Wildmind https://www.wildmind.org Learn Meditation Online Tue, 15 Jan 2019 17:05:24 +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 Accepting that your brain sucks can make you happier https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/accepting-that-your-brain-sucks-can-make-you-happier https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/accepting-that-your-brain-sucks-can-make-you-happier#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 16:08:07 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40663 Adeel Anwer / Flickr

Imagine that scientists announce that they’ve managed to make a primitive computer out of meat, and that this computing device is able perform tasks such as solving a maze, or even doing simple arithmetic with a reasonable degree of accuracy. What an astonishing (and slightly creepy) story that would be!

What’s more astonishing is that you’re reading these words—a far more complex task than in my hypothetical example—using a computer made of meat. Your brain is made mostly from protein and fat, and yet it’s able to make sense of the world around it. It’s astonishing also that these meat-based computers in our heads require electricity to work, and yet function in a wet environment. …

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Adeel Anwer / Flickr

Imagine that scientists announce that they’ve managed to make a primitive computer out of meat, and that this computing device is able perform tasks such as solving a maze, or even doing simple arithmetic with a reasonable degree of accuracy. What an astonishing (and slightly creepy) story that would be!

What’s more astonishing is that you’re reading these words—a far more complex task than in my hypothetical example—using a computer made of meat. Your brain is made mostly from protein and fat, and yet it’s able to make sense of the world around it. It’s astonishing also that these meat-based computers in our heads require electricity to work, and yet function in a wet environment. The whole thing is incredibly unlikely! And yet it kind of works. Not only are you able to read this article, but meat-based computers designed and build the device you’re reading it on, as well as the communications networks that allow you to connect with this article whether you’re in Juno or Johannesburg, La Paz or Lhasa. Meat-based computers, right now, are using robots to extend their senses into space and even to other planets.

The reason I’m pointing out how absurd and amazing it is that our brains are able to function at all is that a lot of the time we expect a degree of performance from ourselves that’s simply unattainable. We want to be able to sit and meditate, and experience calm, and instead we experience an endless stream of thoughts. We try to remember information, but keep forgetting things, even when they’re important. We’d like to be patient, and yet we keep losing our tempers. We’d like to be happy, but a lot of the time our experience is less than satisfactory.

When we expect perfection from ourselves or each other, we set ourselves up for failure. For in truth these meat-based computers of ours are quirky, fragile, and unreliable, even under the best of circumstances. Your meat-based computer malfunctions when it runs low on fuel, when it is required to process too much information simultaneously, or when it isn’t powered down sufficiently (roughly six to eight hours per day for a full-grown meat computer).  Under those circumstances it not only performs badly on cognitive tasks such as memory, but believes itself to be under attack and acts accordingly, or creates narratives about its own lack of worth.

The thing is, you’re going to forget things, you’re going to lose your temper. You’re going to misinterpret things that are said to you. You’re going to believe things that aren’t true. You’re going to refuse to change your mind in the face of factual evidence that contradicts things you believe. You’re going to make bad decisions. All of these things are bound to happen, because your brain simply isn’t very effective.

When we expect perfection, these defects upset us. We can become critical of ourselves (“Damn, how could I forget. I’m so stupid!”), slip into denial about them (“You didn’t need to remind me to take out the trash. I was just about to do it anyway!”), or deflect (“Well, you lost your car keys three months ago!”). Life becomes much easer when we realize that meat-based computers don’t function that well, and that we’re bound to slip up.

When I become irritable and yell because I’m overloaded (for example I’m cooking, trying to get my kids to do their homework, and also reading text messages that have come in) I feel a great sense of relief to realize that it’s not that the world is a horrible place, and it’s not that I’m failing in being a good dad. It’s just that my brain, my meat-based computer, is running low on glucose and is trying to do too much at once. It’s easier for me to forgive myself, to regulate my emotions, and to change my behaviors so that I’m less stressed.

Notice that I’m not saying, “Keep on losing your temper. Your brain does a pretty crappy job anyway.” I mean just that you shouldn’t beat yourself up about being imperfect.

I’d also like to suggest that you can compensate for your brain’s weaknesses if you understand them.

And realizing how finicky my meat-based computer is, I can take better care of it and provide it with better conditions. I can make sure that it does get powered down for eight hours. I can keep it fueled. I can give it breaks during the day. At keys times I can disable notifications on the silicon-based computer I carry around in my pocket, so that I’m not bombarded by information. I can meditate daily so that my meat-based computer works at optimum efficiency.

We can apply those considerations to other people as well. When someone forgets something we can  remind ourselves that this isn’t unusual. When a child or spouse is moody or behaves in ways we don’t like we can empathetically consider that their meat-based computers may not have the conditions they need right now to function effectively. With more understanding we can kinder and more supportive.

I hope your meat-based computer found something here that it can use to make its internal environment more stable and efficient, and that allows it to interface more harmoniously with other meat-based computers. Or to put it in more human terms, I hope you find something useful here that allows you to live more happily and that helps you relate to others with more patience, kindness, and empathy. And since my own meat-based computer functions best when it’s not stressed about supporting itself financially, perhaps you’ll make a one-time or recurring donation to Wildmind.

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Seven tips on making meditation a daily habit https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/seven-tips-on-making-meditation-a-daily-habit https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/seven-tips-on-making-meditation-a-daily-habit#comments Sat, 29 Dec 2018 18:22:45 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40651

You can know all about the benefits of meditation. You can know that it’s good for your mental health, offers protection against depression and anxiety, makes you happier, boosts your intelligence, slows aging in the brain, and even makes you physically healthier. You can know all this, and still find it hard to set up a daily meditation practice. You might find that you meditate for a few days, but then miss a day or two, or even find that weeks have gone by and you’ve hardly meditated at all.

Not meditating is a habit. It’s your default. It’s a habit you’ve had for most of your life. And it’s a powerful habit. Meditating regularly …

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You can know all about the benefits of meditation. You can know that it’s good for your mental health, offers protection against depression and anxiety, makes you happier, boosts your intelligence, slows aging in the brain, and even makes you physically healthier. You can know all this, and still find it hard to set up a daily meditation practice. You might find that you meditate for a few days, but then miss a day or two, or even find that weeks have gone by and you’ve hardly meditated at all.

Not meditating is a habit. It’s your default. It’s a habit you’ve had for most of your life. And it’s a powerful habit. Meditating regularly is a new habit, and it’s competing with the older and more established one. This means that for most people, setting up a daily meditation practice is hard. But there are things we can do that make it easier. So here are seven tips for setting up a rock-solid daily meditation habit. (If you’re interested, these tips come from my online course, “Get Your Sit Together,” which will help you become a daily meditator.)

1. Lower the Bar

One of the most common mistakes people make in trying to set up a daily meditation habit is to aim too high. They think that a “proper” meditation should be something like 20, or 30, or 40 minutes in length. And while it’s wonderful to have aspirations to sit for that length of time, it’s almost inevitable when there will be days when that won’t happen because you’re just too damned busy. By all means, aim to sit for as long as you want, but if you don’t want to end up skipping days (and then slipping back into the easy and established habit of not meditating at all), then accept that it’s OK to meditate for as little as five minutes a day.

