Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category
- Mindfulness, Technology and Social Media: A recent Dharma talk by Mark Coleman, author of Awake in the Wild.
- Dharma and Technology:
Relates the Buddhist teachings to our use of modern communication technology such as emails, texting, cell phones, etc.
- Buddhism’s “Singing Nun”: An NPR interview with and a video of Ani Choying Drolma.
- Continuous partial attention:
… To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.
We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking.
From Chapter 8 of “How God Changes Your Brain” (sorted from least to most beneficial):
8. Smile: Even if you don’t feel like it, the mere act of smiling repetitively helps interrupt mood disorders and strengthen the brain’s natural ability to maintain a positive outlook on life. … To my knowledge, the only religion to incorporate smiling into a spiritual practice is Buddhism. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we do “smiling meditation” whenever we have a spare moment during the day. … 7. Stay intellectually active: … When it comes to the dendrites and axons that connect one neuron to thousands of others, if you don’t use it, you will lose it. … Memory and mnemonic exercises, strategy-based games like chess or mahjong, and other forms of visual/spatial exercises or games can significantly improve cognitive functioning , especially in older adults. … Try to spend as many hours a day engaged in the most intellectually challenging activities you can dream up … Read books … Take a class, attend a lecture, go to a museum, … write in your diary. … However, doing math exercises and crosswords apparently doesn’t help, and performance pressure can even interfere with memory functioning. So be sure to make your intellectual pursuits enjoyable. 6. Consciously relax: … I’m talking about deliberately scanning each part of your body to reduce muscle tension and physical fatigue. … Simple repetitive activities that are pleasurable and meaningful can also take you into a deep state of relaxation. In one of my most recent studies, we found that the ritual practice of counting rosaries lowers tension, stress, and anxiety. Many other religious and spiritual practices calm the mind and allow the brain to rejuvenate, and even activities like knitting will have a similar relaxing effect. 5. Yawn: … Several recent brain-scan studies have shown that yawning evokes a unique neural activity in the areas of the brain that are directly involved in generating social awareness and creating feelings of empathy. One of those areas is the precuneus … The precuneus is also stimulated by yogic breathing, which helps explain why different forms of meditation contribute to an increased sense of self-awareness. … Our advice is simple. Yawn as many times a day as possible. … Conscious yawning take a little practice and discipline to get over the unconscious social inhibitions … All you have to do to trigger a deep yawn is to fake it six or seven times. …
12 essential reasons to yawn:
1. Stimulates alertness and concentration.
2. Optimizes brain activity and metabolism.
3. Improves cognitive function.
4. Increases memory recall.
5. Enhances consciousness and introspection.
6. Lowers stress.
7. Relaxes every part of your body.
8. Improves voluntary muscle control.
9. Enhances athletic skills.
10. Fine-tunes your sense of time.
11. Increases empathy and social awareness.
12. Enhances pleasure and sensuality.
4. Meditate: … Even ten to fifteen minutes of meditation appears to have significantly positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health, and it has been shown to reduce smoking and binge-drinking behavior. … 3. Aerobic exercise: … In general, the more intense the better. For example, running is better than walking, and walking is better than stretching, but it is important to find the “right” amount of exercise that feels best for you. … Vigorous stretching, such as yoga, also does wonders for both your body and your brain. Yoga has similar cognitive benefits to other forms of contemplative meditation, and in a recent meta-analysis of 813 meditation studies, the researchers stated that yoga was as beneficial as exercise. It can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, help control the symptoms of diabetes, lessen the severity of menopausal symptoms, reduce chronic back pain, and prevent the onslaught of migraine headaches. … 2. Dialogue with others: … if we don’t exercise our language skills, large portions of the brain will not effectively interconnect with other neural structures. Dialogue requires social interaction, and the more social ties we have, the less our cognitive abilities will decline. In fact, any form of social isolation will damage improtant mechanisms in the brain leading to aggression, depression, and various neuropsychiatric disorders. … 1. Faith: … Faith is equivalent with hope, optimism, and the belief that a positive future awaits us. … Recently, a team of National Institutes of Health researchers concluded that “a moderate optimistic illusion” appears neurologically essential for maintaining motivation and good mental health. They also found that highly optimistic people had greater activation in the same parts of the anterior cingulate that are stimulated by meditation. …
Part of our series on Kaoru Nonomura’s account of his year-long stay at at Eiheiji, the premier Zen training center in Japan. Current California Governor Jerry Brown did 4 sesshins when he was in Japan in the 1980′s. While I doubt if they were as intense as the sesshin described below, I sincerely hope Governor Brown remembers some of the lessons he learned from his intense meditation retreats.
