Posts by Bodhipaksa

“It Came From Beyond Zen,” by Brad Warner

It Came From Beyond Zen, by Brad Warner

Buy from Amazon or Indiebound.

“It Came From Beyond Zen” is Brad Warner’s follow-up to “Don’t Be a Jerk.” Both books are commentaries and paraphrases of the Shōbōgenzō, by the Zen master Dōgen, delivered in Warner’s characteristically irreverent, witty, pop culture–infused style.

Dōgen, if you haven’t heard of him, is a big deal. At the time “Don’t Be a Jerk” came out, NPR had recently published an article by Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and self-described “evangelist of science,” who described Dōgen as “the greatest philosopher you’ve never heard of,” arguing that he deserved to be ranked alongside Heidegger and Husserl in terms of his contributions to philosophy. (Actually I think he ranks higher.)

Dōgen lived from 1200 to 1253, and founded the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan. His teachings are often couched in a paradoxical, dense, and obscure style that is often hard to translate, as evidenced by the wide variety of ways one passage can be rendered by different translators. It’s these characteristics — plus the great length of the Shōbōgenzō, that make books like “Don’t Be a Jerk” and “It Came From Beyond Zen” necessary.

Each chapter is in the same format: an introduction by Warner, a paraphrased and summarized chapter from the Shōbōgenzō, and then some explanation from the author, in which he tells us what the original text said, as compared to his paraphrases and pop culture references, and gives us his take on the teachings. Warner’s explanations about his paraphrases are a bit like a magician doing a trick and then telling you how it was done; it adds to the entertainment, makes you appreciate the skill involved, and is also informative. For example, he paraphrases “Has the disciple arrived at the state without doubt?” as the more approachable “Are you sure about that?” and “tea and rice” (medieval Japanese shorthand for something seemingly mundane) becomes “eating cornflakes and doing the dishes.”

Warner is mostly working from a number of translations, but he also knows at least some (I’m not clear how much) Japanese and sometimes takes us under the hood to show us the inner workings of the Shōbōgenzō — something I find fascinating.

The actual contents of the book are varied, because the essays the Shōbōgenzō comprises are varied as well. Some were presumably aimed at an audience with a very basic understanding of — well, just about anything. As Warner points out, many of the monks would have been uneducated young monks straight from the farm. Others teachings are among the most profound Buddhist texts ever written.

I was particularly interested in the chapters on ethics and compassion, since I haven’t seen much discussion of these topics from a traditional Zen perspective (as opposed to what modern Zen teachers have contributed, which is considerable). I found myself comparing teachings like Zen’s 10 Grave Precepts with the 10 precepts I follow, which come from the early Buddhist tradition. There’s some evolution evident in these teachings, as where abstention from slanderous speech becomes “No praising or blaming” and abstention from false views becomes “No abusing the Triple Treasure: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.” It’s kind of refreshing to see a familiar old teaching presented in new words, but also a bit disorienting, which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course.

I can’t leave without pointing out that the book’s title is actually very clever. For a number of years Warner worked in the Japanese film industry, with a company that made cheesy monster movies. “It Came From Beyond Zen” obviously refers to science fiction monster movies “It Came From Outer Space” (in which an alien spaceship crashes in the Arizona desert) or Stephen King’s “It.” The “it” in these movie titles refers to something so beyond our experience that it’s unnameable.

Buddhism too deals with the unnameable: reality, which can’t be adequately expressed in words. This reality defies description. As Warner very neatly puts it, “Any description of anything involves … mental measurement. But no possible description of this something — this it — will ever suffice, because there’s literally nothing else to compare it to.” This “it” (in Dōgen’s text it’s the Japanese inmo) is beyond Buddhism. It’s beyond Zen. It’s beyond any attempt to conceptualize it.

If you’ve never heard of Dōgen, read this book. If you’ve heard of him and want to learn more, read this book. If you’ve a Dōgen expert, you probably won’t learn anything about the original essays, but might (I’m just guessing here) enjoy the book for its entertainment value and for Warner’s perspectives.

Buy “It Came From Beyond Zen” from Amazon or Indiebound.

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Our 10 most popular meditation articles of 2017

We missed the anniversary, but Wildmind’s blog is now ten years old. Perhaps we should provide a list of the 10 most popular posts of the last decade, but that’s kind of unfair to our more recent work, since something written several years ago has had much more time to garner page views. So instead here, in reverse order, are the most popular articles on meditation that have been posted in the last 12 months.

