Jon Kabat-Zinn

The technology of happiness

For years westerners have assumed that Buddhists must be a miserable lot: their teachings dwell so much on suffering. But recent scientific research suggests what Buddhists have believed all along. Buddhism — or at least Buddhist meditation — leads to happiness.

Media headlines in the last few years have trumpeted new research into the effects of meditation on brain activity, behavior and even resistance to disease. The findings are still provisional, but as the philosopher Owen Flanagan commented in New Scientist magazine: “The most reasonable hypothesis is that there’s something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek.”

The background is a growing dialog between Buddhist teachers and leading figures in fields such as neuroscience. The most important meetings, organized by the Colorado-based Mind and Life Institute, have brought western scientists together with the Dalai Lama. Destructive Emotions, by Daniel Goleman, offers a graphic account of one of these meetings.

   Conscientious Buddhist practice results in the kind of happiness we all seek

The dialogue showed that Buddhists’ 2,500-year-long exploration of consciousness offers much to scientists who are examining the relationship between the mind and the brain, and seeking treatments for conditions such as depression. Historically, western psychology has focused on mental disorders but some researchers are now looking at positive emotions and experiences. Buddhist meditation expands the scope of what these can entail, and accomplished meditators offer possible living examples of these states.

However, according to Goleman, the dialog also raised many questions: can meditation change brain circuits associated with emotions? Do different meditation practices produce distinct brain effects? Does the development of certain brain areas through meditation help to prevent illness? Which areas of the brain are developed in experienced meditators? How long does it take before meditation produces significant brain changes?

Some participants in the Dharamsala meeting followed up the talk with research. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience in Wisconsin used new scanning techniques to examine the brain activity of experienced meditators. Their first subject was a western monk in a Tibetan tradition, referred to as Oser (not his real name). He was attached first to a functional MRI (fMRI) scanner, and then — using electrodes attached to the scalp — to an EEG, which measured Oser’s brain activity while he went through a series of meditation practices. In these he developed concentration, then compassion, devotion fearlessness and the open state of dzogchen, as well I as practicing visualization.

   The abbot of a leading Tibetan monastery registered the highest activity in the brain centers associated with positive emotions that had ever been measured.

The fMRI showed changes in Oser’s brain activity as he switched meditations. The EEG showed that during the meditation on compassion his brain activity shifted dramatically to the left. The underlying theory is that, in people who are stressed or depressed, the right frontal cortex of the brain is overactive and the left frontal cortex under-active. Such people sometimes show heightened activation of the amygdala, a key center for processing fear. But habitually calm and happy people show greater activity in the left frontal cortex, produce less of the stress hormone cortisol, recover faster from negative events and have higher levels of certain immune cells.

Following these initial tests a string of experienced Buddhist practitioners were tested at the Wisconsin lab. The abbot of a leading Tibetan monastery registered the highest activity in the brain centers associated with positive emotions that had ever been measured.

To assess whether similar results could be achieved by new meditators and those outside a religious context, Davidson joined forces with Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is well-known for teaching mindfulness meditation to those with chronic or terminal illnesses. Their team recruited stressed-out volunteers from a local biotechnology firm. The volunteers were all tested with EEGs at the outset, and then separated into two groups — 25 into the meditation group and 16 into the “control” group.

The meditators took an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation developed by Kabat-Zinn, then both meditators and “control” volunteers were tested again. They were also given a ‘flu shot and had blood tests to check for antibody response. Four months later they all had EEG tests again. The meditators’ brains showed a pronounced shift in activity toward the left frontal lobe, while the non-meditators’ brains did not. The meditators also had more robust responses to ‘flu jabs.

   fMRl scans suggest that the configurations of meditators’ brains can differ from those of non-meditators

The fMRl scans, which offer a detailed image of the brain, even suggest that the configurations of meditators’ brains can differ from those of non-meditators. Scientists already knew that areas of the brain controlling any particular activity develop the more an individual participates in it. In the case of mindfulness meditation, preliminary findings indicate that it strengthens the neurological circuits around the amygdala, suggesting that meditators create a buffer against the instinctively generated messages of fear and panic.

In a separate study, Paul Ekman of San Francisco’s Human Interaction Laboratory, assessed meditators’ ability to detect another’s moods by measuring their response to involuntary changes in facial muscles. These spontaneous shifts – which can be as fleeting as one 20th of a second – are tell-tale indicators of our true feelings, and without training most people have little ability to detect them.

Yet when Dr. Ekman tested two Tibetan practitioners, one scored perfectly on reading three of six emotions, and the other scored perfectly on four. An American teacher of Buddhist meditation got a perfect score on all six. Overall these experienced Buddhists performed better than any other group — even the previous best performers: secret service agents.This suggests increased perceptiveness and sensitivity to other people’s thoughts and emotions.

   A real understanding of the true nature of the mind can only be gained through meditation

Another test performed by Ekman measured the “startle reflex” involuntary muscle spasms in response to a loud noise or alarming sight. Ordinarily, no-one can control these responses but, when Oser was exposed to an extremely loud noise while in an open-state meditation, his startle response virtually disappeared.

Ekman was amazed: “This is a spectacular accomplishment. We have no idea of the anatomy that would allow him to suppress that startle reflex.” The monk himself commented, “If you can remain properly in this state, the bang seems neutral, like a bird crossing the sky.”

Before ordinary Buddhists grow self-congratulatory, we might ask how our brain waves would measure up to the lamas’? Nonetheless, these results offer a new way of envisaging the effects of meditation. For Owen Flanagan, “Buddhist … practitioners are deeply in touch with their glowing left prefrontal cortex and their becalmed amygdala.” Scientific findings also suggest secular applications for meditation, for example as part of medical treatment.

These research programs are still in their infancy, and further results will give a fuller picture of the effects of meditation on the brain. But even when there is more data, could this research “prove” the Buddha’s teaching? That would be going too far. Writing in the New York Times, the Dalai Lama comments, “I have great respect for science. But scientists, on their own, cannot prove Nirvana. Science shows there are practices that can make a difference between a happy life and a miserable life. A real understanding of the true nature of the mind can only be gained through meditation.”

See more writing by Vishvapani at Wise Attention

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Workplace yoga and meditation can lower feelings of stress

Physorg.com: Twenty minutes per day of guided workplace meditation and yoga combined with six weekly group sessions can lower feelings of stress by more than 10 percent and improve sleep quality in sedentary office employees, a pilot study suggests. The study offered participants a modified version of what is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a program established in 1979 to help hospital patients in Massachusetts assist in their own healing that is now in wide use around the world. Read more here.

