mindfulness

Liking yourself is not the antidote to hating yourself

You might think that the antidote to self-hatred is liking yourself. But is that desirable, or even possible? We all contain impulses such as jealously, hatred, and greed. What would it mean to like them? Are we supposed to approve of them? To give them free rein and act upon them?

The idea of liking “ourselves” seems badly put. When I look at myself I don’t see any one thing. I see a broad range of phenomena, some that promote my wellbeing and others that sometimes compromise it. There’s no one “self” there to like.

I have plenty to work with. I have skillful impulses, of course. But I also have destructive or harmful habits such as irritability, a desire to be “right,” depressive doubts about my own worth, and so on. These cause suffering for me and also for others in my life.

But hating these things is pointless. Hating these aspects of myself would just be introducing more unskillfulness and conflict into my being.  To hate ourselves is to be at war with ourselves. And in such a war, who can be the winner? Hatred, as the Buddha observed, can never conquer hatred.

That doesn’t mean that I approve of these impulses or want to express them. If I was to give those habits free rein, I’d just end up with even more suffering in my life.

I certainly don’t like these potentially destructive habits. To like something means we have pleasant feelings associated with it, and I don’t experience pleasant feelings with regard to my irritability, self-doubts, and so on.

I can accept them, though. And I can be kind toward them.

Practicing acceptance simply means that I accept that these things are a part of me. They are part of the broad range of emotional responses that I have inherited as a mammal and as a human being. I didn’t choose to have them. It makes no sense for me to judge myself harshly for having these habits. I don’t need to hate myself simply for being human.

An audience member at a discussion between two Buddhist teachers described how she came to see that it was possible for her to have compassion for herself:

I’ve been thinking a lot about loving myself, but I felt like I would have to like everything about myself to love myself. But then I had a realization … that I could just have some compassion toward myself. I don’t necessarily have to like every part of myself.

It’s possible for us to relate with kindness and compassion to every part of ourselves, including those destructive tendencies I’ve described. I can recognize that they are born from suffering. Our unskillful habits are simply ways of trying to deal with painful feelings that have arisen. Irritability tries to keep at bay some source of distress. Jealousy wants us to have for ourselves a benefit that someone else has access to. Doubt tries to analyze what’s not going right in our lives. Every single unskillful impulse any of us has represents an attempt to find peace and happiness. The problem with them is not that they are “bad,” but that they don’t work.

One of the most radical things the Buddha said was that if letting go of unskillful habits caused pain rather than brought us peace, he wouldn’t have taught us to do it. He didn’t seem to see them as inherently bad. He’d have encouraged us to keep on going with our greed, hatred, and delusion if they actually made us happy. But they don’t.

Our task is to find better strategies. This is what developing “skillfulness” involves—finding ways of being that actually bring about peace and harmony. To lack skill means aiming to create happiness but instead bringing about suffering and conflict.

When we react to our unskillful tendencies by hating them we’re treating them as if they were enemies. They aren’t. They’re just confused friends. They’re trying to benefit us, but most of the time failing. Once we start to empathize with what these confused friends are trying to do for us, we can find more skillful ways to accomplish the same aims. Mindfulness and self-compassion are the most powerful tools we have for doing that.

Our irritability and hatred maybe trying (and failing) to keep some source of distress out of our experience. We’re trying to push the distress out of our lives. Mindful self-compassion helps us see that it’s not the unpleasant feeling that’s our real problem, but our resistance to it. It allows us to be present with painful feelings until they pass, naturally, and can open up the way for us to have fondness and appreciation for whatever it was we were irritated by.

Jealousy may want us to grasp for ourselves some benefit that another has access to (this is of course painful), but self-compassion can help soothe the pain of grasping and also help us feel a sense of abundance; there is so much kindness we can show to ourselves! And this can allow us to feel glad for the other person.

Self-doubt may be a clumsy way of trying to discover if there’s something wrong in the way we are. Mindful self-compassion can help reassure the uncertain part of us, seeing that there’s nothing going on that we can’t work with, reminding us to trust in our practice, and helping us to see our inherent goodness.

In all cases empathizing with our unskillful tendencies helps us to be happier.

Practicing self-compassion is like learning to be a kind and wise parent to ourselves. If our children act badly in some way, they do not need either our hatred. That wouldn’t be helpful for them. Neither, however, should we blindly approve of everything they do. That wouldn’t help them either. When our children act badly they need our kindness, our empathy, and wise guidance.

And this, too, is how we need to learn to relate to ourselves if we want to flourish and be happy in the long-term.

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One of our online meditation courses is available free of charge

sit breathe love

We’re making one of our introductory meditation courses, Sit Breathe Love, available free of charge. The course starts on May 7 and runs for 28 days.

This is indirectly connected to our move toward being a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative, where Wildmind will be entirely sustained through small donations given by sponsors. We’re 35% of the way to our goal in just two weeks, thanks to 200 kind sponsors, who will be getting exclusive access to new meditation courses, articles, meditation downloads, and an online discussion forum. If you’re curious about participating in this initiative, click here.

And to enroll in the meditation course, click here. But be quick! Places are limited and it’s filling up fast.

