Posts by Kulananda

Ten tips for mindful working


  1. If you walk to the bus stop, Tube or train station, turn off your phone. Feel your feet on the ground and the movement in your legs and hips. Notice how you’re breathing.
  2. If you drive to work, take a few moments when you first get into your car just to notice your breath and your body.
  3. As you sit at your desk or workstation, take a few moments from time to time to tune in to your body sensations. Notice any tension that might be there and breathe into it – softening and easing.
  4. When you have a break, instead of reading the paper or searching on the internet, get away from your computer – take a short walk and get outside if you can.
  5. At lunchtime, turn off your phone and get some air. Pause. If you meet with colleagues over lunch, try talking about things other than work.
  6. Find ways of setting up mindfulness cues in your workspace. Perhaps when your phone rings you could use that as an opportunity to check in with your breathing.
  7. Before heading home, review the day. Acknowledge what you’ve achieved, make a list of what you need to do tomorrow and, if you can, put your work down.
  8. Use your journey home as a way of making a transition. Walk or drive mindfully. Take your time.
  9. Change out of your work clothes soon after you get in and make a point of greeting everyone at home in turn.
  10. If you live alone, feel what it is like to enter the quiet space of your own home.

From: The Mindful Workplace (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), by Michael Chaskalson, CEO of Mindfulness Works.

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600 years of solitude, by Michael Chaskalson (Kulananda)

On the Irish isle of Skellig Michael, Celtic Monks once pursued a tough life of meditation. Kulananda (Michael Chaskalson) feels a connection across the centuries with these vanished contemplatives, and senses a continuity between his own efforts and theirs.

I am traveling about the Kerry coast with the team that runs the Dublin Meditation Center. As the Center’s president, I visit from time to time, helping out where I can. We are getting to know one another better, getting to know Ireland together, adventuring around its glorious coastline on a kind of pilgrimage.

One evening we set out in search of a place to hold an impromptu meeting: three members of the Western Buddhist Order meeting to discuss our practice and our work. We find a quiet cove and start along a “mass path” to an old “mass rock,” where outdoor mass was said in the absence of a church during the time of the Penal Laws that suppressed Catholic church services.

Thirteen monks, living a life of prayer and contemplation in their tiny, round, rock-built huts 600 sheer feet above the rolling north Atlantic.

It is a golden evening, the sun setting softly pink into the still ocean as we scramble over rocks and through purple rhododendron glades. Rounding a corner, the two Skellig islands suddenly appear before us, like huge Gothic cathedrals, floating in yellow light upon a gilded sea, an eruption from another dimension.

Some time in the sixth century a small band of monks headed out into the Atlantic Ocean off the south-west coast of Ireland in a hide-covered coracle. Their destination was a peaked rocky outcrop, seven miles out to sea. Battered by the deep Atlantic waves, somehow they negotiated a landing against the island’s steep face of crumbling sandstone. They had come to stay here, a day’s perilous journey from the mainland, on a barren, storm-battered rock at the edge of civilization on the western-most tip of Europe. On their horizon the sun set over the very end of the world.

Thirteen monks, living a life of prayer and contemplation in their tiny, round, rock-built huts 600 sheer feet above the rolling north Atlantic. Unbelievably, a small community flourished on that rock for six centuries. They fished, kept a tiny garden and maybe an animal or two. On the southern pinnacle, above a chimney of rock, a solitary hermit once passed his days in complete isolation.

…when most of western Europe was plunged into darkness and illiteracy, the Irish Celtic monks preserved classical learning…

Skeilic means “rock” in Irish. and there are two Skellig Islands. Little Skellig is an uninhabited haven of seabirds; a mile and a half away is Skellig Michael, dedicated, like so many high places, to the archangel of that name. It is barren pinnacle of rock, less than half a mile long and nowhere more than 500 feet wide. It rises steeply to a peak 700 feet above the ocean.

