Wildmind https://www.wildmind.org Learn Meditation Online Tue, 18 Aug 2020 20:25:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://static.wildmind.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-favicon-32x32.jpg Wildmind https://www.wildmind.org 32 32 Try this simple technique to dispel anxiety https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/try-this-simple-technique-to-dispel-anxiety https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/try-this-simple-technique-to-dispel-anxiety#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2020 13:47:22 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41832

Being mindful of the body is powerful tool for grounding us and calming us down. Paying attention to the physical sensations and movements of the body diverts our attention away from the ruminative thoughts that cause stress. And this in turn allows our emotions to settle so that we become calmer and more at ease. An added bonus is that practicing mindfulness in this way brings about long-term changes in the brain. These changes make us less emotionally reactive so that we have less of a tendency to freak out.

But our body itself has a more direct and immediate effect on our emotions. The very way that we hold the body — the posture …

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Being mindful of the body is powerful tool for grounding us and calming us down. Paying attention to the physical sensations and movements of the body diverts our attention away from the ruminative thoughts that cause stress. And this in turn allows our emotions to settle so that we become calmer and more at ease. An added bonus is that practicing mindfulness in this way brings about long-term changes in the brain. These changes make us less emotionally reactive so that we have less of a tendency to freak out.

But our body itself has a more direct and immediate effect on our emotions. The very way that we hold the body — the posture we adopt — changes how we feel. The effects of this are measurable. They can be seen in terms of the underlying hormones that give rise to our feelings. They can also be seen in terms of the way we act.

In a study published in 2014 by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, individuals with mild to moderate depression were assigned either to a group where they were asked to sit up straight, or where they just sat normally. The “straight sitters” were asked to straighten their backs and level their shoulders. They were also asked to stretch the tops of their heads toward the ceiling while drawing their shoulder blades down and together.

Researchers asked both groups to do a stressful task: to give a speech for five minutes, while being judged. Those who sat up straight while doing this task used more words in total than the control group, suggesting that they were more energized and had a better mood. They also used the word “I” much less than the other group, suggesting that they had become less self-focused and self-conscious.

Other research shows that when we sit up straight, we are more likely to remember positive memories or to have positive thoughts. A slumped posture, on the other hand, leads to depressive thoughts and memories arising.

In a 2010 study at Columbia and Harvard universities, researchers asked study participants either to adopt a dominant, high power stance (sitting or standing straight, expanding the body, and spreading the limbs) or a submissive posture (involving the opposite). The power posers experienced elevations in testosterone (which contributes to feelings of confidence), and decreases in cortisol (which is a stress hormone). Low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern.

When the two groups were subsequently asked to play a low-risk gambling game, the high power group were more confident, as shown by their being more likely to take a chance on winning.

Finally, reinforcing how crucial posture is in our lives, Adam D. Galinsky and Li Huang of Northwestern University ran a series of studies on posture. These showed that posture was in fact a major predictor of whether people feel powerful or take action. It was more powerful than either putting people in positions of power or asking them to recall feeling powerful.

This is all excellent news, because our posture is something that’s easy to change. You can do it right now. In fact, I’d suggest that for the next three minutes you do a standing meditation in which you adopt a Superman or Wonder Woman pose, as illustrated below. (Knee-high boots are optional!)

You can also try sitting in a power pose. Sit erect, with your head held high, and with your limbs taking up space around you. Watch out for a tendency to slouch, since this contributes to feelings of fatigue, despondency, and powerlessness. These feelings can cause our thoughts and feelings to spiral out of control.

Keep coming back to your posture during the day. Do this while you’re sitting or standing at work or at home, when you’re driving, and when you’re walking. Think of what it’s like to sit, stand, or walk with confidence. And notice the effect that this has on how you feel. And several times a day, for at least three minutes, adopt a “power pose.”

For a few people, the experience of adopting a more confident posture can at first evoke a feeling of anxiety. It’s as if they’re thinking, “Who am I to show confidence?” If this happens to you, recognize that this is a temporary state of affairs. Remember that the physiological changes you’re creating will soon bring a sense of strength and confidence.

This article is adapted from material for Wildmind’s online course, “Stop Freaking Out.” This, like our other courses, is available free of charge to supporters of Wildmind’s Meditation Initiative. You can click here to learn more about this initiative.

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Abiding in Peace, Here and Now https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/news/abiding-in-peace-here-and-now https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/news/abiding-in-peace-here-and-now#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2020 14:07:50 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41786

  • When? Saturday and Sunday June 13 and 14, 9am-12pm (Pacific time) both days.
  • Where? On Zoom (link will be sent after registration).
  • How much? By donation.

In follow-up to his transformative retreat in April, Bodhipaksa will introduce further radical yet simple approaches to meditation that allow experiences of peace, joy, and calmness to unfold effortlessly within us.

These tools are accessible regardless of whether or not you attended his first retreat.

As well as new meditation skills, you’ll come away with an understanding of the significance of dhyana (meditative absorption) in the Buddha’s path to Awakening, and especially how it leads to insight. And crucially, you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of how peace …

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  • When? Saturday and Sunday June 13 and 14, 9am-12pm (Pacific time) both days.
  • Where? On Zoom (link will be sent after registration).
  • How much? By donation.

In follow-up to his transformative retreat in April, Bodhipaksa will introduce further radical yet simple approaches to meditation that allow experiences of peace, joy, and calmness to unfold effortlessly within us.

These tools are accessible regardless of whether or not you attended his first retreat.

As well as new meditation skills, you’ll come away with an understanding of the significance of dhyana (meditative absorption) in the Buddha’s path to Awakening, and especially how it leads to insight. And crucially, you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of how peace and joy can be found in every moment.

Register Online

If you would like to attend this online class, please register through the San Francisco website at the link below by Thursday June 11. You’ll receive a Zoom link by the end of Friday June 12.