10. Self-compassion is not self-indulgent

We might imagine that when faced with doing something difficult, being “kind” to ourselves means that we’ll let ourselves off the hook. But that’s the opposite of what actually happens. Self-compassion means giving yourself support, understanding, and encouragement when you face difficult experiences. It helps you to face your difficulties.

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9. The body-wide wave of breathing

Focusing on just a small area of the breathing just doesn’t give the mind enough to do, and because the mind doesn’t like being under-occupied it invents distractions for itself. When we pay attention to many different sensations the mind has plenty to do, is less likely to go wandering, and is more engaged and absorbed.

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8. Fully embracing this present moment

Our mental reactions are attempts to escape or fix unpleasant situations. It seems counter-intuitive to turn toward painful feelings. But turning toward our suffering reduces our suffering.

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7. The eyes have it

When the eyes are more relaxed in meditation, we’re able to take in the whole “scene” of our breathing. This is a far richer experience, not just because there are more sensations to pay attention to, but because we can see the connections between various sensations. For example we can see how sensations in the abdomen relate to sensations in the nostrils, and how those relate to the sensations in the back. Our experience is revealed as dynamic, interconnected, and even sensual.

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6. Happy new breath

A whole lifetime passes in each breathing moment. What we do in each moment impacts the next. With every inhale there is an exhale until the last breathing moment. The past connects to the present, and the present connects to the future. Just like the inhale and exhale. By having awareness of every breathing moment we can impact this flow of reality.

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5. When in doubt, breathe out – the power of breathing properly

Make a fist with one hand. Notice what’s happened to your breathing. You’ll probably notice you’re holding it. Now imagine breathing into the fist. What does it want to do? You’ll probably find it wants to release a little. The fist in this exercise is a metaphor for any kind of discomfort or stress. When we are not aware, we automatically tense against the stresses of life with associated breath holding.

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4. Let the breathing observe you

You can be aware of the body as a living, breathing, animal presence — a presence that has its own intelligence and awareness. And just as you are aware of the body, the body is aware of you. Allow yourself to be seen.

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3. The power of gratitude

When we start to notice, acknowledge, and appreciate what’s going right in our lives we feel much happier. In fact psychologists say that being grateful and appreciative is one of the main things we can do to be happier in life. I read about one study in which participants were asked to spend 30 minutes writing a letter of appreciation to someone who had benefited them. The scientists conducting the study found that people who did this exercise were measurably happier a month later.

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2. How to calm your mind, quickly and easily

We can use our attention in two ways: either as a flashlight or as a candle. Which we choose makes a radical difference to the quality of our experience, both in meditation and in daily life.

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1. The most important thing you need to know about life, according to Buddhism

Arguably the central teaching of Buddhism, without which the others make no sense, is that things change. While “things change” may seem like a commonplace observation, made by dozens (at least) of philosophers and religious teachers over the last few millennia, the Buddha wasn’t content simply to pay lip-service to the concept of impermanence, but followed through the implications of this fact as far as he possibly could.

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So there you have it: the ten most popular articles published on Wildmind in 2017. I hope you enjoy these highlights, and that you’ll benefit from what we bring you in 2018. Thanks for reading!

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Interview: hear Vidyamala discuss “Mindfulness for Women”

Vidyamala’s online course — Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’ — starts today on Wildmind. This course will help you to:

  • Dwell in your body with more peace, self-love and ease
  • Relate to your thoughts and emotions in a more creative and helpful way
  • Love yourself and others with compassion and a sense of deep connection
  • Transform your relationships with others and the world around you
  • Become a force for good in the world breath by breath, moment by moment.
  • Change your mind to change your world.

Vidyamala learned to meditate in 1985 and has been a dedicated practitioner since that time. In 1995 she was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order and in 2001 founded Breathworks, an organization offering mindfulness and compassion to people suffering from pain, illness and stress.

Last year she was interviewed on Breakfast with Brian Kelly on New Zealand’s The Coast Radio station. You can listen to the interview below.

If you’re interested in the Mindfulness for Women online course, you can read more or enroll here.

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This simple tweak to your self-view can get you meditating daily

Woman standing on reflective shallow water, leaning to one side, making a star-shape with her body. https://unsplash.com/@randomlies

Meditation is a powerful practice, making us healthier, happier, and more compassionate. But even if you know this — even if you’ve experienced this — it can be hard to meditate regularly.

