Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

First Snow

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Snow_01.jpgHere in the Champlain Valley we got the first dusting of snow. The mountains are open for snowboarding and winter is announcing its arrival with stalwart force. It’s been slow to arrive and much of our “stick season” has seemed more like “mud season.” If the snow persists and is followed by more we’ll be out of stick season and into the long winter. But likely we’ll be back to just “sticks” soon. 

Just the other day, my dirt road was rutted with mud. Today those ruts are frozen. Such is the vicissitudes of the season. There is no rush to get to winter — its six-month long stretch giving us plenty of opportunity to practice “cold Buddha shivers.” The winter here can be harsh despite global warming. We still have a few days where the mercury reads 20 degrees below zero without considering the wind. And the wind blows. 
A couple of weeks ago I was reflecting on these seasons and how they have been affected by planetary warming. I wrote these lines about “Vermont November”

The leaves have fallen and
The long reach of winter has not yet arrived,
Stick Season.
Confused, as it is, thinks its mud season
The ground not yet frozen
Not even close mid-November
Still breathing warm air and sunshine
When it is not raining
And the rains have come
and could be snow
Except the world is warming
Polar bears float from Greenland to Iceland
Just as we are exiled from our truth.
Confused like the seasons.
Oozing mud instead of frost
Not sure if we are coming or going.
Trying to hold something still
that must move,


Here in Vermont we have constant reminders of impermanence. The weather, our teacher in this regard, is rarely the same from day to day, often from moment to moment throughout the day. This is much like our moods; volatile like Vermont weather. Again, impermanence in action. Since we know both the weather and our moods are going to change we can be interested in watching this process unfold. We have the opportunity to loosen our attachment and find whatever is happening interesting, even if it is at variance with what we expected or hoped for. 

Interest gives birth to freedom in any moment we give it an opportunity to do so. Enjoy your freedom now. 


The Morning After: Persisting with Gratitude

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS13029.JPGI can hear the sucking sound as the gratitude vortex that reached its apex yesterday is losing air. We are at risk for post-Thanksgiving gratitude slump. For many, gratitude has given way to sleep deprivation as they showed up for the 5 AM sales at local stores. The opportunity to save hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars — now that’s something to be grateful for.

My question is, can we persist with the feelings of gratitude? After all, we continue to breathe, continue to be alive, continue to have enough to eat (at least those of us privileged enough to have enough food to eat). We are at risk for going back to sleep after having woken up for a moment yesterday.
Why not stay awake? Why not enjoy the wonder that is being alive in every moment, not just the exceptional ones. I often like to say that we are human beings who take form through an impetus to joy, interest, and concern. It occurred to me this morning that this is also a description of gratitude. When we are no longer pursuing the stories of worry and regret, no longer focusing on what we need and don’t have, then our natural state is revealed.
This state is one of joy, interest, and concern for others. Joy is gratitude — a simple pleasure in being alive and experiencing our senses. Interest is gratitude as we move towards things, including our breathing, with child-like fascination. Concern for others is gratitude as we recognize our interconnectedness and find joy in transcending our petty self-concerns for the benefit of others. 
Gratitude may just well be our innate biological will to live. Joy, interest, and concern are integral to our survival and well-being. It’s how we make our way in the world. 
So why not celebrate our nature? We can do so in every moment when we touch it with awareness. Why not do this right now?
Let’s make a commitment to making every day an occasion for gratitude, thanks, and appreciation. 


Thanksgiving 2010

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS13010.JPGHappy Thanksgiving!

Today in the United States we feast with an eye towards gratitude for the abundance we have. It’s our biggest holiday with two days off and many of us are traveling and visiting with family. 
Of course, if we are awake, we are thankful everyday, every moment. Gratitude is a way of being not just reserved for a handful of days each year.
On this day of Thanksgiving, I would like to thank my readers for their steadfast devotion to this blog and to welcome new readers. 
I started writing Mindfulness Matters in July and the months and over 100 posts later we continue to explore mindfulness from a variety of different perspectives.
My aim is to inspire you to be mindful and to invite you bring mindfulness into your life in the form of mindfulness meditation. To facilitate this, I have been posting my studio recorded guided mindfulness meditation CDs as mp3s on my website, Exquisite Mind. These are available free for listening and download. The first 3 of 8 CDs are on the site with more coming soon. 
I also offer my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness. It’s a collection of short teaching stories revolving around a metaphor, story, or image that make mindfulness memorable and more accessible. Finding the right metaphor can help to bring mindfulness into your life. This little books holds a lot of wisdom and makes a great Holiday gift. 
A deep bow of thanks for the thousands of people worldwide who have purchased my book over the last year and half since it came out. Another deep bow of thanks to my publisher, Wisdom, and my editor, Josh Bartok, and Joe Evans for all his efforts promoting the book. I’m still bowing to my my dharma guides Larry Rosenberg, S. N. Goenka, Taihaku, Shinzen Young, Tara Brach, Mu Soeng, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and many others.
I am also grateful for our community of meditators–the sangha–at the Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio in Burlington, Vermont. We have a wonderful community with weekly sitting and monthly mini-retreats. Everyone is welcome if you ever find yourself in this part of the world. Read more about it here
And one more deep bow to you, my readers. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
With blessings and gratitude,


Wisdom Wednesday :: Montaigne on Reason

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

buddha_studio_1.jpgMontaigne said he preferred the “company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.” This bit of wisdom applies to the path of Buddhist meditation too. The smarter we are the more we may place obstacles in our spiritual path. 

The mind wants to grasp the pratice intellectually, to understand it, and control it. Buddhism appeals to many because of its rich intellectual tradition and its cognitive psychology. However, once we are on the cushion, intellect is something to overcome. It can be a useful tool for framing understanding, but it is not how we practice.

Mindfulness is a practice of awareness and this engages different parts of the brain than discursive reasoning. If we intellectualize awareness we have put something in the way of awareness. 

At the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts (a place with a lot of intellect), Larry Rosenberg cautioned, “Even a bubblehead could do this practice.” He was admonishing us not to think too much about the practice. The practice is the doing of being, not the thinking of being. William James, also speaking from Cambridge but 100 years ago, said that our intellectual life is comprised almost wholly by substituting a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. He got it right.

Intellect can be a hard thing to let go of. It can be subtle, disguising itself in spiritual concepts –even ones explicit to mindfulness. So much of our identity is bound up in how we think; and we are loathe to give up our precious attachment to this aspect of identity. The more we practice, the more sneaky these attachments can become. Everyone on the path is at risk for identifying with being a meditator. This is not the point. Meditation is the vehicle and also the natural expression of our being.

Beware of being a “good” meditator or having a “successful” meditation. What do these adjectives really mean? If we can be a good meditator, we can be a bad meditator. I guess a bad meditator is one who has a lot of “unsuccessful” meditation sessions. Again, what does this really mean? Meditation is meditation. Our job is to pay attention to what is happening now without an agenda. Whatever happens is the landscape of now and our job is to be with it — not judge it and evaluate it. 

Some meditation sessions will feel great — relaxing, subtle pulsations of joy, bliss. Others will be dense, dull, and distracted. Our minds tend to think the former is “better” than the latter. Not so, I would contend. Sitting is sitting. There is no way to do it wrong. The only way we can get to wrong is from the vantage point of agendas — expectations on outcome. Mindfulness is the process of being. 

Enjoy that process!

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