Yes, Buddhist practice leads to a "Good Time"

The UK newspaper The Guardian has an interesting short piece out this week with a title and lead saying:

If you want to have a good time, ask a Buddhist

Buddhism argues that happiness comes from how deeply or mindfully you’re absorbed in an experience

Ha! I suppose we shouldn't object too much. Though it is reminiscent (for those of us over 35) of those notes scribbled on bathroom walls, "for a good time, call X at 555-1234."

Now it's just "ask a Buddhist."

The content which follows is, nonetheless, solid advice. It helps to start with a quote from one of the great meditation teachers of recent times, Ayya Khema:

“We may believe that it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.”

The author, Oliver Burkeman, continues, "That seems like a technical distinction and, to be fair, Buddhist teachers do love making technical distinctions. But this isn’t one. It’s a crucial point about human happiness that might make us all more cheerful if we grasped it."

And this is it. This is the secret that Buddhists have been holding on to for 2500 years (and that other religious -and non-religious- folks have found as well). The path to happiness is in our relationship to our experience of the world.

In every moment we can find something to be unhappy about. My new living situation includes a rather small room with no desk, so I work in a lounge chair or in bed, neither of which is great for my posture. My shoulders hurt, yada yada yada.

And in our situation there is sure to be something to be happy about. I happen to live on a sub-tropical island at the moment, a five minute walk from a gorgeous beach. 

Politics is no different. There is plenty to be unhappy about and I'm among those who thinks that climate change will absolutely devastate humanity in the next 50 years. And there is hope: people are waking up to that fact - slowly, oh so slowly, but nonetheless.

As our author notes, this isn't any empty "positive thinking" movement. It includes full awareness of the awful truths of our experience. But it is a deepening awareness of the good, slowly but surely, so that we don't get overwhelmed by the awful stuff out there. 

It comes through practice, diligence, discipline even of following the breath in and out, settling the mind on that most boring of activities. The magic, in my humble opinion, is that the breath itself becomes fascinating. Each one becomes unique and offers a fresh flow of sensations. A bit like flowers or sunsets: perfectly boring to some, but endlessly fascinating to those who have taken the time to really examine the intricacies of each and every one, to be fully present in their uniqueness.

It might not sound like a "good time" at first. I'm not one to get too much out of flowers, for instance. But I do get a great deal out of following the breath when I meditate and watching a lovely sunset. So I trust that I could develop the same sensitivity and care for flowers that I have for the breath and the setting sun.

This is what is meant by "our relationship to our experience of the world." Anything, everything can have that quality of fascination and depth, even impending climate disasters - if that's your sort of thing.

Check out my Patreon page if you'd like to support my work.

Read the full article at The Guardian here.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Inside Higher Ed Promotes Mindfulness for Entrepreneurs

Following the long-standing trend of applying mindfulness wherever stress arises, Inside Higher Ed suggests that entrepreneurs look to mindfulness to help relieve stress and cut back on burnout. As noted in the the short podcast:

Mindfulness can ultimately help entrepreneurs better understand and be aware of their own thought processes – a concept called metacognition. In addition to ethical decision making, heightened awareness of opportunities, and decreased burnout, we expect that future research will reveal more benefits to entrepreneurs and others through mindfulness.

Rohan Gunatillake, creator of the Buddhify app, shares his story as an entrepreneur here. As an academic myself, I can attest to the value of mindfulness in dealing with deadlines, heavy topics, and occasional bickering brilliant folks. And as an entrepreneur of sorts (founding Mindful Montana and now Sila Mindfulness, along with co-founding Guideful) I am grateful for the tools mindfulness has offered.

But beyond the stress-relief, which is great, mindfulness has helped me question the purpose of my work at deep levels and has, at times, led me to pull back a bit so I could devote time to community, creative endeavors, family, and activism. That, I think, is the metacognition discussed here: the ability to step back from thoughts (I've gotta do this, then this, then this....) and ask, "do I really?"

"Can I just relax for a minute?"