REGISTER HERE

About the Teacher

Bodhipaksha has taught meditation around the world and online for many years. He is also the author of several books, most recently This Difficult Thing of Being Human: The Art of Self-Compassion, and the founder of Wildmind Meditation<.

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Old teaching, new perspectives https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/old-teaching-new-perspectives https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/old-teaching-new-perspectives#comments Fri, 22 May 2020 12:57:40 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41755

Way back in my teens I read a book called “From Primitives to Zen,” which was a compendium of texts from the world’s religious traditions, compiled by Mircea Eliade. If you haven’t heard of Eliade, he was a well-known and influential Romanian historian of religion who was Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. His book provided one of my earliest exposures to the Buddha’s teachings, since one whole section comprised extracts of the early Buddhist scriptures.

Buddhism, I quickly discovered, liked lists. The reason for this is that Buddhism arose at a time when nothing sacred was written down. The safest place for the preservation of important information was, people …

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Way back in my teens I read a book called “From Primitives to Zen,” which was a compendium of texts from the world’s religious traditions, compiled by Mircea Eliade. If you haven’t heard of Eliade, he was a well-known and influential Romanian historian of religion who was Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. His book provided one of my earliest exposures to the Buddha’s teachings, since one whole section comprised extracts of the early Buddhist scriptures.

Buddhism, I quickly discovered, liked lists. The reason for this is that Buddhism arose at a time when nothing sacred was written down. The safest place for the preservation of important information was, people believed, in the human mind. In India at that time paper was unknown, and special leaves were used as a writing material. Probably only relatively ephemeral information, such as brief notes and business sales receipts, was written down.

The Four Right Efforts

Some of these lists baffled me (the fault was with me, not them) but some of them stood out as models of clear thinking. One such teaching was the “four right efforts,” which is actually one item in a longer list, the eightfold path. Here’s a translation of the Buddha’s exposition on right effort:

And what, monks, is right effort? Here, monks, (1) a monk generates desire for the nonarising of unarisen evil unwholesome states; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. (2) He generates desire for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states…. (3) He generates desire for the arising of unarisen wholesome states…. (4) He generates desire for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their nondecay, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. This is called right effort.

So we:

  1. Prevent unskillful (unhelpful) mental states from arising.
  2. Abandon unskillful states if they already exist.
  3. Bring into being new skillful states.
  4. Further develop skillful states that have already arisen.

It is very neat and logical, isn’t it? And it’s practical, too. These four right effects are the core of what spiritual practice consists of. In virtually any moment we have the opportunity to “nudge” the mind in one direction or another. And the reason we do this of course is because it helps us to free the mind from suffering and makes us happier.

The Power of Appreciation

At it happens, I was thinking about another practice the other day — mudita, which I prefer to translate as “joyful appreciation,” and saw a connection between that and the four right efforts.

Most teachers explain mudita in terms of “being happy about someone else’s happiness” or “sympathetic joy.” Originally, though, it seems to have been “joy at appreciating the virtue of others.” Mudita is appreciation, admiration, and gratitude.

One of the wonderful things about appreciation, admiration, and gratitude is that they are very encouraging attitudes. If we express appreciation when someone has done something we admire, then we make it more likely that they’ll do that thing again. And if we admire a good quality in another person, then we’re more likely to develop it ourselves.

Anyway, I was thinking about mudita, and realized that although we usually think of the four right efforts in terms of what we do with our own mental states, we could also apply them to how we relate to other people’s mental states. After all, one of the things about Buddhist practice is that it lessens our emphasis on ourselves, and increases our concern for others.

Turning the Four Right Efforts Toward Others

So how might the four right efforts work as applied to others?

  1. We’d be concerned not to encourage the arising of unskillful states in others. Rather than just be concerned about whether our unskillful states — for example, hatred or craving — will hurt us, we can be aware that our behaviors set an example for others. If we are negative on social media, for example, then we encourage others to act likewise. Mental states are contagious.
  2. We’d be concerned to help others free themselves from unskillful states of mind. Ordinarily, if someone is in a bad mood, what do we do? Roll our eyes? Avoid them? Get snippy right back at them? If we have compassionate concern for them, then we’ll be concerned not just about how they’re behaving and how it affects us, but also about the suffering they’re causing themselves. So we might show them empathy, for example, and ask them what’s going on to cause their unhappiness.
  3. How can we bring skillful states into being within others? Remembering that states of mind are contagious, we can affect others through our example. If we’re kind, that encourages kindness in others. I remember reading about an experiment where a very negative person — someone who complained about everything and everyone — was put in a room with a highly trained Buddhist monk. In time the negative person started being more at ease and ended up, despite himself, feeling happy. Here again we come to mudita, which involves seeing and rejoicing in others’ good qualities. If we give someone positive feedback when we see even a glimmer of some skillful quality in them, we encourage them to focus on, value, and develop that quality.
  4. The kind of appreciation I’ve just discussed will also help someone to grow and develop skillful qualities once they’ve arisen. What springs to mind for me here are spiritual friendship, since encouraging someone to turn their skillful states into steady habits is something that takes consistent contact over a long period of time, and the kind of easy and frank communication that comes from really knowing and trusting someone.

“Taking Care of Others, I Take Care of Myself”

I thought it interesting that I’d never before thought in terms of turning the four right efforts outwards. I’m imagine I’m not the first person to think of this, but I don’t remember them ever being presented in this way.

The emphasis I’m putting here on being a friend and exemplar to others fits very well with many other teachings from the scriptures. For example, the Buddha tells the housholder Sig?laka that he can recognize a good friend because “They keep you from doing bad. They support you in doing good. They teach you what you do not know. They explain the path to heaven [i.e the path of ethical conduct].”

