Friday, June 03, 2011

Check Out My New Place

It’s time to better integrate my mindfulness site and my blog. I hope you’ll visit my new Squarespace site at That’s a lot of letters to type, but I’m working on it. I’ve got several variations that will eventually all be aimed to the same location.  

Click on DISCOVERIES to find all the content from the Learning to Stay blog along with new things I find. The STRATEGIES area contains essays and instructions I’ve written and plan to write on developing the skills of attention through mindfulness practice.

It’s a work in progress. I look forward to your feedback and the continuation of this exploration.

May you be safe, happy, and healthy. May you feel at home in your life, just as it is right now. 

~ Daron


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seeing Clearly What Is Happening

Mark Williams from “Mindfulness is Happiness,” WealthWise Magazine, May 16, 2011:

Mark Williams Mindfulness simply means being aware — seeing clearly what is happening in our minds and in the world, from moment to moment, bringing a sense of kindness to our experience rather than getting caught in judging it.

The methods used to cultivate mindfulness were first recorded over two thousand years ago. It has long been central to wisdom traditions in Asia, particularly the Buddhist tradition, but the art of cultivating inner silence has been a central part of all religious traditions across the ages.

Mindfulness meditation is a secular form of this tradition that anyone can learn. It trains us to pay deliberate attention to our experience, both external and internal. We learn to focus on what is happening from moment to moment with full intention and without judgment. Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through such training, and the skill of developing and sustaining that awareness.

Modern mindfulness-based approaches in healthcare began in the USA. From the late 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering research into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR1) found remarkable effects on chronic pain and stress. With colleagues John Teasdale and Zindel Segal, we have reasoned that mindfulness training might have powerful effects in preventing future recurrence of depression, even if taught when people were well.

To test this hypothesis, we have created the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy program. Six research trials have evaluated the power of MBCT to prevent depression. The results are striking. In the most seriously ill patients – those with three or more previous episodes of depression, MBCT reduces the recurrence rate over 12 months by 40-50% compared with the usual care, and has proved to be as effective as maintenance antidepressants in preventing new episodes of depression.

…Mindfulness is “skills training” rather than traditional type of therapy, so anyone can try it without feeling that they have to go over old ground, or talk through their problems yet again.  Those already in therapy report finding treatment easier if they are more able to be mindful, and to see their thoughts and feelings with greater distance and perspective.

Oxford Unversity Professor Mark Williams, talks about stress and its impact for the Be Mindful campaign.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Travel Safely

You’ll Be Bright
by Craig Minowa

All the things you'll love,
All the things that may hurt you,
All the things you shouldn't do,
And all the things you want to,
They're calling your name — travel safely.

Every first kiss, every crisis,
every heartbreak and every act of kindness,
They're calling your name — travel safely.

Every empire, every monument,
every masterpiece and every invention,
They're calling your name — travel safely.

I found stars on the tip of your tongue.
You speak Poltergeist, so do I. So do I.

What comes will come.
What goes will go.

The wind will blow where the wind is blowing.
Let go of where you think you're going.
We'll never know why it flows where it's flowing.

We've always been what we will always be.
I'm so convinced we have to get there, we can part the sea.
So bring the dead to life, turn your blood to wine.
All your life you have waited for this moment to arrive.

And you'll be bright.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Acquiring Skills

“I want to see wave riding documented the way I see it in my head and the way I feel it in the sea. It’s a strange set of skills to acquire and it’s only achievable through time spent riding waves.”

~ Mickey Smith

[Thanks, Kit!]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Prayer About Everyone and Everything

Roger Ebert, from “A Prayer Beneath the Tree of Life,” Chicago Sun Times, May17, 2011:

Terrence Malick's new film is a form of prayer. It created within me a spiritual awareness, and made me more alert to the awe of existence. I believe it stands free from conventional theologies, although at its end it has images that will evoke them for some people. It functions to pull us back from the distractions of the moment, and focus us on mystery and gratitude…

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer ‘to’ anyone or anything, but prayer ‘about’ everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine…

What Malick does in The Tree of Life is create the span of lives. Of birth, childhood, the flush of triumph, the anger of belittlement, the poison of resentment, the warmth of forgiving. And he shows that he feels what I feel, that it was all most real when we were first setting out, and that it will never be real in that way again.”

See also: Metacritic

The Self as Both a Thing and a Process

Excerpt from “Psychological Self vs. No-Self,” by Ron Crouch, Buddhist Geeks, May 19, 2011:

psych-self The self in Western psychology is viewed as that function of the mind that helps us to organize our experiences. It takes raw sense data, memories, and other cognitive functions and turns them into recognizable narratives. It is critical for everything that we do. Without a strong sense of self, we literally could not make sense of anything that happens to us.

What is fascinating is that in the western psychological view, the “self” or the “executive function” is actually a process and not really a thing. It waxes and wanes all the time, goes into the foreground and background of awareness depending on how much we need it, disappears when we sleep, is not the same as it was when we were little, much less the same as it was last year, and is even subtly different than it was last week.

So far, this should make a lot of sense to both psychologists and meditators. But here is where things get interesting: we all know that processes are not solid and change all the time, yet in this particular process there is a nagging sense that there is a solid permanent “me” hiding in that process somewhere. As if the process itself were a real solid thing in the same way that a table or chair is.

It is this unshakable sense of a solid “me” in the midst of this process that is the “self” that is referred to in the Dharma. When we talk about “no-self” in Buddhism, we are pointing to this sense of a solid self in and calling it an illusion. The process of “selfing” is real, the belief that it is somehow a permanent “me” is not.

