufficient for now, it is important to know that these feelings don’t arise from weakness but from being wounded. They are a vestige of trauma one that has not been fully metabolized and is still active and vulnerable to trigger. If a friend or a child were afflicted like this, you wouldn’t chide them, you’d be compassionate. You can do the same thing for yoruself. It’s not letting yourself off the hook; it’s being realistic about your current capacities.

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Clemency: Once a modicum of compassion can be offered to yourself (or at least stop beating yourself up), you can move on to clemency. In the most general sense, we are human beings and thereby fallible. We are not perfect, even though we may insist that we should be. Clemency is a recognition of this imperfection. Even under the best of circumstances when we are giving our best effort towards any goal, we are going to fall short at times. Here, too, clemency is not letting yourself off the hook. Rather, it is putting yourself in a broader context, one that is more based in reason than the idealization of perfection.

Credit: We are all subject to a negativity bias. This tendency to emphasize the negative and ignore the positive, may have been adaptive in the evolution of the species, but it can have a detrimental effect on our well being. If you are committed to a path of change, there are, no doubt, many examples that you can find where you have been successful containing your anger. These may go unnoticed. You may not be giving yourself credit for all the small victories on the path to change but very willing to demolish  yourself for one meltdown. Reflect on all of your successes. Write them down and keep a log handy. You may have to go out of your way to emphasize the positive. This has its own benefits beyond granting self-forgiveness.

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The Three C’s of self-forgiveness work together to move us towards a softer treatment of our imperfections. It may not be enough to just emphasize compassion, because we may not feel worthy of that compassion. But when put in the context of our history, it may be easier to grant it. We are fallible both in general and specific ways. We each have our own collection of stories with countless conditionings, beliefs, and rules. It takes a long time and a lot of work to extricate ourselves from these and there will be “failures” along the way. When we can give ourselves credit for the successes, it is easier to see our progress along the path and also easier to generate compassion and clemency.

The next time you do something unskillful, see if you can limit the damage by not beating yourself up. Then, see if you can apply the Three C’s of Self-Forgiveness. By doing so, you can begin anew in the next moment with equanimity and even a modicum of love. You can, in the words of poet Sam Hamill in his poem “What the Water Knows”, realize, “There’s nothing I couldn’t forgive.”

 

 

 

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