And in one of my favorite teachings, the Buddha explains to two acrobatic performers, whose safety depends on them taking care of each other, “Taking care of myself, I take care of others. Taking care of others, I take care of myself.” When we work directly on our own unskillful states, eliminating the negative and accentuating the positive, this benefits others, since we’re kinder and easier to be with. When we help others, this benefits us, since being connected to others through kindness, compassion, and appreciation is deeply fulfilling and brings us peace and joy.

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Tonglen: a practice of compassion for self and other https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/tonglen-a-practice-of-compassion-for-self-and-other https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/tonglen-a-practice-of-compassion-for-self-and-other#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2020 13:29:49 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41640

In response to the current coronavirus crisis, I’m putting together a FREE course on how we can find calmness and balance when things around us are falling apart. It’ll start on April 10, and will consist of 28 guided meditations, accompanied by just a few written words for context. The materials are delivered by email.

Click here to enroll in the free course.

I’ve also created a compassion practice to help us remain open to the suffering within and around us.

This practice of “Tonglen” — “giving and receiving” — is a form of lovingkindness or compassion meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It includes a reminder for us to bring compassion to our …

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In response to the current coronavirus crisis, I’m putting together a FREE course on how we can find calmness and balance when things around us are falling apart. It’ll start on April 10, and will consist of 28 guided meditations, accompanied by just a few written words for context. The materials are delivered by email.

Click here to enroll in the free course.

I’ve also created a compassion practice to help us remain open to the suffering within and around us.

This practice of “Tonglen” — “giving and receiving” — is a form of lovingkindness or compassion meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It includes a reminder for us to bring compassion to our own suffering, and so it’s also a self-compassion practice.

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The Eightfold Path: A Tool for Living at a Time of Crisis https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-eightfold-path-as-a-tool-for-living-at-a-time-of-crisis https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-eightfold-path-as-a-tool-for-living-at-a-time-of-crisis#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2020 20:06:45 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41617

I was in the thick of putting together my online course, “Love Your Enemies,” when the coronavirus crisis became serious. As a result I’ve felt a little late in responding to what’s going on right now. I plan to start a new course this month called something like “Meditating In a Crisis.” But today I want to share just a few thoughts on that topic, using the Buddha’s Eightfold Path as a framework.

If you’re not familiar with the eightfold path, it’s a comprehensive system of practices that help us move from ignorance to Awakening, from suffering to peace.

The path is not eightfold in the sense that it’s eight stages to be followed, one …

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I was in the thick of putting together my online course, “Love Your Enemies,” when the coronavirus crisis became serious. As a result I’ve felt a little late in responding to what’s going on right now. I plan to start a new course this month called something like “Meditating In a Crisis.” But today I want to share just a few thoughts on that topic, using the Buddha’s Eightfold Path as a framework.

If you’re not familiar with the eightfold path, it’s a comprehensive system of practices that help us move from ignorance to Awakening, from suffering to peace.

The path is not eightfold in the sense that it’s eight stages to be followed, one after another. The eight components of the path can all be practiced in every moment of our lives. You could think of the path being eightfold in that it’s composed of eight lanes — a kind of highway to Awakening. Or if you prefer an image on a less industrial scale, you could think of it as being like a brick path, eight bricks wide. With every step you practice all eight factors of the path. Or you could think of the path as being like a rainbow, except with eight “colors” rather than the standard seven. Or you could think of it as resembling a cord woven from eight threads.

I hope to show you that the eightfold path is a practical teaching, and that it’s flexible and capable of being applied in contemporary circumstances.

Right View (Samma Ditthi)

In this model of practice, we start with examining our views. Views are core beliefs. They’re the basic assumptions we make about life. Some views we have contribute to our long-term happiness and wellbeing, but some detract from it.

Usually we don’t just go looking for unhelpful views. We find ourselves suffering, and then we look inside ourselves to see what we’re doing to cause that suffering.

A lot of us, for example, carry around assumptions like “Bad things shouldn’t happen to me.” And so when a major disruption like coronavirus comes along, it seems unfair and unjust. After all, we’ve just been trying to get on with life, which is difficult enough as it is. And now this? Views such as this, which  encourage us to have self-pity, aren’t going to help us. Closer to what the Buddha would have described as a Right View is the common saying, “Shit happens.” Things change. They sometimes change in unwelcome ways. And we just have to work with that and make the best of it.

Another view, “This kind of thing always happens to me!” is also unhelpful. It’s a maladaptive attempt to find solace in a sense of “specialness,” as if we’ve been singled out by the universe for mistreatment. The thing is that this epidemic isn’t about us individually. It’s a crisis that affects many people, and no matter how it’s affecting us, there are others who are worse off. Focusing narrowly on ourselves isn’t helpful. In fact it makes us miserable.

So it’s helpful for us to become aware of the views we have around the coronavirus pandemic, so that we can let go of those that are unhelpful, and embrace those that are more in line with reality and that help us be at peace.

So, shit happens. That’s true, and it might be helpful to adopt it as a view. But other views, such as “Every difficulty is a spiritual opportunity” can be helpful as well. As the title of one of my other posts says, “All people and all circumstances are my allies.” Including this one.

Right Intention (Samma Sankappa)

Samma sankappa is also sometimes translated as “right resolve,”  “right attitude,” and even as “right emotion.”)  We’re talking about our emotional interaction with the world, and whether they help or hinder our wellbeing

I mentioned above that some views support attitudes of self pity.  The emotion or attitude of self-pity isn’t, of course, helpful. Panic isn’t helpful. Despondency isn’t helpful. These things tend to happen automatically. But since those reactions cause us suffering, what’s being suggested is that we find other ways to respond. Healthier ways.

