authenticity

Seven ways meditation can help you be a better lover

woman holding a stick against a singing bowl

Although Buddhist meditation was originally practiced mostly by celibate monks and nuns, who were not only forbidden from having sex but even from having physical contact with the opposite sex, mindfulness practice can significantly enhance your love life. And by “love life” I don’t mean just sex, but your entire life with someone you’re emotionally and physically intimate with. But sex too!

Mindfulness Helps You Be Present for Your Partner

First, being mindful helps us to be present for our partner. So much of the time when we’re with another person, we’re not really there. Nowadays it’s common to see couples sitting together in a cafe, but focused on their phones. A modern prayer for couples might be along the lines of, “Lord, let my partner look at me with the same intensity they look at their phone.”

Simply being present and available for each other is essential for any kind of true intimacy to take place.

Mindfulness Helps You to Really Listen

And then there’s actually listening to each other. You know how you spend a lot of time in a conversation not paying attention to the other person because you’re busy thinking about what you’re going to say? Mindfulness can help us to recognize that we’re getting distracted and to come back to the present moment. When we do this, we’re able to communicate from a place of greater depth and authenticity.

Mindfulness Helps You to Avoid Judging

It’s very easy for us to put labels on our partner. We slip into the habit of labelling them “stubborn,” or “over-sensitive,” or “selfish.” These labels become mental traps for us, becoming triggers for our own reactions and preventing us from really connecting. Mindfulness helps us to see that our labels are unhelpful stories, and so rather than reacting to our own labelling (“There he/she goes again!”) we can stay in the moment and connect more authentically.

Mindfulness Puts You in Touch With Your Feelings

Mindfulness helps us to stay in touch with our bodies, and since our feelings are physical sensations taking place in the body, being mindful means that we’re more in touch with how we feel. One study showed that meditators were more in touch with physical sensations in the body than professional dancers.

One thing in particular is helpful here; many of the most important feelings associated with love are carried by the vagus nerve, which runs right past the heart. That’s why you experience heartache when your sweetie is away, and why you experience warm feelings of tenderness in the heart when you’re gazing into their eyes. Our ability to notice these feelings increases through practicing mindfulness. Also, the vagus nerve becomes more active (develops more “vagal tone”) when we practice lovingkindness or compassion meditation, and so the strength of those feelings actually increases.

Mindfulness Puts You More In Touch With Your Partner’s Feelings

Being mindful and paying attention to your partner, rather than to what you’re thinking about, helps you be more attentive. You are then better able to notice tiny “micro-expressions” that flit across the face in a fraction of a second. These micro-expressions are involuntary, and so they show what we’re really feeling, as opposed to what we want others to think we’re feeling.

In the context of a loving relationship the ability to pick up on underlying emotions allows you to be more empathetic.  Say you’re planning a trip and your partner says, “Sure, that would be lovely.” But you notice a flash of doubts or hesitation. When you pick up on those, you can ask “Are you sure you’re OK with this? You look like you might have reservations.” This gives your partner the opportunity to express their feelings more fully, and the empathy you’re expressing can help bring you together.

Mindfulness Makes You More Loving

Lovingkindness, or as I prefer to call it, simply “kindness,” sees that other people, just like us, want to be happy and don’t want to suffer. When we’re kind, we recognize that others’ feelings are as real and important to them as ours are to us. This means that we are more likely to to act in ways that respect their feelings.

Sadly, we often forget to be kind in our intimate relationships, and engage in unkind and disrespectful behaviors such as belittling, sarcasm, and criticism. Lovingkindness practice helps us to see such ways of acting as inappropriate and harmful, and helps us to relate instead in ways that help our partner to feel loved, supported, and appreciated.

Mindfulness Makes Sex Hotter

Lastly, the sum total of everything I’ve said so far, including our being more in the moment, more attentive, more aware of the body, more in touch with our own and our partner’s feelings, and kinder and more empathetic, helps us to have much better sex.

One study showed that women who were taught mindfulness became significantly more aware of their own physiological sexual responses and experienced them as more arousing than women in a control group.

If you’ve found this interesting you might want to register for our online course, The Path of Mindful Relationships: Exploring Romantic Love as a Spiritual Practice.

In short, if you want to have a better relationship, meditate!

