Wildmind Buddhist Meditation Explore Meditation Online 2017-11-22T07:02:28Z https://www.wildmind.org/feed/atom https://static.wildmind.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-favicon-32x32.jpg Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[“We forget our faults easily when they are known only to ourselves.” Francois de la Rochefoucauld]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37464 2017-11-22T07:02:28Z 2017-11-22T05:14:24Z

Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

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

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

But sometimes even internal factors are hard to assess. In my role

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Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[Mindfulness: freedom from, freedom to]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37448 2017-11-21T19:10:51Z 2017-11-21T19:00:29Z

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/BkkVcWUgwEk

Mindfulness is everywhere these days, but it’s often poorly defined. To me its central and defining characteristic is self-observation. When we’re unmindful, there’s no self-observation going on. The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

Thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions are all functioning, but there’s no inner observer, and so there’s no evaluation going on. Without evaluation there’s no mechanism for recognizing that certain thoughts etc. are causing us or others suffering. And so we’re really nothing more than a complex bundle of instincts and habits. Those instincts and habits can do amazing things, like drive a car (ever “woken up” to find you’ve driven somewhere and have no recollection of the journey?) or read a

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Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/BkkVcWUgwEk

Mindfulness is everywhere these days, but it’s often poorly defined. To me its central and defining characteristic is self-observation. When we’re unmindful, there’s no self-observation going on. The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

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

Bodhi Mind iPhone app
While you’re here, why not download Bodhi Mind, our FREE meditation iPhone app?
The key thing is our suffering. Or, to put it another way, the quality of our experience. With no observation, there’s nothing to stop us from making ourselves anything from mildly disgruntled to extremely unhappy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wildmind Meditation News <![CDATA[Buddhist monastery site uncovered in China]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37465 2017-11-16T12:43:52Z 2017-11-16T12:43:52Z
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Archaeology: An excavation in northwest China has uncovered a 1,000-year-old ceramic box containing cremated human remains said to have belonged to Siddh?rtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, according to a report in Live Science.

An inscription on the box explains that two monks, named Yunjiang and Zhiming, of the Mañju?r? Temple of the Longxing Monastery collected the more than 2,000 pieces of cremated remains, including teeth and bones, over a period of 20 years, and buried them in the temple on June 22, 1013, as a way to practice and promote Buddhism. More than 260 Buddhist statues, and the remains …

Read the original article »

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wildmind meditation news
Check out Wildmind’s Bodhi Mind meditation app!
Archaeology: An excavation in northwest China has uncovered a 1,000-year-old ceramic box containing cremated human remains said to have belonged to Siddh?rtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, according to a report in Live Science.

An inscription on the box explains that two monks, named Yunjiang and Zhiming, of the Mañju?r? Temple of the Longxing Monastery collected the more than 2,000 pieces of cremated remains, including teeth and bones, over a period of 20 years, and buried them in the temple on June 22, 1013, as a way to practice and promote Buddhism. More than 260 Buddhist statues, and the remains …

Read the original article »

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Vimalasara <![CDATA[Buddhist Recovery Summit]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37440 2017-11-08T18:22:01Z 2017-11-06T23:12:32Z
Vimalasara and Noah Levine having a high five moment.

Over a hundred people gathered at the Buddhist Recovery Summit in Lacey, Washington to share their knowledge and passion for the worldwide movements integrating Buddhism and Recovery, on October 20th to 22nd 2017. Dharma teachers, health care professionals, psychotherapists, counselors and people in recovery discussed the future of Buddhist Recovery.

Together we explored a range of recovery styles and practices, including Refuge Recovery, the Eight Step Recovery, Sit and Share, Heart of Recovery, Noble Steps, and Mindful Recovery.

There was a keynote panel including Noah Levine and Kevin Griffin from the USA, myself Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John from Canada, and Vince Cullen from Ireland, which discussed “What

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Vimalasara and Noah Levine having a high five moment.

Over a hundred people gathered at the Buddhist Recovery Summit in Lacey, Washington to share their knowledge and passion for the worldwide movements integrating Buddhism and Recovery, on October 20th to 22nd 2017. Dharma teachers, health care professionals, psychotherapists, counselors and people in recovery discussed the future of Buddhist Recovery.

Together we explored a range of recovery styles and practices, including Refuge Recovery, the Eight Step Recovery, Sit and Share, Heart of Recovery, Noble Steps, and Mindful Recovery.