In this context, mindfulness refers in part to one’s heightened awareness of an external stressor as the first step toward relaxing in a way that can minimize the effects of that stress on the body.

While the traditional MBSR program practice takes up an hour per day for eight weeks supplemented by lengthy weekly sessions and a full-day retreat, the modified version developed at Ohio State University for this study was designed for office-based workers wearing professional attire.

The results of the pilot study are published in a recent issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior.

Participants attended one-hour weekly group meetings during lunch and practiced 20 minutes of meditation and yoga per day at their desks. After six weeks, program participants reported that they were more aware of external stressors, they felt less stressed by life events, and they fell asleep more easily than did a control group that did not experience the intervention.

“Because chronic stress is associated with chronic disease, I am focusing on how to reduce stress before it has a chance to contribute to disease,” said Maryanna Klatt, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical allied medicine at Ohio State.

“My interest is to see whether or not we can get people to reduce their health care utilization because they’re less stressed. I want to deliver something low cost at the work site, something practical that can be sustained, that can help reduce health care costs,” Klatt said.

Klatt and colleagues are building on these preliminary findings and continuing to study the broader impact of the intervention in various populations, such as cancer survivors, intensive-care nurses and inner-city schoolchildren. In addition to gathering self-reported data from research participants, the scientists plan to collect biological samples to determine whether the intervention can lead to lower levels of stress hormones.

For the pilot study, the researchers recruited 48 adult office workers with body mass index scores lower than 30 who exercised less than 30 minutes on most days of the week. Half were randomized to the intervention and half were wait-listed to receive the intervention later. Forty-two people completed the study.

Those who received the intervention participated in weekly one-hour group sessions during which breathing, relaxation and gentle yoga movement were designed to coax participants toward a meditative state. Participants also discussed work-related stress. As part of the pursuit of mindfulness, they were coached to contemplate a specific topic in each session that explored their response to a specific type of stress over the past week.

“It doesn’t matter what the stress is, but how you change the way you perceive the stress,” Klatt noted. “I like to describe mindfulness as changing the way you see what’s already there. It’s a tool that teaches people to become aware of their options. If they can’t change the external events in their life, they can instead change the way they view the stress, which can make a difference in how they experience their day-to-day life.”

The weekly sessions were supplemented by 20 minutes each day of movement and meditation guided by verbal cues and music provided on compact discs that Klatt designed and recorded. The entire intervention lasted six weeks.

The study analyzed participants’ responses to the intervention using data from established research questionnaires that measured perceived stress, or the degree to which situations in life are considered stressful; a number of components of sleep quality; and what is called mindful attention awareness, which refers to how often a person is paying attention to and is aware of what is occurring in the present.

All participants completed the questionnaires before and after the intervention. Twenty-two adults completed the intervention. Their pre- and post-test results were compared to those reported by the 20 control participants.

Mindful attention awareness increased significantly and perceived stress decreased significantly among the intervention group when compared to the control group’s responses. Overall sleep quality increased in both groups, but three of seven components of sleep were more affected in the intervention group.

On average, mindfulness increased by about 9.7 percent and perceived stress decreased by about 11 percent among the group that experienced the intervention. These participants also reported that it took them less time to fall asleep, they had fewer sleep disturbances and they experienced less daytime dysfunction than did members of the non-intervention group.

The researchers also took saliva samples to test for the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone, but found no significant changes in average daily levels of the hormone over time for participants in both groups. Klatt said the design of this part of the pilot study could have affected the result, and the sample collection technique will be changed in subsequent studies.

Klatt said mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has been studied widely and determined to be useful in lowering symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain. But the time commitment required in the program makes it impractical for busy working professionals, and adding a stress-reduction class outside of work could add stress to these people, she said.

So Klatt set out to develop what she calls a “low dose” of the program that is suitable for the workplace and still offers stress-reduction benefits. She specifically scheduled weekly sessions during lunch to avoid interfering with work time or home time, and combined movement with verbal prompts and music that are cues for participants to relax.

“As I’ve been working on the program, I heard so many of the participants say they wish they had learned this earlier,” Klatt said.

Because the low-dose program remains a work-in-progress that is still under investigation, it is not available for public use, Klatt noted.

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Sitting quietly, doing something

The New York Times: I recently spent an evening with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the Tibetan lama who has been dubbed “the happiest man in the world.” True, that title has been bestowed upon at least a few extremely upbeat individuals in recent times. But it is no exaggeration to say that Rinpoche is a master of the art of well-being.

So how did he get that way? Apparently, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Rinpoche a bit over the years, and always found him in good cheer. This meeting was no different. When I called him at his Manhattan hotel to arrange to get together before we were to discuss his new book, “Joyful Wisdom” at the 92nd St. Y, he told me he was in the middle of a shower – but not in the usual sense. The shower, he told me, had run out of hot water midway. When he called the front desk, he was told to wait several minutes and there would be more hot water. In this situation, I probably would have been peeved. But as Rinpoche told me this, he was laughing and laughing.

The only momentary glitch I’ve witnessed — a few years back — was slapstick: he sat down in an office chair with a faulty seat that suddenly plunged several inches with a thump. Once when this chair had done the same to me I cursed and groused about it for a while. But Rinpoche just frowned for a second — and the next moment he was his upbeat self again. Quickness of recovery time from upsets is one way science takes the measure of a happy temperament.

While annoyances like these are hardly life’s greatest tests, handling them gracefully takes a composure that few of us seem to have at our disposal.

Mingyur Rinpoche was not born into wealth and comfort. He spent his earliest years in a remote Himalayan village lacking even the most basic amenities. Nor was he a lucky winner in the genetic lottery for moods. In his book he recounts being extremely anxious as a child in Nepal, having had what a Manhattan psychiatrist would likely diagnose as panic attacks, and how he cured himself of this chronic anxiety by making his fears the focus of his meditation. He has had to earn his good cheer.

Rinpoche seems eclectic in studying paths to well-being, including Western recipes. A few years ago, he attended a five-day meeting at the Mind & Life Institute that brought together a group of neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama to discuss ways to overcome destructive emotions. He found that the Western scientific findings on emotions had much in common with his own approach to cultivating well-being.

But when it comes to his own pursuit of happiness, Buddhist theory and practice are Rinpoche’s chosen tools. He has done several years-long meditation retreats, under the tutelage of some of the most renowned Tibetan masters. Of course, what we mean by “happiness” can be elusive, what with the myriad varieties of good feeling running from ecstasy to equanimity. One flavor of happiness at which Rinpoche seems to excel has been well-studied by scientists specializing in how emotions operate in our brains.