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You have the right to remain silent…

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The above photograph has apparently been going viral in the last few days. I’ve seen it described as “Canadian police meditating before starting their day,” and also seen doubt being cast upon its authenticity, which isn’t surprising considering how much fake news circulates on the web these days.

The photograph is genuine, and the police officers are Canadian, but the description “meditating before starting their day” is potentially misleading since it suggests that this is a regular part of the police day in Canada.

The photograph is actually one of many taken at the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, as a a guest lecture to police officers of Peel Region about Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness meditation. The lecture (and, apparently, meditation lesson) were given by the Venerable Dr. Bhante Saranapala, an energetic young fellow who goes by the nickname “The Urban Buddhist Monk,” and who, by the looks of the temple’s Facebook page, does great work in introducing people to meditation and Buddhism.

It would be great if police officers did practice meditation regularly as part of their work day. In a crisis I’d much rather have an armed officer who’s trained in mindfulness and compassion than one who’s frazzled and angry!

Below are a few more photographs from the event. You can see the rest here.

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The Urban Retreat, Day 2: Authentic lovingkindness

Blazing Like the Sun, an urban retreat with Bodhipaksa

In yesterday’s post I talked about the fact that many people have misconceptions about what metta (lovingkindness) is, and how those misconceptions can lead to disappointment, despair, and to giving up on the practice. The main misconception I addressed is that lovingkindness is an emotion. Actually, lovingkindness is a volition. It’s classically defined as the intention that beings be happy. So it’s something we want, not something we feel. Although the volition may lead to certain feelings, like warmth, an open heart, a sense of cherishing, joy, etc., the feelings are secondary.

Another thing that often happens is that we try too hard to make something happen. This may have happened to you if you’ve been under the impression that metta is an emotion. You think you’re “meant” to feel an emotion, and so you try really, really hard to make something happen. Perhaps you even succeed at times.

The Urban Retreat series:

And sometimes people think that metta in daily life involves “being nice” in a false way. But that’s not the case.

Actually, genuine lovingkindness involves, well, genuineness. It involves being honest about what we feel. It involves being authentic.

So the way I teach the practice, I stress the importance of accepting where you’re starting from. At the start of your practice, as you check in with yourself in order to ground the mind in the body, and to see what you’re working with, whatever you happen to find — that’s fine. If you’re feeling happy and loving and expansive, then of course that’s fine. If you’re feeling down, that’s fine. If you don’t know how you’re feeling — that is you’re feeling neutral — then that’s fine. Every feeling is fine. As I like to say, the only place you can start is the place you are, which makes where you are the perfect starting place.

So this is the start of authentic lovingkindness. We accept whatever we find at the beginning of the practice.

Then as we work on cultivating metta, we do this in an authentic way as well. We don’t try to make anything happen. If you use the approach that I suggested yesterday, which involves connecting with the fact that you want to be happy, and that happiness is elusive, then this is authentic as well. We just drop those thoughts into the mind, and see what happens.

Often what happens is that our defenses dissolve away. We forget we want to be happy, even though he yearning is there all the time. It’s a kind of defense mechanism; happiness is elusive, so just ignore it. Or we tell ourselves that we are actually happy (even when we’re not) because it feels like not being happy is a sort of failure. So that’s another defense mechanism. So all we do is we drop these thoughts in — “I want to be happy; happiness is hard to find” and let their truth become evident. We don’t try to convince ourselves of these truths — we already know them. What we need to do is to reconnect with them.

And as we reconnect with these truths, there may be, as I mentioned yesterday, a sense of tenderness and heartache. And in the spirit of authenticity we accept that as well. It’s OK to feel discomfort. It’s not a sign that there’s anything wrong, or that we’ve failed.

And then as we’re cultivating lovingkindness for others, we similarly don’t try to make anything happen. We just drop in the thoughts, “May you be well; may you be happy; may you find peace” and see what happens. Maybe we’ll feel something that we call “love” — but maybe not. It really doesn’t matter. It’s the intention — the wanting others to be happy — that’s the main thing. And even if that intention doesn’t seem to be strong, it’s actually the cultivating of the intention that’s the main thing. As long as you keep doing the practice, things will shift.

