mindfulness in daily life

Why mindfulness is just the beginning

wildmind meditation newsDavid Mochel, The Huffington Post UK: Huffington Post, Forbes, New York Times, Bloomberg News, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Business Insider — articles on mindfulness are everywhere these days. It is difficult to avoid some mention of this ancient practice in the media. While it is most directly linked with Buddhism, the practice of using your attention on purpose and accepting external and internal events has been taught by the Stoics of Greece, as well as contemplatives from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and many other faiths. The body of scientific evidence pointing to the physiological, psychological, and social benefits of this practice is large and …

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Using mindfulness to be more productive

wildmind meditation newsPaige Burkes, Simple Mindfulness: I’ve noticed lately that I’m having a harder time focusing for more than a short period of time. My brain is telling me that it needs some quiet time to rest and ponder issues. Unfortunately, my monkey mind doesn’t like the idea of sitting still and being “unproductive.”

My True Self is telling me that, by skimming over everything, I’m missing something – deeper meanings, real connections and more important messages.

Although my monkey mind continues screeching, my True Self is calm, whispering a little louder each day. I’ve learned the hard way (too many times than I’d like …

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The Dalai Lama on his own mindfulness practice

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Kestrel Slocombe, Wisdom Publications: Whether we are doing something good and worthwhile with our lives or not, time never waits but keeps flowing. Not only does time flow unhindered, but correspondingly our life too keeps moving onward all the time. If something has gone wrong, we cannot turn back time and try again. In that sense, there is no genuine second chance.

Hence, it is crucial for a spiritual practitioner constantly to examine his or her attitudes and actions. If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us.

Also see:

Although I myself cannot claim with confidence to have made any remarkable progress over the years, my desire and determination to change and improve is always firm. From early morning until I go to bed and in all situations of life, I always try to check my motivation and be mindful and present in the moment. Personally, I find this to be very helpful in my own life.

From “The World of Tibetan Buddhism” by the Dalai Lama

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Mindfulness is all about self-help. It does nothing to change an unjust world

wildmind meditation newsSuzanne Moore, The Guardian: Why are we trying to think less when we need to think more? The neutered, apolitical approach of mindfulness ignores the structural difficulties we live with.

Most of what is wrong in the modern world can be cured by not thinking too much. From psoriasis to depression to giving yourself a “competitive advantage” in the workplace, the answer touted everywhere right now is mindfulness. Just let go for few minutes a day, breathe, observe your thoughts as ripples across a pond, feel every sensation around you. Stop your mind whirring and, lo, miraculously, everything will improve “at a cellular …

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The machinery of upset

Unhappy little girl crying(Emotional) life is great when we feel enthusiastic, contented, peaceful, happy, interested, loving, etc. But when we’re upset, or aroused to go looking for trouble, life ain’t so great.

To address this problem, let’s turn to a strategy used widely in science (and Buddhism, interestingly): analyze things into their fundamental elements, such as the quarks and other subatomic particles that form an atom or the Five Aggregates in Buddhism of form, feeling (the “hedonic tone” of experience as pleasant-neutral-unpleasant), perception, volitional formations, and consciousness.

We’ll apply that strategy to the machinery of getting upset. Here is a summary of the eight major “gears” of that machine – somewhat based on how they unfold in time, though they actually often happen in circular or simultaneous ways, intertwining with and co-determining each other.

The point of this close analysis, this deconstruction, is not intellectual understanding or theory, but increasing your own mindfulness into your experience, and creating more points of intervention within it to reduce the suffering you cause for yourself – and other people.

This will be more real for you if you first imagine a recent upset or two, and replay it in your mind in slow motion.

Appraisals

  • What do we focus on, what do we pick out of the larger mosaic?
  • What meaning do we give the event? How do we frame it?
  • How significant do we make it? (Is it a 2 on the Ugh scale . . . Or a 10?)
  • What intentions do we attribute to others?
  • What are the embedded beliefs about other people? The world? The past? The future?
  • In sum, what views are we attached to? -> Mainly frontal lobe and language circuits of left temporal lobe.