"Are there more important things I could be doing instead?"

"How much of this I've gotta talk is from me, and how much is societal or coming from family?"

I'm happy to say that the questions have not all been answered, either. They continue, in all that I do. More often they are in the background as I work on blog articles like this, writing for Buddhistdoor Global, recording videos for Guideful, and thinking about ways to pay upcoming bills...

But as someone who has suffered crippling anxiety and panic attacks, this new(ish) ability to see the stress and maneuver with it, around it, beneath it, and so on has been truly life-saving. 

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Entrepreneurs and Mindfulness

Entrepreneurs should look to mindfulness to help deal with the stressors of their start-ups. In today's Academic Minute, the University of La Verne's Louise Kelly details how focusing on the present moment can help keep things in perspective. Kelly is a professor of management at La Verne.

Listen in full below:

Mindfulness for Empathy and Kindness

TIME magazine reported last month on a recent study that showed that participants who learned mindfulness were more likely to show concern and act to help a person who was ostracized in an online scenario. From the article:

“When people witness someone being victimized, it’s really common for us to get distressed by it,” says study author Daniel Berry, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University San Marcos. But that distress doesn’t always translate into empathy. “Sometimes that upset is displaced so that we’re not feeling upset for the other person; we’re just feeling negatively,” Berry explains. “When that happens, people actually tend to turn away from the person in need.”

The study authors suggest that mindfulness allows participants to better regulate their emotions and thus to be more present with the distressed/victimized strangers. 

The researchers observed marked increases in empathetic behavior among players who did mindfulness training before beginning the game, compared to people who did attention training or no training at all, Berry says. While everyone in the study was able to identify the ostracized character, players who had undergone mindfulness training showed more concern for that person and were more likely to compensate for their exclusion with extra tosses during the next round, or with kind words in a post-game follow-up email. (TIME)

So in this case the mindfulness training made people act in kinder ways.

The study seems to support another one from 2015 in which participants were trained and then instructed to go to a waiting room. The room only had 3 chairs. Two were occupied. The participant naturally took the third, but then entered a person on crutches. The test was: would the participant get up for the injured individual? 

Only 16 percent of our subjects (or three people out of 19) offered their chair to the actor on crutches. But of those who meditated, half (10 of 20) immediately and spontaneously offered their seat to the woman. It’s important to note that none of the participants had meditated before, and were all equally interested in signing up for the course (even though they knew some might be assigned to a waitlist). The resulting differences, then, didn’t stem from any factors related to a pre-existing interest in or experience with mindfulness. The only difference between the groups was that one meditated for eight weeks and the other didn’t.  (The Atlantic)

Both studies point to the commonly studied "bystander effect" in which individuals see a distressed individual and can ignore them because they see others ignoring them. Both studies suggest that with mindfulness this doesn't occur: the (more basic?) human connection to the suffering person overrides the bystander effect or eliminates it from the start.

It's worth noting that the second, earlier study was small and would merit attempts at replication. The first one, while larger, should also be rigorously checked, as per the scientific method, for replicability to ensure that mistakes weren't made in design, implementation, or interpretation of the study.

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Guideful Meditation Platform featured on "The List"

Last month, Guideful, Co-founded by Justin Whitaker, Ph.D. and Bob Funk, was featured on "The List", A national Emmy-award winning show tracking trending ideas, activities, and products in America. 

We're honored to both be on the show and to be featured in such great company! Congrats to Buddhify and Calm, two other excellent resources out there for folks who want some guided meditation in their pocket.

As you'll see from the video, Guideful is the only option that is still completely free. As we grow, we'll continue to provide free guided meditations to all and to develop areas for more intense study and guidance. Meditation, like so much of life, is not one-size-fits-all. 

Whether you use the app or not, finding a helpful community and experienced teacher is essential to identifying obstacles and moving beyond them.

Reflections on China, 2017 (with Photos)

Summer has nearly come and gone. Like so many, it has been busy, trying to fit in as much travel, time with friends and family, time in nature, and time alone in meditation as possible.