What’s healthier? Self-compassion helps because it provides us with an inner source of support, encouragement, and comfort as we face difficulties. Compassion for others helps us because it takes the focus off of us personally, and helps us see that we’re all in it together, albeit to varying degrees.

Right Speech (Samma Vaca)

The Buddhist scriptures define right speech like this: “Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter; that is right speech.” They also describe right speech positively, as holding to the truth, bringing people together in concord, as being kind and polite, and as pointing people toward the goal of liberation, or awakening.

So every time we remind ourselves to be compassionate to ourselves and others, we can take that attitude into the way we communicate. Other people, whether we’re separated from them or confined indoors with them, need our support and reassurance. They need our encouragement. Once we’ve shown compassion to ourselves, we can offer supportive, appreciative, kindly words to others. We can express appreciation to those who are doing the crucial work of helping others.

Although it’s not traditionally included in discussions of right speech, we can be mindful of the kinds of speech we expose ourselves to — especially news media that all too often are calculated to provoke anxiety in order to keep us hooked, and social media, which often expose us to inflammatory or false information. You might want to unplug from those, even if just for a couple of days, to see what effect that has on you.

Right Action (Samma Kammanta)

“Action” here is what we intentionally do. Right action is action that benefits, rather than harms ourselves, and others in the long-term. Traditionally this is seen in terms of not physically harming, not taking from others what isn’t freely given, and not engaging in inappropriate sex.

In terms of our current crisis, we can take care to physically distance ourselves from others, to keep our shopping trips to a minimum, to make sure we don’t take from the shelves more than we really need so that others too can meet their own needs, and so on. We can do all of those things in a spirit of care and compassion. We can also act compassionately by (safely) checking up on friends and neighbors, and especially on those that are vulnerable.

Right Livelihood (Samma Ajiva)

Traditionally, right livelihood means doing work that, at a minimum, doesn’t cause harm. Ideally our livelihood would involve work that’s materially, emotionally, and spiritually beneficial to others.

Many of us aren’t working right now, of course. But we could regard “work” here as what we do with our time. Right livelihood could include taking care of ourselves — for example by exercising as best we can, and making good use of our time, so that we’re learning and growing. It’s been great to see so many people making use of opportunities to practice online. And maybe there are household tasks you can do — getting rid of clutter, doing some gardening, and so on. Those things can leave us feeling much better and create a sense of normality.

Right Effort (Samma Vayama)

“Right effort” brings us back to what’s going on inside ourselves. Traditionally it’s the work we do to prevent the arising of unskillful states of mind, and to generate skillful states.

Right speech concerns what we say to others, but a lot of our communication is internal — it’s self-talk. So we can observe our thoughts, and when we find that they’re making us stressed and unhappy we can drop them and turn our attention back to our breathing, and our bodily sensations more generally. And perhaps we can find more helpful ways of talking to ourselves: “In this moment, I’m OK.” “May I be well and happy, and at ease.” “Today I am grateful for this, this, and this.”

Right effort doesn’t just cover inner speech, though. It’s the ongoing effort to extract the mind from anxiety, anger, craving, doubt, and avoidance, as well as the effort to cultivate kindness, compassion, patience, courage, and so on.

At a time of crisis, worry is one of our “go to” unskillful states. It’s important to recognize that worry isn’t “bad.” It’s just unhelpful. Focusing on things that might go wrong in the future doesn’t solve anything and in fact it makes us unhappy right now. Our inner work involves recognizing that worry has arisen. It involves letting go of worrying thoughts, and coming back to our immediate sensory experience. And it also involves finding ways to bring more helpful mental states into being.

Even if we drop our catastrophizing thoughts, we’ll find that feelings of anxiety persist. If you’re familiar with my teachings on self-compassion, you’ll know that I encourage people to regard anxiety as communications from a part of you that is suffering. And our right effort here is to connect with our innate kindness and to offer support for that struggling part of us. Having done that, we are more at peace, and we’re freer to offer kindness and compassion to others.

Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati)

To do any of the above, we need to have mindfulness. We need to have the ability to observe our minds, to see how we’re thinking and what our attitudes are. We need to see what effect those thoughts and attitudes have on how we’re feeling, and on how others feel, and so on.

And so in every one of the factors of the path that I have mentioned so far, we practice mindfulness. In fact it’s helpful if we cultivate an attitude of mindfulness all the time, or at least as much as possible, by coming back to the sensations of the body and to what we’re perceiving in the world, being aware of our movements, observing our feelings and attitudes, and so on.

This is probably the single most important thing we can do for ourselves in a crisis. We can stay grounded in sensory reality and stop ourselves from being pulled into the world of catastrophizing. We train ourselves to recognize when we are getting sucked into anxious thinking and to instead come back to our actual present-moment experience.

Right Concentration (Samma Samadhi)

Samadhi is usually translated as concentration. It doesn’t necessarily mean concentration in the sense of narrowly focused attention, though. It really means having continuity of awareness. To practice any of the factors of the path requires concentration. When our attention is all over the place, jumping from object to object, it’s hard to cultivate skillful states of mind. We might for example start off intending to cultivate kindness, and find that a moment later we’re daydreaming. So we need to train ourselves to stay on track, at least for long enough to bring about change in our habits.

The ultimate benefit of concentration, the Buddha said, is that it helps us to observe and appreciate the arising and passing of things. Once we realize that anxiety arises and passes away, and that in fact it’s arisen and passed away tens of thousands of times before in our lives, we start to take it less seriously. One of our big fears when we’re anxious is that we’re going to be stuck that way. But it always passes.

And in fact, as we focus more closely on anxiety and see that it’s just a sensation, arising and passing away in every moment, we realize that in a sense there’s nothing real there. Anxiety is like a flickering movie show — a magical display that entrances the mind. And once we start to realize how we’ve been repeatedly fooled by this movie show, we start to become immune to its enchantments.