You can even forget about sitting for 20 or 40 minutes, and just make that your aim: you’ll sit every day, even if it’s just five minutes. Five minutes is not hard to manage. And once you’ve set up your daily habit, it’s not hard to extend the length of time you meditate for.

2. Don’t use calendar days

When you think about meditating daily, you probably think in terms of meditating within each 24-hour period that runs from midnight to midnight. But it’s much more helpful to think in terms of your days starting when you wake up and ending when you go to sleep again. That way, when you have a crazy day of running around, and you don’t even get home until midnight, you can have a quick sit and you’ve still meditated that day.

3. Keep a visual reminder

Eventually a daily habit becomes something you just do. You don’t need to put “brush teeth” in your planner. You just do it. That’s the eventual aim with your meditation practice. But at the start of establishing a new habit you need reminders. Those reminders have to be prominent, so that you actually see them. A simple calendar—preferably a paper rather than an electronic one—makes an ideal reminder, especially when it’s in a high traffic area in your house, like the refrigerator door. Why paper? It’s just there, in plain view. You don’t have to make any effort to see it. You don’t have to pick up a phone or open a computer. You don’t have to remember to open an app. Those things are barriers, and you don’t want barriers. There are enough of those things in our lives. With a paper calendar on the fridge door, you’ll see the reminder just by living in your house.

A calendar is also a way of reinforcing that you’re making progress. Put a large check-mark on each day you meditate. Check-marks are visually more positive than X’s. If you have a green marker pen then that’s even better. Green is the color of success! As you complete days of meditation, you’ll start forming a chain of check marks, which is very encouraging. You won’t want to break the chain!

4. Use a mantra

No, I’m not talking about chanting “Om.” If we have a history of falling away from our meditation practice, one of the things that can happen is that we develop a self-image along the lines of “someone who can’t meditate regularly.” That happened to me. I saw other people who were able to meditate daily, apparently with no difficulties. But no matter how I tried, I’d miss a day here or there, or sometimes not meditate for days at a time.

So I developed the mantra, “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.” I would say this to myself even during my meditation practice. I’d repeat it in the shower, while walking, while driving my car, before going to sleep and on waking in the morning. Of course you actually have to meditate as well! But the mantra starts changing your self-view. And in time you simply don’t want to miss a day, because you see yourself as someone who meditates every day, and you’ll make every effort to get your butt on your cushion.

5. Use guided meditations

If it helps, use guided meditations. Setting up a new habit of meditating daily involves a fair amount of work, so let someone else do the work of guiding you. Even for experienced meditators, listening to a good guided meditation can help you develop new skills, and embrace new perspectives. For beginning meditators, guided meditations can make the difference between having a sit you feel happy about versus one where you spend almost all your time in distraction.

6. Don’t worry about the quality

A sit is a sit. We’d all like to have every meditation be calm and blissful, but realistically you’re going to be distracted a lot of the time. The thing is, though, that even the distracted meditations are helpful. So just do it. Any sit you do is a good sit, and the only bad sits are the ones you don’t do.

7. Congratulate yourself!

In developing a habit, there has to be a reward. You have to feel better about doing the thing than doing some alternative. Even in brushing your your teeth in the morning you get the reward of having a nice minty flavor in your mouth and you get rid of any night-time odors. That feels good. You’d feel worse if you didn’t do it.

Meditation can be inherently rewarding, but it can also be a struggle. And there are plenty of other things you could do instead that give instant rewards, like checking Facebook or reading an interesting article on the web. In the face of that kind of competition it becomes almost essential to consciously reward yourself, and probably the best way of doing that is to congratulate yourself. So at the end of your meditation, give yourself a clear, verbal message of congratulations: “Yay me!” Try standing up and raising your arms in salute, like a running crossing the finish line. This brings about pleasant physiological and psychological effects: in other words it makes you feel good!

Then, check off your calendar. Feel good about putting a big, bold check mark on today’s box. And feel good at watching the chain getting longer! The more you associate pleasant feelings with your meditation practice, the more you’ll feel you want to do it. Rewards are motivating.

So, those are just seven things you can do to help support you as you set up a daily meditation habit that can improve your life in all the ways I mentioned in the opening paragraph. There are many more tips on offer in my 28-day online course, “Get Your Sit Together,” which starts on January 1st. Click here to check it out!

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The seven top frustrations for beginning meditators (and how to overcome them) https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-seven-top-frustrations-for-beginning-meditators-and-how-to-overcome-them https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-seven-top-frustrations-for-beginning-meditators-and-how-to-overcome-them#comments Mon, 10 Dec 2018 21:51:29 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40615

Recently I was asked to contribute a couple of paragraphs on top frustrations for beginning meditators (and how to overcome them). The link’s at the bottom of this article. I was in good company, with Tara Brach and Andy Puddicombe, for example. But two paragraphs isn’t enough to do justice to this topic and I thought I’d take the opportunity to come up with my own list.

So here it is: The seven top frustrations for beginning meditators, and how to overcome them.

1. Expecting instant results

A lot of people are looking for a quick fix. They hope that meditation is going to do something to them. Something good, of course. But meditation is …

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Recently I was asked to contribute a couple of paragraphs on top frustrations for beginning meditators (and how to overcome them). The link’s at the bottom of this article. I was in good company, with Tara Brach and Andy Puddicombe, for example. But two paragraphs isn’t enough to do justice to this topic and I thought I’d take the opportunity to come up with my own list.

So here it is: The seven top frustrations for beginning meditators, and how to overcome them.

1. Expecting instant results

A lot of people are looking for a quick fix. They hope that meditation is going to do something to them. Something good, of course. But meditation is actually us working with our own minds. And this takes time. We’ve built up habits of overthinking, reacting, self-judgment and so on over many years. We bring those habits into our meditation practice, and we have to learn first to identify them and then to work with them. It takes time to unlearn old habits. It takes time to develop newer, more helpful habits.

The solution: Understand that meditation is like exercise; you don’t go to the gym and become instantly fit. It’s something that you need to do regularly in order to see the benefits.

2. Realizing that the mind is so busy

It’s a very common experience to sit down to meditate and discover our minds are all over the place, with thinking going on almost non-stop. We sometimes call this “monkey mind” after the image of a monkey swinging from branch to branch, not settling down anywhere but instead always focusing on something new, until that’s abandoned for the next new thing. When we’re beginning it’s often not just hard to find any calmness, but actually impossible.

The solution: Accept that the mind is busy. Even people who have been meditating for years have times when their minds are thinking almost non-stop. The difference is that they don’t bother about it. They don’t see it as a sign that something is wrong. They know to accept that this is what the mind is like, sometimes. So they don’t get frustrated when lots of thoughts arise. They simply let go of the thinking, over and over again, and return to the meditation practice.

