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 »

“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.” Montaigne

March 30, 2015

montaigneI’ve been depressed a few times in my life, but only once has it ever got so bad that I felt I had to seek medication. My doctor prescribed me something—I no longer remember what—and after taking just one tablet my depression instantly lifted. This was no miracle drug; these medicines take days or even weeks to have an effect. In fact the medication had nothing to do with my recovery, and the reason I felt better so quickly was, I think, because I admitted I was helpless.

Michel de Montaigne, the famous 16th French essayist, said that although he was not able to govern external events, he was able to govern himself. This beautiful … Read more »

If Buddhism teaches non-self (anatta), then who meditates?

October 1, 2014

buddha statueI was asked, “If Buddhism teaches non-self (anatta), then who is doing all this that happens in my life; who meditates?”

There is meditation taking place. There is stuff happening in life. There is the thought, “Someone is doing this.” But that thought is a bit like the idea primitive man may have felt, looking at nature. The wind blows, the leaves rustle, the rain falls. There must be “someone” making this all happen! And so they imagined a god or gods who were doing these things.

Nowadays we talk about all this being an “ecosystem.” But we don’t think of “Ecosystem” as a god who hides behind the scenes, making everything happen. There’s just … Read more »

Personalities are not fixed, and that’s great news

September 24, 2014

Children's yoga. The little boy does exercise.A mountaineering friend of mine used to remark that when he’d meet a rock or other obstruction while coming down a mountain, and was faced with choices — go left, or right? — each choice would lead to other, different, choices. In this way, two different decisions early on — although seemingly insignificant — could result in profoundly different outcomes.

Views we hold can be like that as well. A view like “personalities are fixed” leads to very different results compared to a view like “personalities are fluid.”

A new study illustrates how easily views about our personalities can be changed, and how powerful the effect of changing them can be.

David Scott Yeager of … Read more »

The Buddha’s radical path of jhāna

September 2, 2014

Stone Buddha statueJhāna — a progressive series of meditative states of absorption — is a controversial topic in Buddhism. This should be rather amazing given that the Buddhist scriptures emphasize jhāna so strongly. In the Eightfold Path, Right Concentration is consistently defined as the four jhānas. The Buddha said things like “There is no jhāna for him who lacks insight, and no insight for him who lacks jhāna.” The jhānas are enumerated over and over again in the Pāli scriptures. They’re also implicit in teachings like the Seven Bojjhaṅgas, the 12 positive nidānas, and the Ānāpānasati Sutta, which mention various of the jhāna factors.

Despite the scriptural importance of jhāna, some teachers, like Thich Nhat Hanh, have … Read more »

The boys in the basement, the empty room, and the plagiarist

May 27, 2014

The difficulty of getting our heads around “non-self”

Phrenology Head diagramA lot of people have trouble understanding the Buddhist teaching of anatta (non-self). It’s hard to get the head around. They assume that “someone” has to be in control. They assume that they have a self that they somehow have to lose. And the thought of losing this self brings up problems: sometimes they fear that if they lose this self, then there will be no control (because someone has to be running the show). Sometimes they think that if there were not this “someone” in control, there would be no possibility of making choices: they assume there has to be “someone” who choses. They wonder how … Read more »

Six Element Practice: Guided Meditation MP3

May 4, 2014

Another guided meditation from the retreat I’m co-leading with Sunada and Aryaloka. This one’s the Six Element Practice, which is a reflection on non-self.

The quality of the recording is not great, and the only editing I’ve done is to increase the volume and to remove a cough. You’ll hear the building creaking, and people shuffling (and no doubt some coughs that I missed.

Still, I hope it’s of benefit:

“Nothing was ever so unfamiliar and startling to me as my own thoughts.” Henry David Thoreau

December 10, 2013

Wha, wha, what!!??When I’m talking with people about the Buddhist teaching of non-self (anatta) they often say things like, “But how can you function in daily life without a self?” I usually answer, “Well, how do you function in daily life without a self?” Because Buddhism doesn’t say that we have to lose our selves — it says that we have no selves to lose. The reason we assume we have to lose our selves is because we walk around with the delusion that we do actually have a self in the first place.

So we all go about our daily lives without selves; it’s just that most of us drag around with us a sense that … Read more »

Mindfulness of doors (and more!)

November 21, 2013

mindfully walking through doorsSome of us in Wildmind’s Google Plus community are working our way through exercises from Jan Chozen Bays’ book, How to Train a Wild Elephant. We’re now on week 17 of the book, and this week’s exercise is called “Entering New Spaces.”

Here’s a brief outline of the practice:

The Exercise: Our shorthand for this mindfulness practice is “mindfulness of doors,” but it actually involves bringing awareness to any transition between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another. Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath. Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.

This has been … Read more »

Self-hatred, self-compassion, and non-self

October 10, 2013

train yourself thusA lot of people have difficulty practicing self-compassion, but some people have difficulty with the concept of self-compassion. I’ve had very experienced Buddhist practitioners tell me that while they think it’s good to have compassion for others it’s not desirable or even possible to have self-compassion, or that self-compassion is just self-pity. It’s a shame there’s so much confusion over such a crucial practice.

But in some ways it’s not surprising that this confusion exists. The Buddha just took it for granted that we love ourselves — he said we should love others as we love ourselves, which for self-loathing westerners seems the wrong way around — and as far as I’m aware he never … Read more »