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Apr 29, 2014

Mindful presence

Woman leaning on a cabin log and thinkingWhat Is Mindful Presence?

Let’s unpack those two words, mindful presence.

Mindfulness is simply a clear, non-judgmental awareness of your inner and outer worlds. In particular, it’s an awareness of the flow of experience in your inner world – an alert observing of your thoughts, emotions, body sensations, desires, memories, images, personality dynamics, attitudes, etc.

When you are mindful of something, you are observing it, not caught up in it and not identified with it. The psychological term, “the observing ego” – considered to be essential for healthy functioning – refers to this capacity (i.e., mindfulness) to detach from the stream of consciousness and observe it. Other terms …

Apr 17, 2014

Is the “self” real?

portrait of beautiful man model sepia tonedIs the “Self” real? What’s the nature of the sense of being that remains when parts of the psyche fall away?

The answer depends on how you define “Self.” I use that word to refer to the central “I” that’s presumed in Western psychology and philosophy (and everyday usage) to be the owner of experiences and agent of actions, and which is defined and constituted by three attributes: unification (there’s just one “I”), permanence (the “I” stays the same, things happen to it but it doesn’t change), and independence (the “I” is just there, an innate part of the psyche, not created by anything, and fundamentally …

Apr 09, 2014

Feel Whole

midnight coniferous forest on a mountain slopeWhen I look back on mistakes I’ve made – like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart – in all cases a part of me had taken over. You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view, are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part – the big boss – is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker and driver …

Apr 02, 2014

Intention of harmlessness

Kitten on a white backgroundThis is a broad aim of not causing pain, loss, or destruction to any living thing. At a minimum, this is a sweeping resolution to avoid any whit of harm to another human being. The implications are far-reaching, since most of us participate daily in activities whose requirements or ripples may involve harm to others (e.g., use of fossil fuels that warms the planet, purchasing goods manufactured in oppressive conditions).

Further, in American culture there is a strong tradition of rugged individualism in which as long as you are not egregiously forceful or deceitful, “let the buyer beware” on the other side of daily transactions. But if your aim …

Mar 26, 2014

Right intention

lighted candlesOf course, the first question regarding intention is, for what?

All the great wisdom traditions of the world, and all the great moral philosophers, have grappled with this question. What should we want?

There are many ways to approach this question. Some try to answer it in terms of discerning the will or desires of their sense of a Divine influence, of God. Others through resort to certain ideals or abstractions. And others through reliance on some kind of authority, such as a priestly class or a scripture.

In the case of the Buddha – and also some moral philosophers – he approached this question pragmatically, in terms of what leads to more or …

Mar 25, 2014

Love freely

Heart.In my early 20′s, I went through Rolfing, a form of deep-tissue bodywork, and I nervously anticipated the 5th session, the one that goes deep into the belly. But instead of gobs of repressed emotional pain, what poured out was love – waves and waves of love that I’d pushed down due to embarrassment, fears of closeness, and my struggles with my mother.

It felt fantastic to let love flow freely. Compassion, empathy, kindness, liking, affection, cooperation, and altruism are all in our nature, woven into the fabric of human DNA, the most social – and most loving – species on the planet. Love is a natural upwelling current inside us all. It …

Mar 20, 2014

Developing a “Buddha Brain” through gratitude

Buddha Close UpA ”buddha brain” is one that knows how to be deeply happy, loving, and wise. We develop ourselves in this way by cultivating wholesome qualities and uprooting unwholesome ones. In a sense, we plant flowers and pull weeds in the garden of the mind – which means that we are gradually changing the brain for the better.

Gratitude is a powerful tool in this “garden” since what you rest your attention upon is what will shape your brain the most. That’s because “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Gratitude shifts your attention away from resentment, regret, and guilt – and therefore stops you from building up the neural substrates of these …

Mar 17, 2014

Wholesome intentions – The neurology of intention

Burning candleOur intentions arise in the brain, are represented in the brain, and are pursued in the brain. Where else?

Therefore, a basic understanding of how intentions work in the brain – and thus in your mind – is a very useful thing to have.

The Executive Functions
The brain is like a committee, with many parts or “members” working together – or at cross purposes! – and the frontal lobes are like the chair of that committee. Or, to use a different metaphor, if the psyche altogether is a vast land, with a capital and many provinces, the frontal lobes are like the city manager of the capital.

But of course that does not mean …

Mar 16, 2014

Key points of awareness – Part II

lakeVisit Part I of this blog post here.

Concentration

  • Concentration has two central factors: applying attention to an object and sustaining it there, like an ice skater plants her foot (applying) and then glides along (sustaining).
  • When you practice formal concentration, keep returning attention to the object (e.g., breath, sensation, emotion, memory of your mother), fully aware of it, absorbed in it. If other thoughts, concerns, plans, etc. bubble up, let them arise but don’t follow them, and keep giving your full attention to the object.
  • When doing concentration, don’t be tense or hard on yourself, but serious and intent, like a cat watching at a mousehole. Set a bit of your attention to watching

Mar 15, 2014

Key points of awareness – Part I

lakeKeys to Awareness

  • Feel that your own well-being and functioning matters. Get on your own side; be for yourself. Question: How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Only one. But the light bulb has to want to change.
  • Cultivate wanting to be in reality, to know the facts of the inner and outer worlds. Know and trust that your greatest safety and hope is in seeing what’s true, no matter what it is. Whenever you move into awareness/observation mode, you instantly distance yourself from things (inside or outside yourself) that are painful, and center yourself in a place that is inherently calmer and wiser than just reacting. And the