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Online courses

Wildmind offers a range of online courses on meditation, practice in daily life, and Buddhism.

Starting Feb 5, 2007:

Meditation Courses

 The Path of Mindfulness and Love (4 weeks)
 Change Your Mind (4 weeks)
 Awakening the Heart (4 weeks)
 Entering the Path of Insight (4 weeks)

Practice in Daily Life and Buddhism Courses

 Mindfulness in Daily Life (4 weeks)
 Mindfulness at Work (4 weeks)

February 2007

The Art of Mindful Living

Starting this month, our newsletters will focus on a particular theme related to the practice of mindfulness and meditation in contemporary life. With this month's topic, The Art of Mindful Living, we hear several different perspectives on what it means to integrate mindfulness into our everyday lives.

We begin with a link to an article on practical tips for carrying the benefits of meditation into regular daily activities. For our quote of the month, Sunada reflects on jazzman Miles Davis' exemplification of mindfulness in the face of fear. Next, Bodhipaksa reviews a new book by Thich Nhat Hanh that offers a contemporary spin on two traditional Buddhist texts. There is also an invitation to explore this theme of mindful living further in one of our online courses, and finally, there is our summary of the top news stories from the last month.

Enjoy!

In this issue:

10 Tips for Mindful Living

It order to make the most of our meditation practice, it helps to practice mindful living throughout our day -- at meals, at work, or when with our children. Here are 10 practical tips on how to start doing this and get more out of life.

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portrait Quote of the Month

"Do not fear mistakes. There are none."
- Miles Davis

Many years ago when I was in college, I performed a solo piano recital. Even though I prepared for months, on the day of the recital I was a nervous wreck. I still had several passages that I hadn't been able to master, and that was just enough to shake up my confidence. I was all too familiar with every spot in those pieces that could trip me up. I remember taking a deep breath and walking out on stage with a smile plastered on my face, but behind it I was carrying a huge sense of dread.

To make a long story short, the recital worked out fine. I got a big round of applause, and lots of congratulatory hugs from my teacher and friends. But the sad thing is I missed the whole thing. I was so busy worrying about not making mistakes that I never really heard my own music-making or took in the experience. I was fortunate that the recital was recorded, so I was able to listen to my performance afterward. All those supposedly obvious and horribly embarrassing mistakes I thought I had made -- in the whole scheme of things they were negligible. Most people probably didn't even notice.

This was the beginning of my learning about the nature of fear. I tend to be a pessimist, so it's much too easy for me to see all the ways that something can go wrong. And when I climb aboard the train of those thoughts, my view of reality can get very skewed. In fact, my negativity probably ended up to some degree becoming the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though nothing disastrous happened, I also didn't play anywhere near my best. I was so worried and self-absorbed that there wasn't room for all the grand and beautiful moods and emotions that the music called for. And above all, I wasn't there to share the experience with my audience.

In the years since, I've taken up meditation and have reflected often on the nature of mistakes and fear -- not only in music, but more broadly as part of life. Too often we go about thinking that mistakes are bad things that we must avoid. But what are mistakes? It's true that things often don't go as we intended -- an unfortunate fact of life -- but does that make them "wrong"? Despite all my mistakes, wasn't it ultimately my humanness (wrong notes and all) coming through the music that my listeners appreciated? Aren't "mistakes" often opportunities in disguise?

And what about fear? Of course fear is essential for prompting us to act when we're in danger. But was my life in danger when I walked on stage for my piano recital? What was I afraid of? And by allowing myself to be guided by fear, didn't I limit my ability to see all the other possibilities in the situation?

Over the years, I have come to understand mindfulness as much more than slowing down to appreciate the beauty in life. I think of it as living life to its fullest -- and learning to move beyond my fears, judgments, and stories that keep me from seeing and experiencing things as they really are. It's when we're able to be present with our experience -- even when it's scary as hell -- with a calm, steady mind, that we get past our self-created fog and move out to a place of freedom and possibilities.