Like last year, this summer I joined the Woodenfish Foundation's Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program in China as a member of the core faculty team. We met in Shanghai in late June and traveled to nearby Ningbo, where area mountains provide an apt setting for Buddhist monastics.

 Shanghai

Shanghai

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A panorama of our temple complex, Jin'e, outside of Ningbo, China.

 A butterfly on bamboo in the bamboo forest surrounding our temple.

A butterfly on bamboo in the bamboo forest surrounding our temple.

The rural setting of the monastery was perfect. The air was clear (a big deal in eastern China) and crisp. Rain fell regularly, sometimes in torrential pours. The food was delicious, the air conditioning worked perfectly.

Students arrived soon after we had and we quickly entered into a routine of morning meditation, tai chi, breakfast, and academic classes, followed by lunch, rest, and an afternoon of cultural activities and further meditation.

This was my second year with the team and things, much more than before, seemed to fall very nicely into place. This was particularly true with our teaching team: Peter, Karl, myself, and Guttorm. I had the pleasure of covering aspects of the study of religion, early Buddhist thought and practice, modern mindfulness, and Yogacara. 

Sadly, my time there was shorter than usual - just 16 days instead of a full 4 weeks. Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and Ven. Yifa, and to dig deeply into material I otherwise do not get to explore as thoroughly. And it was good to get away from the constant news cycle of American politics. Each trip plants more seeds of potential, connection, dharma, no matter how short or busy. 

 Ven. Yifa instructing students in front of our main shrine room

Ven. Yifa instructing students in front of our main shrine room

 Ven. Yifa telling students about the meaning of shaving one's head in Buddhism - including the spiritual (and practical - no shampoo or conditioner!) benefits.

Ven. Yifa telling students about the meaning of shaving one's head in Buddhism - including the spiritual (and practical - no shampoo or conditioner!) benefits.

One of our cultural activities included a visit from Shaolin monks. Along with a show of their proficiency in martial arts, they gave teachings on music and calligraphy. 

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 Students in formal robes for a chanting ceremony in our main shrine room, guided by Ven. Yifa.

Students in formal robes for a chanting ceremony in our main shrine room, guided by Ven. Yifa.

 One last photo op before my departure. From L to R in back, Karl, me, Peter, & Guttorm. 

One last photo op before my departure. From L to R in back, Karl, me, Peter, & Guttorm. 

Mindfulness Retreat: Journey into Silence

Join us for this opportunity to do the work of journeying within. I will be leading a silent retreat at a beautiful center on Flathead Lake in N.W. Montana. 

The retreat will be from Friday, October 6 at 5pm (silence beginning at 7pm) until Sunday, October 8 at 1pm (with silence ending at noon). Long-time meditators will see this as a very short retreat, less than two full days, but it will feel incredibly long for those who have never experienced this sort of period of silence and meditation. 

I've written some thoughts out (and borrowed liberally from some excellent writers) that you can read here: Silent Meditation Retreat: What to Expect. It will be updated, and those who sign up for the retreat will get more information and the opportunity to speak with me about any questions or concerns. 

Like meditation itself, it is a wonderful opportunity to get to better know your mind and to bring some semblance of order and calm into your world. But it helps to have a group of committed fellow meditators/retreatants with you along with a guide - someone who has done many retreats like this in the past and has guided new meditators into and through their practice. 

More information and registration can be found at Merlin CCC

Mindfulness Workshop June 18 at Dancing Lotus Center

Join us in this workshop to learn basic mindfulness and compassion practices, improving your well-being through deeper awareness of yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness techniques have been proven to help those with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, sleep difficulties, poor concentration, low self-esteem, burnout, and more. We will explore formal meditation practices, sitting and walking (with postures to accommodate all abilities), along with informal practices such as mindful talking and listening.

Sunday, June 18, 11:10am-1:40pm

See the poster below and visit the Dancing Lotus Center (click on event) to register. Space is limited.