Six centuries. Despite, cruel winter weather, despite the scarcity of food and fuel, for 600 years a monastic community clung to that rock. And ever since has been a place of pilgrimage, a place of awe.

A romantic picture perhaps, but here in the west of Ireland the mind turns naturally to romance — it’s in the air, in the radiance of the light, the greenness of the land. Awestruck, we stand and quietly stare, new Buddhists on an old mass of rock, bringing a new religion to a country where an old one was once so hampered; gazing at an illuminated haven of timeless contemplation.

The next day dawns gray and wet, and there is only just time to buy ourselves green plastic rain capes before heading off to join our boat. “You’ll not be needing those today, boys,” says the boatman, seemingly oblivious to the squalling rain. But as we approach the islands the sky clears, the wind drops, and we circle Little Skellig on a clear, calm sea.

Little Skellig is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of gannets. They jostle for space and fleck the rocks white. There soar flocks of razor bills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes: a multitude of seabirds. Seals bask in small inlets, and there I caught my first sight of a puffin: a childhood wish at last fulfilled.

The smallness of the buildings is accentuated by the vastness of the space all around. Man, on this rock, is but a little thing.

Landing on Skellig Michael, we climb an ancient rock-cut stairway. A thin layer of soil clings to gray, lichenous rock. Sea campion, plantago, scurvy grass: a few plant species scrabble out a desperate living. A sign put up by the Office of Public Works urges us to take care of the flora, not to throw stones, and to respect the “spiritual atmosphere” of the place

The monastic enclosure sits on a flat terrace at the edge of a 600-foot cliff. The windowless huts are shaped like beehive domes and are roughly rectangular inside, none more than 15 feet by 12. The smallness of the buildings is accentuated by the vastness of the space all around. Man, on this rock, is but a little thing. There are altars, prayer stations, and a few Celtic crosses — everything starkly laid out against a brilliant Atlantic sky.

There are no springs on Skellig Michael; rainwater, as well as dew and condensed mist from the rocks, was gathered in cisterns. And since there is nothing to burn, there can have been few fires, and little cooking. The monks must have lived on a few vegetables, grain from the mainland, wind-dried fish and raw seabirds’ eggs in season. Through the wet, freezing winter their rough woolen garments can rarely have been dry. This was no easy life.

As my friends and I crowd into a tiny drystone cell, the silence settles and a sense of awe arises. We know why those monks came there, 14 centuries ago. In our own ways we know that same yearning, the desire for peace and solitude that moves all meditators.

This is expressed by the Buddhist poet Shantideva, writing in India maybe 100 years after the founding of Skellig monastery

… one should recoil from sensual desires and cultivate delight in solitude, in tranquil woodlands empty of contention and strife.

On delightful rock surfaces cooled by the sandal balm of the moon’s rays, stretching wide as palaces, the fortunate pace, fanned by the silent, gentle forest breezes, as they contemplate for the well-being of others.

Bound to none, one enjoys that happiness and contentment which even for a king is hard to find.

During the sixth century, when most of western Europe was plunged into darkness and illiteracy, the Irish Celtic monks preserved classical learning in a project of voracious bibliophilia. Not only the Gospels, but Aristotle, Euripedes, Virgil, Ovid. Whatever they could find they copied, preserved and returned to the rest of Europe. The debt we owe them is immense. But I don’t see these Skellig monks as scribes. We know very little about them but surely they were contemplatives, upholding the more inward dimension of the Celtic Christian tradition.

I am humbled by the commitment of those monks, by their single-minded devotion to the contemplative life

On the saddle of the island, with the blue sky all around us and the myriad-colored Atlantic rolling beneath, I sit talking with a friend. Discussing his meditation practice and thoughts about life, I feel a strong resonance come upon me. Yes — this is it. It rolls on and on. The same searching, the same fundamental quest. The Skellig monks practiced for the sake of the life to come, for the glories in heaven. Shantideva, like all Buddhists, taught practice for the sake of radical change here and now. But for all their differences, they share a profound commitment to spiritual effort, a deep dedication to the inner life.