There was a keynote panel including Noah Levine and Kevin Griffin from the USA, myself Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John from Canada, and Vince Cullen from Ireland, which discussed “What is Buddhist Recovery?” The summit also explored the intersection of Buddhist recovery and the 12 step recovery model. The summit focused on ways to offer Buddhist recovery in all of its forms to people suffering from addiction regardless of their religion or spiritual traditions.

George Johns, President of the Buddhist Recovery Network (BRN) says: “Over the past 10 years we have seen a plethora of new Buddhist recovery programs contribute to the recovery world. Using mindfulness to reduce stress, depression, anxiety and pain has captured the world’s attention. It is inevitable that Buddhist Recovery would contribute to and deepen this movement. At the core of the Buddhist teachings is mindfulness and the way out of suffering. Buddhist recovery offers a host of teachings and practices to live a life free from the misery of addictions, and BRN is committed to nurturing and disseminating these ideas to help the still suffering addict.”

BRN initiatives include maintaining and expanding their website ( buddhistrecovery.org ) as a global resource for Buddhist recovery, offering facilitator and peer-led training and materials for Buddhist recovery meetings, nurturing regional BRN affiliates, and orchestrating annual Buddhist recovery summits and retreats.
The Summit was initiated, planned and co-sponsored by the Northwest Dharma Association, a non-sectarian umbrella for Buddhist organizations and individuals in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.

It’s hoped that Buddhist Recovery will soon become recognized as a reliable contribution to the Addiction world.

Something I’m doing
I will be delivering an online Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery course during the month of January 2018. For people in recovery and people working in the field of recovery. For more information please email mark@wildmind.org

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[Finding meditation’s intrinsic rewards]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37396 2017-10-30T17:47:04Z 2017-10-30T16:59:17Z

The mind is pulled in two different directions in meditation.

Peace, calm, and joy are the intrinsic rewards that meditation offers, and in theory that reward system should help keep you anchored in your direct, moment-by-moment experience. That can happen, and in fact that’s a good description of the experience of jhana (dhyana in Sanskrit). Jhana is a state of “flow” in which meditation becomes effortless because the rewards of joy, pleasure, and calmness keep you immersed in your present-moment experience. The rewards of meditation can pull you into your practice. That’s the first pull.

But it’s not always easy to experience those rewards. There’s another pull, which we’re all too familiar with: the pull

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The mind is pulled in two different directions in meditation.

Peace, calm, and joy are the intrinsic rewards that meditation offers, and in theory that reward system should help keep you anchored in your direct, moment-by-moment experience. That can happen, and in fact that’s a good description of the experience of jhana (dhyana in Sanskrit). Jhana is a state of “flow” in which meditation becomes effortless because the rewards of joy, pleasure, and calmness keep you immersed in your present-moment experience. The rewards of meditation can pull you into your practice. That’s the first pull.

But it’s not always easy to experience those rewards. There’s another pull, which we’re all too familiar with: the pull of our distractions. This pull is much stronger. We’ve evolved to have minds that are constantly searching around looking for things that are wrong. Our ancestors’ survival (and thus our present-day existence) depended on a heightened awareness of anything that might threaten our chances of continuing to exist. And although our lives are pretty safe compared to the days when you had perhaps a one in three chance of dying violently, those circuits are still active.

Bodhi Mind iPhone app
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So your ability to become absorbed in calmness and joy is hampered by the mind obsessing about some future event you’re anxious about, or a careless word from a friend that hurt your feelings, or some pleasant experience you hope will happen.

The parts of your brain that are responsible for those patterns of thought have been around for a long time and have had a lot of practice in getting your attention. They’re deeply wired into the rest of the brain and have the ability to hijack the brain’s “higher” centers, which are more recently evolved.

And so the powers of distraction are strong. You can let go of a distracted train of thought and return to your sensory awareness of your moment-by-moment experience, only to find you’ve become distracted again, long before you had a chance to get to the “rewards” of peace, calmness, of joy.

Two approaches I’ve found are useful for helping break out of this dynamic are these:

1. Really appreciate the experience of the breathing.

There is a shift in the quality of your experience when you disengage from a distraction. The shift may be slight, but it happens. It’s there. There’s just a little more calm, a little less tension.

Practice noticing those shifts. Really appreciate them. Allow yourself to feel that you’re coming home as you return to the breathing. You can even say words like “Yes,” or “Thank you,” or “Coming home again.”

Doing this will help to enhance your experience of the intrinsic rewards of meditation, so that they become stronger, easier to notice, and more compelling.