If you’ve had trouble establishing a daily meditation practice this may have seriously affected your self view. You may have come to believe that you are not the kind of person who can meditate daily. And that belief discourages you from meditating, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So let’s do something about that.

I’m going to share the tool that finally helped me to establish a rock-solid daily meditation practice!

Despite all the benefits of meditation that I’d learned about from science studies (it keeps you healthier, reduces stress, promotes happiness, slows the aging in your brain, reduces pain) and from my personal experience (life is much easier when I meditate regularly) I used to find it very hard to get myself onto the cushion every single day. I’d miss a day, or two, or three — and then find it was harder and harder to get back into the habit.

Then I discovered a technique that worked for me. And it seems to work for other people as well. It’s very simple: Just keep repeating to yourself the following mantra: “I meditate every day; It’s just what I do; It’s part of who I am.”

What repeating this mantra does is to reprogram your sense of who you are. You start to overwrite the belief that you can’t meditate daily (unlike other, “better,” meditators). In time, the belief that you meditate daily starts to take root and grow.

Now a few things about this:

You may be thinking, “It’s not true. I don’t meditate every day.” And you might not want to repeat something that’s not true. But regard this mantra as a statement of intention. You’re talking about your life from this point onwards, not about the past.

So it’s true now. As a statement about today, or however many consecutive days you’ve meditated, it’s completely factual! So choose not to believe those “Yes, but…” thoughts. Acknowledge them, but say to them “I hear you, but I’m choosing not to believe you.”

You need to repeat the phrases a lot. Say them to yourself when you first wake up in the morning. Say them in the shower. Say them while you’re driving or sitting on public transport. Say them while you’re washing the dishes; in the gym; while walking; while you’re lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Say them while you’re meditating!

It’s not enough just to repeat the mantra and hope that it’s going to do all the work for you. The mantra will make meditating easier, but you still have to make an effort to sit daily. So commit to meditating for a minimum of five minutes sometime every day between waking up in the morning and going to sleep again.

In time you will realize that the mantra describes you. You do meditate every day. It is just what you do. Your daily practice is part of who you are. You don’t even think about it, or have to make a decision to do it, any more than you have to make a decision to brush your teeth every day. You just do it.

It really works. Try it.

Wildmind is a Community-Supported  Meditation Initiative. Bodhipaksa is supported by numerous sponsors who generously donate each month to help him explore and teach meditation. Wildmind’s sponsors get access to an online community and to a large number of  meditation courses Bodhipaksa has developed over the years. Click here to check out the Meditation Initiative.

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To be happier, think beyond yourself

It’s natural to assume that the more we focus on ourselves and our own problems, the happier we’ll be. But consider this: in a study of language used by poets, it was found that those who used the words I, me, my, and mine were much more likely to commit suicide than those who used we, us, our, and ours.

In fact, poets who killed themselves used self-referential words more and more often as they approached their premature deaths, while those who lived long lives used we-words more and more often.

This relates to the problem of rumination, where our own thinking acts to amplify our suffering. Many of our thoughts containing I, me, my, and mine are connected with feelings of distress: I’m worried about this, I don’t like that. No one cares about me or considers my feelings. And so on.

“I” thoughts reinforce our sense of aloneness. We see ourselves as broken, as worse than others, and therefore separate from them.

Thoughts of “we” connect us, reminding us of our common humanity. Our individual sufferings are seen as being shared by others, and as being part of the difficulties we all have in being human. Our sufferings are not a sign of us being broken, but of us belonging to a greater whole. Our sufferings connect us with others, rather than pushing us into a sense of separateness.

Cultivating compassion is one way of moving from I-thinking to we-thinking, and research in fact shows that compassionately considering and responding to the sufferings of others brings us many benefits, including becoming happier, healthier, more self-confident, less self-critical, and more emotionally resilient.

If it seems paradoxical that taking on board others’ sufferings can make us healthier and happier, this is simply a reflection of the fact that we forget that we are intrinsically social beings, that we are therefore more fulfilled when we connect with others, and that we also gain a sense of meaning and purpose from helping others.

Compassion can be cultivated. And it’s a simple thing: compassion is simply kindness meeting suffering. In compassion meditation we first connect in a kindly way with ourselves, and then extend our concern to others.