I think a master jazz improviser like Miles Davis is a great model for what mindful living looks like: confident and completely, fearlessly open to the present moment. That to me is the promise of mindfulness.

Sunada teaches Wildmind's meditation courses by day, and continues to pursue her musical inspirations by night.

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Book Review

Two treasures: Buddhist Teachings on Awakening and true Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh. (Parallax Press, 2007. Paperback, $8.95).

Two treasures is a translation of and commentary on two Buddhist texts by Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Zen teacher, writer, and activist.

The two texts are a Mahayana Sutra, The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings, and the Pali Mangala Sutta or "Discourse on Happiness." Both texts are very short -- fewer than 600 words for the "Eight Realizations" and 400 for the Mangala Sutta -- and the commentaries are also brief. This makes for a very compact volume, with just under 70 pages in an attractively-packaged pocket-sized format.

Thich Nhat Hanh at his best is simple, eloquent, and fresh in his writing. His words often are uncomplicated and communicate an almost palpable compassion. As a social activist from the time of the Vietnam war he frequently relates Buddhist teachings to social issues in what is known, in a term apparently coined by Nhat Hanh himself, as "engaged Buddhism." At his worst, Thich Nhat Hanh can be simplistic and vague. We see both those sides -- the eloquently engaged and the na´ve -- in this small volume.

Both texts present pithy instructions for leading a meaningful, mindful, and happy life. The Mahayana text outlines key reflections that help support the motivation of a Bodhisattva -- one whose spiritual life is devoted to the welfare of all living beings. These reflections are basic reminders of impermanence, of the origins of our own suffering (which the sutra tells us lie in desire, laziness, and ignorance), of the need for the Bodhisattva to consider other beings non-judgmentally, of the need for simplicity in the Bodhisattva's life, and of the need to take the Bodhisattva Vow to help liberate all beings from suffering.

The translation is distinguished by Nhat Hanh's desire to bring a contemporary and socially-engaged twist to this ancient teaching. His attempts are frequently successful, as in John Blofeld's "The existence of a country [is] but fleeting" being rendered as "All political regimes are subject to fall."

Also successful is Nhat Hanh's "More desire brings more suffering" to replace the "Excessive desire causes suffering" found in Tom Graham's translation. While Graham's version may more accurately render the literal meaning of the passage, the question naturally arises of how much desire is too much. When the mind is unable to make such an assessment it gives itself leeway to indulge desires. Nhat Hanh's version does not assume that there is some indeterminate point at which desire crosses from being helpful to being detrimental, and instead points at the spiritual truth that the more desire we have the more suffering we experience. Desire and suffering are seen as directly proportional and the leeway that allows for rationalization is therefore neatly removed. I can't help but think that the translation in this instance reveals the truth that the original text was trying, imperfectly, to communicate.

While the translation of the Sutra itself is handled with aplomb, the commentary gives the appearance of having been transcribed from an oral presentation that I can only assume was given on one of Nhat Hanh's off-days. At times the commentary is rambling and imprecise. For example we have "Suffering has to do with the emptiness of all things." That's true of course, but then everything has to do with the emptiness of all things, so the question arises, how exactly is suffering related to emptiness? The closest we come to an explanation is the mysterious, "Buddhas and bodhisattvas understand that when there is a harmonious relationship among the four elements, there is peace. When the four elements are not in harmony there is suffering." Make of that what you will.

Some of the commentary on the Great Beings is considerably clearer than this, however, and there are nuggets of wisdom to be found. I particularly benefited from Nhat Hanh's reflections on simplicity, which is something he particularly embodies in his life.