Richard Davidson, who heads the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, has found one distinct brain profile for happiness. As Davidson’s laboratory has reported, when we are in distress, the brain shows high activation levels in the right prefrontal area and the amygdala. But when we are in an upbeat mood, the right side quiets and the left prefrontal area stirs. When showing this brain pattern, people report feeling, as Davidson put it to me, “positively engaged, goal-directed, enthusiastic, and energetic.”

Mingyur Rinpoche came to Davidson’s lab as one of a dozen or so meditation adepts, each of whom had put in anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 lifetime hours of meditation. Research on expertise in any skill shows that world-class champs have put in at least 10,000 hours of practice; these were Olympic-level meditators.

One of the first findings from the research showed that when these adepts meditated on compassion, their left prefrontal areas jumped in activity an average 100 percent — by contrast a control group who were taught the same meditation practice showed an increase of just 10 percent. Two of the adepts had spectacular increases, in the 700-to-800-percent range, in key neural zones for good feeling. The more lifetime hours of practice, the greater the increases tended to be. All this seems to confirm the idea that in the realm of positive moods, as in nearly every endeavor, worldly or spiritual, practice matters.

So can we all get a taste of Rinpoche’s bliss?

Davidson worked with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a teacher of mindfulness meditation from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, to see how a group of novices might gain from these methods. Kabat-Zinn, who has pioneered this contemplative method with medical patients to ease their symptoms, taught mindfulness at a high-stress biotech company; these beginners meditated for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. Davidson’s measures showed that after the eight weeks they had begun to activate that left prefrontal zone more strongly — and were saying that instead of feeling overwhelmed and hassled, they were enjoying their work. So while the Calvinist strain in American culture may look askance at someone sitting quietly in meditation, this kind of “doing nothing” seems to do something remarkable after all.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of greater happiness from meditation, but the East has given us a promising path for its pursuit.

Another fruit of these spiritual practices seems to be a healthy dose of humility. When Rinpoche told my wife that he was being billed as “the happiest man in the world,” he laughed as though that were the funniest joke he’d ever heard.

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Getting High: On Drugs, Medication Or Meditation?

Huffington Post: We all seek that rush or high, the feel-good factor that turns us on and makes us feel that we can succeed and even conquer the world. Getting high is one of the great pleasures of life and that is why so many people find different ways to do it, whether through alcohol, the use of recreational drugs, such as marijuana, or prescription drugs, such as pain killers, all of which aim at altering our consciousness enough that our present reality becomes workable and even enjoyable.

In 2007 66% of high school seniors regularly drank alcohol, 31% smoked dope, while 10% used other opiates. Among adults, according to data from the 2006 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 112 million Americans (45% of the population) reported illicit drug use at least once, 15% reported use of a drug within the past year, and 8% reported use of a drug within the past month. Vicadin is one of the most widely prescribed painkillers and it is used and abused by teenagers and adults alike.

This adds up to a lot of people and, as we all know, reported statistics are often very short of the mark. Most of us have “inhaled” at least once. Although pot is a party drug and in some cases considered sacred weed, there are also many known side effects, such as addiction (Ed remembers his friend Judy saying, “I’m not addicted; I’ve just been smoking grass for 20 years.”), mental disturbance, and erratic behavior. Vicadin is now likely to be banned, along with Percocet, because it is detrimental to the liver, while alcohol is damaging not only to the liver but also to relationships.

In his twenties in NYC, Ed was a part of the generation that took drugs freely and often. It was a time of Be Ins and Love Ins, when Ed hung out with Tim Leary and Ram Dass who promoted LSD, with poet Allen Ginsberg, and the author of One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey. Then he met Swami Satchidananda, who said that if the LSD pill can make you a saint then you should be able to take a pill to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, because being a saint is much more difficult than those! Satchidananda then introduced Ed to yoga and meditation.

“I was blown away with meditation as it didn’t have the side effects of dope — no laziness, munchies, or coming down. I realized this was a great alternative as I was getting just as high, but without the negatives. My mind was clear, alert and and focused.” Ed then went to India to train and his teacher there, Swami Satyananda, said how taking LSD was like shooting a bullet to Nirvana but not knowing how you got there, while meditation was like learning the route in detail.

The word meditation and the word medication have the same prefix derived from the Latin word medicus, meaning to care or to cure, indicating that meditation is the most appropriate medicine or antidote for stress; a quiet calmness is the most efficient remedy for a busy and overworked mind.

Our new book BE THE CHANGE – How Meditation Can Transform You and the World helps us to understand how we can become free without drugs — a natural high without the hangover!

Five Reasons Why Meditation is the Best Natural High

1. Rather than adding toxins into our system, meditation is a way to clean out.

2. Meditation purifies our nervous system and mind in such a way that we see our present reality with greater clarity. Creativity is enhanced and solutions to difficulties arise so we can be with whatever is happening, rather than trying to hide from it.

3. The madness of the mind is likened to a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion. With meditation, this begins to calm down and we can make friends and peace with our mind, so we can be free of the craziness.

4. Meditation opens our heart to love, joy and compassion, and there certainly isn’t anything as high as the power of love!

5. Meditation gets us high on life. It enables us to enjoy life to it’s fullest, to enjoy breathing, walking, a sunset, and the simple beauty of being alive!

What high moments have you experienced? Do let us know, as we would love to hear from you! You can receive notice of our blogs every Thursday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

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Ed and Deb Shapiro’s new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors such as Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Byron Katie, Michael Beckwith, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Jack Kornfield, Ellen Burstyn, Ed Begley, Dean Ornish, Russell Bishop, Gangaji and others, will be published November 3rd 2009 by Sterling Ethos.

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The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight

Best of Inquiring Mind

Title: “The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight”
Author: edited by Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker.
Publisher: Wisdom Publications (2009).
ISBN: 0-86171-551-9
Available from: Amazon.com.

As the exceptional, essential new anthology The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight underscores for us, Inquiring Mind journal has been both a vital and heroic effort in English-language Buddhist media.

At a quarter-century in age, the biannual is one of the longest-standing publications for Dharma practitioners in North America—a survivor, a keeper, and an example. As publisher Alan Novidor so aptly puts it in his preface, the journal is generally regarded as “beautiful, honest, provocative, and simply presented.”

Co-founded and co-edited by Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker (who also put the book together), Inquiring Mind is staffed by six part-timers and a lot of volunteers. A labor of devotion to the Dharma and to others, there is no office or headquarters—it is assembled in the homes of its editors and staffers—and published on recycled newsprint.

Freely offered as dāna, it depends entirely on reader donations; and though it has been popularized at American Vipassana centers, it is neither “affiliated with” nor “subsidized by” any particular community or tradition, opting instead for a nonsectarian, independent approach.