2. Disengage from distractions respectfully and empathetically

Treating your distractions as the enemy is a mistake. They’ve evolved to keep up safe and alive. Those are important tasks, and we should appreciate that they are what our distractions are trying to do. They’re not trying to mess up our meditation practice. They’re not trying to make us tense, stressed, upset, or depressed — even if that’s what they end up doing. From their point of view, they are crucial to our survival, and our happiness doesn’t even register to them.

So first, stop reacting to your distractions. This is common advice, of course, but accept that distraction simply happens. It’s no big deal. You can just let go and return to the breathing.

But before you do, say “Thank you.” Say “Thanks. I’ll deal with that at a more appropriate time,” or “Thanks. It can wait, though,” or “Thank you. Later.” Maybe you can come up with phrases that are better than mine.

If you’re signaling to those parts of the brain that their input is valued and will be attended to at the right time, they’re more likely to stop bugging you. Otherwise, they’ll think that their crucial role in keeping you safe is being ignored, which means they think you’re endangering yourself, which means they have to try even harder to get your attention.

This two-fold approach, of valuing but politely disengaging from distraction, while also savoring any increase in calmness, can help make our distractions less insistent and our moment-by-moment sensory experience more compelling. It can help us get more quickly to the rewards that meditation offers.

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[Bodhi Mind meditation app now available for free download]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37378 2017-10-26T13:22:54Z 2017-10-26T13:20:37Z

The Bodhi Mind app for iPhone and iPad is now available for download on the app store. Our app offers a library of well over 200 guided meditations, and the number will keep on growing. We intend that Bodhi Mind will be Wildmind’s main publishing platform from this point on.

You’ll find all the guided meditations from my CDs and meditation courses, plus materials that I’ve recorded for other purposes. Some live recordings from retreats and workshops have been added, with more on the way!

The app is free to download. Go get it now!

All of the meditations are available for a two week trial. After that you’ll have access to a

Read more »]]>

The Bodhi Mind app for iPhone and iPad is now available for download on the app store. Our app offers a library of well over 200 guided meditations, and the number will keep on growing. We intend that Bodhi Mind will be Wildmind’s main publishing platform from this point on.

You’ll find all the guided meditations from my CDs and meditation courses, plus materials that I’ve recorded for other purposes. Some live recordings from retreats and workshops have been added, with more on the way!

The app is free to download. Go get it now!

All of the meditations are available for a two week trial. After that you’ll have access to a selection of tracks, and you can unlock the rest by signing up for a subscription.

For Android users: we do intend to create a version of Bodhi Mind for your platform, but we need to make sure this version is successful first, so please tell your iPhone-using friends about the app!

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[“The painting paints itself”]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37188 2017-10-26T04:08:05Z 2017-10-26T04:05:12Z

The maker of a brief documentary sent me a link to this video. It’s worth setting aside the six minutes or so that it takes to watch it.

It shows Gert Johan Manschot — a Dutch artist who meditates — in action, creating beautiful Zen calligraphy–inspired paintings. Manschot lives in Texas, which I wish had been mentioned earlier in the video since at first I was baffled at his otherwise out-of-context references to longhorn cattle and cowboys.

Anyway … Monschot discusses his creative process, which involves waiting until the painting paints itself. This is a beautiful way of describing how the creative process involves an absence of clinging to self. This certainly matches my experience

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The maker of a brief documentary sent me a link to this video. It’s worth setting aside the six minutes or so that it takes to watch it.

It shows Gert Johan Manschot — a Dutch artist who meditates — in action, creating beautiful Zen calligraphy–inspired paintings. Manschot lives in Texas, which I wish had been mentioned earlier in the video since at first I was baffled at his otherwise out-of-context references to longhorn cattle and cowboys.

Anyway … Monschot discusses his creative process, which involves waiting until the painting paints itself. This is a beautiful way of describing how the creative process involves an absence of clinging to self. This certainly matches my experience that the less there’s a sense of “I” involved in creation, the more effortlessly the creative process flows.

Art of the Moment from Travis Lee Ratcliff.

This is a painter I’d love to know more about, and I hope that a longer documentary gets made about him.

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[Stepping into an “enemy’s” shoes]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37280 2017-10-26T04:11:55Z 2017-10-22T22:00:19Z

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

We all experience problems of coming into conflict with others, even if sometimes the conflicts take place purely inside our heads in the form of resentment and irritation.

Finding ways to lessen those conflicts has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of our lives, especially since these conflicts are with people who are close to us.