Self-Referencing

  • Upsets arise within the perspective of “I.”
  • What is the sense of “I” that is running at the time? Strong? Weak? Mistreated?
  • Are you taking things personally?
  • How does the sense of self change over the course of the upset (often intensifying)? -> Circuits of “self” are distributed throughout the brain.

Vulnerabilities

  • We all have vulnerabilities, which challenges penetrate through and/or get amplified by (moderated by inner and outer resources).
  • Physiological: Pain, fatigue, hunger, lack of sleep, biochemical imbalances, illness.
  • Temperamental: Anxious, rigid, angry, melancholic, spirited/ADHD.
  • Psychological: Personality, culture, effects of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. -> Depending on its nature, a vulnerability can be embodied or represented in many ways.

Memory

  • Stimuli are interpreted in terms of episodic memories of similar experiences.
  • And in terms of implicit, emotional memories or other, unconscious associations. (Especially trauma)
  • These shade, distort, and amplify stimuli, packaging them with “spin” and sending them off to the rest of the brain. -> Hippocampus, with other memory circuits.

Aversion

  • The feeling tone of “unpleasant” is in full swing at this point, though present in the previous “gears” of survival reactivity.
  • In primitive organisms – and thus the primitive circuits of our own brain – the unpleasant/ aversion circuit is more primary than the pleasant/approach circuit since aversion often calls for all the animal’s resources and approaching does not.
  • Aversion can also be a temperamental tendency.
  • The Buddha paid much attention to aversion – such as to ill will – in his teachings, because it is so fundamental, and such a source of suffering. -> Involves the limbic system, especially the amygdala.

Bodily Activation

  • The body energizes to respond; getting upset activates the stress machinery just like getting chased by a lion.
  • Sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight).
  • Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
  • All this triggers blood to the large muscles (hit or run), dilates pupils (see better in darkness), cascades cortisol and adrenaline, increases heart rate, etc.
  • These systems activate quickly, but their effects fade away slowly.
  • There is much collateral damage in the body and mind from chronically “going to war.”

Negative Emotions

  • Emotions are a fantastic evolutionary achievement for promoting grandchildren.
  • Both the prosocial bonding emotions of caring, compassion, love, sympathetic joy . . .
  • And the fight-or-flight emotions of fear, anger, sorrow, shame.
  • Emotions organize, mobilize the whole brain.
  • They also shade our perceptions and thoughts in self-reinforcing ways.

Loss of Executive Control

  • The survival machine is designed to make you identify yourself with your body and your emotional reactions. That identification is highly motivating for keeping yourself alive!
  • So, in an upset, there is typically a loss of “observing ego” detachment, and instead a kind of emotional hijacking – all facilitated by neural circuits in which amygdala-shaped information gets fast-tracked throughout the brain, ahead of slower frontal lobe interpretations.
  • With maturation (sometimes into the mid-twenties) and with experience, the frontal (especially prefrontal) cortices can comment on and direct emotional reactions more effectively.
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Use mindfulness to overcome unhealthy cravings

wildmind meditation newsMichael Taft, Huffington Post: I love espresso. But I remember sometimes “waking up” suddenly and finding myself right in the middle of a shuddering caffeine meltdown. I’d been writing on my laptop at a coffee shop, focused on work. Starting out with a latté early in the morning, I’d just kept ordering and drinking triple-espresso drinks all day long while happily typing away. This caffeine intake had all been in the background, unconscious, until my slapping heartbeat and thundering jolts of anxiety crashed violently into the foreground. I would stop then, but I — and my friends and partner — were left to cope …

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Intimacy and autonomy working together

Couple holding hand at sun riseIntimacy and autonomy are channels for expressing your natural goodness. For example, being kind toward someone naturally involves both an affinity with that person and a certain autonomy for the kindness to be genuine.

