Radically changing ourselves through insight

November 2, 2015

realityLetting Go Into Reality (Nov 9–Dec 20)

The entire point of Buddhist practice is to bring about freedom from suffering. We can free ourselves from much of our suffering by becoming more ethical, more mindful, and more compassionate, but becoming a more skillful, “better” person isn’t enough. In order to bring about the maximum degree of freedom from suffering we have to radically change the way we see ourselves, and our relation with the world. This change comes about by developing insight.

On the six weeks of this event you will learn to:

  • Look deeply at the nature of your experience
  • Observe and accept the fact that everything within your experience is in a constant
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Distractions as hypnotic bubbles

November 2, 2015

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As we meditate, thoughts bubble up. Many people are bothered when this happens, and tell themselves that there’s something wrong or that they’re no good at meditating. But having a lot of thoughts arise is OK. Our minds produce thoughts. It’s natural.

While bubbles in water contain gases, the thought bubbles that arise in the mind contain stories. Sometimes the stories inside these bubbles are emotionally compelling, and we can’t resist sticking our heads inside to see what’s going on. The bubble now surrounds our head like a 3D holographic display, complete with images, sounds, and tactile and other sensory information. And the story we’re witnessing is interactive! We now start playing the role of … Read more »

Let your distractions be your teachers

October 31, 2015

white swan feather on the black background

Once, many years ago, I was meditating—or at least I was supposed to be—and I found myself wondering what the Pali for “Palm Pilot” would be.

I had one of these electronic devices in front of me (if you’re not familiar with this ancient technology, think of it as being a very primitive iPod Touch) because I was leading a retreat and had been reading notes from it. I recognized that this train of thought was a hindrance, and as I wondered why it was happening it occurred to me that it was an expression of playfulness. Could it be, I inquired, that my meditation had been lacking in playfulness? Had it been a bit … Read more »

Taking the self out of self-compassion

October 29, 2015

man looking at universe

One of the most interesting studies I’ve ever seen was by James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychology professor, and Shannon Wiltsey Stirman, who is now associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

Poets are particularly prone to taking their own lives, and Pennebaker and Stirman were interested to see if the writings of poets who had killed themselves contained linguistic clues that could have predicted their fate. They matched together, by age, era, nationality, educational background, and sex, poets who had and had not killed themselves, and ran their works through a computer program that looked for patterns in the language they used.

What they found was that the poets who … Read more »

Mindfulness: what it’s not

October 16, 2015

old padlock with key on a green wooden wallWhat is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is when we observe our experience rather than merely participate in our experience. When we’re unmindful, we’re certainly experiencing, but we’re “merely participating” in that experience, swept along in the flow of our thoughts and fantasies, caught up in thinking without being aware of what we’re doing and what effect it’s having on us, and not realizing that we have the choice to do anything else.

When we’re mindful, we observe our experience. We know that we’re thinking. We’re aware of what effect our thinking is having (for example that it’s making us or others unhappy). We’re aware we have choices about what we do and what we think.

And that’s … Read more »

Two events in NYC

October 1, 2015

NYC

I’m appearing in two events at the New York Insight center on Oct 9 and Oct 10.

Dharma in Dialogue: Mythbusting the Dharma

The first of these is a conversation and Q&A with James Shaheen, editor and publisher of Tricycle magazine. James and I both have an interest in clearing up misconceptions about the Dharma. James has been running a series of articles by teachers such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and myself, “mythbusting” some common misunderstandings of Buddhist teachings. I run a site called Fake Buddha Quotes (“I can’t believe it’s not Buddha!”) that examines the many supposed Buddha quotes that circulate on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and that often have nothing to do with … Read more »

On becoming disconnected from oneself in meditation

September 24, 2015

depression conceptI often receive questions by email. Although I’ll sometimes reply directly to them, it strikes me that the best use of my time is to share my responses publicly, so that others might benefit.

Here’s the question, which came from someone who I’ll call Josh.

For a while now, I have been meditating and my body has remained tense – as I am usually quite tense – but my mind relaxes, but in a negative way; it is as if I begin to mentally and emotionally feel numbed out and lost. I would like to be able to meditate on the tension, on emotions, on really anything that’s going on within me, but I end

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Experience the radically healing practice of self-compassion

September 23, 2015

self-compassion 2Developing Self-Compassion is a 28-day online event starting October 5th.

Self-compassion is the radically healing practice of treating ourselves with the kindness, respect, and gentleness that we would ideally offer to those we love.

We’ll be developing self-compassion and bringing it into our everyday lives.

In this 28-day event you’ll learn how to:

  • Cultivate compassion for yourself (and others)
  • Identify the habits of self-blame that hold you back and cause you pain
  • Distinguish sorrow, pity, and genuine compassion
  • Learn how to appreciate your strengths and relate healthily to “mistakes”
  • Avoid creating unnecessary pain for yourself through reacting to pain
  • Embrace perspectives that help you develop emotional resilience

This event is suitable for people of all … Read more »

The bud dreaming the flower

September 22, 2015

fotolia_63983416Last weekend I taught meditation on a workshop along with another teacher who talked about the importance of goals as part of one’s spiritual path. This is something I often talked about in the past, although it hasn’t been a prominent part of my teaching recently. I think the last time I wrote about it was in my 2010 book, Living as a River.

My own presentation at the weekend was on mindfulness, appreciation, and gratitude: being in and valuing the present moment.

These two themes might seem contradictory, and it was interesting to explore how they’re actually not, but are (or can be) complementary.

One exercise I’ve done myself and which I recommend … Read more »

Listening to the Buddha within

September 20, 2015

Expedient_Means_Lotus_Sutra_2

The history of Buddhist scriptures has, to simplify a little, two main phases. There were the initial teachings, recorded in a number of languages and passed on first orally and then in written form. The sole complete version of these that we have is called the Pali canon.

Then there are the Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) scriptures, which often claim to be the word of the Buddha, but which were clearly composed much later. The style of these indicates that they were composed as written works, and didn’t go through a phase of oral transmission.

The fact that the Mahayana scriptures don’t literally come from the Buddha doesn’t invalidate them as sources of wisdom, of course. … Read more »