To help understand how important this illusion is imagine that another mental process had this same illusion tied to it. Take memory for example. When we experience a memory we know that it isn’t “real” in the sense that it does not have a reality outside or our mental functioning. We know that memories come and go, are subject to change and can be forgotten. But what if every time you remembered something you assumed that the memory itself was “real” in the same way that a table or chair is real. That it was substantial and lasting. Even though you could not literally see or experience the memory with your five senses, you still had the unshakable belief that it was a real and solid thing that is supposed to last. Wouldn’t this be a set-up for frustration? Memories slip and slide out of consciousness and like every other mental function they are subject to dramatic change. If we expected them to never go away and always be there, we would constantly be in distress. This is exactly what is happening with us in terms of the self-process.

While the self-process creates narratives that organize our experiences into something recognizable, the illusion of self is inserted as a main character into all these narratives. We expect the character to be the same all the time, to never change or go away, to be “real.” And yet each moment we are running into a stark reality: the self is not as real as we believe it to be, and it certainly does not last. Over time this sense of solid “me” becomes the most salient feature of all of our experience and our greatest source of anxiety. The fact that we see this constantly changing process as a solid “me” creates endless problems for us because it sets up a never-ending fight between us and reality (and reality never loses).

What is odd is that according to psychology, this sense of a solid self is not an issue. In fact it is not really addressed at all. One part of the psychological literature explains that the self is a cognitive process like any other, and then another part of the literature goes on about protecting and promoting a healthy “self.” The fact that we are taking a process and turning it into a solid thing in our minds is simply not addressed.

In psychology, this point may have been missed because of the bias to study and theorize about pathology rather than health. The illusions and problems inherent in a “normally” functioning mind just don’t get a lot of research lab-time. So most theory in psychology works to get damaged selves back to “normal functioning.” Buddhism on the other hand, starts with the assumption that normal functioning is full of suffering caused by a false sense of self, and works to get people from a state of “normal” to enlightened.

Read entire essay here…

A Little Tolerance for Ourselves and Others

Duality of Mind “Instead of waging war on himself, it is surely better for a man to learn to tolerate himself, and to convert his inner difficulties into real experiences instead of expending them in useless fantasies. Then at least he lives, and does not waste his life in fruitless struggles.

If people can be educated to see the lowly side of their own natures, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and to love their fellow men better. A little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results in respect for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.”

~ Carl Jung, from Two Essays on Analytical Psychology

We Will Protect What We Fall In Love With

“I've been filming time-lapse flowers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for over 35 years. To watch them move is a dance I'm never going to get tired of. It fills me with wonder, and it opens my heart. Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature's tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with. Their relationship is a love story that feeds the Earth. It reminds us that we are a part of nature, and we're not separate from it.”

~ Louie Schwartzberg, from “The Hidden Beauty of Pollination,” TED, March 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let’s Not Speak

Deer Haven. May 15, 2011

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda, from Extravagaria

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reasoning Is Suffused With Emotion

Excerpt from “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” by Chris Mooney, Mother Jones, April 18, 2011:

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience. Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

Illustration by Jonathon Rosen

We're not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn't take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that's highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation—a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information—and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. "They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs," says Taber, "and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they're hearing."

In other words, when we think we're reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers. Our "reasoning" is a means to a predetermined end—winning our "case"—and is shot through with biases. They include "confirmation bias," in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and "disconfirmation bias," in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.

That's a lot of jargon, but we all understand these mechanisms when it comes to interpersonal relationships. If I don't want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else—everybody who isn't too emotionally invested to accept it, anyway. That's not to suggest that we aren't also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It's just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one's sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.

Read entire article here…

It’s The Movement Toward Something Or Away From Something That Stops

Deer Haven. May 14, 2011

Excerpts from Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti:

Ego [the perception of a self] is a movement. It’s a verb. It is not something static. It’s the after-the fact movement of mind that’s always becoming...

The sense of “me” is always becoming, always moving, always achieving. Or else it is doing the opposite—moving backward, rejecting, denying. So in order for this verb to keep going, there has to be movement. We have to be going forward or backward, toward or away from...

So the verb—let’s call it “egoing”—is not operating if we are not becoming. As soon as a verb stops; it’s not a verb anymore. As soon as you stop running, there is no such thing as running—it’s gone; nothing is happening. This ego sense has to keep moving because, as soon as it stops, it disappears, just like when your feet stop, running disappears...

As long as we try to do what we think is the right spiritual thing by getting rid of ego, we perpetuate it. Seeing that this is more of the same egoing will allow stopping without trying.

You could find a hundred oak trees and each would have a personality but no ego. So the stopping of this verb called ego has nothing to do with the personality stopping. It has nothing to do with anything we could put a finger on: not a thought, not a feeling, and not ego. If we had to stop or the world had to stop in order for us to be free, we would be in big trouble. It is the movement of becoming, the moving toward something or away from something, that stops.

A different dimension of being starts opening up when this verb ego is allowed to run down. Just by watching, we can start to see that nothing that arises has an egoic or “me” nature. A thought arising is just a thought arising. If a feeling arises, it has no “me” nature and no self nature. If confusion arises, there is no “me” nature in the arising. Just by watching, we see that everything arises spontaneously, and nothing has an inherent nature of “me” in it. Egoic nature comes only in the afterthought.