Three Core Factors

Three of the factors — view, effort, and mindfulness — have a special place in the eightfold path. As the Buddha put it, “These three things keep running and circling around [each of the factors of the path], namely: right view, right effort, and right mindfulness.”

When we’re cultivating or practicing each of the factors of the path we need to understand that there’s a benefit in doing so. We need to have a view that it’s beneficial to be ethical, mindful, and so on. So, right view is always involved in practice.

We need to have the mindfulness to recognize whether what’s going on, or what we’re doing, is skillful or unskillful, helpful or unhelpful, leading to peace or leading to suffering. Mindfulness is always involved in practice.

And we need to put effort in to letting go of unskillful habits and to cultivating skillful ones. Effort is involved in all practice.

So these three factors—view, effort, and mindfulness—are involved in every moment of practice.

So, I hope you can see how a traditional teaching like the eightfold path has very direct relevance to our practice in a crisis such as the one we face today. Hopefully I can go into this in even more depth in the course I’m planning to put together.


 

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Lovingkindness: the missing link https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/lovingkindness-the-missing-link https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/lovingkindness-the-missing-link#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2020 18:27:31 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41571 Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on UnsplashSomeone wrote the other day saying that she’d had a hard time forgiving a colleague at work who had reflexly shot down her very excellent ideas. Apparently this colleague does this a lot. It’s just a habit with her.

My correspondent found her colleague’s actions very hurtful. She struggled with resentment for several days as she worked on practicing forgiveness and on cultivating metta. (Metta is “lovingkindness,” or simply kindness). Eventually she was successful, and she managed to forgive her critic. So that’s excellent! Practice works!

The thing is it took her a long time to find her way back to peace. And I think her story highlights something that’s missing from many people’s …

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Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on UnsplashSomeone wrote the other day saying that she’d had a hard time forgiving a colleague at work who had reflexly shot down her very excellent ideas. Apparently this colleague does this a lot. It’s just a habit with her.

My correspondent found her colleague’s actions very hurtful. She struggled with resentment for several days as she worked on practicing forgiveness and on cultivating metta. (Metta is “lovingkindness,” or simply kindness). Eventually she was successful, and she managed to forgive her critic. So that’s excellent! Practice works!

The thing is it took her a long time to find her way back to peace. And I think her story highlights something that’s missing from many people’s practice of metta. It’s the missing link in our practice of lovingkindness.

I sometimes worry about sounding like a broken record, but I find that one key thing when we’re hurt is to practice kindness and compassion toward ourselves. I’ve written in a number of places about how we can do this, for example in Self-compassion: lovingkindness squared and The power of self-kindness. You can also check out my book on self-compassion, “This Difficult Thing of Being Human.”

When this colleague reacted to my correspondent, this caused pain. Whenever she felt resentful afterward, that also caused her pain. Trying to wish another person well while we’re not responding compassionately to our own pain tends not to be very effective. (I’m not saying this to blame anyone — this is a very common oversight in our lovingkindness practice. It’s something we all do.)

Resentment is our pain’s way of trying to protect itself. It’s like a kind of bristly, spiky forcefield that we erect around our hearts. If we recognize our own pain and send it our love and reassurance, then we’re “protecting” the heart in a different way. We protect it by offering it love, and by surrounding it with love. It becomes much easier to direct this love toward the person that hurt us. It becomes much easier for us to let go of our resentments. The forgiveness can happen much more quickly. Sometimes it takes minutes or even seconds rather than days.

When we ignore our pain in favor of directing well-wishing to the other person, we’re not being very compassionate to ourselves. In fact we’re unintentionally being cruel. To see this more clearly, imagine yourself walking past a friend who is obviously in distress, without really acknowledging them. You’d be taking a person who’s in pain, and adding to their pain by not being concerned and compassionate.

Now the part of you that’s hurting has exactly the same response. When you ignore it and focus on someone else instead, the hurt deepens. And so your hurt continues to try to protect itself. It continues to erect this spiky forcefield or resentment. And the more you feel this resentment, the more you’re likely to work harder at cultivating compassion for the person who hurt you. And so we stay stuck, until eventually a current of genuine kindness appears, the dynamic changes, we let go of some of our resentment, and your heart feels safe again.

So when we’re trying on the one hand to cultivate kindness to another person, while also (accidentally) cultivating unkindness toward ourselves, it can take us so long to let go of our reactions.

I never used to quite believe the teaching that we have to be kind toward ourselves before we can be kind to others, but the longer I practice the more I see that it’s true.

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Love isn’t what you look for; it’s how you look https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/love-isnt-what-you-look-for https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/love-isnt-what-you-look-for#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2020 21:07:40 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41562

In one of my early experiences of lovingkindness meditation (metta bhavana), a teacher told me to look for feelings of love in my heart, and then to spread that love to other people. I duly searched my heart, seeking feelings of love. But I couldn’t find any! There was nothing there. Zilch. Nada!

This experience was very distressing. Since I couldn’t find love in my heart, I wasn’t able to do the rest of the practice. After all, how can you share something with other people if you don’t have it to give?

And because I couldn’t do the practice, I had plenty of time to reflect on what it meant that I …

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In one of my early experiences of lovingkindness meditation (metta bhavana), a teacher told me to look for feelings of love in my heart, and then to spread that love to other people. I duly searched my heart, seeking feelings of love. But I couldn’t find any! There was nothing there. Zilch. Nada!

This experience was very distressing. Since I couldn’t find love in my heart, I wasn’t able to do the rest of the practice. After all, how can you share something with other people if you don’t have it to give?

And because I couldn’t do the practice, I had plenty of time to reflect on what it meant that I couldn’t find any love in my heart. Presumably, since this was how the practice was done, there was something wrong with me. I must be defective. This thought was very unpleasant. I found it rather upsetting, in fact.