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A Community-Supported Meditation Initiative

The past

I started Wildmind in 2000 as a website where anyone could come to learn to meditate. It’s been a stunning success; we’ve had roughly 15 million unique visitors during that time! At first the sale of CDs supported my meditation teaching. Later, donations from participants on our meditation courses played a larger role.

That’s the past, and it’s no longer what’s needed. It’s proved to be financially unstable so that too much of my time and energy goes into trying to stay afloat. And it has too narrow an impact on the world. We need to go big.

The future

So we’re moving toward having Wildmind 100% supported by a large number of people giving relatively small donations: as small as $6 a month.

This will:

  • Ensure the stability of Wildmind as we move into the future.
  • Free up my time so that I can focus on teaching rather than publicity and marketing.
  • Allow me to make the courses I’ve already created open to all.
  • Let me create new courses for Wildmind’s sponsors.

How it works

You may have heard of “cummunity-supported agriculture” where small farms are supported by contributions from individual sponsors, who then get a share of the farms’ produce. It’s going to be a bit like that. 

“Community shares” are available at $6 each. You can sponsor as many or as few shares as you like. You’ll get a share of my “produce” for as long as you continue as a sponsor. You’ll get access to exclusive article and meditation downloads, to a sponsor-only online community, and to new courses that I develop. You’ll also know that you are supporting a website that benefits a lot of people. And I’ll be making my existing courses available, free of charge, to anyone who wants to participate.

Every sponsor gets the same benefits, however many shares they sponsor. If you sponsor more it’s because you have more to give or because you care more.

Progress so far

I launched the initiative just over two weeks ago. Here’s a live graph, which we update as new contributions come in.

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It’s time to get on board!

So far:

  • More than a third of shares have been sponsored.
  • We now have more than 200 sponsors.
  • The average number of shares per sponsor is 2.7.
  • The highest number of shares sponsored by one person is 15.

If you want to give more support and can afford to do so, then that obviously helps us more.

You can become a sponsor by using the PayPal form below:


Choose your number of shares
Your preferred email address for this subscription.




If you’d prefer not to use PayPal, you can download a credit card billing authorization form. You can complete this on-screen, then print, sign, and return it to us by mail or email.

Your support is enormously appreciated. The love that’s been pouring in has been wonderful to experience. Already I’m experiencing more freedom from stress than I have in years.

I’m looking forward to being fully freed up from focusing on staying afloat so that I can focus more on sharing my practice with you—my community of sponsors—and so that we can benefit the world by bringing the benefits of meditation to more people.

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“Unusual” meditation experiences, sensory deprivation, and synesthesia

Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash

On a Buddhist discussion forum where I occasionally “lurk” (I’m interested to see what goes on there but I don’t really have the time to get involved in discussion there) someone asked if what are called “nimitta” experiences in meditation are the result of sensory deprivation.

What the heck are nimittas?

If you’ve never heard of “nimittas,” they are slightly unusual experiences that can arise in meditation, that are generally regarded as being helpful for your practice. There are many different kinds of nimitta and they can appear in any of the senses. Sometimes they’ll take the form of a light that appears in the mind, or a subtle sensation connected with the breathing that might have the quality of a fine silk thread being drawn between the fingertips, or the sound of the breathing, but heard internally rather than through the ears.

The word nimitta means a “sign” or even a “hint.” When one of these experiences arises, then it’s an indication that your practice is going deeper. And if you pay attention to the hint that your mind has produced for you, then you’ll go deeper still. Think about what it would be like to be lost on a dark moorland. You’ve no idea where to go, but then you see in the distance the faint glow of sodium lights on the horizon. It’s a town! Now you know which direction to go in, and as you move toward the lights they become clearer and clearer. That’s the function of a nimitta; it acts as a feedback mechanism, steering you toward becoming more absorbed in your experience.

But these experiences don’t arise from sensory deprivation. True nimittas arise as we become more immersed in our direct sensory experience, and as we sense it in more detail. When the mind is full of sensation in this way, there’s less room for thinking, and so the amount of inner chatter begins to die down. In other words we think less. This isn’t that infamous (and mythical) “blank mind” that newcomers to meditation often ask about. The mind isn’t blank. It isn’t thinking so much, but the attention we would normally pay to our thoughts is now directed toward, and absorbed in, the body.

Synesthesia and true nimittas

Now, it seems to me that most of the experiences that I’ve encountered that I’d call nimittas (whether in my direct experience or that have been described to me by others) involve an element of synesthesia. Synesthesia is where information that’s in one sensory channel is represented in another sensory channel. So some people literally experience a particular color associated with certain words. This isn’t them using their imaginations: the cross-over is automatic and consistent, so that if the word “David” is orange today, it’ll still be orange next year.

Synesthesia is reasonably common. When 500 people were studied in Scotland (who were not recruited on the basis of having reported experiences of synesthesia) the incidence was 4.4%. So in a random group of 24 people in a meditation room, roughly one of them, on average, will be a synesthete. But I suspect that a larger percentage of people are potential synesthetes: that is, they have a weak form of synesthesia that they don’t normally notice in the everyday turmoil and hubbub in the mind. It’s only when the mind calms that their synesthesia becomes apparent—for example when they’re meditating.