Besides its obvious rewards in everyday life, intimacy supports personal growth and spiritual practice through bringing you into relationship with things. Into relationship with your innermost experience and that of the people around you: the joys and sorrows, the suffering and its causes and what leads to its ending. Into compassion, kindness, and service: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Into relationship with a supportive community. And – if it’s meaningful to you – into relationship with God. Autonomy, too, supports personal growth and spiritual practice. For example, in Buddhism, you are supposed to “see for yourself” and make your own decisions about what makes sense to you. It is up to you, and no one else, to engage the path of awakening. It is you who will inherit the results of your actions, good or bad.

Intimacy and autonomy are often seen as opposite ends of the same continuum, so that as one increases the other diminishes. The classic example is, “Getting married means giving up my independence.” Less dramatically, people have understandable fears that if they express their deepest truth, others will leave them – or if they get really close emotionally, they’ll lose some of their own identity.

But intimacy need not undermine autonomy, and vice versa; in fact, they support each other. Intimacy fosters autonomy since repeated experiences of caring connection, particularly in childhood, are critical for the development of normal ego functions, personal worth, and confidence; healthy relationships provide the “secure base” from which we engage the world as an individual. Autonomy – both yours and the other person’s – nurtures intimacy in many ways, including its reassurance that you can still protect yourself when you’re wide open to another person, and by giving an extra oomph to relatedness: it makes such a difference when you know that the other person really wants to be with you.

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The dance of intimacy and autonomy

little tabby kitten Scottish touching mother catLove tends to join and hate to separate, but joining is not the same as love, and separation is not hatred. Sometimes the most loving thing a person can do is take a step back: that’s distance in the service of attachment. And it’s not loving to join in invasive or smothering ways. Most people want both closeness and independence. Intimacy and autonomy in all their forms: your course in life is shaped by how well you regulate their dance in your mind, and their expression in your relationships.

Harms can be done to yourself and others in the name of autonomy and intimacy, so it’s important to bring their dynamics into the sphere of your virtue. For example, Martin Buber described three types of relationships:

  • I-Thou – When I relate to you with respect as an independent being (like a dear friend)
  • I-It – When I treat you as a means to my ends (like, perhaps, an operator you’re calling for a phone number)
  • It-It – When you and I are just bodies in space (like strangers in an elevator)

We mistreat others by making them an “It” to our “I.” You know what that feels like on the receiving end: like you are being seduced, pitched, or used. Not good. It’s not uncommon to treat people as “Its” in order to feel close to them, such as by compelling their attention, making them feel bad for wanting their own space, manipulating their affection, not respecting their boundaries, or in the extreme, some kinds of sexual abuse. And certainly common to treat people as “Its” to make it easier to act freely: examples include dumping negative emotions without caring about the impacts, trampling on people to get ahead, or simply cutting in line.

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Silent retreats: Tradition finds 21st century fans

wildmind meditation newsKaren Schwartz, Associated Press: A very pregnant Juliana Berger took a five-day trip with her husband and didn’t speak to him once.

They weren’t fighting. They were attending a silent retreat.

Berger, 33, a web developer, had attended a number of silent retreats over the past decade. Her husband, Jonathan Mann, a 32-year-old songwriter, had never been.

Like so many people these days, the New York-based couple wanted a break from the stress of daily life.

“I thought the stillness would help me connect with my baby,” said Berger, who was nearly eight months pregnant at the time.

Silent meditation transcends most religious traditions, …

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Eat less, enjoy more with mindful eating

wildmind meditation newsHeather Fuselier, Tallahassee Democrat: My husband and I stood at the meat counter at The Fresh Market recently, trying to decide what to grill for dinner.

Chief among the determining factors was the environment in which we would be eating our meal: with our children or without. I didn’t want to spend the money and time on preparing filet mignon and then try to eat it in three bites while also negotiating the taste buds of my third-grader and feeding the bottomless pit my toddler has become. In other words, I wanted to eat more mindfully and enjoy my meal, rather than just …

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