With the Mangala Sutta, Nhat Hanh has also made alterations to the original sense of the sutta in order to bring a more contemporary spin, but in this case the changes are more questionable. For example, an injunction to avoid alcohol altogether is watered down so that we're enjoined merely not to be "caught by alcoholism." The Buddha's original message is an uncompromising avoidance of intoxicants, where Nhat Hanh's translation -- while adopting more contemporary terminology -- allows for indulgence short of actual addiction. I don't think this was at all Nhat Hanh's intention, and that what has happened is that his desire to use modern buzzwords has obscured the true meaning of the text.

Likewise, a passage that in the original Pali advocates living celibately becomes in Nhat Hanh's version merely an exhortation to live "diligently." It's fine to recognize that the Buddha's teachings -- many of which were originally aimed at monks and nuns -- may appear too stringent for modern tastes and may at times be inappropriate for householder Buddhists, but the way to make such accommodations is through commentary on the texts, not by distorting the historical message of the texts themselves.

In the commentary Nhat Hanh is often seen at his best -- simple, direct, and compassionate. He offers basic but nevertheless profound teachings on the importance of spiritual community, gratitude to one's family, giving, and other virtues that act as supports to a life that is meaningful, mindful, and satisfying. There are places when the teachings fall into being simplistic -- such as the assertion that whenever we acknowledge a fault and recommit ourselves to living by the precepts our guilt from the past will immediately disappear. In my experience the psychology of remorse and personal change is considerably more complex than that! But at the same time we are reminded of simple but profound truths that we can reflect upon and use as guides in our lives.

One translation of the title of the sutta is "happiness" while another is "blessing," and Nhat Hanh ends this little book by reminding us that blessings and happiness are related. Happiness does not just arrive out of the blue, like a blessing. We are responsible for our own happiness and "The greatest blessing is the happiness that each of us can generate for ourselves."

Bodhipaksa is the founder and director of Wildmind and the author of "Wildmind: A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditation."

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portrait Online Course: Mindfulness in Daily Life

If you'd like to explore the topic of the mindful living more deeply, we offer a 4-week course that guides you step-by-step toward bringing more awareness into your everyday activities. Each week contemplates a different focus of mindfulness, including the body, feelings, emotions, and thoughts. The instructor is Saddhamala, who has a reputation as a gentle and compassionate teacher.

Read more
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meditation in the newsMeditation in the news: top five stories of last month

For a complete, categorized, and searchable listing of news stories concerning meditation, visit our news database.

TOP STORY IN SCIENCE

New group at Penn studies the science behind spirituality (Centre Daily) 15 Jan. Religion and science can combine to create some thorny questions: Does God exist outside the human mind, or is God a creation of our brains? Why do we have faith in things that we cannot prove, whether it's the afterlife or UFOs? The new Center for Spirituality and the Mind at UPenn is using brain imaging technology to examine such questions as well as to investigate how spiritual and secular beliefs affect our health and behavior. Read more

TOP STORY IN HEALTH

Raising spirits to combat alchoholism (BBC News) 29 Jan. Problem drinkers attending the faith-based Alcoholics Anonymous groups are 30% more likely than others to remain sober for at least two years, according to research published this month. Read more

TOP STORY IN SOCIETY

Buddhist face of US protest (Telegraph India) 27 Jan. As tens of thousands of demonstrators began gathering here this morning to denounce President George W. Bush's plans to send more troops to Iraq, the protest unusually began with guided meditation and Buddhist chants. Read more

TOP STORY IN BUSINESS

Toppling a Taboo: Businesses Go 'Faith-Friendly' (Knowledge@Wharton) 24 Jan. In the world of corporate diversity and inclusion, first there was race, then gender and ethnicity, then sexual orientation. Now religion is knocking at the door, and, according to some experts and practitioners, it isn't likely to go away anytime soon. Read more

TOP STORY IN EDUCATION

Teaching children how to be happy (Telegraph) 22 Jan. When 15-year-old Charlie Maughan takes his position at the side of the pool for a big swimming meet next week, he will be thinking about techniques he learnt in "well-being class" as well as in PE. Read more

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