3. Physical discomfort

At first we may not know how to sit comfortably for meditation. This may happen when we try to force ourselves to sit in a cross-legged position when we don’t have the flexibility to do so. Or we may not have very good equipment, and we’re sitting on very soft cushions that can’t support our weight. Or even if we have a good posture and the right equipment, but it may just be that we’re not used to sitting that way for very long. The discomfort that comes from sitting in a posture that doesn’t work for us can make a meditation session sheer torture.

The solution: An experienced teacher can help you to find a good posture (and we have an online guide to posture right here on Wildmind. They can also help you choose the right equipment; some people need to use chairs, or special meditation benches, rather than try to sit on cushions. And once you have all that sorted out, your body will learn to be more at ease and you’ll be able to sit for longer without discomfort.

4. Getting bored

Boredom is a common problem for beginning meditators. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Are we there yet?

Boredom happens when we’ve begun to calm the mind down, but haven’t yet learned to appreciate the simply beauty of our experience. A lot of us are in our heads: we spend so much time thinking that we forget how to experience the body. And so when our thinking starts to slow down there’s just not much left for us to appreciate. And it’s hard to stay motivated doing something that we find boring, and so we just give up.

The solution: In the long-term, interoception (the ability to sense what’s going on in the body) is something that we get better at with practice. As we continue meditating we find that our experience of the body becomes richer, more detailed, and more pleasurable. Eventually the body can be a source of source of pleasure in every waking moment. If we just keep going, this will happen. On the way there, it’s helpful for us to let go of the idea of paying attention to the breath, and instead to be aware of the breathing. This opens up the way for us to have a much richer, fuller, and more enjoyable experience in meditation. The breathing involves the entire body in a dance of interwoven sensations. When we begin to experience it this way, we’re no longer bored. And we find that our interoceptive ability improves rapidly, so that we have a fuller and more satisfying experience of the body.

5. Not seeing progress

It’s natural to want your meditation practice to do something for you—to bring you benefits. And you wonder when it’s going to start doing that. Why is my mind still full of thoughts? you might wonder. The thing is that being overly concerned about where you hope meditation might take you actually interferes with your ability to experience and enjoy the present moment. Often people aren’t able to fully experience the degree to which they’re changing; other people may see them becoming calmer and happier, but they themselves don’t. Why? Because we’re so close to ourselves, we don’t see ourselves clearly.

The solution: You’ll make more progress if you aren’t so concerned about progress. Just be present. It’s like a family on a long car ride: the kids in the back are constantly asking how long is it going to be until we get there, while the adults are better able to relax into the journey, without wanting to be elsewhere.

6. Believing your doubts

Placing too much trust in the thoughts that the mind creates is something that affects experienced meditators as well as beginners. They can be a little or not so little voice saying things like, “You’re not very good at this. Other people are, but not you. You’re not really cut out to be a meditator. In fact you’re a terrible meditator. You might as well give up.” If we believe these voices, it can be very hard for us to continue with our practice.

The solution: It’s radical to realize that we don’t have to believe our thoughts. Thoughts are just stories. Sometimes they’re reasonable and helpful stories, but sometimes they’re just rationalizations of our fears. There can actually be parts of us that are afraid of changing in positive ways. And those parts of us can try to derail our practice by telling us how bad we are at it. So learn to step back and to treat your inner storyteller with skepticism. These kinds of negative monologues are what we call the hindrance of doubt. Once we learn to identify this hindrance, we’re less likely to be taken in by it.

7. Setting up a regular practice

It can be very hard indeed to set up a daily meditation practice. This is true even when meditation is going well for us and we’re enjoying it! We can find that we’re just too busy, or that there’s resistance even if we do have the time to sit. Sometimes this causes people to gradually give up meditation. They don’t sit for a few days, then maybe a couple of weeks go by and they forget to even try.

The solution: First, commit to sit, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. It’s better to meditate for a short time daily, than to do longer sits and skip days. It’s much better to do a little meditation than none! Second, try out my mantra: “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.”

Here’s a link to the original article.

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Seeing experience as a movie https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/seeing-experience-as-a-movie https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/seeing-experience-as-a-movie#comments Fri, 23 Nov 2018 20:12:33 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40595 Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

In my last post I said I’d been teaching meditations based on a Buddhist discourse called the Honeyball or Honeycake Sutta. This teaching is about relaxing our sense of being separate from the world.

On one level it’s about simply being with our experience rather than reacting to it. That’s the approach to this teaching that most people adopt. On another, deeper, level it’s about not identifying with any of our experience being me or mine. We don’t think “this is my experience” or “this is me here, having an experience.” This when there is experiencing going on, without any sense of there being an experience or something that is experienced. It’s a radically simple …

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Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

In my last post I said I’d been teaching meditations based on a Buddhist discourse called the Honeyball or Honeycake Sutta. This teaching is about relaxing our sense of being separate from the world.

On one level it’s about simply being with our experience rather than reacting to it. That’s the approach to this teaching that most people adopt. On another, deeper, level it’s about not identifying with any of our experience being me or mine. We don’t think “this is my experience” or “this is me here, having an experience.” This when there is experiencing going on, without any sense of there being an experience or something that is experienced. It’s a radically simple practice once you find a way in to it (and helping people find that way in is what I try to do).

As often happens, my meditation practice went off in an unexpected direction as I taught these meditations based on the Honeycake Sutta. My meditation practice often isn’t something I do, but something that happens within me. It has a life of its own. And it’s always interesting seeing where we end up.

Toward the end of the series I found myself regarding my experience as being like a movie. This opened up some interesting perspectives, but before I share that I’d like to say something about another teaching from the Buddha that cross-pollenated, so to speak, with the Honeycake. This is a discourse called the Phena-Pindupama Sutta. Phena means “foam.” Pindupama means “lump.” So this is the “Discourse on the Lump of Foam.”

In the Phena-Pindupama Sutta the Buddha is on the banks of the Ganges river, talking to the monks about the way in which our experience is, in a sense, illusory in nature. Being beside a river, he starts off by using water metaphors. The physical forms we see, he says, including our own physical form, are like a lump of foam drifting downriver: just as someone with discernment could examine that foam and find that there’s no substance to it — that it’s “empty, void, without substance” — so, as we examine form, we find it’s exactly the same.

What does this mean? Isn’t it obvious that our bodies are solid and substantial? Well, when in meditation we take our attention deeply into the body, what do we find? Do we actually experience any solidity or substance? All that we can ever know are sensations. We have sensations that the mind translates into concepts like “substance” and “solid” but those are still just sensations. The sensations that we think of as representing contact with something solid are nothing more than sensations of resistance. And when we look very closely at those or any other sensations they’re anything but solid. They’re nothing more than pinpoints of perception. They’re not stable, but wink in and out of existence, moment by moment. This is something that any of us can verify, although it does take some investment of time in developing the relevant observational skills.