So as the mind stills and we become more sensitive to our experience, we may notice a tactile quality associated with the breathing, but not directly connected to the actual physical sensation of the body moving. Or mental calm may be represented as inner light, or a sense of being surrounded by a bubble of stillness. As you experience kindness, you may feel warmth or light radiating from the heart. These nimitta experiences are arising because the mind is calming down, and as you pay attention to them and become absorbed in them, the mind calms further.

Sensory deprivation and “para-nimittas”

Now, there are other sorts of experiences that can arise in meditation that are superficially similar to nimittas but aren’t helpful in taking you deeper into meditation. In fact they’ll do the opposite. And those do arise from sensory deprivation. I’m going to call them “para-nimittas.”

Now, sensory deprivation isn’t the point of meditation, but it can happen. If the mind begins to calm down, but you haven’t yet learned to be deeply attentive to the physical experiences arising in the body, then the mind is under-occupied. There’s not much stimulation flowing in from the body, and there’s not that much thinking (i.e. inner chatter or inner movies) going on in the mind. So there’s the same kind of sensory deprivation that goes on if you’re in a neutral buoyancy tank heated to skin temperature and sealed off from external light and sound. In those kinds of circumstances the mind gets a bit dreamy, and odd things happen.

A classic is swirling lights. This is different from the steady radiance of a true nimitta. Or dream-like imagery, such as faces, may appear in the mind’s eye. Or the body may feel like it’s leaning to one side (although it isn’t) or as if it’s floating. So-called out-of-body experiences probably belong in the same category.

These are distractions. They don’t help us become more absorbed in meditation.

If this second kind of experience arises then they’re best ignored. Paying attention to them is like getting more absorbed in a dream that arises when you’re lying in bed, half-awake; you’ll simply retreat further from lucid attention, even though you may feel like you’re fully awake and mindful.

What’s needed here is to become more grounded in the vividness of our actual physical experience, as opposed to the illusory experiences that the mind is conjuring up for us. See if you can notice the sensations of the body and the breathing more clearly, so that your mind is filled with sensory experience rather than deprived of it. You might want to observe, for example, how three different sensations of the breathing are related to each other: say, the air flowing in and out of the airways in the head, the movements of the ribcage in the upper back, and the sensations in the belly. Giving yourself a challenge like this will help you to be more attentive to and absorbed in your moment-by-moment physical experience.

How to tell the difference

True nimittas are stable and esthetically pleasing. The other kind of experience are sometimes trippy, scary, physically uncomfortable, or disorientating.

Although they’re not helpful to pay attention to, these para-nimittas are a good sign! They only arise when the mind is starting to quiet down, so although there isn’t enough depth of experience in the body, they show that something positive is happening. And people who are prone to para-nimittas often experience true nimittas as well.

And if you don’t experience either true nimittas or para-nimittas, that’s OK. Not everyone experiences these things, and although true nimittas are helpful, they’re not essential.

Wildmind is transforming into a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative.
Click here to learn how you can support what we do here, and about the benefits of becoming a sponsor.

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That time I almost quit teaching

on practice
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A painful path

A few weeks ago I told a few friends that I’d decided to give up teaching meditation. Things just hadn’t been working out financially. In particular it’d been impossible to attract enough people to my online courses. The plan was to substantially wind down Wildmind and get a regular job. So I started creating a résumé (my first since 1993) and scoping out employment opportunities.

Naturally, I had very mixed feelings about my decision, which had been painful to arrive at.  I was sad to be giving up on something I love doing, and that I find immensely satisfying. I was nervous about re-entering the job market. I was excited about the benefits of having a steady paycheck and freedom from financial instability. On the whole, I felt a sense of acceptance. I was even relieved about giving up on something that I just hadn’t been able to make work financially.

A change of heart

I even wrote a long blog post explaining why I was doing what I was doing. But I never published it, because a few days later I had a complete reversal. I realized that Wildmind’s supporters have always rallied around. And I realized that we could turn Wildmind into a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative.

A few people helped me refine the key concepts. It would be community-supported. I’d ask people to sponsor shares in order to provide enough income that I could keep Wildmind alive. Instead of asking for donations for my courses (I’d never felt comfortable “selling” meditation courses) we could make them freely available to everyone. And to thank my sponsors I’d develop new courses that would nourish their practice.

Progress so far

Two weeks ago I launched the initiative, asking the Wildmind community to sponsor 1,500 shares at $4 each [2020 Note: Shares are now $6 each]. I thought it might take six months to a year to get to the 100% mark. So far, in just two weeks, we’re more than a third of the way to our target. At our current rate of growth I estimate we should hit our goal in around four months.

Here’s a live graph, which we update as new contributions come in.

Why contribute, and what are the benefits?

One reason for sponsoring shares is that you’ll feel good knowing that you’re supporting a website that has literally reached millions of people since it first started in November, 2000. We project that the website will have over 800,000 unique visitors this year. And I’ll be making the 30 or so courses that I’ve already developed freely available as well. That should give you a warm glow.