Expressly dedicated to “the creative transmission of Buddhadharma to the West,” contributing authors have included such luminaries as Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, Gary Snyder, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Allen Ginsberg, Rick Fields, Ayya Khema, Mark Epstein, S.N. Goenka, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Robert Thurman, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Noah Levine, Edward Espe Brown, and many others.

With such an incredibly rich archive to draw upon, the question can be asked: How best to distill Inquiring Mind down into a “Greatest Hits” volume? In the introduction to The Best of Inquiring Mind, Gates and Nisker articulate a sound vision: an anthology arranged into eight sections that best represent the issues and ideas pondered over in the pages of the journal. (Each issue of Inquiring Mind has revolved around one or two themes.) By doing this, the “mix of genres” and “mix of voices” that made the publication so distinctive are very well exhibited without making for an unwieldy book.

The editors are careful to note, however, that their volume nonetheless reflects gender and ethnic “imbalances” in Western Buddhism, as the authors are mostly male and white. Still, it would be difficult to fault the book for not presenting a fairly broad spectrum of genres—in particular, the inclusion of artwork at the beginning of each section highlights some other important ways of teaching dharma that are often neglected.

 Inquiring Mind is expressly dedicated to the creative transmission of Buddhadharma to the West  

The first section, “Path of the Elders: East Moving West,” seeks to chart and characterize the transmission of Theravāda Buddhism to the West. It includes interviews (with Goldstein, Goenka, Salzberg, Kabat-Zinn, and Ajahn Amaro); reflections on the great Dipa Ma (by Goldstein, Kornfield, Jack Engler, Carol Wilson, and Michele McDonald); and a conversation (between Nisker and Noah Levine). It also features a piece that should be required reading for all Western Buddhists: Jack Kornfield’s “Advice from the Dalai Lama,” which reports on the first historic meeting between His Holiness and a group of twenty-two Western Dharma teacher from various traditions.

The second section, “Living & Dying in a Body,” is a consistently fascinating, powerful, and unique portion of the book—in many ways, this small collection itself exemplifies what has been so special about Inquiring Mind. An exploration of “the flesh and its attendant joys and conflicts,” it immediately grabs a hold on the reader with Rick Kohn’s evocative poem “Mr. Lucky.”

Also brilliant and equally absorbing is Diana Winston’s reflection on being a nun and experiencing the “blessing” of her menstrual cycle, which served as a reminder of her “connection to the Earth and [herself] as a woman.” Former belly-dancer Terry Vandiver’s coming to grips with her age, Caitriona Reed’s meditation on gender identity, and Kate Lila Wheeler’s encouragement of us to include the “loathsome” in our practice are all also outstanding and extremely valuable in that they touch on issues and ideas not often mulled over in contemporary Buddhist writing.

Zen Hospice Project founder Frank Ostaseski’s “Stories of Lives Lived and Now Ending” and the late Rick Fields’ recollection about teaching a fellow cancer patient about the Medicine Buddha offer memorable insights from those looking death squarely in the eye. The section ends with an absolutely unforgettable piece by Ronna Kabatznik, entitled “Tsunami Psychologist,” about tending to survivors among the dead following the Southeast Asian tsunami that was caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

“Science of Mind,” the third section, considers the “new synthesis” of Eastern and Western ideas about the human mind. It includes interviews with scientists Paul Ekman and Francisco Varela, psychotherapist Epstein, and dharma teacher Kornfield. Additionally, Susan Moon contributes a fiercely honest reflection on her experience with depression as a devoted Buddhist practitioner.

 …deserves to find a home on every practitioner’s bookshelf…  

The fourth section on “The Dharma & The Drama” includes pieces about “the dramas of life…seen through the lens of Buddhist teachings.” Working from the story of Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation of his family, Norman Fischer provides a striking teaching on “the sacred and the lost.” Nina Wise vividly recalls a dinner with Carlos Castaneda that included an important lesson: “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Gates, recognizing that “nothing can be thrown away” in meditation, composes a terrific love letter to garbage. In a very powerful teaching on facing fear, African-American teacher Charles Johnson confronts the memory of a near-lynching during a long retreat. Zen cook Brown’s funny story involving strawberry rhubarb tart cake makes for a fitting wrap-up.

The fifth section, “Complementary Paths,” delves into the issue of practicing in multiple traditions, borrowing from others, and creating new hybrid communities—distinctive trends in Western Buddhism. A typically incisive and provocative interview with Stephen Batchelor (who has practiced in the Tibetan, Korean Zen, and Theravāda Buddhist traditions) on the subject is the first of several interviews in this chunk of the book.

Also featured are interviews with Ram Dass, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and Hari Lal Poonja. Last is a wonderful conversation between Ani Tenzin Palmo, Ajahn Sundara, Ajahn Jitindriya, and Yvonne Rand about their harmonious experiences as nuns in various traditions.

“Practices,” the sixth section, showcases several riffs on specific practices and aspects of practice. Nisker reveals his rationale to practice in poetic, sometimes lighthearted form. Santikaro articulates mindfulness of breathing in technological language. Ayya Khema, Miranda Shaw, and Goldstein are interviewed about jhana practice, tantric practice, and “the undiluted Dhamma,” respectively.

Rev. Heng Sure memorably ponders humor as he recounts a three-year pilgrimage doing full prostrations for 800 miles along the California Coast Highway. This portion of the book concludes with one of Thurman’s classically quick-witted, razor-sharp teachings—this one on the importance of recognizing impermanence in practice.

“Artists & Jesters of the Dharma,” the seventh section of the book, looks at how the arts and humor are being used as “teaching tools and expressions of realization” here in the West. Judith Stronach, for example, finds koans in Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and an infectiously adulatory Patrick McMahon makes a case for Jack Kerouac as a Dharma ancestor.

There is also Anne Waldman’s astounding poem-cum-elegy about sitting with the corpse of her friend Allen Ginsberg, and Gates’ piece about all that “laundry-line images” evoke for her.

Movie buffs are sure to appreciate Andrew Cooper’s hilarious and imaginative film noir spin on the sutras as well. There are also three stimulating interviews in this section on Buddhist tricksters (Steven Goodman), the “music of sound” (John Cage), and teaching Beat poetry in China (Ginsberg, of course).

The last section, “Tending to the World,” brings forwards pieces that offer a sampling of the various ways socially engaged Buddhist practitioners have articulated what it is that they are doing. There are fabulous interviews with Joanna Macy, Gary Snyder, China Galland, and prison administrators Kiran Bedi and Lucia Meijer, as well as excellent conversation pieces on environmentalism (Julia Butterfly Hill and Ajahn Pasanno) and indigenous voices (Eduardo Duran, Lorain Fox Davis, and Tsultrim Allione). In addition, gardener Wendy Johnson, prisoner Jarvis Jay Masters, and public school teacher Naomi Baer offer colorful glimpses into their lives and work.

