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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Louis CK Teaches Buddhadharma

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

I was recently turned on to Louis CK’s epistle on cell phones during an appearance with Conan O’Brian.

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Louis CK is very funny and he captures the sense of infomania that afflicts so many of us. We turn to our devices to avert the raw feelings of life.

His insights are very consistent with the Buddha’s teachings on aversion, one of the three fires.

I’m getting sad; I’ve got to get the phone and write “hi” to fifty people … I started reaching for the phone and then I said, “don’t, just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck and I let it come and I started to feel OMG and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch, and I cried so much and it was beautiful, it was this beautiful, sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments and then I had happy feelings because when you let yourself feel sad your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes, rushing in to meet the sadness.

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There are two important insights touched on here. One is that we have lost our solitude through the ubiquity of the phone. We have lost that introspective, reflective, and thoughtful space that comes with an ability to just sit with our experience without distracting them away. The second is that we are allergic to the uncomfortable, painful, and darker aspects of our lives. We “medicate” feelings away by distracting ourselves with superficial contact and information on the phone.

This gives us a false sense of protection, as if death couldn’t find us if we are texting with someone (and as he points out the irony, death may be closer if you are texting while driving). His advice resonates with the timeless advice of the 17th century philosopher Pascal, who said, “All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their chamber.”

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If this sentiment was true 400 years ago, it is true with a vengeance today. The opportunities for distraction today are unprecedented. Can we put them aside and just be for a moment?

This self-medicating is motivated by aversion. We are pushing away something that we don’t want. Mindfulness can help us to hold a space for all the feelings of our life and experience them fully. This is what Louis CK stumbled upon in his car.

We are ill-equipped for just sitting in an introverted way–being quiet without distractions. My book, The Awakened Introvert is full of tools, contemplations, and exercises that can help you to build on this capacity to just be with yourself.

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Love the Inside of Your Own Head and Be Free

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

81lp54gAdKL._SL1500_I recently read Abigail Thomas’s new book, What Comes Next and How to Like It. It’s a poetic reflection on a lifelong friendship and life itself. You can read it, as I did, on the span of an airplane ride.

After the death of her husband, Thomas has chosen to live a life without romantic companionship–a relative life of solitude. Her consideration of this decision can give introverts a real sense of permission for the choice to be alone.

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We often idealize what it’s like to have someone else in our space overlooking the mundane realities of what it’s actually like. The value of having someone doesn’t get questioned because the entire culture seems to be built on being coupled.

She does, of course, have her dogs and that contributes a lot. It’s not a life of isolation. I know this from my own experience. The long solitary hours and days of writing are accompanied by the dogs. Thomas reflects:

Sometimes I wonder if I might be missing something with only dogs for companionship, but then I think about mornings. First there would be the discovery that there is no milk for someone who takes it in his coffee. Then the likelihood of conversation. I want to listen to the mourning doves. I like to sit on the sofa with the dogs, stroking Carolina’s silky chest, and Rosie’s satin flank. Harry Sits on my feet, standing guard. Suppose another person were here? What if he had opinions. What if he used “deconstruction” with a straight face?

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Like Pascal, she knows the value of being able sit in her room quiet and alone. The key to being able to “simply enjoying being alive in this room” is to be at peace with what is going on between your ears. She goes on to say:

Lot’s of people in my somewhat leaky boat are on the lookout for a human companion. Not me. I have learned to love the inside of my own head. There isn’t much I’d rather say than think.

“I have learned to love the inside of my own head” could be the start to an introvert manifesto. Of course, the best way to come to love your inner headspace is to practice mindfulness and is the major theme of my book, The Awakened Introvert: Practical Mindfulness Skills for Maximizing Your Strengths and Thriving in a Loud and Crazy World.

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Mindfulness Matures

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Illustration by Javier Jaén

Illustration by Javier Jaén

A recent article in the Sunday Times is critical of the mindfulness movement. I read through some of the comments to the article and they thought the piece was cynical or misinformed.

I think the presence of a critical, high profile, article such as this highlights that mindfulness is maturing as a concept and a movement. It can and should take the observations and respond to them where necessary and reject them where they don’t fit.