But as a sponsor you’ll also get access to:

  • Any new courses I develop, which will be exclusively for our community of sponsors. I expect there to be a new course every two months or so.
  • An online forum for sponsors, where you can connect with each other and with me.
  • A monthly newsletter that’s just for sponsors, containing an exclusive article and a free meditation download.

We’ll be phasing in these benefits  as we make progress to being fully funded.

How do you become a sponsor?

Shares are just $4 each. Every sponsor gets the same benefits, however many shares they sponsor. So far:

  • The range is from 1 to 15 shares per sponsor.
  • The most common number of shares sponsored is 8.
  • The highest number of shares sponsored by one person is 15.

If you want to give more support and can afford to do so, then that obviously helps us more.

You can become a sponsor by using the PayPal form below:


Choose your number of shares
Your preferred email address for this subscription.




If you’d prefer not to use PayPal, you can download a credit card billing authorization form. You can complete this on-screen, then print, sign, and return it to us by mail or email.

Your support is enormously appreciated. Already I’m feeling buoyed up by the contributions that have come in and the love that’s been expressed. I’m looking forward to being fully freed up from focusing on making money so that I can focus more on sharing my practice with you, my community of sponsors, and so that we can bring the benefits of meditation to more people.

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A new direction for Wildmind

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Today I invite you to help transform Wildmind into a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative.

This is urgently needed, because the way we’ve been doing things is no longer viable, to the point where a few days ago, I seriously believed I would have to give up teaching.

But I also want to make these changes so that Wildmind reflects my deeper values, and because of the sense of urgency I feel about bringing more mindfulness and compassion into the world.

The Old Way

I started Wildmind almost 20 years ago as a website where people could learn meditation for free. (That’s been a great success. We’re on track to have over 800,000 unique visitors this year. Our most popular articles have been read more than 600,000 times each. We are having a large, positive impact.)

To fund the website I sold guided meditation CDs and offered online meditation courses, first by charging, and then mostly by donation.

But things have changed. Few people buy CDs and even MP3s, and with more apps out there, fewer people are enrolling in our online courses.

The old model is no longer viable. We need to go in a new direction. And we need to do it now, or Wildmind will no longer exist.

A New Direction

I’ve long dreamed of having my teaching supported entirely by donations from supporters. We made moves in that direction a few years ago, but we didn’t pursue that aim as persistently as we should have, and the initiative stalled. But that, I am convinced, is the direction to go in.

It’s time to take a leap forward, and so that’s why we’re transforming Wildmind into a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative.

Community-Supported

I am thankful that the Wildmind community has always stepped up in the past. When we’ve had a special project we needed to fund, you were there. When there was a financial crisis, you were there. Thank you from my heart.

Our strength and our future lies in you. What we envision is that lots of supporters like you would contribute a small amount each month to support Wildmind’s teaching work.

A Community, Supported

A community that supports a meditation initiative deserves support in return. And so I’ll be offering the following:

+New Courses for Sponsors

Any new courses I develop will be exclusively for Wildmind’s supporting community. There will be no charge to you for these courses. I anticipate adding a new course at least every two months, which is roughly what I’ve done in the past.

+Special Newsletter for Sponsors

At present we send out three newsletters a month. In future one of those will be for sponsors only, and will contain an exclusive article, a meditation download, and news of sponsor-only courses.

+Private Online Discussion Forum

I’m setting up an online forum for sponsors, where you can connect with other community members in an environment free from advertising and from the kind of data-harvesting that goes on in Facebook.

All my current courses (and there are presently around 30 of them) would be FREE for the general public. Potentially many thousands of people would benefit each year, and this is a gift that YOU, as a sponsor, would make happen. You’d have the satisfaction of knowing you were promoting mindfulness and compassion in the world.

This new model feels much more in line with my core values and with the tradition meditation teachers being supported by donations from the community.

How We Can Accomplish This Together

To bring this vision to life will initially require just $6,000 a month, made up of donations as small as $6. This total would cover what I need in order to keep writing, teaching, and recording, and will cover administrative support, bookkeeping, and the cost of hosting the website and newsletter.

So we’re breaking our $6,000 target into 1,000 “Wildmind Community Shares.” We’re asking you to sponsor as many or as few Wildmind Community Shares as you feel comfortable with. Some of you might sponsor two shares ($12 a month) three shares ($18 a month), or more. Others might sponsor one share at $6 a month.

There is no hierarchy of sponsorship levels, with increasing perks as you contribute more: if you give more it’s because you can afford to do so, and because you value what we do and want to support it. Every single sponsor’s contribution will be a valued building block in reaching our goal and sustaining our vision.

Progress to Date

This graph (which may not be up to date, because we have to update it manually) shows the progress we’re making toward our goal.

 

For Existing Contributors

If you already make a monthly contribution, this means you’re already on board as one of our sponsors, and don’t need to take any further action. Thank you!

It Starts Now

Transforming Wildmind into a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative starts today. You can contribute right now using this form:


Choose your number of shares
Your preferred email address.




If you don’t have a PayPal account, look for the link that says “Subscribe using a debit or credit card.”

Looking to sponsor more than 10 shares? Click here.