As we cultivate the intention of lovingkindness in this way we may find that there are various feelings that arise. We may find ourselves bored. That’s OK. Just accept it. Allow the boredom to be there, but don’t let it determine how you act; continue to cultivate lovingkindness for the other person. This particularly applies to the neutral person, although it can happen in any stage of the practice.

You may feel hurt or unsettled as you call to mind the difficult person. That’s fine. Just be with the discomfort, mindfully and with self-compassion, and keep wishing the other person well. You don’t have to like someone to wish them well.

So all through the practice there’s this attitude of authenticity. We can’t control how we feel, so we don’t try. But we can control (to an extent) what we do, and what we do is to cultivate this attitude of wishing beings (ourselves included) well. The more honestly and authentically we can do this, the more effective the practice will be.

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Meditation is death of the ego

wildmind meditation news

Our whole education, culture, civilisation is a training in how to become unreal, and how to prevent yourself from becoming real and and touching the reality which is hidden within you. Now meditation is the death of ego and how to contact the real and how to be again real. The first thing to be understood is how we go on becoming unreal and once this process is understood many things change immediately. The very understanding becomes mutation. We are born undivided and whole as one individual, neither body nor mind. The body and mind are two aspects of our being and not two divisions; two polarities of life energy that is the same. We need to understand our own problems.

Meditation is a route through which man can solve his own problems and make some effort to know who he is. Man is pure consciousness. You are not conscious that you are consciousness.

A life is there and you are alive. Why are you not aware who you are? What prevents you from this basic self knowledge? If you can understand the barrier, the barrier can be dissolved very easily. So the real question is not how to know oneself, but to know how you do not know yourself. How are you missing such a clear and obvious reality, such a basic truth, which is so near to you? How do you go on not seeing the truth? It is difficult to escape from oneself. You must have created walls. You must be deceiving yourself. So what is the trick that is played to escape knowing yourself? If you do not understand the trick, whatever you do will not help. Because of the trick you go on asking how to know yourself, truth and reality. And consequently you go on helping the barrier to grow.

Everywhere people have hatred towards each other and differences among themselves. These are not just differences between one person and another, but are everywhere in caste, creed, politics and religious centres. There are conflicts and differences even when people spread peace and dharma. There is no freedom for anybody in anything. Dharma and peace, instead of integrating people, are causing disruption. This attitude is dividing people and creating inferiority and superiority complexes in them, instead of promoting unity.

There are numerous religious centres whose goal is the same; however, each of these centres claims that it is better than the rest. Everybody should realise the above fact and should have the desire to resolve this difference, not just intellectually, but should realise that there is a need for an urgent response to the whole issue from within.

Original article no longer available »

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Beyond the “defended self”

During the years right after college, I was the director of a yoga studio at the ashram where I was living near Boston. One day, at a time when we were behind in promoting our major event of the year, which featured a number of well-known teachers, the head of our local community arrived late to our weekly staff meeting, visibly upset. I asked him what was wrong.

In a barely controlled voice, he thrust in front of me a flyer I’d created for the event. “Just take a look at this.” Immediately, I saw the typo in bold print—it was the wrong date. My heart sank: we’d just printed three thousand of them; I’d screwed up big time.

Although my mind scrambled to solve the problem, the weight of failure sat like a big stone in my chest. At the end of our meeting I began an apology: “This was my responsibility,” I said in a low monotone, “and I’m really sorry for messing up . . .” Then as I felt the others’ eyes on me, I felt a flash of anger and the words tumbled out: “But, you know, this has been a huge amount of work and I’ve been totally on my own.” I could feel my eyes burning, but I blinked back the tears. “It would have been nice if someone had been available to proofread . . . maybe this kind of thing wouldn’t have happened.”

For the rest of the week I was trapped in self-disgust. Hour after hour my mind replayed every recent incident that highlighted my flaws: I’d lied to get out of a social obligation, exaggerated the size of my yoga classes to another teacher, gossiped to feel more like an insider. Instead of generosity and selfless service, my focus was on my own spiritual progress. Once again I found myself facing what I most disliked about myself: insecurity and self-centeredness. I felt disconnected from everyone around me, stuck inside a self I didn’t want to be.

Because my self-doubts seemed so “unspiritual,” I didn’t talk about them with anyone. At work I was all business. I withdrew from the casual banter and playfulness at group meals, and when I did try to be sociable, I felt like an imposter. Several weeks later, the women in our ashram decided to form a sensitivity group where we could talk about personal challenges. I wondered whether this might be an opportunity for me to get more real.