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Virginia Heffernen in the piece entitled, The Muddled Meaning of Mindfulness, starts with a consideration of the term mindfulness. It is based on the Pali word sati and like many Pali words does not have a one-to-one correspondence in English. Mindfulness was chosen as that term in the 19th century and that carries with it a set of implications. The more accurate translation is “to remember” as in remembering to pay attention to what is happening now.

Maybe the word “mindfulness” is like the Prius emblem, a badge of enlightened and self-satisfied consumerism, and of success and achievement. If so, not deploying mindfulness — taking pills or naps for anxiety, say, or going out to church or cocktails — makes you look sort of backward or classless. Like driving a Hummer.

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This quote reminds me of the South Park episode “Smug Alert!” (Season 10, Episode 2) where Prius drivers become smug and self-righteous to the point of idiocy.

It seems that everyone these days is interested in mindfulness and its applications continue to burgeon. It’s a hot commodity and one with substance behind it, no doubt. But sometimes, that substance gets overstated. Overzealousness is a function of a bandwagon effect.

This bandwagon effect has led me to change the copy in my bio and marketing materials. I start by saying, “long before mindfulness became popular …” And this is the case. I sat my first vipassana retreat in 1989 when mindfulness was far from being a household word. Does that make me more mindful than the newcomers? No, not at all. Why do I want people to know I’m not part of this fad? Not sure. I guess I have some identification with being an “early adopter” and want credit for that, silly as that may be. I also know the promises and pitfalls from my own practice that spans over twenty-five years.

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Most people who come to mindfulness are not interested in the big pay-off: awakening. To awaken is not some pleasant trifle; it is radical restructuring of perception, experience, and self-identity. Most folks just want to be less stressed, better able to cope, and be more productive at work. That is fine.

There is a good chance that mindfulness practice will make you a better person regardless of your motivation to practice. Of course, there are always people who misappropriate any practice but even “superficial” mindfulness practice will have benefit.

The more mindfulness gets discussed, the better. A real conversation does not idealize or shy away from controversy. The mindfulness movement can withstand the criticism and will hopefully grow from it.

My recent book, The Awakened Introvert, contains an entire chapter devoted to the practice of mindfulness and another chapter devoted to the Buddha’s teachings on awakening. You can get the basics and go deeper if you like.

 

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The Road To Character Walked By Jordan Spieth

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

9780812993257I am reading with strong interest David Brooks’s new book, The Road to Character.

In this book, he argues that this generation has lost its connection to character. We are in an age of self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and self-importance.

Masters Champion Jordan Spieth is an exception to this. He merges resume values with eulogy values.

He is arguably, the most popular person on the planet just now. After his convincing and record-breaking victory at the Masters he conducted 24 interviews in 27 hours, including Letterman. The Empire State Building was lit green in his honor.

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I’ve read about and watched these interviews. He does not have to say and has not said, “Wow, I’m great. Look at me.” He seeks the objective standards of the World Golf Ranking. He wants to be number one but I doubt he will proclaim, “I’m number one!” The ranking will speak for itself.

His humility is part of his appeal. I think we are weary of self-congratulatory heroes.

His youth and innocence is another part of the appeal.

He is driven but he’s going to have to update his goals. His childhood dream of becoming Masters Champion has been realized at age 21 after only his second try. A few more victories on tour coudl find him supplanting Rory McIlroy as world number one (come on Rory, get going!).

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He is committed to not changing as a result of all this notoriety. He’s got a winning formula. Talent. Commitment. Service. Fun. Tenacity.

While David Brooks does not mention introverts or extroverts in his book, he is talking about the difference between extroverted and introverted ways of being. The road to character is more introverted.

This accords with what the Buddha said 2500 years ago. We must look within. This is not to say that introverts are more virtuous than extroverts. We are not. It is to say, though, that without the capacity to slow down, get quiet, and go within we become a self-promoting, loud, surface.

Brooks says, “We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life.” Of course, mindfulness is a skill set that can bring us to the inner life and it is the theme of my recently released book, The Awakened Introvert: Practical Mindfulness Skills for Maximizing Your Strengths and Thriving in a Loud and Crazy World. The book is written to introverts, but it really applies to any of us who are seeking to go within beyond the surface and the noise and the cult of “me”.

 

 

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