An Unfolding Transformation

  • 25%: Once we’re a quarter of the way to our goal of $6,000, we’ll open up the Online Community for sponsors.
  • 50%: Once we’re half way to our goal, one of Wildmind’s three monthly newsletters will be sent only to sponsors, with an exclusive article and monthly meditation download.
  • 75%: When we’re three-quarters of the way there, I’ll launch new courses that are just for supporters. I’ll also schedule a live monthly conference call where we can practice together as a community. (This’ll be archived and sent out to you if you miss the call.)
  • 100%: Once the goal is fully achieved, I’ll some of my existing courses free to the general public, enlarging our meditation community and potentially benefitting hundreds of thousands of people.

Let’s Make This Happen!

Let’s do this! Let’s transform Wildmind into a unique, Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. It’s very doable—with your support.

Become a community sponsor now, using the form below.

With love and gratitude,
Bodhipaksa


Choose your number of shares
Your preferred email address.




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From fear and denial to love and acceptance

on practice
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Photo by Erico Marcelino on Unsplash

In the opening words to his book “The Road Less Traveled,” the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says:

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

I’d put this less absolutely than Peck does: once we know, understand, and accept that life is difficult, it becomes less difficult. This difficult thing of being human is made easier when we accept the inevitability of suffering.

I’d like to offer a series of suggestions to help you see the truth of this. And so I invite you to read the following points slowly and with care, allowing yourself time to take each suggestion on board, testing them in the heart and comparing them honestly with your own lived experience.

Drop any defensiveness or desire to be seen as perfect, and allow yourself to feel your own vulnerability. Let go of any desire to see yourself as “succeeding,” and let yourself be gloriously, humanly imperfect.

I suggest you spend at least a minute on each of these thoughts, and perhaps a bit longer on the final one.

  • First, as you read these words become aware of your vulnerable human body, with its beating heart, and the constant rise and fall of the breathing. This body is aging, and prone to injury and illness, as are all human bodies. Recognize yourself as an embodied, living being who will not be on this earth for long. If this is at all uncomfortable, see if you can regard those painful feelings with kindly eyes.
  • Next, allow into your awareness that your feelings are important to you. Perhaps in this moment you’re not feeling much, but sometimes you suffer, and sometimes you are happy. Consider the reality of this, recalling moments of happiness and of unhappiness, recognizing yourself as a feeling being.
  • Consider that you want, as your deepest desire, to find some kind of wellbeing, or happiness, or peace, and to escape suffering where that’s possible. When you remember times you’ve been unhappy, was there a desire to be free from that suffering? When you remember times of peace, happiness, or wellbeing, was there a wish to remain in that state? Recognize yourself as a being who desires happiness as your deepest yearning.
  • Now, remind yourself that happiness is often elusive, and that you experience suffering far more often than you’d like, were life ideal. Recognize yourself as a struggling being—as someone who is doing a difficult thing in being human.
  • Finally, try saying the following words to yourself for a few minutes: “May I be well. May I be at ease. May I be kind to myself and others.”

The first four activities help you empathize with yourself. Through them you sense yourself as a being in need of support, worthy of support. And this empathetic awareness of yourself provides a grounding for being kind to yourself. The phrases—“May I be well. May I be at ease. May I be kind to myself and others”— are ways of showing yourself support. By the time you got to the fifth suggestion you may have felt that you actually wanted to offer yourself kindness and encouragement, and that you wanted to offer yourself support.

These reflections open us up to experiencing our own vulnerability, and this can be an uncomfortable process. It may be, for example, that heartache or sadness arose. That’s a common response. These reflections can put us in touch with yearnings that we have, perhaps out of duty or fear, long suppressed. We can spend much of our lives pretending to ourselves that we’re much happier than we actually are. We can pretend that suffering is an unfortunate accident we’re on the verge of recovering from. It can be frightening to take on board the truth that we frequently suffer, and that we’re not fully in control of our own lives.

Should painful feelings of sadness or heartache arise, it’s wise to accept them and show them kindness. If they do appear, that’s a good sign, because it shows that we’re getting more fully in touch with the reality that life is difficult. Empathizing with ourselves, and being kind toward ourselves, is essential if we’re to accept that reality, because it allows us to let go of the fear that leads to denial.

These reflections help us to more from fear and denial to love and acceptance. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable lets us see how challenging and difficult life is, but it also allows us to empathize with ourselves and to offer ourselves kindness and support as we do this difficult thing of being human.

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Is there an Opiate Crisis? or is it just one crisis after another?

mukul-joshi-718426-unsplash

Hi there, apologies for not being so regular. I’m making a commitment to tune back in once a month. In the midst of a workload full of opiate crisis, a porn addiction crisis, stinking thinking crisis, work life is full. Although, I remind myself that since I was an adolescent I was aware of one crisis after another.

First, it was Shoe Conditioner, then it was Evo Stick Glue, then Slimming Pills, Heroine, Methadone and the list continues into today. What is clear that while North America may be dealing with a Fentanyl crisis, other parts of the world may be dealing with Benzos or Ketamine. Particular Addiction crises are culturally specific, in terms of class, wealth, race, gender, and sexuality. Addiction is part of life, the Buddha taught us that in his first discourse. The Buddha warned that there was an addiction to Hedonism which was lowly, coarse and unprofitable, and addiction to self-mortification which was lowly, coarse and unprofitable. He advised we find a middle way.