At our opening meeting, as the other women talked about their stress at work, about children and health problems, I felt my anxiety build. Finally, when there was a pause in the conversation, my confession came pouring out. “I know I do a lot of yoga and teach a lot of classes, that it looks like I’m a helpful, caring person … That may be true in some ways, but it’s also a front. What I’m covering up, what I don’t want anyone to see, is how self-centered I am, how selfish and judgmental.” After pausing and glancing around at the solemn faces, I took the real plunge. “This is hard to say, but … I don’t trust that I’m a good person, and that makes it hard to really feel close with anyone.”

Directly after the meeting, I retreated quickly to my room, curled up in fetal position on my futon and cried. By naming my experience out loud, I had stripped away a layer of the small self’s protection. Feeling raw and exposed, I started mentally berating myself for having said anything. I told myself I should get up right that moment and do some yoga. Instead, I began trying to figure out what really had gone wrong, what was making me feel so bad about myself.

Suddenly I realized that this inner processing was yet more of the same. I was still trying to control things by figuring them out, by trying more practice, by trying to manage how others might see me. Recognizing these false refuges stopped me in my tracks—I didn’t want to stay stuck. An inner voice asked, “What would happen if, in this moment, I didn’t try to do anything, to make anything different?” I immediately felt the visceral grip of fear and then a familiar sinking hole of shame—the very feelings I had been trying to avoid for as long as I could remember. Then the same inner voice whispered very quietly, a familiar refrain: “Just let it be.”

I stretched out on my back, took a few full breaths, and felt the weight of my body supported by the futon. Again and again my mind tried to escape into reviewing what I’d said hours earlier, or rehearsing what else I could say to explain myself. Again and again the intention to “let it be” brought me back to the fear and shame I was experiencing. Sometime during the night, lying there alone in the darkness, these emotions gave way to grief. I was struck by how much of my life—my aliveness and loving—was lost when I was caught in feelings of unworthiness. I let myself open to that fully too, sobbing deeply, until the grief gradually subsided.

I got up, sat on my cushion in front of my small meditation altar, and continued to pay attention. My mind quieted naturally and I became increasingly aware of my own inner experience—a silent presence suffused with tenderness. This presence was a space of being that included everything—waves of sadness, the feeling of my drying tears, the sounds of crickets, the humid summer night.

In this open space thoughts again bubbled up —the memory of being defensive at the staff meeting and my subsequent attempts to offer a real apology; then a flash forward to me teaching the yoga class I’d scheduled for the following morning, trying to project a positive, confident energy. This time, as these scenes came into view, I felt like I was witnessing a character in a play. The character was continually trying to protect herself, but in the process, she was disconnecting more and more from herself, from authenticity, from the potential sustenance of feeling connected to others. And in each scene, I saw her perpetually “doing” in order to feel better about herself, “doing” in order to avoid pain, “doing” in order to avoid failure.

As I sat there watching this play, I had, for the first time, a compelling sense that this character wasn’t really “me.” Her feelings and reactions were certainly familiar, but they were just ripples on the surface of what I really was. In the same way, everything happening at that moment—the thoughts, the sensations of sitting cross-legged, the tenderness, the tiredness—were part of my being but could not define me. My heart opened. How sad to have been living in such a confined world; how sad to have felt so driven and so alone!

That night by my altar, an old sense of self was falling away. Who was I, then? In those moments I sensed that the truth of what I was couldn’t be contained in any idea or image of self. Rather, it was the space of presence itself—the silence, the wakeful openness—that felt like home. A feeling of gratitude and reverence filled me that has never entirely left.

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“Whatever is well said is the word of the Buddha.” Maybe not.

Buddha in the style of Shepard Fairey's Obama Hope poster

As well as keeping things going at Wildmind, I run a site called “Fake Buddha Quotes,” where I explore some of the sayings misattributed to the Buddha on Facebook, Twitter, quotes sites, and even in books, and attempt to track down their original source. It’s fun to do.

From time to time I receive critical messages from people, claiming that the Buddha was too spiritual to bother about things like being misquoted, or having words put in his mouth. How they know this, I don’t know. Perhaps they have some kind of mystical communion with deceased enlightened beings.