Feelings, the Buddha tells the monks, are like bubbles appearing and disappearing rapidly as a heavy raindrop slams into the river’s surface. Here too, we can train ourselves to look closely at the nature of feelings. We may think of feelings as persisting over time, but if we look closely we see that they are simply internal sensations. During a rainstorm there are always splashes on the surface of water. But each splash lasts for just an instant. Feelings, examined closely, are like that too: pinpoints of sensation, suspended in space, winking in and out of existence with incredible rapidity. “What substance could there be in feeling?” the Buddha asks.

From this point on the Buddha seems to have run out of river metaphors: thoughts and concepts are like a mirage shimmering over hot ground; emotional impulses are like the pith of a banana tree, which, onion-like, has layers and layers that can be removed, leaving nothing, since this kind of tree has no heartwood; consciousness is like an magic trick—an illusion created by a conjurer. All of these things lack substance. And this can be confirmed in our experience as well. What substance is there in the sounds and images that we experience in memory and imagination? What substance is there in anger or desire? In consciousness itself?

The metaphors that the Buddha chose were apt for his times, and are still useful for us. But in my own life, the most appropriate, simple, and helpful analogy is borrowed from the illusion that we call “cinema.” My physical, emotional, and mental experience is like a movie. My body fabricates sensations. My brain fabricates feelings in the body. My mind fabricates sounds and images and conceptual categories within itself. And all of these things are insubstantial. And they are things that I can observe, like a movie.

And, like a movie, our experience can be profoundly absorbing. When my feelings are hurt, I think of the hurt as a real thing. Anger appears, and I think that’s real too. I believe all the stories I tell myself about how the person who hurt me is selfish, or bad, or clueless.

But what if I realize that I’m watching a movie. What then?

Once I start to accept that my body and mind are fabricating a movie for me, I take it all less seriously. Watching the movie of my experience, I can experience pleasure and discomfort in the body, and it’s all something to be appreciated, the same way I appreciate the tender and the tense moments in a film. I can experience my feelings, and whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant I find I can enjoy them just the same. Impulses arise, and if they are unloving or unhelpful can I let them dissolve like the unreal things they are: I don’t need to take them seriously. I recognize that my thoughts, my memories, and my imaginings of the future are simply movies that run in the mind.

It’s all a movie. To see things this way is simple. It’s effective. And it’s new to me, so it’s work in progress. Please excuse if my explanation lacks coherence in any way.

And I know, from messages I receive from damaged people, that there’s a possibility that some will mistake what I say to mean that nothing matters. But that’s not true. What matters is to love everything—especially the parts of us and of others that take the movie to be real. For those parts need our love and compassion. This gives life meaning. Love and meaning are part of the movie too, but they are ultimately what the movie is about. We don’t have to believe this: it’s simply how things are and our task is simply to see it. This is what we are to see: our true nature is connectedness and compassion.

So if we don’t have a sense of meaning, purpose, and love in our lives, it would be unwise to embrace this this perspective of seeing our experience as being like a movie created for us. When there’s a healthy sense of love and meaning in our lives, disillusionment is a positive experience. Without those things it can be devastating. But once we do have a basis of love, appreciation, and purpose, then to see life as a movie is a way of deepening those skillful qualities even further. It’s a way of liberating ourselves from investment in the beliefs and clinging that obscure the reality of connectedness and compassion, which is what we truly are.

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Peace is right here, right now https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/peace-is-right-here-right-now https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/peace-is-right-here-right-now#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2018 16:47:32 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40517 Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash

For the past month I’ve been recording a series of daily guided meditations, taking as my basis the teachings in a Buddhist discourse called the Honeyball Sutta. This teaching (also sometimes called the “Honeycake Sutta” outlines a feedback loop whereby we end up causing ourselves suffering.

It describes how the basic situation is that consciousness, through sense organs, perceives objects (which can be internal, like thoughts, or external, like the words you’re reading now). This is called “contact.” The word “contact” contains the assumption that there is a self “contacting” a world that is separate from it. The Buddha is not saying this is how things actually are — just that that’s how …

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Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash

For the past month I’ve been recording a series of daily guided meditations, taking as my basis the teachings in a Buddhist discourse called the Honeyball Sutta. This teaching (also sometimes called the “Honeycake Sutta” outlines a feedback loop whereby we end up causing ourselves suffering.

It describes how the basic situation is that consciousness, through sense organs, perceives objects (which can be internal, like thoughts, or external, like the words you’re reading now). This is called “contact.” The word “contact” contains the assumption that there is a self “contacting” a world that is separate from it. The Buddha is not saying this is how things actually are — just that that’s how we assume things are.

Within this field of contact we then have feeling responses to certain perceptions. The sutta doesn’t spell this out, but when the mind detects something as a potential threat it generates unpleasant sensations (feelings) in the body. When it detects a potential benefit it generates pleasant feelings. When something appears to have no bearing on our wellbeing no feeling (a “neutral feeling”) is produced.

What we have pleasant or unpleasant feelings about, we turn our attention to.

What we turn your attention to, we think about.

What we think about we (sometimes) obsess about.

What we obsess about assails us (i.e. causes us suffering) and reinforces our sense of having (or being) a separate self.

So we have a vicious circle, starting with the assumption of a separate self, and reinforcing that sense of separateness. Assuming we are separate, and feeling assailed, we continue to search among those things we have pleasant and unpleasant feelings about, trying to find peace by obsessing about them. This goes on and on and on.

A friend of mine recently gave a talk about this sutta, and he did the usual thing of talking about how mindfulness helps us to damp down the reactivity of this vicious cycle. If we find ourselves thinking obsessively then we can let go of them. With practice we can find ourselves experiencing our feelings and not have that turn into “storytelling” at all. This is of course perfectly valid as an explanation—but it’s also incomplete, because the discourse goes much further than this.

The sutta points out that were there is “no eye (or other sense organs), nothing seen (or perceived through the other senses) and no consciousness, then there is no feeling, no turning of our attention, no thinking, no obsessing, no being assailed, and no construction of a sense of self.

Now this might sound very odd, and might come off as nihilistic. What does it mean that there’s no eye (etc), nothing sensed, and no consciousness? Is it pointing to some state of blankness? To non-existence?

No, it’s simply talking, in very stripped-down language, about how we can drop the notions of a consciousness that is “me, mine, or myself” and a world out there that is “not me, not mine, not myself.” The alternative to this is just being. We just drop the whole process of reactivity all at once: not just letting go of our reactive thoughts, but coming to rest in an awareness of “self-and-world” without conceptualizing in terms of there being a self and a world. (We don’t even conceptualize that self and world are one, because that’s still a conceptualization in terms of self and world.)

Of course this isn’t something we can do in a “one and done” fashion. It’s something we need to do repeatedly, so that as we practice “just being” this starts to become the way we operate. But it is something you can do right now. It’s probably best to stop reading these words for a while and then spend a few minutes doing the following:

  • Just settle into an awareness of “self-and-world” (not taking those terms too literally).
  • Be aware of perceptions of sight and sound, perceptions arising in the body, and so on.
  • Be aware of any thinking that’s arising.
  • If there are any thoughts or impulses that have the character of trying to grasp or push away any aspect of your experience, let them go.
  • Notice how you are happier when you’re just resting with your experience, rather than trying to resist or grasp.
  • More thinking (resisting, grasping) will arise. Over and over again, let go of it.