Rather than stating we are in a crisis, we could begin to think that addiction is a part of life, an adaptation to our trauma in life, a protection from a world that let some of us down in childhood. Picking up the substance for some people saved their life when there was nobody for them to turn to. Addiction is an invitation, for the whole community to come together and do something different, instead of thinking addiction has nothing to do with them. Every household has known somebody who has been impacted by alcohol, drugs, co-dependency, sex, porn, gambling, food, and much more.

I’m about to go on the road – and wanted to share an interview with me about Mindfulness, because more and more we are hearing that Mindfulness can be the cure for Everything, from increasing production values at work, to repairing a relationship to helping with addictions. Of course, it’s not a panacea, and should be seen as an approach that can be used in conjunction with other modalities.

What’s all the fuss about Mindfulness

Back By popular demand Online intensive MBAR course Hosted by WildMind!

My Ebook – Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s teachings to Overcome Addiction
The paperback copy

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Navigating the culture of outrage

A little over 35 years ago I heard the Dalai Lama speaking in Edinburgh. Someone asked him, “You’ve talked a lot about love today and you’ve talked a lot about the dangers of anger, but isn’t anger useful? Doesn’t anger get stuff done?” And his answer was, I thought, very astute. He said, as best I can recall, “Yes, anger does get things done. Anger can make things happen very quickly. And that’s why you have to be very careful with it.”

The thing is, anger speeds things up. It’s like hitting the gas pedal in the car. And if we’re going to speed up it’s helpful for us to check that the vehicle is pointing in the right direction.

Ambivalent Outrage

Psychologists have a similar ambivalence about outrage, which is similar to anger but can be (and in my opinion should be) distinct. Moral psychologists, who study how we judge what’s right and wrong, traditionally regard outrage as a bad thing because it disturbs our wellbeing and is potentially destructive. On the other hand intergroup psychologists (who study how different groups interact) often think of outrage as a good thing, because they’ve seen how it has brought people together to bring about positive change.

And nowadays some psychologists are starting to see outrage—and emotions in general—as being neither good nor bad. What’s important is what we do with our emotions. So it might be best to think of outrage and anger principally in terms of whether they’re effective or ineffective.

Is There a Distinction Between Anger and Outrage?

Outrage isn’t necessarily angry at all. My dictionary’s definition of “outrage” is that it means “to arouse fierce anger, shock, or indignation.” Note the word “or,” which indicates that outrage is not intrinsically angry. In fact I often experience outrage in terms of my conscience being shocked, with an accompanying passionate desire to right a wrong. Anger is not required.

Anger is similar to outrage, in that it’s a passionate desire to cut through some obstacle or to change something, but it’s often personal, and takes the form of hurtful words.

Outrage can easily bleed over into insults or other displays of anger, but those can and should be avoided, since they’re ineffective. Outrage needs careful management, which is why I’m writing this article. This distinction reflects my understanding, incidentally. You and I might understand these words differently.

The Good and Bad

Moral outrage, as intergroup psychologists have pointed out, has helped indeed us in many ways, for example with eliminating or reducing various injustices. Stimulating outrage can be very effective if you want to make the world a better place. If for example you’re promoting an environmental group, then including pictures of beautiful places is much less effective than showing pictures of, say, a polluted beach. Feelings of anger and outrage often motivate us far more than pleasant feelings do.

On the other hand, outrage can can be very destructive. For example it can turn into destructive anger and bullying, where online mobs hound people and destroy their lives, sometimes over quite minor things.

Auditing Outrage

Buddhist journalist Robert Wright recently discussed this theme of how outrage can sometimes be effective and sometimes not, by examining two different cases. One of these was Jeanine Pirro on Fox News. She had made some anti-Muslim comments on air, essentially questioning whether a Muslim member of Congress could be a patriotic American. The other was “Russiagate”—concern about whether the Trump campaign had improperly colluded with the Russian government.

What Wright did was a kind of cost-benefit analysis: what would have happened if there was or wasn’t any substantial outrage? In Pirro’s case, in the absence of outrage she would have gotten away with saying what she had said, and the belief that a Muslim cannot be patriotic would have moved toward normalization. Instead, what happened was that, as a direct result of popular outrage, Pirro got suspended. Presumably she and other TV presenters will be more careful about making statements like that in the future. Outrage here brought about a (small) shift in our culture.

Wright also talked about “Russiagate,” and the almost two years of outrage that have accompanied it. Again, what difference does outrage make, Wright asks? Well, there was an investigation (actually several investigations) going on. If there’s no outrage, those investigations will continue to their various conclusions. What happens if there’s a highly outraged reaction? Well, exactly the same thing! The Mueller report comes to its conclusion (and presumably the report will eventually be released in its entirety). Various congressional investigations will continue. Our outrage in this particular case makes almost no difference.

So what’s the practical difference here? The practical difference in the case of Jeanine Pirro, is that advertisers pick up on our outrage. They get skittish. They pull their ads. Jeanine Pirro’s employers get skittish in turn, tell her to back off, and in fact take her off the air for a while.