(I’ve used the traditional term “enemy” above to cover all people we come into conflict with, even though in ordinary parlance we wouldn’t normally use that word for someone we have a generally positive relationship with, even if we do sometimes get into disputes with them.)

One way of letting go of our resentments and of practicing forgiveness

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Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

We all experience problems of coming into conflict with others, even if sometimes the conflicts take place purely inside our heads in the form of resentment and irritation.

Finding ways to lessen those conflicts has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of our lives, especially since these conflicts are with people who are close to us.

(I’ve used the traditional term “enemy” above to cover all people we come into conflict with, even though in ordinary parlance we wouldn’t normally use that word for someone we have a generally positive relationship with, even if we do sometimes get into disputes with them.)

One way of letting go of our resentments and of practicing forgiveness is to recognize that the other person’s thoughts, speech, and actions are the result of causes and conditions. This might sound rather abstract, but please bear with me.

We’re all born with genetic and epigenetic predispositions toward certain kinds of behavioral traits. Most of us know that our genes predispose us to be more confident, aggressive or fearful; gregarious, clingy or aloof, and so on. Fewer people are aware that experiences our parents and grandparents have had (and even the food they’ve eaten) can affect the way our genes express themselves right now.

And then we are all subject to conditioning early in childhood. The presence or absence of nurturing, and the kinds of behavioral modeling we’re exposed to, profoundly shape the very structure of our brains, and thus the way we feel, think, and act.

And we’re all subject to cultural conditioning that shapes the way we see the world.

These forms of conditioning affect the kinds of choices we make, and thus what happens to us in life. Some of what happens to us in life may change us in positive ways, but sometimes the effects are to reinforce our early conditioning. So someone who’s afraid of intimacy because of childhood betrayals may inadvertently choose to be with people who don’t care about their feelings or wellbeing. An aggressive person will tend to seek out conflict.

It’s being aware of all this that I mean when I talk about stepping into the shoes of an “enemy.”

Check out my FREE guided meditation iPhone app!
Take anyone you get into conflict with for any reason. It might be a colleague at work who routinely dismisses your suggestions, or a spouse who is often so absorbed in something else that they forget to greet you when you come home, or a child who picks fights with their siblings and drives you crazy.

Now consider that this person has been conditioned since before birth to behave in certain ways, that their brains have been profoundly shaped by early childhood experiences as well as events later in life. That their beliefs and values have similarly been shaped by genetics and life experiences. That it may be very difficult, even impossible, for them to do things you might want them to do, like be more trusting, be less aggressive, cooperate more, be more logical or more emotionally expressive, and so on.

The contemporary teacher Eckhart Tolle wrote, “If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness your level of consciousness, you would think and act exactly as she does.”

So imagine you had been born with the brain and genes of the person you’re having difficult with. Imagine you’d had the same (inevitably faulty) parenting, early childhood experiences, cultural conditioning, education, and life experiences. In all likelihood you’d act exactly as they do.

Tolle points out that this realization that a person is a bundle of conditions, and that if you were subject to the same conditions you’d think and act as they do, leads to forgiveness, compassion, and peace. And he’s right. It’s also true that recognizing our own conditioning leads to self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and peace.

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[Bodhi Mind meditation app is coming soon!]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37302 2017-10-13T14:23:46Z 2017-10-13T14:15:20Z

Bodhi Mind meditation app for iPhoneAfter some last-minute tweaks the Bodhi Mind app has now been submitted to the app store.

This free app (for iPhone and iPad) will offer access to a large library of my guided meditation recordings. It allows you to create a favorites list and you can also download recordings for offline play.

All going well, Bodhi Mind will go live in the app store in one to two weeks. At the moment there are about 150 meditations available, but more will have been added by the time the app is available. The app is looking gorgeous and working flawlessly.

We’d like to thank all those who supported our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which made this possible.

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Bodhi Mind meditation app for iPhoneAfter some last-minute tweaks the Bodhi Mind app has now been submitted to the app store.

This free app (for iPhone and iPad) will offer access to a large library of my guided meditation recordings. It allows you to create a favorites list and you can also download recordings for offline play.

All going well, Bodhi Mind will go live in the app store in one to two weeks. At the moment there are about 150 meditations available, but more will have been added by the time the app is available. The app is looking gorgeous and working flawlessly.

We’d like to thank all those who supported our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which made this possible. (Incidentally, it’s not too late to contribute to our campaign if you want to get a discounted subscription to the app.

I’ll let you know as soon as the app is available on the App Store!

