Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness and Climate Action

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Boddhisattvas-flickr-Anna-TOne Earth Sangha presents Mindfulness and Climate Action, a series of online conversations. These are free and start today and will continue through October into November.

I am especially excited that Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield will be presenting today. I hope you can catch it.

You can register here >>

This series is especially timely as I am now teaching a mindfulness course for the new Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program (SEMBA) at the University of Vermont. We are just about to look at what mindfulness as to offer the issue of climate change, empathy towards the planet, and other related topics.

A Chilling View Inside the Quiet Room: Electric Shocks Preferred to Sitting Still

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

NA003978A study recently published in Science provides a window into the restless soul of Americans and a compelling case of why we need mindfulness.

University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues conducted a series of experiments where subjects spent time alone in an unadorned room. We are not talking about a lot of time here: 6-15 minutes. Participants preferred to listen to music or interact with their smart phones rather than sit alone with their thoughts. Some even preferred to self-administer noxious electric shocks rather than just sit with themselves in silence.

In one part of the study, they were stripped of their smart phones, books, and writing implements. They were instructed to “entertain” themselves thinking but were not encouraged to meditate. They just had to stay in their seat and not fall asleep. Sounds easy, right?

The study confirms what anyone who has ever attempted to meditate knows–the mind wanders. 89% of the participants had mind wandering even though nothing was competing for their attention. More than half the participants reported that it was hard to concentrate and about half did not find the experience enjoyable.

One test of the study had the students try the experiment at home but nearly a third cheated by engaging with external stimulation. These home particiaptns enjoyed the experience even less, so the lab was not to blame for the lack of enjoyment.

Another experiment compared sitting quietly with engaging with listening to music, reading, or doing non-social activities on a phone. The externally focused people enjoyed it more, found it easier to concentrate, and their minds wandered less.

These findings were not limited to college students and were replicated in a community sample ranging up to age 77.

These findings seem to prove the point of  seventeenth century philosopher Pascal who said,“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

It seems apparent that sitting alone with one’s thoughts is unpleasant because people do not know what to do with their minds. They don’t know how to operate the equipment.

Twelve of 18 men in the study gave themselves at least one electric shock during the study’s 15-minute “thinking” period. By comparison, six of 24 females shocked themselves. All of these participants had received a sample of the shock and reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again.

“What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.”

Wilson and his team note that men tend to seek “sensations” more than women, which may explain why 67 percent of men self-administered shocks to the 25 percent of women who did.

We don’t know how to operate our most sophisticated piece of equipment. 86 billion neurons that cannot direct themselves to the simple fact of being alive for fifteen minutes or less.

Mindfulness is the cure for this stark restlessness. Whenever you are stuck in a situation that does not provide any gagdetized external stimulation, you have the experience of being alive to attend to. Of course there is always external stimulation. Just look with your eyes, listen with your ears, and feel with your body.

The authors conclude:

Research has shown that minds are difficult to control, however, and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.

Tutor your mind by practicing meditation!

Drive by Shooting: Mindfulness on NPR

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
istockphoto

istockphoto

It’s not surprising when a feature on mindfulness appears in a major media outlet. Mindfulness is popular. This time it is a sub-four minute interview on NPR. Tamara Keith spoke with Sharon Salzberg, one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society and recent author of Real Happiness at Work (a book I read, enjoyed and found useful). You can listen to the interview here.

While I applaud the exposure, I felt that the interview commodified mindfulness. Mindfulness is for stress relief. They felt a need to add beach sounds to the beginning of some meditation instructions. Really? Can’t we just sit with a little silence? Do we have to resort to cliche? Even the image used to adorn the story, reproduced here, perpetuates myths about mindfulness. Why can’t this gentlemen be working and mindful?

In her unassuming way, Salzberg said some profound things, bit of wisdom that could change your life in radical fashion. She describes mindfulness as getting beyond our biases for experience. That is, jettisoning rules, pre-conceived ideas, and so forth. This is nothing short of freedom. The usual way of perceiving, by implication, is bondage.

We are very attached to our rules. We each carry around a rule book, filled with implicit and explicit rules. It’s a code of conduct for ourselves and others. It contains a litany of hopes, and is dedicated to comfort, convenience, and consistency. Freedom lives beyond these rules.