The Best of Inquiring Mind is a completely engrossing read and a significant record of a magnificent journal’s work. It’s rare to be able to say that a book deserves to find a home on every practitioner’s bookshelf, where it can continue to motivate and otherwise benefit the reader…and I can say that without hesitation about this book. I’ll be revisiting and drawing inspiration from it for a long, long time. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another twenty-five years for Volume II.


Rev. Danny FisherRev. Danny Fisher, M.Div., D.B.S. (Cand.), has written for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review; The Journal of Buddhist Ethics (forthcoming); The Journal of Religion & Film; Eastern Horizon; Dharma Life; New York Spirit; elephant journal; and many other publications. He was ordained as a lay Buddhist minister by the ecumenical Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California in 2008, and is certified as a mindfulness meditation instructor by Naropa University in association with Shambhala International. Visit him online at https://chaplaindanny.blogspot.com. [Photo by Pierre Rene Bouchard.]


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Learning to relax by paying attention

US News and World Report: Last week, while trying to get downtown to a conference on integrating stress-reduction techniques into mainstream medicine, I felt my blood pressure rising. I was stuck in traffic, made several wrong turns that took me to the opposite side of the city, and entered a parking garage that turned out to be full—all causing me to miss a much-anticipated keynote speaker. When I finally got to the conference, I couldn’t get beyond my disappointment over missing the opening speaker and sat in the large lecture hall, halfheartedly taking notes and checking my BlackBerry every few minutes. Let’s just say I wasn’t fully present in the moment. At lunch, I decided to head to a roundtable discussion given by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a psychologist famous for developing a stress-reduction technique called mindfulness, which he’s described in several bestselling books. Can’t hurt, I figured, hoping that he’d begin the session with a little meditation. While he did not, in fact, lull me into meditative relaxation, he did very much get me to a mindful state of awareness. Read more here.

“I know you all have questions you’d like to ask or statements you’d like to make,” he said before opening the room up for discussion, “but while you’re waiting your turn, really listen to the other people speaking instead of framing the perfect sentence in your head.”

Of course, I thought, I always do that. Then I recalled a roundtable discussion that I’d attended the day before when I was distracted the entire time by trying to get my own question answered. Why isn’t the moderator calling on me? I silently seethed and even went so far as to interrupt another participant asking a question to try to piggyback my query onto his. This time, I resolved, I wasn’t going to ask any questions and was simply going to listen. I also wasn’t going to check my BlackBerry or my watch. I wasn’t going to think about missing the morning speaker or what the traffic would be like heading to my kids’ school for the carpool later that afternoon. I was simply going to, well, be.

I was rewarded with an insider’s look at what healthcare providers discuss among themselves. Many are struggling to help patients make real lifestyle changes. A New Jersey doctor, for example, asked how to deal with a workaholic CEO (a heart attack waiting to happen) who was convinced that cutting back his 70-hour workweek would sacrifice his career. “Most of my best ideas have come out of meditation,” responded Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor and the former chairman and CEO of the healthcare firm Medtronic. “I found that constant interruptions throughout my workday at Medtronic [which has 38,000 employees] left me with incomplete thoughts. Meditation every night gave me that clarity.” So, the solution lies in convincing masters of the universe that less work is actually more—not an easy task.

“I feel like I’m always mopping up problems,” complained another physician, who heads an integrative medicine unit at a university hospital. “I wish my patients would come to me before they’re sick to learn how to stay well.” Kabat-Zinn told him it lies within his power to make his practice what he wants it to be.

Some practitioners shared their own personal stories. A nurse stood up and asked how to get her teenage kids to meditate, something she thought could help them cope with their father’s terminal illness. “I wouldn’t push them,” advised Kabat-Zinn. “That could actually repel them from ever doing it. I’d just keep meditating yourself and spend time with them appreciating the moments, and perhaps they’ll come to it on their own.”

At the end of the session, I felt the same sort of relaxed, euphoric feelings that I generally experience after a workout. It was only after I exited the session that I remembered to check my BlackBerry. Then I shut it off and headed out into the sun of an unexpectedly warm winter day. On my walk back to the parking garage, I made a point of observing sidewalk repairs, guards laughing together by a security station in front of the State Department, and the statue of an ancient Greek posed with a discus at a small park that I passed. I even marveled at the ingenuity of an inner spiral ramp that led me out of the garage. I don’t know why, but those experiences left me calm and at peace with the world, a feeling that lasted until my mind became distracted, once again, by the responsibilities of everyday life.

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Authorized list of Buddhist books for prisons is short on numbers, high on repetition, and contains non-Buddhist titles

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shadow of prison bars

The New York Times has, from a contact in prison, managed to get hold of the lists of 150 government-approved titles for the various religious traditions.

The news for Buddhist inmates is bad. The list supplied by the NYT (PDF) lacks any serious scriptural works such as the Dhammapada, does not even come close to the touted 150 titles, contains many repeated titles, and even contains a few non-Buddhist works!

One thing to be noted is that the various Christian denominations each have their own list of titles, while all the Buddhist traditions have been lumped together. Thus there are lists for Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Messianic traditions, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestants, and yet Theravadin Buddhism, Zen, Ch’an, the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land, Shingon, and Nichiren Buddhism are all treated as one tradition. The same is true of other non-Christian traditions such as Islam, where Sunni and Shia Islam are treated as one religion. It’s clear then that Christianity is being favored above other religions.

All of the texts are in English, despite many of the inmates in prison in the US being Vietnamese.

There are no texts from my own tradition, the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The Buddhist list (see below) has a number of peculiarities. There seem to be in fact only 94 titles on the list, of which 68 are books, the remaining titles being audiovisual media. It’s unclear what has become of the rest of the 150 titles. The Protestant list alone features no fewer than 213 print titles!

Another peculiarity is the repetition on the list. Shunryu Suzuki’s classic, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” appears at least three times (and that’s out of only 60 books!). “Dzogchen Teachings,” by Chogyal Norbu is repeated. The list appears to have been put together in great haste. Many of the authors’ names are mis-spelled, with “Pena Chodron” instead of “Pema Chodron” for example. Her “The Places That Scare You” is featured twice.