On the boat back to the mainland a still solemnity steals over me. As a western Buddhist in western Europe, it is not often that I experience a sense of continuity between my efforts and those of the ancients. I felt it once on the Acropolis and something like it, from a different dimension, in Florence. But on Skellig Michael the feeling is much more immediate. For six long centuries that barren rock was dedicated to contemplation. So our journey there seems fitting, for although we are bringing something new to that land, something clear and not heard before, it distantly resonates with something very old, and long buried. I feel it welcoming us back.

With that feeling comes humility and awe. I am humbled by the commitment of those monks, by their single-minded devotion to the contemplative life, which led them to live far out in the wild North Atlantic. That level of dedication is something to aspire to.

But omens abound on Skellig Michael and solemnity doesn’t last. As I emerge from my reverie, a school of dolphins surfaces around the boat. Leaping and diving, they are joyfully at home in their own true element, out here in the wild Atlantic Ocean.

KulanandaMichael Chaskalson (also known as Kulananda) is a leading teacher of mindfulness-based approaches to work and healthcare, training senior executives, executive coaches, clinical psychologists and others in this radical approach to creativity and personal effectiveness. With Dominic Houlder he is the author of Mindfulness and Money and has written several books on Buddhist themes. See for more information.

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The ocean of interrelatedness, by Kulananda (Michael Chaskalson)

western buddhism, by kulananda (michael chaskalson)The following is extracted and adapted (with permission) from Kulananda’s book, Western Buddhism: New Insights Into The West’s Fastest Growing Religion. (,

Everything that we call “ourselves” is simply a changing pattern of interrelationships — patterns that are inextricably part of a great flux of conditions.

But we all cling, however unconsciously, to the idea that we have a “self,” something that is “us in our essential nature,” something fixed and enduring, separate in its essentials from the rest of the universe.

This picture we have of ourselves is both false and limiting. Its principle limitation lies in its restriction of the possibility of change for the better. If we have a “self,” an essential nature that is fixed and enduring, then there is a limit to the extent to which we can grow as individuals. One hears examples of this idea all the time: “I am who I am. I cannot change and you must accept me for what I am.”

The Buddha’s revolutionary insight, however, destroys this idea. The principle of conditionality, or interrelatedness, makes it plain that we have no abiding essence.

The Sea of Conditions of which we are a part is vast. It contains nothing less than the past and present of the entire universe. All “matter” is contained in it — all cells, chemicals, particles and waves. It contains all of human history: all information, all ideas. All these ideas, cells, chemicals, and bits of information are themselves constantly changing and re-arranging as they flow together in an infinitely vast array of different patterns.

Looking over the surface of the ocean, we can see some of these patterns, including a large number of whirlpools — vortices of different sizes and different shapes. Each vortex is unique, each has its own characteristics. Some are larger or deeper than others, some are vigorous, some are languid. They come into being, subsist for a time, and then disappear as the sea flows and changes, in constant motion.

Each vortex represents an individual human life. We come into being and take shape from the conditions available to us. The cells, chemicals, biological matter and all the other conditions of our lives give shape to our being. Different fragments of the ideas of Marx, Christ, Thoreau, the Beatles, Rousseau, Walt Whitman, Raymond Chandler, Freud, Picasso, Adam Smith, Jefferson, Keats, Einstein, the advertising industry, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Henry Ford, Chaucer, Ian Fleming, and the Buddha drift in this Sea of Conditions. They flow into our vortex, give it shape, flow down and flow out. The history of our parents and our culture, flows in, flows down and flows out. All our inherited ideas of good and bad; all the cells which replicate and die in our bodies; all the viruses which affect our health; all the colors, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes and ideas we ever experience, flow in, flow down and flow out. All our memories, sensations, emotions, desires and actions flow in to the vortex, shape it and flow out.