The Downward Spiral

Now I had some strongly unpleasant feelings to be aware of during this practice that (apparently) I couldn’t do. I took those feelings as confirmation that there was something wrong with me, and began to sink into despair and depression.

Fortunately the teacher eventually rang the bell. I started to feel better once the meditation was over.

I thought it was just me who had had this experience, but a few months later a friend was talking about the problems of doing lovingkindness meditation, and he described exactly the same thing that I’ve just talked about — a downward spiral of negativity triggered by the suggestion that he look for love in his heart.

Even by the time my friend shared his own experience, I’d figured out that what worked best for me was to observe my heart, accept whatever was there, whether it was pleasant or unpleasant, or even if there were no feelings there at all, and then to wish myself (and then others) well.

Love Is Not a Feeling

Later still I realized that the practice was simply about kindness. It’s about being kind to ourselves, and then extending that kindness to others. And kindness is not a feeling. Kindness is an intention. It starts with empathetically recognizing that we are feeling beings who desire happiness, peace, and wellbeing. Having seen that truth, kindness wishes that those beings be well.

Just think about that right now. Consider that you yourself are a feeling being, and recognize that your feelings are important to you. You’d rather be happy than suffer. You’d rather be at peace than troubled. You’d rather have a sense of wellbeing than be sick or sad.

And then call one other person to mind — someone you know. They, too, feel.  Their feelings are as real and vivid to them as yours are to you. They, just like you, feel happy. Just like you they suffer. and, just like you, they prefer happiness over suffering.

When you consider the reality of someone’s feelings in that way, you probably don’t want to do anything that would harm them. You probably want to support their wellbeing and act in ways that make them feel valued. In other words you want to be kind to them.

So that’s what kindness is: a desire to actively support someone’s wellbeing.

Now there may be feelings associated with your kindness. Sometimes you’ll experience a sense of warmth, openness, or tenderness in the heart, for example. But those feelings just accompany your kindness. They aren’t themselves kindness.

Love Is in How You Look…

Some years back I picked up a practice from the American Zen teacher teacher Jan Chozen Bays. She called it “Loving Eyes.”

She reminds us that we all know how to look with love. It’s easy to recall or imagine looking lovingly at a cute kitten or puppy, a beloved child, or even a romantic partner. When we do this an attitude of care, openness, tenderness, and love easily arises. Kindness arises. And accompanying those attitudes there are usually feelings as well. We find that we can turn our attention to the world or to ourselves, and continue to experience that kindness in relation to the new object.

So we’re looking with love or kindness, whether that’s a literal looking involving the eyes, or a metaphorical looking in involving our inner gaze as we bring our kindly attention toward our own being or to people we think about.

This act of looking is, as I’ve mentioned, accompanied by feelings — the pleasant feelings of kindness. It happens quite naturally and easily, and just in case you find it doesn’t work for you, don’t worry, for it gets easier with practice.

…Not What You’re Looking For

So it seems that for me and for most people, lovingkindness practice works best if we don’t look for feelings down in the heart, but if we look with kindness. Whatever feelings may be present in the heart, we can regard them kindly. If we’re feeling sad, we can regard the sadness with kindness and love. If we’re feeling neutral, we can regard the blankness with love. It really doesn’t matter what’s in the heart.

So I’d like to leave you with this simple suggestion: Love isn’t what you look for; it’s how you look.

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Just turn away… (the Social Media Sutra, part 3) https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/just-turn-away-the-social-media-sutra-part-3 https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/just-turn-away-the-social-media-sutra-part-3#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2020 19:38:21 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41522

In a series of posts I’m explaining, using teachings from the early Buddhist teachings, how we can free ourselves from addiction to social media. These teachings are found in the Vitakkasanthana Sutta, which outlines five strategies for overcoming compelling trains of thought and the urges that accompany them.

In the first talk we looked at the tool of turning our attention to something skillful. In the second talk we looked at the tool of seeing the drawbacks of obsession.

One thing I should point out is that the Buddha’s advice is to work through these tools in order. If redirecting the mind to what’s positive doesn’t work for us, then we try seeing the drawbacks …

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In a series of posts I’m explaining, using teachings from the early Buddhist teachings, how we can free ourselves from addiction to social media. These teachings are found in the Vitakkasanthana Sutta, which outlines five strategies for overcoming compelling trains of thought and the urges that accompany them.

In the first talk we looked at the tool of turning our attention to something skillful. In the second talk we looked at the tool of seeing the drawbacks of obsession.

One thing I should point out is that the Buddha’s advice is to work through these tools in order. If redirecting the mind to what’s positive doesn’t work for us, then we try seeing the drawbacks of addiction. And if that doesn’t work, we try the next tool, which is where we simply “ignore and forget” whatever it is we’re obsessed by. That’s the tool we’re exploring today.

The Buddha’s Advice

The discourse is very brief where it comes to this tool. It just says that if, in the mind of a practitioner:

bad, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion keep coming up they should ignore and forget about them.

You might well be thinking, “easier said than done”!

The Illustration

The illustration of this principle isn’t very helpful either!

Suppose there was a person with good eyesight, and some undesirable sights came into their range of vision. They’d just close their eyes or look away.

That probably sounds almost simplistic. As we look into it, however, I think you’ll see that it’s actually very practical and useful advice.

Two Directions for Practice

We’re going to look at this in two areas. First we’ll look at the sphere of external activity. We’ll look at how we can literally ignore and look away from social media by changing our habits.

Next, when we’ll look at the sphere of internal activity — how we relate to our experience. And in this second sphere I think there are some deep implications for how we habitually use our attention.

A very simple shift in the way we notice our experience can have a powerfully transforming effect on our level of wellbeing.

The First Principle of “Ignoring”: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

So first, here’s some very practical advice for managing your attention.