At least three of the books (“JivanMuktiviveka,” by Swami Vidyaranya, “Crest Jewel of Discrimination,” by Sri Shankasa, and “Talks With Ramana Maharshi”) are Hindu rather than Buddhist texts, and another, “Opening the Door to Bon,” is about a non-Buddhist Tibetan tradition. “The Journey To The Sacred Garden,” by Hank Wesselman is a text on Shamanism.

Yet another peculiarity is the absence of canonical texts. It’s unclear whether these are given a pass, so to speak, and don’t have to go through a selection process. The absence of the Bible from the Catholic list would seem to indicate that this might be the case.

The numbering is erratic, and runs from 1 to 33, then 13 to 29, then 43 to 60.

The NYT notes that the lists are not dated and that there’s no no way of knowing whether they are still current. Our examination of hidden data on the document, however, reveals a date of 3/22/07 — many months before the policy of censoring religious books was announced. There’s no indication of who prepared the list. We can only hope that this is a rough draft.

Wildmind is still waiting for an official response to our Freedom of Information Act request for an official copy of the list.

Here are the 60 print titles from the NYT’s document:

1) Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction, by Richard H. Robinson, Willard L. Johnson, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wadsworth Publishing, ISBN: 0534558585, 2004 (5 ed.)th An introductory book to Buddhism that covers the teachings and practices of a wide range of schools and traditions.

2) The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History & Teachings, by Donald S. Lopez Jr., HarperSanFrancisco, ISBN: 0060099275, 2002 A book that contains information on the practices of a wide range of schools and
traditions.

3) The Teaching of Buddha, compiled by the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Buddhist Promoting Foundation), ISBN: 4-89237-011-8, 1985 (110 ed.)th Provides selective passages from many Buddhist scripture. This book is found in hotels,
and institutions.

4) Essential Buddhism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs and Practices, by Jack Maguire, Pocket Books, ISBN: 0-671-04188-6, 2001 Provides a practical summary of the different schools and practices of Buddhism.

5) Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen, Broadway Books, ISBN: 0767903323, 1998 This book explains basic Buddhist teachings from the Zen Buddhist perspective.

6) Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bantam Books, ISBN: 0553351397, 1992 This book applies the basic Zen Buddhist teaching of mindfulness to everyday living.

7) The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Random House, Inc., ISBN: 0676903692, 1999 This book applies the basics teachings of Buddhism to modern struggles from a Zen Buddhist perspective.

8) Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Penguin Group, ISBN: 1573222887, 2004 This book guides the reader through Buddhist ways of dealing with emotions such as anger, fear, and jealousy.

9) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, by Shunryu Suzuki, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 0834800799, 1973 This book is often considered as one of the classic explanations of Zen Buddhism to
Western audiences.

10) Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen, by Shunryu Suzuki, Edward Espe Brown, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN: 0060957549, 2003 A follow-up book to the above listed Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

11) Everyday Zen: Love and Work, by Charlotte Joko Beck, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN: 0060607343, 1989
This book applies the basics of Zen Buddhism to the struggles of everyday life.

12) Woman of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom, by Sallie Tisdale, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-06-059816-6, 2006 This books traces women Buddhist masters and teachers, and gives us an understanding
of women’s contribution to Buddhism.

13) Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead Books, ISBN: 1-57322-568-1, 1995 This book compares Buddhist and Christian themes and scripture.

14) The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by the Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler, Penguin Group, ISBN: 1573221112, 1998
A book that applies basic Buddhist teachings as explained by the Dalai Lama to modern daily struggles.

15) Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, by Dalai Lama, Nicholas Vreeland, Little, Brown & Company, ISBN: 0316930938, 2002
This book lays out a path of Buddhist practice to increase one’s compassion.

16) Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, ISBN: 0767901576, 1998
This book explains basic Buddhist teachings and practices from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

17) When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 1570623449, 1997
This book explains how one can face the struggles of modern life through the Buddhist teachings. The author is from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

18) The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Pema Chodron, Shamabala Publications, ISBN: 978-1590304495. 2001

19) Buddhism for Beginners, by Thubten Chodron, Snow Lion Publications, Inc., ISBN: 1559391537, 2001
This book explains the basic teachings of Buddhism from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

20) Wake Up To Your Life, by Ken McLeod, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-06-251681-7, 2002
This books provides models for developing meditation and insight.

21) What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula, Grove Press, ISBN: 0802130313, 1974
(Revised ed.)
A book that covers the basic Buddhist teachings from the viewpoint of the Theravada school. The Theravada school is practiced in South and Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. In the West, a type of Buddhist meditation called Vipassana meditation is popular and Vipassana meditation comes from the Theravada school.

22) A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promised of Spiritual Life, by Jack Kornfield, Bantam Books, ISBN: 0553372114, 1993
This book explains the practice of Buddhist meditation in an American context. The author has studied Theravada Buddhism and Vipassana meditation.

23) Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 157062903X, 2002
This book applies Vipassana meditation to the struggles of modern life in America.

24) It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, by Sylvia Boorstein, Harper San Francisco, ISBN: 0062512943, 1997
The book covers the basic Buddhist teachings in the context of modern American life. The author is a known teacher of Vipassana meditation.

25) Everyday Suchness: Buddhist Essays on Everyday Living, by Gyomay M. Kubose, Dharma House, ISBN: 0964299208, 2004
A book that covers basic Buddhist teachings with daily experiences. The author is from a Japanese Buddhist tradition.

26) The Buddha in Your Mirror: Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self, by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, Ted Morino, Middleway Press, ISBN: 0967469783, 2001
This book covers the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a type of Japanese Buddhism that has some popularity in the US.

27) River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism, by Taitetsu Unno, Doubleday Publishing, ISBN: 0385485115, 1998
This book is an introduction to Shin Buddhism, a popular form of Buddhism in Japan that is quite popular in the US.

28) First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening, by Susan Murcott, Parallax Press, ISBN: 1-888375-54-X, (2006)
This book provides historical insight into how Buddhism became one of the first religions to welcome women.

29) Mindfulness in Plain English by H. Gunaratana, by Corporate Body of the Buddha, ISBN: 0861713214,
Fundamentals of the basic Buddhist meditation are outlined to include: the how why, when, where and answers to problems common to implementing the discipline of meditation.

30) Mindfulness: Path to the Deathless by Ajahn Sumedgo, Corporate Body of the Buddha, ISBN: 1870205014, (!987).
Reference handbook to Buddhist meditation.

31) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki, Shunryum ISBN: 0834800799, Weatherhill, Inc. ISBN: 1590302672 (2000).
Succinct introduction to Zen practice as it discusses posture and breathing in meditation as well as selflessness, emptiness and mindfulness.

32) Describing the Indescribable by Hsing Yun, ISBN: 086171866, Wisdom Publications (2001).
Buddhist commentary on the importance of balanced insight and emotion in the spiritual path.

