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Aug 22, 2014

Patterns of closeness and independence

Couple in love at sunsetIntimacy and autonomy are independent dimensions, and it is their combination that counts.

The qualities in each category, imperfectly summarized by a single word, characterize both types of individuals and, more importantly, states of mind we all transit:

  • Integrated – Comfortable and skillful with both closeness and agency; able both to carry others in her heart while pursuing her own aims, and to be completely authentic in the most intimate moments; symbolically, “you” and “I” are about the same size.
  • Engulfed – Highly connected, but not free to act or express himself fully; giving up “me” is price to be “we;” unnecessarily dependent; clutching, beseeching, placating; could resist encouragement to be

Aug 11, 2014

What is mindfulness?

蓮の花Q: So today I had a “bad moment” – got stressed and upset about a work situation. My first thought was to let go of the negative thoughts that were running in my brain by actively taking in the good. Then I wondered if that meant I was running away from (ignoring or more importantly trying to change) the negative feelings in my mind/body, which seemed counter to mindfulness.

A: My take, take it with a bucket of salt:

  • Mindfulness is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Mindfulness itself is sustained attention to something, typically with some meta-cognitive awareness of the quality of one’s attention. Mindfulness itself is morally neutral. A

Aug 06, 2014

The machinery of upset

Unhappy little girl crying(Emotional) life is great when we feel enthusiastic, contented, peaceful, happy, interested, loving, etc. But when we’re upset, or aroused to go looking for trouble, life ain’t so great.

To address this problem, let’s turn to a strategy used widely in science (and Buddhism, interestingly): analyze things into their fundamental elements, such as the quarks and other subatomic particles that form an atom or the Five Aggregates in Buddhism of form, feeling (the “hedonic tone” of experience as pleasant-neutral-unpleasant), perception, volitional formations, and consciousness.

We’ll apply that strategy to the machinery of getting upset. Here is a summary of the eight major “gears” of that machine – somewhat based on how …

Aug 01, 2014

Intimacy and autonomy working together

Couple holding hand at sun riseIntimacy and autonomy are channels for expressing your natural goodness. For example, being kind toward someone naturally involves both an affinity with that person and a certain autonomy for the kindness to be genuine.

Besides its obvious rewards in everyday life, intimacy supports personal growth and spiritual practice through bringing you into relationship with things. Into relationship with your innermost experience and that of the people around you: the joys and sorrows, the suffering and its causes and what leads to its ending. Into compassion, kindness, and service: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Into relationship with a supportive community. And – if it’s meaningful to you – into …

Jul 31, 2014

The dance of intimacy and autonomy

little tabby kitten Scottish touching mother catLove tends to join and hate to separate, but joining is not the same as love, and separation is not hatred. Sometimes the most loving thing a person can do is take a step back: that’s distance in the service of attachment. And it’s not loving to join in invasive or smothering ways. Most people want both closeness and independence. Intimacy and autonomy in all their forms: your course in life is shaped by how well you regulate their dance in your mind, and their expression in your relationships.

Harms can be done to yourself and others in the name of autonomy and intimacy, so it’s important …

Jul 25, 2014

Is the intention a goal or already realized?

golden hourDo you express the intention as a goal or as something already realized?

This gets at a recurring question, even a debate, in Buddhism (and also in psychology and in some religions): Is it about progressing toward an enlightened state, or is it about uncovering the enlightened condition that has always been present? I can’t do justice here to the nuances of that consideration, but I can say what many wise people think is at the marrow of the matter: both are true. (Darn that middle way.)

In other words, it is powerful to focus on intention both as an aim toward a target, and as something that is already the case. The …

Jul 16, 2014

Be amazed

clamberLast night, stressing about undone tasks, I glanced in a mirror and saw my t-shirt, with its picture of a galaxy and a little sign sticking up out of its outer swirls, saying “you are here.” A joke gift from my wife, I’ve worn this shirt many times – yet for once it stopped me in my tracks. In William Blake’s phrase, the doors of perception popped open and it really hit me: yes we are actually here, off to the edge of a vast floating whirlpool of stars, alive and conscious, walking and talking on a big rock circling a bigger burning ball of gas. Here, now, nearly fourteen billion years …

Jul 08, 2014

Emotion in the brain

Young boy playing in the sprinklers outdoorsThe major brain regions that support emotional processing include the limbic system – particularly the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus – and the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), nucleus accumbens, and insula. Technical note: there are two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere of the brain; the same for the two amygdalae, ACCs, and insulae. Following common practice, we’ll mainly use the singular form.

By the way, as an interesting evolutionary detail, the limbic system seems to have evolved from the olfactory (scent) neural circuitry in the brain developed by our ancient mammal ancestors, living around 180 million years ago. They seem to have used their advanced sense …

Jul 01, 2014

Be mind full of good

Reaaching Up Into The SkyIt’s kind of amazing: right now, what you think and feel, enjoy and suffer, is changing your brain. The brain is the organ that learns, designed by evolution to be changed by our experiences: what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that each one of us has the power to use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better. To benefit oneself and other beings.

Using this internal power is more important than ever these days, when so many of us are pushed and prodded by external forces – the economy, media, politics, workplace policies, war on the other …

Jun 25, 2014

Expressing your intentions

Canadian Geese Flying in V FormationOnce your intentions are clear, the next question is: How to express them?

There are many ways, including:

  • As thoughts in your mind
  • As an image
  • In writing
  • As a collage with words and images
  • Through physical expression, posture, movement, dance
  • As a sense of being

When you think intentions, you know them to yourself. Putting them in explicit words is usually helps create real clarity in your mind. Some intentions co-exist as equally vital, but many times it’s important to establish what your top priorities are. It’s kind of like filling a bucket: you want to get the big rocks in first, then the pebbles, and last the sand. Your most important aims are …