Practicing in this way trains us to take into account not just our own well-being, but that of others, too. This has the effect of reducing the amount of self-focused rumination we do, decreasing our tendency to freak out, and increasing our happiness.

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To be less conflicted with others, be less conflicted within yourself

Photo by Natalie Collins on Unsplash

When we experience conflict with or ill will toward another person it’s obvious that there’s something about them that causes us pain or discomfort. But it’s less obvious that it’s the feelings that arise within us that are key; when we have hateful or critical thoughts we’re reacting not directly to another person, but to our own pain.

Our ill will toward another person is really an inability to deal with feelings within ourselves that we find uncomfortable.

The purpose of hatred is, ultimately, to drive away the supposed source of the problem: the other person. If we’re unpleasant to them, we assume, they’ll go away and leave us alone. But this doesn’t work when we’re bound to each other by social ties and we’re stuck with those to whom we have feelings of ill will. And ill will does nothing to deal with the real source of the problem — our inability to accept parts of ourselves that are in pain. Not only that, but it is itself painful. If we look at our experience when we’re full of hate, we’ll see that it’s a tight, conflicted, unpleasant state to be in. And acting based on ill will leads to conflicts that come back to bite us. Ill will is like a toxic medicine that only makes the disease worse.

Until we are able to deal skillfully with our own pain, we’ll continue to have aversion to it, and therefore to others. If, on the other hand, we learn to accept our own uncomfortable feelings, we’ll no longer need to have hatred.

When we’re cultivating compassion in meditation, there’s a stage where we call to mind someone we experience conflict with, or dislike, or feel critical of. I suggest that as you bring this person to mind, you check in with your body to see what kind of response you’re having toward them. Often you’ll find that there’s physical discomfort around the heart or in the solar plexus. This is the unpleasant feeling that we’re trying to push away. This is what we need to accept and respond to with compassion.

You can notice the discomfort, and accept that it’s OK to feel it. You can even tell yourself, “It’s OK to feel this.”

You can wish your discomfort well, and give it reassurance: “It’s OK. I’m here for you. I love you and I want to be happy.”

As you do this, you may notice that you can bear your discomfort in mind without ill will arising. However, if critical or hateful thoughts arise, just turn your attention once more to your actual experience of the body and to the painful feelings that are arising there. Keep accepting that it’s OK to have those feelings. Keep offering them reassurance and compassion.

Once you’ve done this—and it may only take a few seconds—you’ll find that it’s easier to turn your attention in a compassionate way to the person you find difficult. And you may find that you can respond to them in a “cleaner” way. It may be that there’s something about their behavior that’s not working for you in the long term. Maybe you need to ask them to look at this and ask them to change. But now you can do so with less of an “edge,” and in a way that’s more empathetic and that takes into account both your feelings and theirs.

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Let the breathing observe you

I’d like to suggest a very different way of meditating.

Normally in meditation we think about observing the breathing. Actually a lot of people think about and practice observing the breath — air flowing in and out of the body’s airways — but I point out that it’s far more useful to observe the breathing, which is a much richer experience. When we’re observing the breathing we’re potentially observing the entire body, and how it participates in and responds to the process of air flowing in and out of our passageways.

In taking this approach of observing the breathing it’s useful first of all to relax the muscles around the eyes. This brings about a change in the way we observe internally, so that we can be aware simultaneously of a wide range of sensation in different parts of the body. With the muscles around the eyes in their default, activated state, we can only observe one small part of the body. I’ve described this as being like switching from a flashlight, which can only illuminate a small area, to a lamp, which sheds light in all directions.

Once you’ve become aware of sensations from all over the body, it’s possible to simply rest there, with thoughts still arising but no longer capturing your attention. Less effort is required, and so there’s less of a sense that you’re doing anything in meditation. Your meditation practice is just there.

You can let go even further, though, by allowing yourself to sense that you are being observed by the breathing just as much as you are observing it. You can be aware of the body as a living, breathing, animal presence — a presence that has its own intelligence and awareness.

And just as you are aware of the body, the body is aware of you. Allow yourself to be seen.

Perhaps at first it may be a little uncomfortable to do this. After all, being observed can be uncomfortable. But think of this observation not so much as visual and more as felt, as sensory. And think of your body as a warm, loving presence that enfolds you intimately in its embrace.