33) Only Don’t Know by Seung Sahn, ISBN: 1570624321, Shambhala Publication (1999).
Letters written by a Zen Master answering questions about work, relationships, and suffering.

13) The Myth of Freedom , by Chogyan Trungpa, Publisher :Shambhala (1976) ISBN:1-57062-933-1
Shows how our attitudes, preconceptions, and even or spiritual practices can become chains that bind us to repetitive patterns of frustration and despair.

14) The Wings to Awakening, by Thanissaso Bhikkhu, Publisher :The Dhama Dana Publication Fund (1996) ISBN: N/A
Details the disciplines, teachings and practices of Hinayana Buddhism.

15) Insight Meditation, by Joseph Goldstain, Publisher: Shambhala (2003) ISBN: 1-59030-016-5
Explains favorite Dharma Stories, key teachings and answers the most asked insight meditation.

16) Jivan Muktiviveka, by Swami Vidyaranya, Publisher: Wedanta Press (1996) ISBN: 81-7505-882-5
Deals with how the spiritual aspirant can overcome fear, addiction, and illusion and become the jivanmukta or liberated soul.

18) Working With Anger, by Thubten Chodron, Publisher: Snow Lion (2001) ISBN: 1-55939-163-4
This book presents a variety of Buddhist methods for subduing and preventing anger.

19) Talks With Ramana Maharshi, by Ramana Maharshi, Publisher: Inner Directions (2000) ISBN: 1-878019-00-7
This book is in question/answer format and deals with a universal approach by directly pointing to the truth of our intrinsic nature .

20) The Journey To The Sacred Garden, by Hank Wesselman, Publisher: Hay House (2003) ISBN: 1-4019-0111-5
This book shows us how we can tap into peace that lies within us all the time.

29) Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, by Jay L. Garfield Publisher: Oxford (1995)
ISNB: 0-19-509336-4
A clear and eminently readable translation of Nagarjuna’s seminal work. Nagarjuna was a prominent Buddhist Saint.

43) Teachings from the Mani Retreat, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Publisher: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive (2001) ISBN: 1-891868-10-1
A day by day account of the teachings given by the Lama at the inaugural Mani Retreat including the rituals, meditation, mantra and chanting etc…

44) Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, Publisher: Weatherhill (1970)
ISBN: 0-8348-0079-9
How to practice Zen as a workable discipline and religion in one’s dally life,

45) Opening the Door to Bon, by Nyima Dallpa, Publisher, Snow Lion (2005) (ISBN: 101-55939-246-0)
A complete handbook for the fundamental practices of the Ancient Bon Tradition of Tibet.

46) Dzogchen Teachings,by Chogyal Norbu, Publisher, Snow Lion (2006) ISBN :10-1-55939-243
A complete guide to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet.

47) Dzogchen Teachings,by Chogyal Norbu, Publisher, Snow Lion (2006) ISBN: 10-1-55939-243
A complete guide to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet.

48) The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Beacon Press (1975) (ISBN: 0-8070-1239-4).
Anecdotes and practical exercises as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness being awake and ware.

49) Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein, Publisher :Shambhala (1987) (ISBN: 1-57062-805-X)
Teachings & practices of insight meditation which are the understanding of our bodies, minds, lives, and to see clearly the true nature of experience.

50) The Torch of Certainty , by Jamgon Kangtrul ; Publisher :Shambhala (2000) (ISBN: 1-
57062-713-4)
This text describes the Four Foundation Practices that all practitioners of vajrayana Buddhism must complete.

51) Enlightened Courage, by Dilgo Khyentse; Publisher :Snow Lion (1993) (ISBN:1-55939-023-9)
The author presents the Seven Point Mind Training, brought to Tibet by the Indian Master Atisha, which is the very core of the entire practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

52) Living at the Source, by Swami Vivekananda; Publisher :Shambhala (1993) (ISBN: 1-57062-616-2)
Writing and talks of Swami Vivekandanda on the concerns of contemporary men and women who seek to live a spiritual life in the midst of everyday activities.

53) Make Your Mind an Ocean, by Lana Yeshe; Publisher :TDL Publications (1999)
(ISBN:1-891868-03-9)
Gives helpful tips to calm our mind according to the Buddhist tradition.

54) Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps Publisher :Tuttle Publishing (1998) ISBN: 0-8048-
3186-6
Four books in one and are the main Zen writing of Zen Buddhism.

55) Between Heaven and Earth, by Shi Bo, Publisher: ISBN: 1-59030-050-5
Calligraphic characters and historical and legendary anecdotes to gives a fascinating overview of the evolution of seven seminal Chinese writing styles.

56) Seared Calligraphy of the East, by John Stevens, Publisher :Shambhala (1981) ISBN: 1-57062-122-5
Covers topics as the history and spirit of Eastern Calligraphy, the are of copying religious texts, the biographies of important Zen Calligraphies.

57) The Places That Scare You, by Pena Chodron, ISBN: 1-57062-921-8, published by Shanbhala, (2001).
Teaches how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and other complete with faults and imperfections.

58) When Things Fall Apart, by Pena Chodran, ISBN: 1-57062-969-2, published by Shambhala, (1997).
Provides sound, heart advice for dealing with difficult times.

59) Crest Jewel of Discrimination, by Sri Shankasa, ISBN: 0-88748-034-5, published by Vedanta Press, (1947).
Sharkara shares his philosophy on the nature of reality, and how to live a righteous life.

60) The Buddha and his Teachings, by Samuel Bercholz Publisher: Shamblala (1993) ISBN: 1-57062-960-9
A collection of classic and modern Buddhist texts that provide insight into the teaching and practice of Buddhism.

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In the classroom, a new focus on quieting the mind

Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times: The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness.

With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground.

“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” Alex Menton, 11, reported to his classmates the next day. “The mindfulness really helped.”

As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests.

Mindfulness, while common in hospitals, corporations, professional sports and even prisons, is relatively new in the education of squirming children. But a small but growing number of schools in places like Oakland and Lancaster, Pa., are slowly embracing the concept — as they did yoga five years ago — and institutions, like the psychology department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to measure the effects…

During a five-week pilot program at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, Miss Megan, the “mindful” coach, visited every classroom twice a week, leading 15 minute sessions on how to have “gentle breaths and still bodies.” The sound of the Tibetan bowl reverberated at the start and finish of each lesson.

The techniques, among them focused breathing and concentrating on a single object, are loosely adapted from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the molecular biologist who pioneered the secular use of mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 to help medical patients cope with chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Susan Kaiser Greenland, the founder of the InnerKids Foundation, which trains schoolchildren and teachers in the Los Angeles area, calls mindfulness “the new ABC’s — learning and leading a balanced life.”