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Bodhipaksa <![CDATA[Insight is not enough]]> https://www.wildmind.org/?p=37299 2017-10-12T17:32:09Z 2017-10-12T17:32:09Z

These days there’s an increasing interest in gaining insight — accepting the loaded word “gaining” for now.

On the whole this is a good thing. For a long time many in the West have been doubtful about whether awakening is a realistic goal. “Maybe we’re too messed up,” and “Maybe the modern world isn’t conducive to awakening,” were common doubts. As the years have gone by, however, more and more practitioners have had insight experiences, and this has been very encouraging for others. More people now think not just that awakening is possible, but that they personally are capable of it. This is great! How can there be a downside to this?

One thing I’ve

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These days there’s an increasing interest in gaining insight — accepting the loaded word “gaining” for now.

On the whole this is a good thing. For a long time many in the West have been doubtful about whether awakening is a realistic goal. “Maybe we’re too messed up,” and “Maybe the modern world isn’t conducive to awakening,” were common doubts. As the years have gone by, however, more and more practitioners have had insight experiences, and this has been very encouraging for others. More people now think not just that awakening is possible, but that they personally are capable of it. This is great! How can there be a downside to this?

One thing I’ve been concerned about recently is the narrowness of the goal we set ourselves. The ultimate aim of practice is often seen purely in terms of having insights into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-self. And while those things are crucial to attaining the goal, simply having those insights doesn’t turn you into the kind of person that the Buddha suggested we should take as our ideal. The Buddha’s concept of the ideal individual is someone who not only has insight, but who is an all-round excellent human being.

In one conversation about the ideal person, the Buddha outlines qualities such as: having calmness; being free from craving; being free of attachment to preferences, being free from fear, anger, and pride; being restrained in speech; having no longings about the future and no regrets about the past; having honesty and transparency; being free from envy; having no disdain for others; refraining from insults; and not thinking in terms of being superior, inferior, or even equal to others.

Elsewhere the Buddha talks of this ideal individual very much in terms of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. He encourages us to be the kind of person who doesn’t act in ways that cause harm to others in any way, not even indirectly, if that can at all be avoided. He also encouraged us to be good friends to each other — see the Culagosinga Sutta, for example. And part of the Buddha’s conception of spiritual friendship was a heart-connection with the wise — a sense of devotion and reverence that opens the heart to being influenced by the good that lies in others.

Over and over again, the Buddha encouraged us to develop jhana — a pleasurable state of focused awareness and of joyful absorption in the present moment. Jhana is deeply nourishing, and is also an excellent preparation for insight — not just because it trains the mind in focused attention, but because it helps us to see our experience in terms of intangible qualities of energy and joy, and in so doing gives us more of a sense of the insubstantiality of ourselves.

These are the kinds of things that we should be thinking of as the purpose of our practice.

Inherent in the Buddha’s view of the goal is that it’s not just about losing the delusion of self, or even of “gaining” insight. It’s also about cultivating ethical, skillful qualities—especially positive emotions. This is why the Buddhist path is usually taught as starting with training in ethics, then in meditation (including the active cultivation of kindness and compassion), and only then, finally, culminating in the development of insight.

For a small number of people, insight experiences are upsetting or even devastating, leading to a loss of meaning, a sense of despair, and a depressing and anxious state of depersonalization. It’s clear that joy and compassion don’t inevitably follow on the heels of insight arising.

Cases where serious suffering arises as a consequence of insight are rare. I don’t personally know anyone for whom this has been more than a passing disorientation, after which the positive aspects of insight have revealed themselves. But in the cases I’ve heard of where some kind of insight experience has lead to long-term problems, it seems to me that there has typically been a narrow focus on mindfulness and insight, and a lack of emphasis on lovingkindness and compassion meditation, and usually no emphasis on jhana. Whether there’s also been a lack of emphasis on spiritual friendship, spiritual community, and ethics is something I don’t know. But I suspect that in some cases these things are lacking as well.

One of the benefits of modern neuroscience is that we now know that as we learn a new skill, the brain physically changes. Areas associated with that skill become larger, just as a muscle grows with exercise. The goal of practice doesn’t just involve a cognitive insight into impermanence or non-self, but requires that we strengthen our “muscles” of kindness and compassion. I’d encourage you, then, to develop these qualities on the cushion and in daily life. If we do that, then insight, when it arrives, is more likely to be an astonishing, liberating, and joyful surprise, and less likely to be a disorienting, upsetting, and painful shock to the system.

(You can explore the path to insight in my forthcoming online course, Waking Up: Stepping From Delusion to Freedom in This Very Life.)

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