Not having such powers, I have to read the Buddhist scriptures for clues to his attitude. There I find the Buddha, at times, facing people who say “I heard you said such-and-such,” and when that information is incorrect I see him putting them straight, in no uncertain terms. But there’s also a passage in the Digha Nikaya where the Buddha explicitly talks about being misquoted. (Thanks to Arjuna Ranatunga for reminding me of this sutta).

There the Buddha runs through various scenarios where one might hear that the Buddha is reported to have said something or other. What’s our response meant to be?

“Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourses and verify them by the Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: ‘Certainly, this is not the Blessed One’s utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.’ In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it.” (Emphasis added.)

That’s what the Fake Buddha Quotes blog is about, although generally I try to find where non-Buddhist quotes have originated and I also post genuine Buddha quotes — or at least things that the Buddha’s canonically said to have said. Being human, I sometimes fall into scorn. I’m working on it, though.

But there you have it above. We’re supposed to think about whether Buddha quotes are genuine. And we’re supposed to “reject” them if they’re not. (I presume that means reject them as genuine, rather than reject their message. Sometimes Fake Buddha Quotes contain inspiring and true messages — it just so happens that the Buddha didn’t say them.)

But there’s another sutta that Arjuna reminded me of, which comes not from the Buddha but from his disciple, Uttara. That sutta contains this oft-quoted saying:

“…whatever is well said is all a saying of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One.”

This would seem to suggest that if the Buddha’s quoted as having said something, then as long as the quote is “well-said” we should accept it as his word. This is a rather odd idea, on the face of it. It’s hard to imagine someone as ethical as the Buddha being prepared to take the credit for others’ bons mots. It also contradicts what we’ve just read. Or it seems to.

Take a look at the context of the sutta, though. Uttara is in a conversation with Sakka, the king of the devas (or gods). As an aside, what does this mean? I tend to assume that such conversations are the recordings of inner dialog. In this case Uttara would have been musing on the nature of authenticity. He’s just given a teaching, and a note (perhaps of doubt) creeps into his mind: “Whose teaching is this, mine or the Buddha’s?” And an answer comes to him: It’s basically the Buddha’s teaching; I just go to the grain pile and carry away basketfuls of Dhamma as I need them. I’d suggest reading the following passage in that light.

“But is this Ven. Uttara’s own extemporaneous invention, or is it the saying of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One?”

“Very well, then, deva-king, I will give you an analogy, for there are cases where it’s through an analogy that observant people can understand the meaning of what is being said. Suppose that not far from a village or town there was a great pile of grain, from which a great crowd of people were carrying away grain on their bodies, on their heads, in their laps, or in their cupped hands. If someone were to approach that great crowd of people and ask them, ‘From where are you carrying away grain?’ answering in what way would that great crowd of people answer so as to be answering rightly?”

“Venerable sir, they would answer, ‘We are carrying it from that great pile of grain,’ so as to be answering rightly.”

“In the same way, deva-king, whatever is well said is all a saying of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One. Adopting it again & again from there do we & others speak.”

Or maybe you believe in gods.

But it’s obvious from the context that what is “well said” refers to that which is taken from the grain pile of the Buddha’s teaching. It seems likely that Uttara was actually saying “whatever I have said that is well said is the word of the Buddha.” This is not unlike a common line that is found in book acknowledgements, along the lines, “Whatever is of value here comes from my teachers; the errors are all my own.” Uttara was not saying that if Voltaire or Douglas Adams or Virginia Wolfe happens to say something neat it can be co-opted as Buddha-vacana — the utterance of the Buddha. So ultimately Uttara’s utterance doesn’t contradict the Buddha’s teaching that we should scrutinize supposed Buddha quotes and reject those that aren’t genuine.

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When we don’t make anything “wrong”

Sometimes when I talk about Radical Acceptance, I like to tell the story about Jacob, a man who at almost seventy and in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease attended a 10-day retreat I was leading.

A clinical psychologist by profession and a meditator for more than twenty years, Jacob was well aware that his faculties were deteriorating. On occasion his mind would go totally blank; he would have no access to words for several minutes and become completely disoriented. He often forgot what he was doing and usually needed assistance with basic tasks—cutting his food, putting on clothes, bathing, getting from place to place.