Let’s say, for example, that you wanted to lose weight, but had a problem with eating potato chips. If you have a big bag of them in the house, you’re much more likely to end up pigging out. So it’s helpful if you can’t physically see the foods that you crave. To some extent it’s literally true that “out of sight is out of mind” — something this example illustrates. And when you’re in the supermarket, don’t walk down the chip aisle. Turn away when you walk by it.

Now the same principle applies to our online addictions. Our main route into these nowadays is through those magic glass rectangles that we use to watch TV shows, to get travel directions, to play games, do our banking, look for a mate, do work, text-message our friends and family — and, of course, browse social media.

These devices are so useful that we carry them with us everywhere. This means that we’re always in the presence of temptation.

So it’s useful to have your phone out of sight and out of mind, at least some of the time.

Create Space Between You and Your Phone

One of the best things you can do for yourself is not to have your phone at your bedside at night. If that’s where you charge your phone then your addiction is going to be the first thing you feed when you wake up. Your phone is going to be there first thing in the morning, or even if you wake up in the middle of the night. So try charging your phone at the other end of the house.

You might be saying, “But I need my phone beside me at night so that I know what time it is!”

If that’s the case, let me remind you of an ancient technology called the “alarm clock.” As with a phone, you can program an alarm clock to wake you up. But you can’t read Facebook on an alarm clock.

When you charge your phone in another room, you’ll wake up and not have instant access to the internet. That gives you an opportunity to start your day free from addiction. And the way we start the day often conditions how we live during the rest of the day.

One further step regarding phones is to turn them off when we charge them overnight. We’re naturally lazy! The fact that your phone takes a minute or so to boot up takes advantage of that laziness. It creates a bit of a barrier between you and the internet. And that barrier makes it easier for you to avoid addiction. Out of sight, out of mind.

Learning to Read Again

I find that when I charge my phone in the living room, I’m more likely to meditate or to read a Dharma book first thing in the morning, rather than reading the news or seeing what’s going on on Twitter. This is a great way to start the day.

I find that reading a book first thing in the morning is much healthier than going online. I think most of us have had the experience of finding it harder to read books because we’ve spent so much time reading short posts and articles online. Reading books helps train the mind to become absorbed and develop concentration. And books — physical ones, anyway — don’t have hyperlinks. I prefer to read paper books for that reason. Additionally Dharma books (or any kind of personal development book) nourish the mind in ways that rarely happens online.

Create Rituals of Internet-Free Time

You can create other opportunities to have phone — and internet — free time. When you’re having a meal with family or friends you can mute your phone or put it somewhere out of sight. I’ve heard of people putting their phones in a pile on the table in a restaurant, and if anyone touches their phone during the meal they have to pay for everyone’s food. I think that’s a great idea.

Meditation retreats are also an excellent opportunity to relearn that we don’t need to be online to be happy — and in fact that we’re happier when we’re offline, and present with our direct experience. On some retreats you have to hand in your phone for the duration. But if that doesn’t happen you can leave your phone in your car, or switched off and at the bottom of your suitcase. You could even put your phone in a sealed envelope, which creates an extra barrier in case you get tempted to switch it on. And you could write some kind of encouraging message on the outside of the envelope, like “simplicity and presence.“

So these are all very simple and practical ways we can, in the words of the Vitakkasanthana Sutta, “look away” from our phones or “have our eyes closed” to them.

So this is all to do with the outside world.

But I said that there is something we can do internally that helps us to avoid getting caught up in and driven by thoughts about our addictions — that sudden desire to pick up our phone and go online. This is a deeper level of practice, and what I’m going to tell you might even change the way you meditate.

The Inner Work of “Ignoring” Social Media

What I’d like to explain is that there are two ways that we can pay attention with the eyes. The first is where we’re aware of and concentrated on the focal point of our visual field. This is our normal way of seeing, and you’re probably doing that right now. You’re probably mainly aware of the screen in front of you, or of me, or my face, or even just part of my face. Often when we’re listening to someone we focus on the triangle made by the eyes and the mouth. This way of seeing is like a flashlight. It’s a narrow beam of attention. It focuses on what seems most vital, but it also misses a lot.

The other way of seeing is where we’re aware of the whole of our visual field. We don’t do this by moving the eyes around. We simply let the muscles around the eyes relax, and let the focus in the eyes be soft. Try doing that right now.

Once we’ve done that we find that we can be aware, in a very relaxed way, of everything that’s arising visually, from the very soft focus at the center of our visual field, right up to the corners of our eyes. This way of seeing is like a lamp. It illuminates many things. It’s less directional and more open than a flashlight.

So if you’re doing that right now, you can still be aware of the screen in front of you, letting it be a soft focal point, but you can also be aware of everything around the screen.

This is a way of seeing that encourage you to play with. You probably can’t read while seeing in this way, but try doing it while you’re walking, or having a conversation with someone.

Often when we relax the eyes in this way, we find that the body starts to relax and the mind starts to calm.

Two Ways of Observing Internally

Interestingly, the way we use the eyes affects the way we perceive internally as well.

So in meditation, when the eyes are tight and narrowly focused, then our inner field of attention is also narrow. When the eyes are tight we can only be aware of a small range of internal sensations.

Maybe we notice just one small part of the breathing, for example. And the problem is that we get bored because we’re not giving the mind much to be aware of. And then along comes a thought. Maybe it’s an emotionally loaded one. What happens? The flashlight beam of our attention shifts to the thought, and the story it contains. Now we’re completely lost in a distracted train of thought. And our meditation can go on like this for a long time. We alternate shining the flashlight of our attention on a small range of bodily sensations, and then shift to distracted thoughts. And this switch keeps happening.