This gives us an opportunity to surrender even further, and to sense our meditation practice from a place of deeper receptivity. There’s now nothing to do. We don’t even have to be present for the body, since the body is always present for us. When we come back to mindful awareness after a period of distraction we find that the body is still there, sensing us, and we can realize that it’s never stopped doing that.

This may sound fanciful, or even absurd. I just suggest that you give it a go, and see what happens. It may change your meditation practice, and perhaps even your life.

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Loving and supporting whatever is difficult within you

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash.

Someone wrote to me yesterday, saying that as she was getting into her spiritual practice, anger was starting to arise:

I have very recently started my journey towards freedom of suffering at the hands of myself or others. It would seem as though it has turned into an anger issue with me. So I am looking forward to any suggestions that may help me get to my centered, grounded, healing, happy place.

This can happen. As we’re leaving our comfort zone, fear can be triggered. We can also become more sensitive to the body as we practice meditation, and so we feel our feelings more strongly.

My own experience is that anger is a response to painful feelings that we haven’t yet learned to tolerate. The good news is that we can learn to accept those feelings so that anger no longer needs to arise. We have built up an expectation that they’re threatening and terrifying — like the monsters I used to imaging lurking at the foot of my bed when I was a child. But just as there wasn’t in reality anything there for me to be terrified of then, there’s nothing really there to be scared of now.

It’s not that the feelings don’t exist, it’s that when we do manage to bring ourselves to accept them, we realize there’s no big deal, and never was. They’re just feelings. They’re patterns of sensation in the body caused by ancient parts of the brain; part of an internal communication system that evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. Once you accept them, they often just evaporate, just like the darkness at the foot of the bed vanishes when you put the light on.

Of course there is a part of us that’s terrified of these feelings, and we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s going to be there all the time we’re persuading ourselves to turn and look at whatever feelings it is that we’ve been trying to avoid.

Maybe those feelings are hurt, or fear, or confusion. When you find you’re angry, drop down into the body and look to see what’s happening around the heart and the gut. Notice what’s there. As best you can, accept it. Tell yourself, “It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.” Realize that there’s nothing wrong with having these feelings. It’s not a failure. It’s just a part of you that’s evolved a certain habit in order to try to protect you.

Treat the part of you that’s creating these feelings with kindness. It’s hurt, confused, afraid. It’s not evil. It needs your compassion, not your condemnation.

Practice giving it compassion. Touch it tenderly, laying a hand on the part of the body where those feelings arise most strongly. Tell it you love it. Tell it you care. Tell it you’re there for it and will support it.

By relating to your feelings as parts of you that need help and support, rather than as boogey-men that you’re afraid of, you’ll start to lose your fear.

And you’ll notice along the way that your anger is starting to vanish. It was trying to protect you from your hurt or pain of confusion by trying to push away whatever was triggering those feelings. But when you accept your painful feelings you don’t need to be protected against them.

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“We forget our faults easily when they are known only to ourselves.” Francois de la Rochefoucauld

Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Just as we can’t see what we look like unless we encounter a mirror, often we don’t know what we’re like in terms of our behavior and attitude unless those things are reflected by other people.

There’s a considerable amount of evidence that other people have a clearer picture of what we’re like as individuals than we do ourselves. While we’re fairly good at assessing ourselves in terms of internal factors, knowing better than others what we feel and thinks, when it comes to factors like intelligence, attractiveness, creativity, and competence, others have a far clearer perception of us than we do ourselves.

But sometimes even internal factors are hard to assess. In my role as a teacher I’ve often heard from people (usually men) who say things like “After meditating for a few weeks I don’t think I’ve changed, although people who know me say I’m much easier to be with.” To me this suggests our tendency to externalize our mental states, so that rather than see ourselves as impatient we see others as being too slow; instead of seeing ourselves as untrusting we see others as untrustworthy; instead of seeing ourselves as unkind we see others as needing a good kick up the behind, and so on. And so when we change, for example by becoming a bit more relaxed, we don’t necessarily notice that fact, and we interpret this change, perhaps in terms of other people being more cooperative, and so on.

What I’ve just described is perhaps more common when we’re first starting to get to know and to work on ourselves, but even after decades of practice I’m still learning that there are things about myself I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge. It’s only through being mirrored by others that I come to recognize some of my faults.

