Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Art as Practice

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

9 Moments.jpg

I’ve recently resumed painting after about a 25 year hiatus. This is my latest piece, “9 Moments” that depicts nine moments of meditation, with each circle representing the arising of talking thoughts, images, and feelings in the mind. This piece is currently part of the Helen Day Arts Center Member Show and Sale in Stowe, Vermont. It is up through 2 January 2011. I was inspired to resume painting by Odin Cathcart. Odin (aka Erik), a longtime friend. 
I am fortunate to own many of his pieces spanning the last ten years of his art career. Pictured below, hanging in the Exquisite Mind Studio is “Insouciance,” It is a magnficient piece, part low relief sculpture, part painting. It is six feet by six feet and is made from bark recovered from dead trees in the Hudson Valley where Odin did his MFA studies at SUNY New Paltz. 


This work reflects the interface of humanity with the natural world and points to the degradation of nature that is pervasive in the world today. His recent work is an exploration of this theme and a conversation that holds the promise of awakening to a deeper truth in nature. 
This piece is featured on the big wall in the new Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio in downtown Burlington. It is one of the most original pieces of art that you will likely see in your lifetime and should be hanging in the MoMA instead of the Exquisite Mind, but for now, I have the great fortune of having it hang in my Studio! 
Odin’s styles have changed over the years from abstract expressionist action painting to


these nature conversations. One painting on loan to the Exquisite Mind, is Hiroshima, a four foot by six foot testament to humanity’s destructive and redemptive powers. This piece was featured in the New York Times. Hiroshima is comprised of Gingko leaves. 
Art invites us to see what is before us and shows us how we often cannot “see” because we are too preoccupied with generating opinions and being plain distracted from what is before us. 
We can use a work of art as the object for meditation, endeavoring to give it our full attention and to return attention to it whenever it moves into opinions, stories, and errata. Of course, creating art can be a meditation too. Look at some art in your home or go to a gallery or a museum and try to “see” with your entire being. The artist will appreciate the attention and the world will open in a colorful, beautiful, and profound way. 
To meditate on Odin’s work, visit his website Imagine Zero.


Freeform Friday :: Sleepless Nights

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS15100.JPGI’ve written about sleep for my stress reduction column and I’m no stranger to difficulty sleeping. Mindfulness offers us a way to work with sleeplessness. As we lie in bed trying to fall asleep or back asleep we can do a body scan practice. Instead of tossing and turning pay attention to the sensations that are present in the body. Move to wherever the energy is strongest or move systematically from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Either one of two things will happen: 1) you will fall asleep, or 2) you will spend time meditating and enjoy the benefit of that. While not sleep, time spent in meditation can be exchanged for minutes of sleep, providing restfulness and clarity. Give it a try the next time you are having difficulty. If you are unfamiliar with the Body Scan meditation, you can listen to it and download it for free from the Exquisite Mind website


Waves, inexorable, crashing surf.
The many threads of a tapestry, unraveled
unwoven, all command attention at once
in the roar of a crashing wave, and
sometimes one by one
petitioning anxiety, 
necks crane into the future

Turning away into the seething foam
Feeling the weight of the tidal pull,
tucking the threads back into the body
until sleep comes.
Allowing gravity to do what it does,
bringing us closer to ground, 
to earth, to home.


And this night, 
the restless sea cannot wait until the light of day,
marching in the darkness
pushing from dreams of airplanes and cars
to wakefulness: 
5:46 A.M.

The imagined pleasure of coffee
in the cool darkness
is enough to get the body out of its
restless turnings and into this day of 
doing, trying to weave these threads into 
something coherent, even artful, or 
accidentally beautiful.


