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Blog

Feb 21, 2012

Capturing the moment

I was sitting in a café with my friend David when he said, ‘There’s something to look at behind you.’

I glanced across, trying not to be obvious. All I saw was an old woman eating her soup. David leaned forward. ‘She’s like a Rembrandt.’

I looked again and noticed her intent concentration. She was very old, her body shrunk to a few feet, and every movement was a painful effort. Slowly, very slowly, she raised her spoon from her bowl to her mouth. And slowly she lowered it again. Her face was creased into a web of lines, as if her skin was fracturing and these lines, held together only by the …

Jan 26, 2012

Finding our values

My New year’s resolution this year is not to make any New Year resolutions. In any case, I’ve usually forgotten about them February. The real changes I’ve made have come when I’ve been in touch with the motivations that underpin my life and seen clearly what I need to do next.

At the end of the MBSR course we ask the question, does mindfulness practice touch on your underlying values – things you really care about that can continue to motivate you over the years? It’s moving to hear what people say: “I’ve spent my life rushing, now I want to go deeper”; “I really love my children and I want to …

Oct 14, 2011

Defusing the anger bomb

What can you do when things are about to blow? Here’s some advance on working with anger – or any other strong emotion – with mindfulness

The 1997 movie The Peacemaker is mostly a routine and forgettable thriller. In fact, it is really pretty bad, but there are two things I remember about it.  The first is the pairing of George Clooney and Nicole Kidman; and second there’s a scene right at the end that has stuck in my mind as an image for how mindfulness can help in a crisis.

There’s a bomb in the UN building that’s going to blow in a few seconds. Nicole Kidman knows how to defuse these …

Sep 06, 2011

Making Wise Decisions

Decisions shape our lives, but psychologists say we are remarkably bad at making them. That’s true of strategic decisions, tactical decisions and decisions made in the heat of the moment. Typically, we are poor at assessing risk, understanding probabilities and anticipating consequences. We overestimate our capacity to make good decisions and underestimate the true influence of emotion, bias and assumptions in what we do.

We need to learn for ourselves how to make good decisions and that’s where the Buddha comes in. His teachings won’t help with the specifics, but they offer insights into the process of how to make a wise decision. And the starting point is clearing our minds of …

May 10, 2010

“The Novice,” by Stephen Schettini

Vishvapani reviews Schettini’s heartfelt and vivid account of becoming a Tibetan Buddhist monk and his valuable reflections on what it means for westerners to practice Buddhism

When I first encountered Buddhism in the UK around 1980 there was already a generation of established practitioners, most of whom shared a common background. They were hippies … or should that be ex-hippies? Their faces lit up as they recounted their adventures: how they set out from respectable homes to discover the excitements of London’s Kings Road, join the flower children in the Haight, or make exotic journeys to the East. There were stories of dope deals that went wrong, revelatory acid trips, close shaves with bandits in …

Sep 11, 2009

The technology of happiness

This geodesic sensor net containing 256 electrodes picks up electrical impulses from numerous parts of the brain when placed on a subject's head. For years westerners have assumed that Buddhists must be a miserable lot: their teachings dwell so much on suffering. But recent scientific research suggests what Buddhists have believed all along. Buddhism — or at least Buddhist meditation — leads to happiness.

Media headlines in the last few years have trumpeted new research into the effects of meditation on brain activity, behavior and even resistance to disease. The findings are still provisional, but as the philosopher Owen Flanagan commented in New Scientist magazine: “The most reasonable hypothesis is that there’s something about conscientious …

Nov 24, 2008

Bid for freedom

Andrew BlackIs it possible to combine spiritual practice with professional poker, to remain detached and equanimous in the midst of a game full of bluffing, where the aim is to take away other people’s money? In 2005 Vishvapani talked this over with Andrew Black, one of the world’s finest poker players — and a devout Buddhist.

The World Series of Poker at Binions Casino in Las Vegas is down to its last five players. After eleven days at the table, little sleep, and ferocious competition, they are the last survivors of the five thousand people who each paid $10,000 to enter this no-limit hold ‘em tournament. The winner will walk away with $7.5 million.

Behind designer …

Aug 10, 2007

“Available Truth: Excursions into Buddhist Wisdom and the Natural World,” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano

Available Truth

Nyanasobhano, an American actor/playwright turned Theravadin Buddhist, writes essays and reflections on the Buddhist path that stand well apart from the general run of writing on Buddhism for their sheer literary quality. His first book, Landscapes of Wonder was a triumph of lyrical meditation and close observation of nature. Then came Longing for Certainty, and Available Truth is his third collection. Here he is, at the start of this book, displaying his gifts in evoking the experience of waking up and feeling refreshed:

“In the kitchen a spoon rings faintly against a dish like a notice of some imminent music, and even the familiar smells of breakfast float up to us as if they