Now that isn’t difficult. Sure, lots of thinking probably came up. And maybe you saw that as a threat to your wellbeing, and if felt unpleasant, and you had the desire to push that away, to make it stop. And that was you back into reactivity again. But you can notice that, and let it go. It’s natural that resistance and craving arise. You’ve spent a lifetime practicing those!

But for moments, perhaps quite a few moments, there is no conception of our having (or being) a self that perceives a separate world through our sense organs. Consciousness is not perceived as self, and that which is perceived by consciousness is not perceived as other. The whole self/other thing is simply set aside. And we don’t see our feelings as being threats to our wellbeing; instead they just are, and there is simply an awareness of them. And so (in those moments of pure being) the mind doesn’t obsess, and we’re not assailed, and we’re at peace.

This is something, as I’ve said, that we can practice. Now sometimes when people hear that word “practice” they think “Oh, that means there are lots and lots of things I have to do and then I can experience a sense of peace and calm. But practice doesn’t just mean “doing preparation” (like practicing scales on a piano so that you can play Bach). It also has to mean “getting better by actually doing something.” Letting go of your sense of having or being a separate self is something that you can do right now. The peace, contentment, and wellbeing that come from letting go is something that you can experience right now.

Peace is available right here, right now. Don’t try to grasp it. Don’t resist anything you think might be keeping it from you. Just be peace.

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Debunking seven myths about the Buddha https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/debunking-seven-myths-about-the-buddha https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/debunking-seven-myths-about-the-buddha#comments Thu, 25 Oct 2018 17:31:37 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40480

Some of the misconceptions about the Buddha are so common that you’ll find them in just about every book on Buddhism. The problem is that most of these books are merely rehashes of other books on Buddhism, so that misconceptions get passed on for decades and even centuries.

So here I’d like to debunk some myths about the Buddha. I’m not talking about myths like “The Buddha was a god” (he was a historical human figure) or that the Buddha was fat (that’s an entirely different figure, Budai, who was a Chinese monk). I’m going to debunk things that even many savvy Buddhists believe to be true because they’ve read them so often.

So here …

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Some of the misconceptions about the Buddha are so common that you’ll find them in just about every book on Buddhism. The problem is that most of these books are merely rehashes of other books on Buddhism, so that misconceptions get passed on for decades and even centuries.

So here I’d like to debunk some myths about the Buddha. I’m not talking about myths like “The Buddha was a god” (he was a historical human figure) or that the Buddha was fat (that’s an entirely different figure, Budai, who was a Chinese monk). I’m going to debunk things that even many savvy Buddhists believe to be true because they’ve read them so often.

So here we go:

Myth #1: The Buddha Was Indian

The country of India didn’t exist at the time of the Buddha, of course, but when people talk about the Buddha being Indian they mean that he was born in a place that is now part of present-day India. However, he was born (according to tradition) in a town called Lumbini, which was in the Sakyan country. Lumbini is in present-day Nepal, not India. Of course the Buddha spent much of his life in what is now India, but he wasn’t Indian. He was Nepalese—or at least he was born in a part of the world that is now known as Nepal.

Myth #2: The Buddha’s First Name Was Siddhartha

In the scriptures the only name given to the Buddha is “Gautama,” which was his family name. We know the names of his father, mother, son, aunt, cousins, and so on, but we don’t know his own given name! This is a very odd omission, which is perhaps why in the later tradition he was given the name Siddhartha (Siddhatta in Pali). But there’s no evidence that this was actually the Buddha’s name.

As far as I know, the only places in the Pali scriptures where the Buddha is given the name Siddhattha are in some very late texts called the Āpadānas, and other late tests like the Jātakas. Here’s a text, for example, where “Siddhatta” is being recalled by a monk who had been a crocodile in a past life when the two had met! These texts seem to have been added to the canon many, many centuries after the Buddha died.

Myth #3: The Buddha Was Born Hindu

There was no religion called Hinduism at the time the Buddha was born, and so it would be anachronistic to say that the Buddha was born a Hindu. There were many religious traditions that were around at that time. There was one common one that we call Brahminism, which was a hereditary sacrificial tradition based on ancient Indian texts called the Vedas. This is one of the traditions that evolved into contemporary Hinduism. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Buddha followed this Vedic tradition at any time in his life. In fact he probably didn’t. We know that the Sakyans argued that they were superior to the Brahmins, and so it seems unlikely that they followed their religious tradition.

There’s mention in the scriptures that in Kosala and Magadha (territories close to Sakya) there were “Brahmin villages.” According to Bronkhorst (“Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism”) there is evidence that Brahmins tended to cluster together in villages. I thought I’d at some point seen a reference to a Brahmin village in Sakya, although I haven’t been able to track that down. Whether or not there was such a village, the implication is that if Brahminism was present in Sakya it wasn’t ubiquitous and probably wasn’t the dominant religious tradition.

In one discourse a Brahmin talks about visiting the Sakyan capital, Kapilavatthu, and being shocked that brahmins were not honored there. It is “neither fitting, nor is it seemly, that the Sākyas, menials as they are, mere menials, should neither venerate, nor value, nor esteem, nor give gifts to, nor pay honour to Brahmans,” he complains. It’s all too easy for us to think that India is a Hindu country. Therefore it has always been a Hindu country. But in doing so we’re projecting the present (and a rough approximation of the present at that) into a very different past.

In the scriptures there’s simply no mention of the Buddha practicing any religion until after he left home and became a follower of first Alara Kalama and then Uddaka Ramaputta. These teachers were not followers of the Vedas. They seem to have rejected Vedic authority and ran forest renunciate communities based on seeking the truth through meditation. There were presumably philosophical aspects to Alara and Uddaka’s teachings, however, since the Buddha talks about having “memorized” them and having mastered “lip-recital and oral recitation.”

The Vedic tradition was not meditative, but involved rituals of sacrifice and purity in order to influence the gods. There’s no evidence, either, that the Buddha ever worshipped any of the Brahmins’ gods, which are now Hindu gods.

So there’s no evidence that the Buddha was ever a Hindu, or a follower of any tradition rooted in the Vedas, or a worshipper of Hindu deities.

Myth #4: The Buddha Was a Prince

The Sakyan territory was one of a number of republics in the north of the Indian subcontinent. These republics had no kings, and instead were governed by representatives of the people. Some of them may have been democratic, but as far as we know the Sakyans were governed by a council of the heads of the major families that lived there. The Buddha’s father was not a king, but more like a senator.

There are a few reasons why people might have later assumed that the Buddha was the heir to a kingdom. Even during the Buddha’s lifetime, the small republics started being swallowed up by neighboring monarchical kingdoms. After a few generations of being ruled by kings, people may have tended to assume that things had always been like that, and assumed that if his father had been a Sakyan ruler, he must have been a king.