The Dharma According to Me(taphor)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak


The Buddha taught the dharma through metaphor. It’s right there in the first Noble Truth and, indeed, The Four Noble Truths themselves are presented in the form of a medical metaphor with the Buddha as physician.
With the First Noble Truth the Buddha diagnosed the malady of the human condition. He didn’t choose a word to describe it but an image — that of a “bad wheel.” A bad wheel on an oxcart results in a bumpy, off-kilter ride. This is what dukkha means. We translate dukkha as suffering, typically, but this doesn’t capture the pervasive and sometimes subtle sense of things being off. Anguish or pervasive dissatisfaction are, perhaps, better translations but still don’t capture the same sense as the metaphor. 
In the Second Noble Truth, the Buddha provided the explanation for the malady (the etiology of the present condition). We grasp at things, cling to them when we have them, fear that we will lose them, push the things we don’t want away, we make our sense of self-worth contingent on the things we have and the way things go, and we don’t appreciate the changing nature of reality. All of this gives rise to dukkha
The Third Noble Truth is the prognosis for humanity, and it’s a good one — full recovery from the sickness is possible. There is a way to stop dukkha and this is known as nirvana (nibbana in Pali). How to go about doing it is found in the Fourth Noble Truth and it is the Noble Eight-Fold Path. This, of course, is the treatment and it’s efficacy is potent. 
In my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, I present metaphor in five different sections: mind, self, ordinary craziness, acceptance, and practice. It’s easy to see how understanding the mind requires reference to other things like machines, the sky, and bodies of water. Self, too, is an abstract concept that requires metaphors to understand it. But it wasn’t until I was teaching from the book later that I realized that not only do we need metaphors to understand the self, the self IS a metaphor!
We are metaphors. The Buddha said this. And it is a lesson that is just as pressing today as it was over 2500 years ago. If we understand by metaphor understanding one thing in terms of another how does this apply to understanding “self.” We project a sense of me into the future by referencing memories. We understand one thing — what is happening now — in terms of another — what has happened in the past (and by extension what we anticipate will happen in the future). We imagine our selves in this way and by doing so we may miss what is really happening. Perhaps this lesson is needed more so now since we have photographic and video “evidence” of so many of our past self moments.
To explore this theme further, I’ll be teaching the dharma through metaphors at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in late February 2011. The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies has quickly become my spiritual home. You can feel the peace radiating from the stones found on the property. It’s a beautiful place and an important fulcrum for the dissemination of the dharma. I’m honored to teach there again and invite you to join me there for a weekend winter retreat exploring metaphors and practicing mindfulness meditation. The workshop is called Metaphors, Meaning, and Change: Finding Our Way to Mindfulness and runs from 25 to 27 February. 


Wisdom Wednesday :: Energetic Silence

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak


Silence is a rare commodity in our lives. Our culture does not value silence, does not provide us with rituals to cultivate it, and we often finds ourselves in an “uncomfortable” silence. Why would that be? Silence in those moments is seen as a problem, a deficit to be avoided. It seems alien — what am I supposed to do with this? And the assumed pressure that something must be done with it because sitting in silence is not OK.
Mindfulness meditation practice helps us to bring silence into our lives, to value it and to nourish it. When we sit in silence, our surroundings may be from the “noise” of conversations, reading, television, status updates, and so forth. However, our internal landscape may be anything but silent. That’s fine, of course, and what we work with in practice. Each time we retrieve attention back from the noise of the future/past we experience a moment of silence — however fleeting. 
Silence is a powerful mode of our being and one that waits for us to arrive, and, like the breath, is always available when we give ourselves permission to notice it. We can seek to become intimate with silence and to notice that it is not blank, but energetic. Energetic silence is what the Buddha would have considered the most accurate representation of our true nature. That is, who we are when all the stories stop. It’s nibbana (Pali) or nirvana (Sanskrit) — what we experience when the  clinging and grasping stops. 
To help with the cultivation of silence, familiarize yourself with these meditation practices. I have posted CD 4 of the Exquisite Mind guided meditation series in the “Learn” section of my website These practices are called “advanced” not because they are better than the basic practices, just more challenging and probably not the first practice you’ll want to try. The “Mind Scan” looks at all objects of attention including sound, thoughts, and feelings, noticing them as they arise and change. The second practice is simply called “Emptiness” and provides approximately forty minutes of mostly silence to structure your experience of silence. Listen and download these mp3s by clicking here
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