And those faults are the ones I find hardest to see, because I’ve spent longer learning how not to acknowledge them, and trying to hide them from others. For example, I have habits of dishonesty that I haven’t been very aware of. I can tend to rationalize and whitewash my actions, so that I do things for one (not very noble) reason and then, when called on this, claim that my motivations were much more noble than they actually were. Or I’ll say something, have it pointed out that I was incorrect, and then claim I meant something different from what I actually said. Sometimes I’ll speculate about something, and then try to convince others that I’m more certain in my knowledge than I actually am. Sometimes I’ll feel or think one thing (usually critical) but present another thing to others.

I wouldn’t be aware of those habits if it wasn’t for one friend who has a finely-tuned bullshit detector, and in fact experiences acute distress when people around her are being inauthentic. As a result, she’s particularly demanding when it comes to dishonesty. In the past I’d probably have found her scary and made sure I avoided her. Actually, I do find her a little intimidating, but I really value how she’s pressuring me to be more honest and authentic. I’m finding that I like myself better when I live that way. So on the whole I really value our connection. It’s liberating to be called on my bullshit.

Looking back, I see a pattern in my life. I have to be with someone who’s kinder than I am in order to learn to see my own unkindness. I have to be with someone clearer than I am in order to see my own unclarity. I have to be with someone more honest than me in order to become more authentic and to see the ways in which I’m dishonest.

This is work that I could never have done on my own. We all need others as mirrors so that we can learn to see ourselves more accurately. It’s a scary process to have mirrored those aspects of ourselves that we least admire, but it’s necessary and rewarding work.

Just one other thing: often I hear perfectly lovely people express the belief that they’re actually horrible and unlovable individuals. Sometimes I have my good qualities reflected back to me and am surprised. De la Rochefoucauld was a cynic, and so less inclined to see that just as we forget our faults when they’re known only to ourselves, we also forget our virtues when they are known only to others. A true mirror reflects, impartially, both the good and the bad that is within us.

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Mindfulness: freedom from, freedom to

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/BkkVcWUgwEk
Mindfulness is everywhere these days, but it’s often poorly defined. To me its central and defining characteristic is self-observation. When we’re unmindful, there’s no self-observation going on. The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

Thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions are all functioning, but there’s no inner observer, and so there’s no evaluation going on. Without evaluation there’s no mechanism for recognizing that certain thoughts etc. are causing us or others suffering. And so we’re really nothing more than a complex bundle of instincts and habits. Those instincts and habits can do amazing things, like drive a car (ever “woken up” to find you’ve driven somewhere and have no recollection of the journey?) or read a book (I often would find that I’d read several pages of a bedtime story to my kids and not paid attention to a single word I’d said.

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The key thing is our suffering. Or, to put it another way, the quality of our experience. With no observation, there’s nothing to stop us from making ourselves anything from mildly disgruntled to extremely unhappy.

When self-observation is taking place, we notice the effects of particular thoughts, words, actions, and so on. And so we’re able to make adjustments. We might notice that a certain train of thought is causing us to feel anxious or depressed or angry. We might realize that the train of thought isn’t even true. And we might decide to let go of it.

Mindfulness gives us two kinds of freedom. It gives us freedom from, and freedom to.

By “freedom from” I mean freeing ourselves from the tyranny of habit and instinct, and therefore a cultivating a growing freedom from the suffering that these unmindful behaviors cause. When we’re mindful, these habits and instincts are still there, of course. They don’t magically vanish. But when we’re mindful they’re less likely to control our minds, and instead are just thoughts and desires that we observe and that we may decide not to act on.

That’s radical in itself, because it profoundly changes the course of our being. But we also discover that we have not just freedom from unmindful ways of being, but the freedom to bring about different ways of being. We have the freedom to choose. We can choose to be kinder, for example. If we just remember that being kind is a possibility, we’re more likely to be kind. If we remember what it’s like to feel and act in a kind way, then those qualities are more likely to arise. If we’re free from angry thoughts we are also free to think in ways that are more empathetic and loving.

And what is true for being kinder is true for being patient, curious, courageous, accepting, appreciative, reflective, and for practicing other skillful qualities. With mindfulness we’re free to choose to be different.

Mindfulness gives us the freedom to stop causing ourselves and others suffering through unmindful habits, and to instead cultivate skillful habits that help to improve the quality of our own lives and that also impact other people in positive ways. It’s both freedom from and freedom to.

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