But there’s also a tendency for religious traditions to want to see their founders as having had extraordinary lives and pedigrees, and it’s much more grand to say that the Buddha was the son of a king than heir to the head of one of the leading Sakyan families.

And in trying to obtain patronage from actual kings (who could make or break a religious tradition) it would have been a good PR move to say that your founder was also of royal stock.

I can think of one discourse where the Buddha is referred to as a prince, but it’s an odd one. The sutta is in two parts, the first—with the prince reference—being heavily mythological and narrated by some unknown person. The second part is a question from a disciple followed by a very practical response from the Buddha. There’s no reference in the second part to the Buddha being from a royal family. Given that historically the Buddha could not have been a prince, it seems likely that the mythological introduction was added later. Moreover, the word translated as “prince” is “kumāra”, which merely meant “boy.” The Buddha’s father isn’t referred to as a “king” here, so I assume it’s just habit that leads people to translate kumāra as “prince.” The term for a royal prince would be “rājakumāra”.

There’s another discourse, principally about the previous life of a mythical Buddha called Vipassi—see Myth #5—where the Buddha is portrayed as describing his parents as a king and queen. Again, this is at odds with the historical reality, and it’s interesting that once again we have a mythical context for this royal reference. And here again there’s a translation issue. The word for a royal king was “mahārājā,” while the Buddha’s father is called a “rājā” in this sutta. At the Buddha’s time the word rājā was (according to the Pali Dictionary) “primarily an appellative (or title) of a khattiya [member of the aristocratic warrior class], and often the two [khattiya and rājā] are used promiscuously.

Myth #5: The Buddha Saw Four Sights

Just about every book on Buddhism will tell you about the so-called Four Sights that prompted the Buddha to leave home on a spiritual quest. It goes like this: The Buddha was brought up in three palaces and not allowed to go outside. However, he insisted on going on a series of chariot rides to explore the capital, and saw 1) an old person, 2) a sick person, 3) a dead person, and 4) a beatific homeless wanderer. These Four Sights provoked a spiritual crisis, and so he left home in search to find a way to overcome suffering.

This story is certainly found in the scriptures. It’s even told by the Buddha himself. But he tells it about someone else! This is a tale that the Buddha tells about a legendary former Buddha called Vipassi. So these events are clearly not presented as something that happened to the Buddha himself. Sometimes people try to make sense of the story as it applies to be Buddha by psychologizing it: it was as if he saw an old person, sick person, and so on for the first time. But there’s no need to interpret this supposed episode from the Buddha’s life, since there’s no reason to think it ever happened.

The Buddha talks very movingly in one scripture about the spiritual crisis that provoked him to leave home:

I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear
that caused me to shake all over:

Seeing creatures flopping around,
Like fish in water too shallow,
So hostile to one another!
— Seeing this, I became afraid.

This world completely lacks essence;
It trembles in all directions.
I longed to find myself a place
Unscathed — but I could not see it.

Seeing people locked in conflict,
I became completely distraught.
[Attadanda Sutta]

This, in my eyes, is much more human and relatable than the legend of the four sights.

We know that the Buddha’s people, the Sakyans, had contentious relations with some of their neighbors, and there were battles over things like access to water for irrigation. They literally were like fish fighting over too small a quantity of water, and that may be what he was referring to here. It was probably this kind of strife that impelled the Buddha to leave home. He certainly didn’t see four sights in any literal way, although he did talk about how he saw through the “intoxication” of youth, wellness, and life, which correspond to the first three sights.

Myth #6: The Buddha Lived in Three Palaces

Although the scriptures have the Buddha talking about how in his youth he lived in three “palaces,” this almost certainly isn’t the case. Excavations of Kapilavastu show the dwellings there to have been rather modest. Sakya wasn’t a rich country, and there seem to have been no palaces. The word translated as “palace” (pāsāda) can mean anything from the residence of a king, to a building on high foundations, all the way down to a “raised platform.” The “palace” translation is probably shaped by the myth that the Buddha was from a royal family. In fact Bhikkhu Sujato translates pāsāda as “stilt longhouse,” which is historically and archaeologically more accurate, although admittedly less grand.

Myth #7: The Buddha Left Home In the Middle of the Night

Legends detail how the Buddha “went forth” in the middle of the night, tiptoeing through the sleeping concubines who were strewn over his harem so as not to wake them up. He left without saying goodbye to anyone—not even his father, step-mother, or his wife, who had a young child to take care of. How rude!

In the scriptures, however, he talks about how he said farewell to his parents. It’s less dramatic, but again more human and believable. We can’t know for sure, but he probably spent a lot of time talking over his desire to leave home.

When I was still young, black-haired, endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life, having shaved off my hair and beard — though my parents wished otherwise and were grieving with tears on their faces — I put on the ochre robe and went forth from the home life into homelessness. [Mahasaccaka Sutta and Ariyapariyesana sutta.]

The reference to “parents” is interesting, since the Buddha’s mother is supposed to have passed away not long after giving birth to him. It could be that “parents” refers to his father and stepmother (his dad married his mother’s sister). Or it could be that the legend of the Buddha’s mother dying after his birth is just that—a legend.

Anyway, the story of the Buddha sneaking out in the middle of the night just doesn’t match with what’s in the early scriptures.

People Get Mad About This Sort of Stuff

When I’ve written about this kind of thing in the past I’ve ended up getting a fair amount of hate mail. Some Hindus don’t like it if you say there’s no evidence that the Buddha was ever a Hindu. Some Buddhists don’t like it if you say the Buddha wasn’t a prince, or in fact contradict anything they believe in. I get called names.

One of the emphases in the Buddha’s early teachings was not clinging to views. When we cling to beliefs, he pointed out, we end up disputing and fighting with each other.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have views, but that we should hold them lightly, not fight over them, and be prepared to change our views in response to new evidence. You might want the Buddha to have been a prince, for example, because that’s what you’re used to hearing. And you might get angry when you hear otherwise. But if the scriptural and historical evidence points in other directions then it’s wise for us to change our views.

If you found yourself getting indignant while reading this article, that’s a fair indication that there’s some clinging going on. That’s normal. But clinging leads to suffering. So let go. Adapt. You’ll be happier!

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Your happiness does not depend on how you feel https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/happiness-does-not-depend-on-how-you-feel https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/happiness-does-not-depend-on-how-you-feel#comments Mon, 15 Oct 2018 16:25:37 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40468 Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Recently I’ve been feeling, on and off, kind of crappy. A lot of the time I’m fine, but then heavy, despondent feelings arrive. Mostly this is to do with chronically “scraping by” financially, and the extra stress that causes: having to calculate how little gas I can get away with putting in the car, trying to juggle spending less in the supermarket with eating a diet that will keep me healthy, and so on.

I’m not complaining: at least I have a car, and I’m not going to go hungry. I often count my blessings. And mostly I’m optimistic and that keeps me going. But in the long term it gets a bit wearing.