The Xinxinming is an ancient Chinese poem written by Sengcan. The first few lines in this translation from Richard B. Clarke (presented in Mu Soeng’s, Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen) boldly asserts:

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

Sharon Salzberg alludes to the same sentiment. When you stop pushing and pulling against your experience, you can open to what is with clarity and peace. Heaven and earth are together. Persist in holding to opinions and buttressing your sense of self worth with these opinions than you are afflicted with what Sengcan calls “the disease of the mind.”

We don’t become tasteless, colorless, and inert when we give up these preferences. Instead, we become unencumbered. With all the space created by ending the ceaseless parade of likes and dislikes we can breathe, rest, and get perspective on life.

 

No More Fooling Around: Changing the World Through Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

AA030865Today I will start a series of posts about how we can change the world through mindfulness and the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings. This transformation starts with individuals and progresses through groups, corporations, and then societies. Ultimately, a global movement is possible and will be accomplished through sustainable business practices and leaders who embody mindfulness.

Without transformation at an individual level nothing much can happen. When the three fires prevail people will continue to perpetuate violence. I don’t just mean aggression. I mean speaking with integrity as in Nonviolent Communication and being cognizant of how actions affect others and the world around us. We perpetrate all manner of violence and these violences can be traced to the Three Fires.

So, we’ll start with these fires. They are greed, hatred, and confusion. You may also see these referred to as the three poisons but the Buddha used the metaphor of fire. These fires burn and consume our lives and without the mental training that has mindfulness at its core, they are likely to continue burning. It is possible that the fire can go out.

Greed aka desire, blinding passion, and lust operates on gross and subtle levels. The obvious level is the obsessive dedication to the acquisition of material wealth. Having more and more things and the underlying but mistaken belief that such acquisitions will lead to happiness.

Greed also operates at a less obvious level. We want things in micro fashion too. We want to feel a certain way, to think a certain way, to be seen a certain way. In fact, every moment of existence is colored by some type of desire most of it out of awareness. Yet, despite being out of conscious reach, these desires shape our behavior. The more unaware of these desire-based commitments the more attached to them we are. The more attached we are, the more anguish we will feel and inflict through unskillful behavior.

Meditation practice can bring this hidden world of grasping into focus. We can see how the mind reaches out for things in every moment, whether these are material things or experiential things. We want confirmation, validation, and reassurance. These desires are ceaseless, endless, and bottomless. They can never be fully satisfied.

Hatred aka aversion is our tendency to push things away. It is overt hatred and hostility and it is the more subtle not wanting of experience. We don’t want to be uncomfortable, uncertain, or inconvenienced. We seek power over things rather than cooperation with them, including other people. We separate ourselves from others through linguistic distinctions all in the form of “us” versus “them.”  These comparisons are countless and each one accentuates a sense of separation that would cease to exist if examined closely enough.

That examination occurs during meditation. We discover that it is the mind that constructs and supports these labels, distinctions, and categories. They originate in the mind and are perpetuated by culture and we take them for granted.

The combination of greed and hatred results in a ceaseless pushing against and pulling towards every moment of existence. This pushing and pulling requires time and energy that could be spent making the world a better place but is wasted in the futile attempt to seek a secure foothold in an impermanent world.

Confusion aka ignorance and delusion is a misapprehension of the three marks of existence. We are confused about the how the mind works, how physics work (impermanence), and what the self is. These will be covered in their own entry next time.

These three fires drive behavior in the world that leads to harm. Simple as that. The comedian Jim Carey hitting a serious note in a graduation address said, “The effect we have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” Mindfulness can facilitate these effects to be beneficial, promoting the greater good.

Previous Posts

Finding the Fall Line: The Technique of Practice
As 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 tryi

posted 10:13:53am Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Prime Time, All the Time
An 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 han

posted 9:31:08am Dec. 08, 2014 | read full post »

Giving Thanks 2014: Still a Lot to be Grateful For
There 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

posted 8:56:43am Nov. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Buddhist Icon--Thich Nhat Hanh Recovering in Hospital
Beloved 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. Af

posted 6:27:39am Nov. 18, 2014 | read full post »

Mindfulness with a Capital "M"
A recent Telegraph column asked if mindfulness lives up to its hype. The author, Polly Vernon, predicts that "mindfulness" will be the OED's (Oxford English Dictionary) word of the year. That would not surprise me. She goes on to give a favorable if at first skeptical review of the practice. Having

posted 12:19:27pm Nov. 04, 2014 | read full post »


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