So there are times when our outrage will have a good effect, times it will have a minimal effect (perhaps none) and times it will have an effect, such as getting somebody fired, that might be disproportionate. (Of course it’s not always easy to assess the effects of outrage.)

Outrage Addiction

In addition, outrage is exhausting. It’s draining. Outrage takes psychological and physical a toll on us, especially when it spills over into anger. And yet at the same time we can come to feel that we can’t live without it. It becomes a kind of addiction. On some level we enjoy getting outraged. It makes us feel that we’re on the right side. It helps us feel that we are bonding with others who have similar views. But when we’re continually in “outrage mode” it’s really very, very unhealthy for us. And it’s also hard to know when to stop, which is probably contributing to our outrage culture where thousands of people publicly sometimes shame people for minor offenses.

Managing Our Outrage

So those questions — Is my outrage proportionate? Is it useful? — can help us to keep the outrage that we will inevitable experience, from turning into angry mob behavior. It’s vital that we question ourselves in this way, otherwise we can end up being swept along in other people’s emotions. It’s wise for us to learn to be selective about what we’re going to be passionate about so that we don’t get exhausted.

Of course some people will say that we should steer clear of outrage altogether—that it’s an unskillful emotion. But if it’s possible, as Buddhism traditionally says, for us to eliminate anger altogether, then presumably we first of all have to learn to moderate our passionate energies, and to direct them wisely, and to be mindful about when and when not to use them.

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The Joy of Missing Out

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

At the moment I’m teaching an online course called Calm In the Storm, which is about finding peace in the midst of our turbulent and contentious times. I often benefit from teaching because it focuses my attention on particular aspects of practice, and as Seneca the Younger noted, “Men learn while they teach.”

This course has forced me to become more conscious of my relationship to the news, to social media, and the technology that delivers those things to me. And it’s this, more than anything I’ve said about mindfulness or equanimity, that’s had the most powerful effect on my sense of wellbeing over the last few weeks. In fact, the result of changing my relationship with technology, the news, and social media has been astonishing. I feel much calmer and more at peace than I did even just two weeks ago. I’m less anxious. I have more of a sense of clarity and purpose. I’m getting more done and consequently I’m feeling more of a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

Before I discuss what changes I’ve made, I want to say a little about my social media use, which is probably a little unusual. I’ve already been withdrawing a lot. I was a big Google Plus user, but Google is pulling the plug on that soon, and so I’m barely there these days. I’ve already withdrawn from Facebook since I find that there are too many argumentative people there. I recently stopped using Instagram, partly because it’s owned by Facebook (who can’t be trusted with personal information) and partly because I found that it my use of it was caught up with an unhealth desire to be acknowledged by means of “views” and “likes” and whatnot. So Twitter is the only social media service I currently use heavily. But you can probably apply what I’m going to talk about to any social media site.

Social Media Addiction

I had been finding myself spending too much time on Twitter. And it didn’t have a good effect on my emotional life. Much of the content there is fueled by outrage. The short format does not exactly encourage deep thought, and tends to promote sloganizing, blaming, shaming, and arguing.

My mind kept turning to Twitter over and over again during the day. I spent a lot of time reading discussions, and following links  to articles that people had shared. I experienced FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out. If I’d been away from Twitter for any length of time, I’d feel a sense of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Even while I was on the app or the website, I’d see those notifications of new tweets, and feel the need to what they were about. Click. Twitter is designed to be compulsive: you “like” and “share” counts on popular posts tick upwards as you watch, and notifications keep appearing to announce the arrival of new tweets. There are always new tweets.

News Addiction

My Twitter addiction overlapped with a news addiction. There’s a sense of crisis unfolding around us, both in my native Britain and in my adopted home, the US. It felt important on the one hand to stay informed, but also I was aware that the news can create anxiety, and anxiety can create a compulsion to stay in touch with the news. This is an unhealthy vicious circle.

So here are some steps I’ve taken to find some sanity and calmness in the midst of the current state of crisis.

Step 1: Reducing Access to the News

I get my news online. And again this can be compulsive, so I needed to reduce my access to that form of stimulation. (I don’t have cable or an antenna, so I already don’t watch the news on TV. When I’ve seen the TV news while visiting family, I’ve been shocked by how visceral, urgent, and unpleasant the experience is.) The Chrome browser on my iPhone had been creating a custom list of news articles that appeared every time I opened a new tab. I’d often spend too much time browsing those, so I switched off that feature. My phone came with the Apple News app installed, and headlines from that would appear in the notifications center. So I deleted that app. Both those changes have saved me a lot of time.

I still glance at the news. Often just reading the headlines and a brief description of a news story tells me what I need to know. The rest is needless detail. I do delve into some articles when they really interest me. Usually those are about science or psychology.

Step 2: Limiting Access to My Phone

I no longer sleep with my phone by my bed. It used to function as my bedside clock, and so it would be the first thing I’d touch in the morning. And as soon as I’d picked my phone up I’d be aware of emails, text messages, and app notifications that had come in overnight, so I’d get sucked into work and social media as soon as I woke up.