When …

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Recently I’ve been feeling, on and off, kind of crappy. A lot of the time I’m fine, but then heavy, despondent feelings arrive. Mostly this is to do with chronically “scraping by” financially, and the extra stress that causes: having to calculate how little gas I can get away with putting in the car, trying to juggle spending less in the supermarket with eating a diet that will keep me healthy, and so on.

I’m not complaining: at least I have a car, and I’m not going to go hungry. I often count my blessings. And mostly I’m optimistic and that keeps me going. But in the long term it gets a bit wearing.

When this happens I try to practice what I teach, and one of the things I teach is mindful acceptance.

Some years ago my friend Padraig O’Morain contributed an article here in which he shared how he uses the mantra “My happiness does not depend on this.” So he’ll be stuck in a traffic jam, for example, and he’ll remind himself, “My happiness does not depend on this.”

And this is a brilliant phrase to use, because often we do assume that our happiness does in fact depend on not being stuck in a traffic jam. And those assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies: we fume in the traffic jam. Undo that assumption, and we have an opportunity to experience peace, balance, and calmness in the face of things not going the way we want.

The principle that Padraig illustrates here applies to feelings as well. So when I find myself experiencing despondency, I remind myself, “My happiness does not depend on how I feel.”

This might seem counter-intuitive, because we so often assume that happiness depends on feelings, and that in fact happiness is a feeling. But that assumption, it turns out, is as false as assuming that you can’t be happy in a traffic jam.

Our experience is layered. We have feelings, and we also have responses to our feelings. Often we resist painful feelings. And when we resist painful feelings, we make them stronger. Resistance is such an automatic response that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. And so we just assume that the unpleasant feelings that result from resisting primary unpleasant feelings are just part of the primary unpleasant feelings.

Acceptance is another response to our feelings. It’s one we practice much less often. Most people, I’d say, don’t really know how to accept painful feelings. And so it takes practice. we can practice by treating a feeling not as something that we are inside, but as something we’re observing. So we can observe where the feeling is. We can name it. We can observe its size and position, and how it changes. We can remind ourselves, “This is not me. This is not mine. This is not who I am.” We can even remind ourselves, “My happiness does not depend on how I feel.”

The more we accept an initial unpleasant feeling, the more our secondary unpleasant feelings dissolve. And we’re left just with that initial feeling. We can recognize that there’s nothing wrong with that unpleasant feeling. We don’t need to get rid of it. In fact wanting to get rid of it brings us back to having resistance, and so we kick of another wave of secondary suffering. When you’re trying to accept a painful feeling and you get the thought, “This isn’t working!” this is just unacknowledged resistance. Just keep going. Let the unpleasant feeling be.

And it’s perfectly possible to be happy while having an unpleasant feeling present. This happiness isn’t in the form of a pleasant feeling. Happiness can take that form, but it can also be a deeper sense of calm, peace, and wellbeing. That deeper level of happiness can coexist with an unpleasant feeling, and it arises from acceptance.

This saying, “My happiness does not depend on how I feel,” or even, more specifically, “My happiness does not depend on this feeling,” is a tool I’m finding very useful in finding peace alongside feelings of crappiness.

Just one more word: acceptance doesn’t mean not changing things in our lives. So I’m not advocating that you accept circumstances that aren’t conducive to your wellbeing. I have things I’m working on changing so that I don’t have to deal with the extra stresses I mentioned above. But in the meantime, I can keep coming back to an experience of peace.

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Gratitude https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/recovery-monday/gratitude-3 https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/recovery-monday/gratitude-3#comments Mon, 01 Oct 2018 22:47:54 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40449 What I’m Thinking
I have so much gratitude for this life I’m able to live here in the West. So many beings in the world don’t know where their next mouthful of food is coming from. So many parents in the world live with the painful fact that a birth of a child could mean a death of that child before it’s aged one. So many people in the world don’t even know if they will survive the day through fear of being bombed. So many people are refugees fleeing their countries from fear of being killed because of their sexuality, because of falling in love with somebody of the same gender, or different class …

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What I’m Thinking
I have so much gratitude for this life I’m able to live here in the West. So many beings in the world don’t know where their next mouthful of food is coming from. So many parents in the world live with the painful fact that a birth of a child could mean a death of that child before it’s aged one. So many people in the world don’t even know if they will survive the day through fear of being bombed. So many people are refugees fleeing their countries from fear of being killed because of their sexuality, because of falling in love with somebody of the same gender, or different class or caste, because of their political beliefs. And all I have to worry about in my life is my recovery, healing from familial traumas. How fortunate am I not to have the extra distress of war, poverty, hunger and extreme homophobia. May I make the most of this precious life. May I live for the benefit of all suffering beings.

Quote of the Month
While on retreat this past weekend, I heard the expression, ‘Mindfulness from breathing’. Buddhist teacher Amitaratna says we’ve been misled, it’s not mindfulness of breathing we need to be practicing. It’s mindfulness from breathing, a mindfulness that needs to arise from our breathing. A subtle difference all of us could benefit from. On this retreat she taught us how to unhook ourselves from our addictive habitual thoughts by finding our smile within and then drop into the throat and into the heart opening. From this spaciousness mindfulness from breathing will arise.

What I’m Reading
Compassionate Inquiry, a manual outlining the methodology of Dr Gabor Mate one of the Guru’s of Addiction and ADHD. He reminds us that those of us with addiction should never be seen as our diagnosis, and that addiction is often a syptom of disconnection that happened in childhood. And that whenever we are activated by something, that it’s never about the present, it’s always to do with something in the past. And the way out of our habitual responses to triggers, is becoming aware of what we make things mean, and how we can begin to reframe. This manual will be out on the book shelves in 2020.

What I’m Listening To
Bob Marley Redemption Song – he reminds us to ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds‘. This is my favourite teaching at the moment for freeing us from the vicious cyle of addiction.

What I’m Doing

I’ve launched a course on Insight Timer, break the vicious cycle of addiction. 10 sessions exploring our triggers, body, feeling tone, thoughts, emotions, thinking, actions, gains and cost of our addictions. It’s a great precursor to our Wild Mind Course beginning January 7th. Daily input, videos and in class session, exploring mindfulness based addiction recovery.

Something I’m doing
I’m often asked when are you going to do something at home. Well I’m in Chatham Kent Ontario November 9th a day on the Listening Body – A Mindfulness Approach for recovery. I hope to see some of you. Sign up to my newsletter for details of what I’m up to for the rest of the year.

Back by popular demand, January 7, 2019: The online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Retreat

And the new expanded edition of Eight Step Recovery with a foreword by Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr Gabor Mate.

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A “feeling crap” meditation https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/a-feeling-crap-meditation https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/a-feeling-crap-meditation#comments Thu, 20 Sep 2018 23:39:34 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40436 Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I’m sure that sometimes you feel crap.

The other week I was feeling particularly crappy. I have an idea what was causing me to feel that way, but that’s not particularly important. The thing is that I was feeling crap, by which I mean I felt sad, tired, and sometimes despairing.

