Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Enlightenment Meets Enlightenment: Finding the Buddha in the Secular West

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

no_dogmas_allowedI recently gave a talk at the University of Vermont College of Medicine called “Beyond Stress Reduction: Mindfulness as a Radical Technology. In this talk, I spoke about the indictment that the healthcare and corporate-related applications of mindfulness are tantamount to “McMindfulness.”

If you read my post on this issue, you know that I think the criticisms of secularized mindfulness go to far. In my talk, I made the point that secular dharma is a uniquely Western dharma.

Secular Buddhism, which seeks enlightenment, accords with the Enlightenment era values of rationality, empiricism, and skepticism.

The Buddha was not the founder of a religion. He did not start Buddhism. In fact, there are many Buddhisms or Buddhist religions.

He was a teacher and saw himself more as a physician, healing humanity. He had followers and eventually these followers proliferated and traveled. When they did, they created a new religion.

When Bodhidharma brought the Buddha’s teachings to China they merged with indigenous cultural and religious elements to become Chan. When the teachings moved north to Tibet, another morphing of culture and religion took place.

When Dogen brought Chan to Japan, it became Zen. Same deal.

Now in the West, you can find Japanese replica temples with all the rites and rituals that you would find in Japan. You can go to Tibetan Buddhist centers where you are exposed to all the Tibetan colorful forms that have been imported to Western soil.

This wholesale importation of Buddhism strikes me as unprecedented. I am not aware that it has happened anywhere else. Each host country has put its imprint on the teachings.

The secular mindfulness and buddhism movement is our uniquely western spin on the Buddha’s teachings. This does not water the teachings down or corrupt them any more than what has happened in Tibet, China, and Japan (and many other countries).

The creed of Western Dharma is sympathetic with the late artist Stephen Huneck’s plea: “NO DOGMAS ALLOWED.” Simple as that.

The Buddha’s teaching can be studied without dogma, rigidity, or prescieintific superstition. They can be experienced this way as well, particularly on a vipassana style meditation retreat.

As it turns out, I am about to embark on one of these retreats in a short while. I will be at IMS or the Insight Meditation Society, the premiere secular Buddhist practice center on the East Coast.

I will be doing sitting and walking meditation from 5 AM to 10 PM for the next seven days in silence. No talking, reading, or writing. This is Noble Silence.

Consequently, I won’t be posting until I get back. This will be a week to test the Buddha’s teachings in direct fashion. I will see how the three fires operate. I will fill greed, aversion, and confusion beset my mind and then the breath will come into to liberate me from these stories.

This cycle will happen over and over again, countless times during these many hours of practice. I don’t have to take any articles on faith; I just have to sit with my experience and work with my mind. Hopefully, I’ll be able to move my mind in skillful ways and enjoy the gift of silence and inquiry that the retreat provides.

It is hard to set aside the constant doings and connections of everyday life, yet retreat is a powerful way to deepen our practice and to become better people in the process: more present, compassionate, and contended.

See you after the 13th!

The Everything Guide to the Introvert Edge: Available Now!

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Introvert EdgeGreetings faithful readers. I wanted to let you know that my latest book is now available!

I gave a reading out our local independent book store the other night. We had a great turnout and people asked great questions about the challenges and joys of being an introvert. I shared my story of how I realized recently that I had become a disempowered introvert and that researching and writing this book had empowered me to embrace my introversion–my Introvert Edge

I’ll be excited to be teaching a program for introverts and mindfulness at Kripalu in August. Stay tuned for details.

I was also on The Mark Johnson show, a radio interview call in program on WDEV. I was pleased to see how many people called in with questions and how many downloaded the podcast. You can listen to the podcast here:

Here is the Top Ten List from the beginning of the book, which gives a preview of what the book covers:

1. There is nothing wrong with you! Introversion is normal and valuable—it is a connection to your interior that gives you an edge!

2. Introverts revolt! There is an introvert revolution underway and introverts are reclaiming their rightful place in society.

3. Don’t believe the messages extroverted society has told you. You don’t need to apologize for who you are and how you want to be.

4. Living in the extrovert culture, you will have to take care of yourself in special ways.

5. There are more introverts in the world than you realize. Half the population may be introverts.

6. Many famous, influential, and creative people throughout history have been introverts.

7. Being an extrovert is not ideal; it ignores the power of solitude, quiet, and contemplation.

8. Contemplative practices are the key to nurturing your introvert.

9. Introverts are subject to bias, discrimination, prejudice, and stigma especially in school and the workplace.

10. The Introvert Edge is available to extroverts, too, when they are able to tap into their interior depths.

Introvert Edge is currently ranking 7th on Amazon’s introvert book list. Let’s make it number one.

By your copy today and start enjoying the benefits of being an introvert and learning how to cope with the demands of the extrovert world.

Support your local bookstore: purchase on IndieBound

Buy on Powell’s

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Barnes and Noble

The Anatomy of Letting Go

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS16066On Friday, I was challenged with a disappointment. I wanted something and it did not happen. The strong emotions that accompanied this “loss” illustrate the factors that give rise to attachment and the ways in which we can let go.

I had a plan. That’s good; we need plans. Something came up. This is the case with life. My plans had to be altered. First a little, then a lot. The little bits were easy to accommodate. I would arrive late at my destination but I would not miss the reason for traveling to this destination in the first place.