A couple of days into the retreat, Jacob had his first interview with me. These meetings, which students have regularly with a teacher while on retreat, are an opportunity to check in and receive personal guidance in the practice. During our time together Jacob and I talked about how things were going both on retreat and at home. His attitude towards his disease was interested, sad, grateful, even good-humored.

Intrigued by his resilience, I asked him what allowed him to be so accepting. He responded, “It doesn’t feel like anything is wrong. I feel grief and some fear about it all going, but it feels like real life.” Then he told me about an experience he’d had in an earlier stage of the disease.

Jacob had occasionally given talks about Buddhism to local groups and had accepted an invitation to address a gathering of over a hundred meditation students. He arrived at the event feeling alert and eager to share the teachings he loved. Taking his seat in front of the hall, Jacob looked out at the sea of expectant faces in front of him … and suddenly he didn’t know what he was supposed to say or do. He didn’t know where he was or why he was there. All he knew was that his heart was pounding furiously and his mind was spinning in confusion.

Putting his palms together at his heart, Jacob started naming out loud what was happening: “Afraid, embarrassed, confused, feeling like I’m failing, powerless, shaking, sense of dying, sinking, lost.” For several more minutes he sat, head slightly bowed, continuing to name his experience. As his body began to relax and his mind grew calmer, he also noted that aloud. At last Jacob lifted his head, looked slowly around at those gathered, and apologized.

Many of the students were in tears. As one put it, “No one has ever offered us teachings like this. Your presence has been the deepest dharma teaching.”

Rather than pushing away his experience and deepening his agitation, Jacob had the courage and training simply to name what he was aware of, and, most significantly, to bow to his experience. In some fundamental way he didn’t create an adversary out of feelings of fear and confusion. He didn’t make anything wrong.

We practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this kind of unconditional friendliness. Instead of turning our jealous thoughts or angry feelings into the enemy, we pay attention in a way that enables us to recognize and touch any experience with care. Nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just “real life.” Such unconditional friendliness is the spirit of Radical Acceptance.

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Natural Brilliance, by Irini Rockwell

The subtitle of Irini Rockwell’s new book, Natural Brilliance: A Buddhist System for Uncovering Your Strengths and Letting them Shine, reads like a self-help book, and, yes, it is emphatically about helping ourselves. Yet, as you might imagine from a Buddhist teacher, the emphasis of the book is very much about helping us out of ourselves. As Irini writes, “When we are fully present … there is a tangible experience of the boundary of self dissolving and a sense of mingling with sights, sounds, smells, tastes.” Throughout “Natural Brilliance,” Irini acknowledges the richness and basic goodness of our inner world and offers a set of teachings that mean to guide us on the path toward transcending our self by becoming our best self.

Title: Natural Brilliance
Author: Irini Rockwell
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-1-59030-932-2
Available from: Random House, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Irini Rockwell, is a senior teacher in the Shambhala community and a student of Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Her first book, The Five Wisdom Energies: A Buddhist Way of Understanding Personalities, Emotions, and Relationships (2002) grew out of her work with the Five Wisdoms Institute where she is currently the director and senior teacher.

The five wisdom energies are the dimensions of a comprehensive system in Tibetan Buddhism for describing and understanding everything we think, feel, say and do: in short, it is a conceptual system for making sense of our human experience. The five wisdom qualities are:

  • Spaciousness (Buddha)
  • Clarity (Vajra)
  • Richness (Ratna)
  • Passion (Padma)
  • Activity (Karma).

Irini calls this system of qualities a “model of human dynamics.” Each of these qualities plays out in our personal experience in both dysfunctional and constructive traits. Gaining an understanding of our own unique energy patterns gives us a context for our strengths and weaknesses and the awareness to change in healthy ways. The energy of Karma, for example, can manifest in us skillfully as ‘productivity’ while at different times it can also manifest unskillfully as ‘manipulation’. The trick, as we gain awareness of these conditioned patterns, is to allow our inherent wisdom to guide us toward more skillful behavior.

In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, these five qualities are overlapping aspects of an all-pervasive energetic dimension of reality that affects our inner world, our interpersonal world, and our relationship to our environment. The five wisdoms are inherent in all of us and can be drawn on at any time. When we begin to understand the unique ways that the wisdom energies play through our own person, we are enabled to redirect the energies in ways that offer us positivity, creativity, productivity, spaciousness and ultimately inner peace.