But when the eyes are soft, our attention is like a gently glowing lamp. We’re able to be aware of many sensations in the body. We can be aware of the breathing in the whole body, for example. So now there’s a lot for us to be aware of, and the mind is more nourished.

And when a thought arises, it’s now just one small part of a vast, open field of attention. And because of that the thought can simply pass through the mind. We don’t resist it. We’re not drawn into it. We just don’t pay any particular attention to it.

So this brings us back to the topic of ignoring and forgetting about compelling thoughts.

Letting Urges Arise and Pass Away

We can maintain a soft gaze, an open gaze, during ordinary activities. And when a thought or an urge comes up — like “I need to check Facebook RIGHT NOW” — it’s easier just to let that thought arise and pass away without our acting on it. Or if we’re already in the throes of online activity, and we realize it’s not good for us, we can soften the eyes, and it becomes easier to let go of our compulsion to stay engaged online. It becomes easier to step away from the screen or put down our phone.

This is very similar to what some people call “urge surfing.” The idea here is that, like waves, urges build up and pass away. When an urge is building the mind often assumes that it’s going to get stronger and stronger until it overwhelms us, but that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the assumption that we’ll inevitably capitulate to the urge that causes us to capitulate to the urge. If we simply keep observing the urge building, we’ll find that it peaks and then starts to die down again. So you might be working, and the urge to go onto social media rises, and you just watch until it passes away, and then you get absorbed in your work again. Adopting an open gaze (with the consequent open and expansive field of inner attention) will help us as we do this.

So this idea of ignoring and forgetting about unskillful thoughts and urges might seem simplistic and even a bit lame, but it’s actually very deep.

Summary

So what have we learned today? We’ve seen that we can reduce our chances of distracting ourselves with social media if we:

  • Make it harder to access our phones,
  • Make sure that they’re not right by us when we wake up,
  • Switch them off overnight so that there’s more of a barrier to accessing the internet, and
  • Evolve rituals where we eat meals or spend time with friends and family undisturbed by our technology.

In short, we can strategically create oases of addiction-free sensory reality.

And we’ve seen that a slight shift in the way we relate to our eyes can create a sense of mental space in which thoughts can arise and pass away without our getting caught up in them. We literally can simply ignore and forget about the thoughts and impulses that keep us hooked on social media. We can surf our urges, knowing that they’re impermanent, and that they arise and pass away on their own.  In all these ways we can begin to let go free ourselves from addictive patterns of thought and behavior.

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Join Wildmind’s Community-Supported Meditation Initiative https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/csmi https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/csmi#comments Sat, 04 Jan 2020 16:20:26 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41067

Thank you for your interest in Wildmind’s Community-Supported Meditation Initiative!

Our supporters get access to:

  • All of Wildmind’s existing meditation courses (of which there are more than 30).
  • An online community where we can discuss our practice
  • A monthly newsletter with meditation downloads, and articles that are only for sponsors.
  • Daily online meditations on Zoom.

You can choose any number of shares to sponsor. The average person sponsors two shares. There are no extra benefits (besides good karma) for sponsoring more shares, but that’s an option open to you if you want to show extra appreciation and if you can afford it. I’d certainly be very grateful if you sponsor more than one share.

If …

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Thank you for your interest in Wildmind’s Community-Supported Meditation Initiative!

Our supporters get access to:

  • All of Wildmind’s existing meditation courses (of which there are more than 30).
  • An online community where we can discuss our practice
  • A monthly newsletter with meditation downloads, and articles that are only for sponsors.
  • Daily online meditations on Zoom.

You can choose any number of shares to sponsor. The average person sponsors two shares. There are no extra benefits (besides good karma) for sponsoring more shares, but that’s an option open to you if you want to show extra appreciation and if you can afford it. I’d certainly be very grateful if you sponsor more than one share.

If you have more questions, I’ve created an FAQ page here.

Love,
Bodhipaksa


Choose your number of shares
Your preferred email address for this subscription.



If you’d prefer to use a credit or debit card, you can download a credit card billing authorization form. You can complete this on-screen, then print, sign, and return it to us by mail or email.

Please note that this initiative does not include access to Bodhipaksa’s Bodhi Mind app for iPhone, which requires a separate subscription.

You can cancel your membership at any time.

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Help during the holiday season https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/recovery-monday/help-during-the-holiday-season https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/recovery-monday/help-during-the-holiday-season#respond Tue, 24 Dec 2019 20:52:34 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=41411

Struggling over the holiday period? Or are you just struggling period? Recovery doesn’t have to be a struggle. So why do so many of us struggle?

  • Have you reached out for help?
  • Have you reached out for help again when you didn’t get the help you needed?
  • Have you been to a recovery meeting? 12 Steps, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, 8 Step Recovery? There is so much out there to choose from.
  • Are you being honest?
  • Or are you in DENIAL (Don’t Even Notice I am Lying ?)

No need to be on your own and isolate on Xmas day, Come and join me in a Xmas day 8 Step Recovery meeting 12:30pm Eastern Time, …

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Struggling over the holiday period? Or are you just struggling period? Recovery doesn’t have to be a struggle. So why do so many of us struggle?

  • Have you reached out for help?
  • Have you reached out for help again when you didn’t get the help you needed?
  • Have you been to a recovery meeting? 12 Steps, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, 8 Step Recovery? There is so much out there to choose from.
  • Are you being honest?
  • Or are you in DENIAL (Don’t Even Notice I am Lying ?)

No need to be on your own and isolate on Xmas day, Come and join me in a Xmas day 8 Step Recovery meeting 12:30pm Eastern Time, 5:30pm UK time.

And if Xmas day isn’t enough, or you are wanting new tools to help you in 2020, join me in the online 28-day Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Course beginning January 20th. This course is hosted by Wildmind and has been accredited by the British Association of Mindfulness BAMBA. Details here

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