At Stanford, the psychology department is assessing the feasibility of teaching mindfulness to families. “Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention,” said Philippe R. Goldin, a researcher. “But we never teach them how.”

The experiment at Piedmont, whose student body is roughly 65 percent black, 18 percent Latino and includes a large number of immigrants, is financed by Park Day School, a nearby private school (prompting one teacher to grumble that it was “Cloud Nine-groovy-hippie-liberals bringing ‘enlightenment’ to inner city schools”).

But Angela Haick, the principal of Piedmont Avenue, said she was inspired to try it after observing a class at a local middle school.

“If we can help children slow down and think,” Dr. Haick said, “they have the answers within themselves.”

It seemed alternately loved and ignored, as students in Ms. Graham’s fifth-grade class tried to pay attention to their breath, a calming technique that lasted 20 seconds. Then their coach asked them to “cultivate compassion” by reflecting on their emotions before lashing out at someone on the playground.

Tyran Williams defined mindfulness as “not hitting someone in the mouth.”

“He doesn’t know what to do with his energy,” his mother, Towana Thomas, said at a session for parents. “But one day after school he told me, ‘I’m taking a moment.’ If it works in a child’s mind — with so much going on — there must be something to it.”

Asked their reactions to the sounds of the singing bowl, Yvette Solito, a third grader, wrote that it made her feel “calm, like something on Oprah.” Her classmate Corey Jackson wrote that “it feels like when a bird cracks open its shell.”

Dr. Amy Saltzman, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif., who started the Association for Mindfulness in Education three years ago, thinks of mindfulness education as “talk yoga.” Practitioners tend to use sticky-mat buzzwords like “being present” and “cultivating compassion,” while avoiding anything spiritual.

Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr. Saltzman said.

A recent study of teenagers by Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, Calif., found that meditation techniques helped improve mood disorders, depression, and self-harming behaviors like anorexia and bulimia.

Dr. Susan L. Smalley, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. and director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center there, which is studying the effects on schoolchildren, said one 4-year-old noticed her mother succumbing to road rage while stuck in traffic. “She said, ‘Mommy, Mommy, you have to sing the breathing song,’ ” Dr. Smalley said.

Although some students take naturally to mindfulness, it is “not a magic bullet,” said Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at the U.C.L.A. center. She said the research thus far was “inconclusive” about how effective mindfulness was for children who suffered from trauma-related disorders, for example. It is “a slow process,” Ms. Winston added. “Just because kids sit and listen to the bell doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more kind.”

Glenn Heuser, who teaches a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at Piedmont, said one student started crying about a dead grandparent and another over melted lip balm. “It tapped into a very emotional space for them,” Mr. Heuser said. “They struggled with, ‘Is it O.K. to go there?’ ”

Although mindful education may seem like a New Yorker caricature of West Coast life, the school district with possibly the best experience has been Lancaster, Pa., where mindfulness is taught in 25 classes a week at eight schools. The district has a substantial poverty rate, with 75 percent of students qualifying for free lunch.

Midge Kinder, a yoga teacher, and her husband, Rick, started the program six years ago at George Ross Elementary, where their daughter Wynne taught.

Camille Hopkins, the principal, said initially she was skeptical. Growing up in South Philadelphia, “I was never told to take an elevator breath”— a way of breathing in stages, taught in yoga — “or hear the signals of chimes to cool down,” Ms. Hopkins said.

But the stresses today are greater, she conceded, particularly on students who lived with the threat of violence. “A lot of things we watched on TV are part of their everyday life,” she said. “It’s ‘Did you know so-and-so got shot over the weekend.’ ”

In after-school detention, children are asked to “check in with their feelings,” Ms. Hopkins said. “How are you really changing behavior if they’re just sitting there?”

Yolanda Steel, a second-grade teacher at Piedmont, said she was hopeful that the training would help an attention-deficit generation better manage a barrage of stimuli, including PlayStations and text messages. “American children are overstimulated,” Ms. Steel said. “Some have difficulty even closing their eyes.”

But she noted that some students tapped pencils and drummed on desks instead of closing their eyes and listening to the bell. “The premise is nice,” Ms. Steel concluded. “But mindfulness can’t do it all.”

Read the rest of the article…

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“Full Catastrophe Living,” by John Kabat-Zinn

Full Catastrophe Living

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is perhaps the best-known proponent of using meditation to help patients deal with illness. (The somewhat confusing title is from a line in Zorba the Greek in which the title character refers to the ups and downs of family life as “the full catastrophe.”)

But this book is also a terrific introduction for anyone who has considered meditating but was afraid it would be too difficult or would include religious practices they found foreign. Kabat-Zinn focuses on “mindfulness,” a concept that involves living in the moment, paying attention, and simply “being” rather than “doing.” While you can practice anything “mindfully,” from taking a walk to cleaning your house, Kabat-Zinn presents several meditation techniques that focus the attention most clearly, whether it’s on a simple phrase, your breathing, or various parts of your body.

The book goes into detail about how hospital patients have either improved their health or simply come to feel better despite their illness by using these techniques, but these meditations can help anyone deal with stress and gain a calmer outlook on life. “When we use the word healing to describe the experiences of people in the stress clinic, what we mean above all is that they are undergoing a profound transformation of view,” Kabat-Zinn writes. “Out of this shift in perspective comes an ability to act with greater balance and inner security in the world.”

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“Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go, There You Are- Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

“Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Kabat-Zinn, son-in-law of historian Howard Zinn, is a true pioneer in the field of applying mindfulness to the problem of relieving psychological and physical distress. Thirty years ago at UMass Medical Center he started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program — a program that has since spawned Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness-based Anxiety Reduction, Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders, and so on.

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction title is arguably a misnomer, tending as it does to conjure up images of executives with ulcers. Kabat-Zinn’s field was working with people who experienced chronic pain, and whom conventional treatments had failed. In other words he took on the most difficult cases. And he was successful. Clinical trials showed long-term reduction in the amount of pain that his patients experienced, even years after they had taken a course.

To Kabat-Zinn, meditation is important because it brings about a state of “mindfulness,” a condition of “being” rather than “doing” during which you pay attention to the moment rather than the past, the future, or the multitudinous distractions of modern life.

In brief, rather poetic chapters, he describes different meditative practices and what they can do for the practitioner. The idea that meditation is “spiritual” is often confusing to people, Kabat-Zinn writes; he prefers to think of it as what you might call a workout for your consciousness. This book makes learning meditation remarkably easy (although practicing it is not). But it also makes it seem infinitely appealing.

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