The last thing I wanted to do, really, was to sit in meditation and experience how crap I was feeling. But I know from past experience that that’s the most helpful thing I can do. And so I sat on my meditation bench so that I could find a better way to relate to feeling crap.

I settled in to meditate, I noticed the …

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Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I’m sure that sometimes you feel crap.

The other week I was feeling particularly crappy. I have an idea what was causing me to feel that way, but that’s not particularly important. The thing is that I was feeling crap, by which I mean I felt sad, tired, and sometimes despairing.

The last thing I wanted to do, really, was to sit in meditation and experience how crap I was feeling. But I know from past experience that that’s the most helpful thing I can do. And so I sat on my meditation bench so that I could find a better way to relate to feeling crap.

I settled in to meditate, I noticed the dark, heavy feeling around my heart. I noticed that there was an attitude of resistance around this feeling, since I didn’t particularly want to experience it. But it’s best if these things are allowed into experience. So I let go of the resistance as much as possible, and turned to face the darkness.

My meditation practice kind of has a life of its own. Sometimes I really have no idea what’s going to happen. I just have to see what my subconscious comes up with. This particular day, as I let go of my resistance and turned my attention toward the discomfort, a mantra of sorts appeared.

“It’s OK. This is just how you’re feeling right now.”

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

“It’s OK. This is just how you’re feeling right now.”

And so on.

As these words appeared, I recognized what they were doing.

“It’s OK”

This is offering reassurance. It’s as if these words encode the message, “It’s OK to feel this way. It’s OK to turn toward the feeling. You’re on the right track. You got this. Deep down there’s really nothing to fear. Keep going.”

“This is just how you’re feeling”

This is saying that in a way, feelings are sensations like any other. If you touch something warm, you’ll feel warmth. If you touch the point of a thorn, you’ll feel pain. If you’ve wanted something and you didn’t get it you’ll feel disappointed and sad. If you’ve been criticized you’ll feel hurt. It’s just how things are. You’re not failing for feeling these things.

This is also a reminder that resistance, as they say, is futile. Resisting your pain—that sense of wanting desperately to not be experiencing it—doesn’t help. In fact it’s worse than unhelpful. It actually creates more pain. Resisting pain is like responding to having a stone in your shoe by pounding your foot with a hammer.

Sometimes you find that 50% of your pain is coming from the resistance, and sometimes you discover it’s more like 95%. The way to find out is to let go of the resistance.

So in saying “this is just how you’re feeling,” you’re facing how you feel as a fact, rather than as something to be resisted. And so you can start to drop the resistance and experience whatever discomfort remains, which becomes more bearable the more you are able to face it without trying to run away from it or make it go away.

“Right now”

Feelings change. Everything changes. Remember that time many years ago when you felt awful because you got dumped? And that time you were really worried about money? Those feelings are gone now. Even if they’ve been replaced by similar feelings, those new feelings won’t last. “No feeling is final,” as Rilke said.

So that was my meditation the other day. I sat with “feeling crap,” and as I repeated the mantra the feeling lifted. It didn’t go away entirely, but that was OK. I’d realized that it was all manageable. I didn’t need to resist anything. I could experience it fully, without being overwhelmed.

And then just yesterday I guided a couple of friends through this same meditation, because one of them was feeling really crap.

And we went a bit further.

We put our hands on our hearts, where the crap feeling was strongest, and we talked to our suffering: “I just want you to know I care about you, and I’m here for you. I love you and I want you to be happy. It’s OK. We’ll get through this. You’re doing OK. I know you’re feeling bad, but I’m going to take care of you.”

My friend who was feeling crap said she felt less crap after doing this. And that made me feel happier. The other friend suggested I should call this my “feeling crap meditation,” and so here we are…

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Deceptive Facebook pages and weaponized mindfulness https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/deceptive-facebook-pages-and-weaponized-mindfulness https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/deceptive-facebook-pages-and-weaponized-mindfulness#comments Tue, 04 Sep 2018 19:47:34 +0000 https://www.wildmind.org/?p=40431

As we should all know by now, Russian intelligence services have been attempting to manipulate opinion in Western democracies. The simplistic version of the story, as it applies to the US, is that, as Vladimir Putin publicly stated, the Kremlin wanted Donald Trump to win. But the more accurate version of the story — the bigger picture — is that it’s to Russia’s advantage to have the United States divided and distracted. (The same applies to Europe, which is why Russia supported the Brexit movement.)

Russian interference took many forms. It wasn’t just pro-Trump, and they actually played both sides, having pages devoted, for example, to promoting “Black Lives Matter” as well as “Blue Lives …

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As we should all know by now, Russian intelligence services have been attempting to manipulate opinion in Western democracies. The simplistic version of the story, as it applies to the US, is that, as Vladimir Putin publicly stated, the Kremlin wanted Donald Trump to win. But the more accurate version of the story — the bigger picture — is that it’s to Russia’s advantage to have the United States divided and distracted. (The same applies to Europe, which is why Russia supported the Brexit movement.)

Russian interference took many forms. It wasn’t just pro-Trump, and they actually played both sides, having pages devoted, for example, to promoting “Black Lives Matter” as well as “Blue Lives Matter,” pro-Trump groups and “resisters.” Certainly, getting Trump elected was one goal, but a wider aim was to cause distrust, and almost any cultural sphere was used: issues of race, immigration, law and order, and even health.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to discover that the Russians had set up a Facebook page called “Mindful Being.” According to AdAge:

In total, more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these Pages, the earliest of which was created in March 2017. The latest was created in May 2018. The most followed Facebook Pages were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.” The remaining Pages had between zero and 10 followers, and the Instagram accounts had zero followers.

The Kremlin effectively weaponized mindfulness! (Not that that’s the first time that’s happened.)

The two images above are from a New York Times article on the posts these fake pages generated. The article is in the form of a short quiz, asking you to choose which of two paired posts was from a deceptive Facebook page. I’d recommend taking the quiz to test your discriminative abilities and to learn more about what Russia has been up to.

I’m pleased to say that I correctly identified all the fakes, but there’s an element of luck involved, since these fake Facebook pages were quite subtle. They couldn’t be too extreme because they had to seem genuine and to get lots of likes. So from what I can tell, most of the content on “Mindful Being” was completely innocuous. The page was only in existence for two months before being taken down, and was probably just laying the groundwork for more divisive content. Two examples of posts designed to sow mistrust are below:

You can see how it’s possible to draw people in by using innocuous “inspirational” content, and then to segue from that to posts that are designed to make people distrustful of the news media and of science.

There’s a bit of a connection here to one of my side-projects, which is my Fake Buddha Quote blog. For one thing, the same critical skills that are involved in determining whether a quote is recent or from India 2,500 years ago can help with questioning whether a Facebook meme is designed to manipulate you.

In fact I talk about the spiritual practice of verifying quotes (any by extension memes and news stories) in the conclusion to the book, which is called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha.” I don’t want to sound too commercial, but the book is available for preorder (and it’s readable, interesting and funny).

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