lens

It’s Not Who You Are

I came up with this phrase as a way of unwinding the tendency to take my perceptions of others as objective truth:

It’s not who you are. It’s how what you do filters through who I am.

We cannot know people, or anything, directly. We experience everything through our senses. These experiences are packaged with the full weight of our conditioning, beliefs, and history before they even enter consciousness. We can’t hope to know what’s “really happening.” In a sense, it’s not even relevant.

The best we can do is know our biases. We can accept that each of us is a perceiving system in constant flux. We’re angry, we experience things one way. We’re tired, we experience things another way. We’re 5 years old, we experience things another way. It’s cloudy. We’ve just been dumped. We’ve gotten a promotion. We haven’t eaten for hours. We went for a run this morning…the context and the perceiver are inseparable. Each and every new experience effects the lens through which experience is understood.

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spiral

This Beautiful Spiral

spiral

Mindfulness meditation can be seen as an examination of our present moment experience to reveal the ways we make things harder than they need to be.

An example: I’ve been sitting with a lot of old anger and sadness lately. A several-years-long process of finding and emptying pools of old, stored emotion is still very much in progress. But mindfulness is all about the present moment. Even with pools of “old, stored” emotion and a “several-years-long” process, mindfulness only asks “What’s happening in this moment?”

I had lost sight of that this morning, and on some very subtle level, I was making things harder for myself, suffering over the seeming endlessness of this heavy work. And then I just happened to notice this “endlessness narrative” that I was running, and in that moment of noticing, it stopped. One more bit of tightness loosened. One little bit of habitual resistance released. I said to myself, “you don’t need to change anything. You only need to watch the system, exactly as it is, for 45 minutes.”
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stack-of-people

“Can We End The Meditation Madness”

This article was the most emailed article on NYTimes.com over the weekend.

On one level, I agree with Adam Grant. Mindfulness is not a panacea. And although it provides many well-tested benefits (here’s a meta-analysis of 209 studies involving over 12,000 participants), it certainly isn’t the only “effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems.” It is one of many, and ought to be coupled with others (like psychotherapy, regular exercise, nourishing relationships, a healthy diet, etc.).

That said, there is a deeper benefit of mindfulness which is rare, hard to measure, and often overlooked. When practiced as an integrated path—including practice in life, incorporating impeccable ethics, integrating even the most onerous parts of ourselves—it can offer what is traditionally promised: complete freedom from suffering. Mindfulness can open the door to a love which is more profound than any we could find in a relationship, and a sense of well-being which is utterly independent of the conditions of our lives. No matter how many times I notice that a rubber band can be used as an eraser, I will never find that sort of freedom.

So in a sense, it all comes down to this: What are you seeking? Do you want stress reduction? Do you want a better night’s sleep? Is a boost in your happiness enough, or are you looking for something deeper?

Rainer_Maria_Rilke,_1900

Rilke and No-Self

Rainer_Maria_Rilke,_1900

You are the future, the immense morning sky
turning red over the prairies of eternity.
You are the rooster-crow after the night of time,
the dew, the early devotions, and the Daughter,
the Guest, the Ancient Mother, and Death.

You are the shape that changes its own shape,
that climbs out of fate, towering,
that which is never shouted for, and never mourned for,
and no more explored than a savage wood.

You are the meaning deepest inside things,
that never reveals the secret of its owner.
And how you look depends on where we are:
from a boat you are shore, from the shore a boat.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

I was deeply moved by this poem. My understanding is that it was written as a love letter. I haven’t read up on Rilke’s spiritual experience, but what the poem seems to be pointing to is something much deeper than romantic love. It is an expression of the Buddhist insight of no-self, or anatta.
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Vintage_firefighters

Rumination – Part 2

Last week, we started a discussion on rumination—what it is, why we do it, and how it can be harmful. It’s clear to see the damage that rumination can cause in day-to-day life. We can live almost continuously in an inner world of fear, resentments, and unpleasantness, while external experience passes us by. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

So what can we do?!
Essentially, rumination is thinking to regulate the emotional experience of the present moment. So as long as we’re using thinking to balance ourselves out, it can be any thinking! We can think pleasant thoughts, and that will serve the same purpose that unpleasant thoughts have been serving! In other words, it isn’t actually about the content of the thoughts, but rather, their function.*

But we don’t want to think pleasant thoughts in just any old way. As meditators, the classic practice is called lovingkindness. This link provides detailed instructions. If you’ve used this technique before, you may notice I’ve set it up differently than most teachers. Neuroscience research has found that the technique is most effective if it is grounded in a present-moment experience (like a feeling or a state of mind) rather than a sentimental reflection. I choose a state of mind because it gets us out of the body, which is often in pain in the moments when we need the technique most!

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