Now I charge my phone overnight in the living room, and leave my Apple Watch charging by my bedside overnight so that I can tell the time or set an alarm. If I didn’t have that I’d go buy myself a simple alarm clock, which would work just as well.

Step 3: Improving My Following Habits

I’ve often been astonished by the grace with which Chelsea Clinton and Cory Booker in particular deal with critics. They’re invariably kind. If there are more people like that, please let me know. I want to drink in and fill myself with their positivity. I’ve unfollowed or blocked people who I find are simply interested in attacking others, or who post nothing but insults. I deliberately choose to follow some people I disagree with, but not with the purpose of arguing with them; I just like to be exposed to a different way of thinking. I don’t want to exist in a bubble.

Step 4: Deleting the Twitter App

I wanted to cut down on my Twitter use, but it was remarkably hard to do so. I deleted the app from my iPhone, but I could still access it on my computer, or on my phone’s browser (I use Chrome and sometimes Safari). In fact Chrome on my iPhone had conveniently created an icon for accessing Twitter, because it was a site I visited often. Merely deleting the Twitter app didn’t make much difference in my usage. But it was an important thing to do in combination with the following two steps

Step 5: Blocking the Twitter Website On My iPhone

I wanted to make it even harder to access Twitter on my phone and I wondered if it might be possible to block an individual site. I discovered that it was. By going to Settings > Screen Time > Content and Privacy Options, I could toggle on the “Content and Privacy Restrictions” at the top of the screen. I could then, on the same screen, go to Content Restrictions > Web Content and tap on “Limit Adult Websites.” And then under “Never Allow” I could enter the URL for Twitter. Yes, I’m treating Twitter as if it were a porn site!

Now I can’t access Twitter on my phone at all, unless I undo those changes. But I don’t need it to be impossible for me to access Twitter. I just need there to be some friction in the process so that it’s easier to avoid it. If you’re on an Android device, I imagine there are similar settings.

This left my computer as the only way to access Twitter. Of course I’m on my computer a lot, so that had to be dealt with.

Step 6: Limiting Twitter On My Computer

Enter, Stayfocusd. This is a browser plugin for Chrome that allows you to limit the amount of time you spend on certain sites. It will even let you block them altogether. I decided to go with a 20 minute daily limit for Twitter. Once the 20 minutes has expired, I can’t visit the site at all, and just see a screen that says “Shouldn’t you be working?” You can’t extend the time limit once it’s expired. No cheating! (There’s an equivalent for Firefox and no doubt for other browsers too.)

This has led to me being much more selective in what I pay attention to on Twitter. I visit two to three times a day, and knowing that I don’t have much time I focus my attention on what seems particularly meaningful. I find that my mind now skips over snark and outrage, and tends to focus on more substantive contributions. I’ll open a couple of articles in new tabs, and then close Twitter.

Step 7: Reducing Other Notifications

Your brain is a hot commodity. Marketers spend billions of dollars to try to attract your attention, because attention is time, and time, as we know, is money. So in an effort to reclaim my attention, I’ve turned off notifications where possible. Essentially I’m down to silent email notifications (I don’t want to be disrupted while I’m working) and audible alerts for calendar events (since those are things I need to be interrupted by), text messages, and phone calls. When I really want to focus my phone goes on Do Not Disturb mode. Life on my phone is pretty quiet. It’s now 3:00 in the afternoon, and my phone tells me I’ve used it for a total of 16 minutes so far today.

From FOMO to JOMO

There have been some withdrawal symptoms. I’ve sometimes restlessly picked up my phone and stared at it, feeling the emptiness that comes when you expect to see something but find nothing. And for a while I felt drawn to check Twitter, over and over. But that is passing. This morning I found myself looking at my phone and thinking, You can’t bring me happiness. You’re a tool for me to use. My mind is not a tool for you to use.

The benefits have vastly outweighed the discomfort of these minor withdrawal symptoms. The results of these changes, as I’ve said, have been powerful. I’m much calmer, happier, and more focused. I’m getting more work done, which pleases me. I’ve also been reading more. I’m now almost finished a novel that I started about a week ago. That is satisfying. I feel that my mind is my own again. I feel free.

One of the participants in the course wrote, “Anything that stimulates my solar plexus when I read it, I am going to notice, breathe, then make a decision regarding whether this enhances or detracts from my quality of life. It feels good and empowering to be making these decisions.” Simple practice; deep results.

The changes that I’ve described have in fact had more effect on my wellbeing than my daily meditation practice. My daily life has more of the simplicity and joy of a meditation retreat.

Am I missing out? Yes. I’m missing out on stress, anxiety, and overstimulation. “Missing out” is wonderful. I invite you to join me, perhaps in some of the ways I’ve suggested, and perhaps in ways of your own, in moving from the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO).

  • If you find this article helpful, perhaps you’ll be interested in making a one-time or recurring donation to Wildmind to help support our work.
  • And it’s still possible to enroll in my online course, Calm In the Storm. One couple who are participating wrote this morning, “Our mood and productivity is way up, as is emotional resiliency … We both thought that we would experience more withdrawal than we actually are, and are feeling more relief and release from the firehoses of negativity than expected.”
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