For Irini, “understanding sense perception is key to understanding reality.” Being grounded in a deep awareness of our sense perceptions frees us from attachment to our thoughts and feeling and grants us a certain spaciousness as we open out of the self-limiting world of thoughts and feelings. The experience of selflessness comes as we begin to drop our mental and emotional preoccupations (conditioning) and experience our wordless, thoughtless, immediate relationship with the world. In our day to day living, however, we become caught up in our busy minds and emotional reactivity and block our direct experience of our sense perceptions:

“In general, we don’t experience; we conceptualize…We cloud direct experience and thus have a dull, distorted view of our world. We cannot relate to ourselves or the world in a genuine way.” (Natural Brilliance page 37)

The five wisdoms are pointers that guide us back to a direct experience of our senses and back to an authentic relationship with ourselves and our world.

Natural Brilliance, in following its precursor, The Five Wisdom Energies, has the more directed purpose of applying the five wisdoms to our personal, social, and professional lives. The second part of “Natural Brilliance”, for example, a good two thirds of the book, is dedicated to applying the five wisdoms to leadership development and productivity in the workplace. Specific chapters address mindfulness, personal authenticity, intimate relationships, working with others and cultivating wisdom in our professional arenas.

In the chapter titled, “Engaging Effectively,” for example, Irini shares with us specifics about how to bring our understanding of the wisdom energies in ourselves and others to bear on workplace dynamics, communication, creativity and conflict resolution. Irini uses case studies, personal anecdotes and detailed exercises to explore the possibilities of engaging with others without reactivity and bias. She offers the five wisdom framework for skillful communication which is based on clear understanding and mindfulness.

To the uninitiated, the five wisdoms system can feel confusing and foreign. Like with reading a good novel, I was a few chapters in before I began to ‘get it’. Still, Irini writes with a real passion for the well-being of others and what seems like an uncompromising authenticity. Her personal narratives and real life examples are both instructive and entertaining. As a vehicle of self-understanding, personal enrichment and a tool for engaging with others, the five wisdoms model is intensely powerful.

For many of us, engaging with the five wisdoms will be an opportunity to release our attachment to our fixed views of ourselves and open to our beingness as a conduit for wisdom and deep interconnectedness with all things. The five wisdoms offer a thorough template through which to view our personal world, both inside and out. One could only benefit from integrating this perspective into their lives.

“What we come back to again and again is that fundamentally our sanity is intrinsic: we are good, sane, intelligent people. We have a soft spot and can relate to the world in a gentle way. When we experience a sense of well-being, we know this.” (“Natural Brilliance page 73)

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The Buddha Walks Into A Bar, by Lodro Rinzler

Cover of Lodro Rinzler's book, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar

The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation is the literary debut of 28 year-old Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Lodro Rinzler. The book is aimed at “Generation O” and makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge or experience of Buddhism. Having said that, despite being a ‘young Buddhist’ I have almost a decade of experience of Buddhism yet I still found this book enjoyable, useful, and interesting.

I must admit, I did wince slightly at some of the expressions in the book, such as “Sid said…” when referring to the Buddha, but perhaps this is due to not being so ‘down with the kids’ these days. However, the cringe-effect quickly passed and I found Rinzler’s approach to be both down to earth and inspiring at the same time. The introduction clearly sets out the book’s purpose as a guide for (young) people who have sex, drink alcohol once in a while and still get annoyed at life when it doesn’t go our way. The book also discusses how to apply the Dharma to these daily issues that pervade our lives by living life to the fullest and being more in the “now” (and not necessarily having to give up those things that you enjoy. I think this is a reassuring message for young people interested in Buddhism.

I run monthly events for young people at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. There has been some resistance and challenge from people who are too old to come along, asking why young people need their own separate events, and this is why: Early adulthood is a time when people are exploring their identity and role in society. Young adults, from teenage years even into their twenties and thirties, may be still going through the process of separating from their parents by exploring, pushing and defining their own boundaries, beliefs and ideologies. What is needed is not any perceived imposition of more rules or boundaries, or anyone telling them how they ought to behave. What this book does well is to avoid that; it acknowledges in the first chapter that we might have the intrusive thought “Brett is a real asshole” [sic] while meditating. Rather than discussing the negative implications of having such thoughts on a prolonged and regular basis, Rinzler simply gives advice on how to use meditation practice to break free of our habitual responses in a playful and realistic way.