As the annoying but necessary distraction persisted for two, three, four, and finally five hours, the goal itself was being threatened. I would have to rush my preparation for departure (which was also thwarted by the unexpected distraction) and then make great time on a four-hour drive. Trouble was the afternoon was wearing on and I would now have to drive through evening rush-hour traffic. Rush-hour is something of a joke in VT but, still, it would slow things down.

What did I feel? An increase in pressure, distractibility, and irritability. I had moved from a pleasant anticipation for my trip to a dreadful internal narrative suffused with suffering. There is a direct correlation between the degree to which we are attached to an outcome and the intensity of suffering that we feel.

I finally sat down and realized that “all was lost”; the goal would not be reached. Once I realized this, calm set in. I was able to accept because that was the reality of the moment.

It all seemed very important in the moment. My emotional brain–the limbic system–was convinced of this. It urged me forward, pressing against circumstance to reach my goal. Once the goal was unattainable, something shifted.

My emotional brain then wanted to go to grief, to mourn this “loss.” Yes, something was lost but the important question was whether this was important. In a narrowly focused perspective, it might be seen as critical. Yet, when the lens of zoomed out to a broader perspective, it is put in its proper place.

All emotions like all volatile compounds have a half-life. Experience has shown me, and wisdom confirms, that the event experience today will bother me less tomorrow. By the day after tomorrow (which is today), it may not bother me at all (and it doesn’t).

New and wonderful experiences have come to fill its place. I have moved back into a qualitative appreciation for life and wrested myself away from the greedy, quantitative place I was on Friday.

What was so important? I was on my way to Kripalu to spend the weekend with the poet David Whyte (me and 200 other people). I will post about this experience later. I missed the Friday evening opening session. That was the big deal that caused all the drama. By Saturday afternoon, I had forgotten all about it. The wonderment of the moment had erased all sense of regret. I had arrived into now.

Here is a summary of the process for letting go. Lessons learned from resisting reality.

  1. There is something that we want. Wanting itself is not the problem

  2. There is something that we want and we have an investment in that wanting. This is where problems start to arise. That fixation can lead to problems if circumstances do not comply. It is also the case that we sometimes get what we want and find that this is a disappointment too. The fixation goes both ways.

  3. Strong emotions arise and can carry us away in a story of loss. We lose perspective. The event takes on a greater importance than it warrants.

  4. The clash between reality on the one side and wanting on the other gives rise to those emotions and also to an opportunity for mindfulness.

  5. Mindfulness re-orients us to the present and shifts perspective to a broader frame. While the loss may be real; it’s importance is over exaggerated. Mindfulness helps us to revise and revalue.

  6. Wisdom tells us that this too shall pass, and indeed emotions always do. We may have to change our trajectory from what we first wanted, yet with mindfulness we can do this with acceptance, grace, and confidence.

NaNoWriMo

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

NaNoWriMoLate this October, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as it is known.

The goal is to write 50,000 words on a novel and the website provides encouragement, structure, and community to its 297, 479 participants.

Here is what they say about it:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.Here’s a little more about how it all works.

National Novel Writing Month is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes your story matters. You know how writing makes the world a more creative, vibrant place. Through NaNoWriMo—as well as our Young Writers Program, the Come Write In program, and Camp NaNoWriMo—we work hard to empower and encourage that vibrant creativity around the world. We can’t do it without writers like you.

I am about halfway through my word count. I’ve had a novel knocking around in my brain for a few years now but I’ve never really written any fiction, with the exception of an entry I wrote for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction a couple years ago.

I’m under no illusions about writing the next great American Novel, not even the next mediocre American Novel. For me, this is a process of exploration, exercising creative muscles that have hardly been used, and embracing a fun challenge.

Someday, perhaps, this project will become something I will seek to publish. In the meantime, I will keep hacking away.

It’s not too late to get started!

Previous Posts

Mindfulness for Introverts
Mindfulness is a natural fit for introverts. The act of meditation itself is an introverted activity and at the same time equips introverts to navigate their interior without getting stuck in rumination. I recently wrote an essay for the Kripalu Thrive blog entitled Mindfulness for Introverts.

posted 3:26:51pm Jul. 08, 2014 | read full post »

The transformative power of mindfulness . . .
As I mentioned last week, there is a special learning opportunity upcoming with Jack Kornfield. I hope you got a chance to look at his videos. Registration is now open to take advantage of studying mindfulness with one of the most beloved American teachers. When it comes to creating real, lasting

posted 11:28:48am Jun. 17, 2014 | read full post »

7 Contemplations for Realizing the Spiritual Introvert Edge (for introverts AND extroverts)
Spirituality Defined “Spiritual but not religious” is a popular designation. What does it mean to be spiritual? There may be as many definitions of spirituality as spiritual people. Everyone puts their unique imprint on what it is to be a spiritual person. These definitions range from religious

posted 1:58:09pm Jun. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Selling Water by the River: The Deceptive Simplicity of Learning Mindfulness
The proliferation of all things mindfulness is mind boggling (does that make one more or less mindful, I wonder?). Research, teachers, books, blogs, and applications continue to grow. It may be safe to say, mindfulness has become a fad. There could certainly be worse things to generate a bandwagon e

posted 1:25:17pm Jun. 10, 2014 | read full post »

The Science of Mindfulness
A recent analysis of mindfulness research studies (known as a meta-analysis) was published by the Association for Health and Research Quality (AHRQ). This government agency does major reviews of various therapies. The good news is that mindfulness has come of age to attract such a review. The ba

posted 11:42:45am Jun. 01, 2014 | read full post »


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