In reality we are not ultimately separate from the rest of the Sea of Conditions, from all the vast immensity of life itself. But we don’t see it like that. In order to get by from day to day, in order to get on with the apparently urgent business of survival, we narrow the scope of our vision to more manageable proportions. Grabbing onto some conditions as they drift by, pushing away others, we each create an apparently workable ego-identity for ourselves and then spend the rest of our lives in a desperate attempt to preserve that identity.

We have a deep desire for identity — to be fixed, to be separate, to be real. In consequence we cling to one part of the vortex only. We identify ourselves exclusively with one small aspect of our experience and try to block out all the rest. We try to keep our self consciousness pinned-down at a low part of the vortex, where it cycles around a narrow point. We don’t see the clear sky above or the surface of the vast sea all around. We pin ourselves down at a point where we think we can cope with what surrounds us and we call that point “me.” That, we think, is what we really are; that is what we have to protect; that is what must survive.

However, the truth of interrelatedness points to the entirely contingent and provisional nature of our “ordinary” view of ourselves. Like everything else, we are constantly changing. There is nothing we can identify as finally, ultimately, “what we really are” in our essential nature. Our essential nature is “no nature.” In reality we are not fixed, unchanging, separate selves but rather we are a part of the ever-changing flow of life — the flux of the Sea of Conditions. The only way to become “truly real” is by letting go of our fixed, ego delineated view of ourselves. Only by giving up our attachment to the illusion that there is a real, final and definitive boundary between ourselves and everything else can we ever become truly real.

According to Buddhism, we keep our consciousness pinned down at the bottom of the vortex by way of three fundamentally conditioning impulses — craving, aversion and delusion, reflexes of our relentless desire for continued existence.

Craving is the mechanism by which we try to augment and secure our ego-identity by including in it things from “outside” of it. By grasping onto things we like, things which give us pleasure, things with which we wish to be associated, or be seen to be associated with, we constantly strive to build up a firm ego-identity.

Aversion is the mechanism by which we try to secure our ego-identity by rejecting any form of connection between it and the object we despise. Whether we feel aversion for our boss, our neighbor, spinach, city life, or people of another race, religion or sexual preference, the fundamental mechanism is the same — we are fixing ourselves and seeking to preserve our experience within the boundaries of the known and familiar. We define ourselves as much by what we reject as we do by what we accept.

Delusion is the endlessly beguiling notion that our ego-identities can in fact be preserved. It is the underlying unconscious belief which we all share that we can keep the universal tides of impermanence at bay with the futile bulwarks which are erected by the forces of craving and aversion. Everything always changes. We always change. Nothing we can do can ever keep change at bay and yet, deluded, we scamper about forever seeking to re-create a fixed and stable sense of ourselves.

Buddhism, however, asserts that this is not the only way we can be. We can begin to undo the bonds of craving, aversion and delusion. In doing so, to extend our analogy, we’ll begin to rise up within the vortex and we’ll see more of what surrounds us. By becoming more open to new modes of experience, new ways of being, we can begin to drop our narrow, delusive self-preoccupation, and consequent self limitation. Instead we can develop new, more expansive modes of consciousness with greater awareness of the rest of reality and more empathy with the rest of life. Rising up the vortex we can begin to identify more with life itself, less with our own narrow segment of it.