To give you a flavour of the playful and realistic character of the chapters, here are some the chapter headings: Being Gentle with Your Incredible Hulk Syndrome; Sex, Love and Compassion; How to Apply Discipline, Even When Your Head gets Cut off; Singing a Vajra Song (in the shower). Each of these chapters appears in one of four parts of the book: The whole book is divided into four parts: 1. First, get your act together, 2. How to save the world, 3. Letting go into space and 4. Relaxing into magic. Each part explores a different ‘dignity’ of Shambhala Buddhism: the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda and the dragon. The qualities of the tiger are discernment, gentleness and precision. This part of the book guides us in discerning our intentions and motivations in life (discerning our mandala), and working with difficult emotions and includes some instruction some shamatha practice that is simple enough for a beginner, starting with just 5 minutes.

Rinzler also emphasises the importance of inhabiting the present moment, and making the most of it by taking care of the details of our home, our finances and even our clothes, in a way that is relevant to young people. In the next part, the snow lion represents open heartedness and positive emotion; her qualities are applied particularly to sex and relationships, and we are introduced to the six paramitas (perfections) and the practice of loving kindness meditation. Following on from this, the garuda makes its entry. The garuda is an outrageous mythical being (half man, half bird) who flies above the earth and embodies the quality of fearlessness. Here we come to recognise the nature of fear, impermanence, groundlessness and to ultimately develop equanimity. This part of the book guides us leaning into the less comfortable aspects of life, letting go of attachment and creating a greater sense of spaciousness with our jobs, family, money, gadgets, social life, et cetera.

Finally, we are introduced to the magical dragon, and her qualities of authenticity, humour and delight. I loved this part of the book; I’m currently writing my PhD thesis and can get a bit cranky at times! The dragon has at some dark times inspired me to let go and be a bit lighter, and to be more accepting when I’m not feeling at my best. This part also contains the story of Milarepa, who caused much harm in his lifetime but still managed to attain enlightenment. Reading the story reminded me that we can all transform ourselves and shine light into the darkness. There is a lovely simple exercise here for opening the heart and mind, which can be really helpful when feeling as though one is in the middle of a maelstrom!

Overall, I found this book enjoyable, engaging and inspiring. I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a health warning along the lines that although the practices in the book are great and can be really effective, they aren’t always easy to do, and that deeper effects tend to be cumulative. Having said that, I loved the book and think it’s a great introductory read for a younger person who would like to know more about Buddhism, or just life in general. There is no pressure from the book to become a Buddhist; in fact this is even stated in the introduction. We’re actually planning to use some of the ideas from the book, combined with Sangharakshita’s System of Meditation’ as a theme for our Young Sangha activities at Brighton Buddhist Centre, so there’s a recommendation!

Title: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation
Author: Lodro Rinzler
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-590-30937-7
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

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How to free your mind from worries

Egg with a worried expression drawn on in marker pen

It is difficult to let go of worries. The very nature of worrying seems to keep the mind busy, thinking of the concern over and over again. The more we think about the concern, the more anxious we feel, but there is a way to free the mind from worries.

I live in New England and my sons, who visited for Christmas last December, were traveling during a blizzard. I worried about them. Would they be warm enough? Would they make their travel accommodations on time? Would the transport be safe?

I have worried before and have found that the worrying is not a good use of energy – after all, it does not help a situation.

One way to free your mind from worries is to be in the present moment. Whatever you are doing, pay full attention to the task.

If you are arranging your CDs, focus on putting them in alphabetical order. If you are cleaning, pay full attention to the cleaning. If you are working, focus on the work. If you are driving, focus on the driving.

When we are attentive to what we are doing we enjoy many benefits:

1. improved concentration

2. higher quality communication and relationships

3. heightened clarity

4. improved efficiency

5. increased sense of flow

6. less stress

7. keener insight and intuition

8. authenticity

9. increased resilience to change

10. strengthened self-confidence as well as

11. a mind that is free from worry and anxiety – peace of mind.

So the next time you find yourself worrying, remember to pay full attention to what you are doing and your mind will be free from worries.

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