The Buddhist term “Insight” refers to a process of complete re-orientation — a complete re-arrangement of all our faculties of thinking, perceiving and feeling such that we are irrevocably changed: so that our whole being accords more fully with the way things really are. Such an insight amounts to nothing less than complete liberation from all suffering, all delusion. For when one sees that one has no fixed, separate self to protect and enhance; when one is beyond the grip of the forces of appropriation and rejection; when one identifies not with one’s own life exclusively, but with all of life; then one dwells in a state of supreme equanimity and complete, spontaneous creativity, freely able to respond to circumstances as they arise with complete appropriateness. Seeing things as they really are, one acts always accordingly. This, in Buddhist terms, is the fullness of Wisdom and Compassion. And it is a goal to be approached in practice, not merely in theory…

KulanandaMichael Chaskalson (also known as Kulananda) is a leading teacher of mindfulness-based approaches to work and healthcare, training senior executives, executive coaches, clinical psychologists and others in this radical approach to creativity and personal effectiveness. With Dominic Houlder he is the author of Mindfulness and Money and has written several books on Buddhist themes. See for more information.

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“The Compassionate Brain” by Gerald Huther, Ph.D.

book cover The Compassionate Brain by Gerald Huther, Ph.D. (Trumpeter, 2006. Paperback, $14.00).

Available from and

Gerald Huther is head of neurobiological research at a psychiatric clinic in Germany, working to discover more about the effects of fear, stress, addiction and nutrition on the brain. This book is a by-product of that research.

For Huther the human brain is a densely networked structure that is open-ended in terms of its programmability. Unlike those found in many other forms of life – such as stickleback fish whose complicated mating rituals are genetically predetermined – the human brain at birth is pretty much open-ended in terms of how it can be programmed. You come into the world with a brain whose final wiring is going to be connected up and consolidated in accordance with how you use it.

There is an upside and a downside to this. The bad news is that if you don’t get what you need in the first years of life – if your relationship with your primary caregiver is traumatic, for example – that can “canalize” defective coping strategies that manifest in later life as psychological disturbance and antisocial behavior.

The good news is that given the human brain’s extraordinary plasticity we can change its structure through changing how we use it. We can sharpen our senses by attending more sensitively and precisely to our inner and outer worlds. We can develop a great capacity to empathize with others’ feelings, putting ourselves in their place. And we can come increasingly to know ourselves – aware of what is taking place within ourselves, conscious of who we are and how we came to be like this.

By deciding how and for what purposes we are going to use our brains, we also end up making a decision about what kind of brain we are going to end up with. For here you really do need to “use it or lose it” and the choice not to embark on a path of development but rather to stay as you are might well be the last free choice you make: the more frequently you use the old established neuronal circuits you currently have the more embedded they become.

If you don’t want to become stuck in that way, following the old worn-in ruts, you have to call your experience into question again and again. By following the usual human path of egocentricity – seeing oneself as the center of the world and acting accordingly – one embeds a fixed pattern of repetitive neuronal connectivity. The harder path of self-development, which leads to a more comprehensive, complex and more highly networked brain, consists in developing qualities that go beyond self-centeredness. Sensibleness, uprightness, humility, prudence, truthfulness, reliability, empathy, and courtesy; qualities such these cannot be developed in isolation. They come as part of a matrix of social feelings that involve connectedness and solidarity that transcend our usual self-centeredness. In the end, says Huther, a person who wishes to use his or her brain in the most comprehensive manner must also learn to love.

Huther sets his arguments out clearly and precisely. The book is styled as a kind of “user’s manual” for the human brain, with section headings such as “Removing the Packing and Protective Materials,” “Options for Assembly and Possible Applications,” “Advice About Installations Already in Place,” “Repairing Failed Installations,” “Maintenance and Servicing,” and so on. I wonder at the wisdom of this choice, for like a user’s manual the book often comes across as drier and less poetic than its title would otherwise suggest. For those who keep going at it, this book has considerable wisdom to offer alongside its hard science. Many readers, though, will wish there were a few more oases of imagery and poetry along the way.

Available from and

KulanandaMichael Chaskalson (also known as Kulananda) is a leading teacher of mindfulness-based approaches to work and healthcare, training senior executives, executive coaches, clinical psychologists and others in this radical approach to creativity and personal effectiveness. With Dominic Houlder he is the author of Mindfulness and Money and has written several books on Buddhist themes. See for more information.

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