From Eat Sleep Sit, pages. 275-278:
Every year, the first week of December is devoted exclusively to sitting. Beginning December 1, trainee monks rise at three in the morning, half an hour earlier than usual, and spend all day sitting facing the wall, until nine at night. This continues seven full days — no small feat.
… For seven days from three in the morning onward, we alternated forty-minute periods of sitting with ten-minute periods of slow walking. Not only is it painful to sit for long periods of time with the legs folded, but sleepiness interferes with concentration as well. Between periods of sitting, therefore, we would step down our platforms and shuffle around at a fixed pace, moving so slowly that in the time it took for one complete breath, in and out, we took just half a step. Slow walking is not considered a break from sitting, but must be undertaken with the same meditative frame of mind.
During the intensive sitting, participants remain seated in the Monks’ Hall not only for meals, but also for morning, midday, and evening services, which are held between sitting sessions. For seven days we practically never left our platforms.
… I had read of intensive sitting before coming to Eiheiji, and ever since it had held a peculiar fascination for me, lingering in my mind as the one practice above all others that seemed to embody the deepest, most sublime aspects of life in a Zen monastery. At the same time, I was anxious to know if I had it in me to carry off such a feat.
The seven days of sitting were beyond anything I could have imagined. Any feelings of fascination and curiosity I had at the start were quickly demolished. There is no way for me to convey the magnitude of the experience. With each passing day, the pain in my legs grew more agonizing: worse yet, fatigue built up in every cornet of my being until my consciousness began to flicker and dissolve. After a while I was no longer capable of the slightest thought or emotion, not even wondering why in the world I was sitting like that. Everything ceased to exist except for the simple fact of me sitting facing the wall.
Time drifted like incense smoke, and in the incense burner, the wreckage of elapsed time stacked up quietly in the form of white ash.
Intensive sitting certainly transcends the mere act of sitting. The final day, when everything comes to a climax, is called “all-night sitting”. On that day, we remained sitting until 1 a.m. the following day — in other words, the morning of December 8, the day of Buddha’s enlightenment.
As the hour of liberation approached, we were gripped by an intense excitement that wrecked the stillness in the hall and made breathing difficult.
… An then it happened. The cloud gong broke the silence, proclaiming the end of intensive sitting. With the first reverberation, I felt the sound transform to light and wash over me. The solemn tones inundated me in billows of radiance, flooding the darkest recesses of my mind with blinding light. … I let out the tension inside me with a sigh, and in that instant all the hardship of the past seven days disappeared without a trace.
- LA Times profile of Sharon Salzberg:
Sharon Salzberg, 58, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, has spent more than three decades helping Westerners access a daily spiritual practice that originated in Buddhism but is not confined to that faith.
… The Buddhist principles of vipassana, or mindfulness, and metta, lovingkindness, afforded Salzberg what she calls a “spacious” form of awareness in which people know they have a choice. Instead of being dominated by her fears, Salzberg said, she began to communicate what she learned, ultimately publishing seven books.
- Yoga isn’t as old as you think: Responding to the the “Take Back Yoga” marketing campaign, the author cites a couple of authors (Sjoman and Singleton) that I’ve previously highlighted. One additional academic source worth mentioning is David Gordon White’s upcoming book on the Yoga Sutras.
… Both Sjoman and Mark Singleton, a US-based scholar who has interviewed many of those associated with the Mysore Palace during its heyday in the 1930s, believe that the seeds of modern yoga lie in the innovative style of Sritattvanidhi. Krishnamacharya, who was familiar with this text and cited it in his own books, carried on the innovation by adding a variety of Western gymnastics and drills to the routines he learnt from Sritattvanidhi, which had already cross-bred hatha yoga with traditional Indian wrestling and acrobatic routines.
In addition, it is well established that Krishnamacharya had full access to a Western-style gymnastics hall in the Mysore Palace, with all the usual wall ropes and other props that he began to include in his yoga routines.
Sjoman has excerpted the gymnastics manual that was available to Krishnamacharya. He claims that many of the gymnastic techniques from that manual—for example, the cross-legged jumpback and walking the hands down a wall into a back arch—found their way into Krishnamacharya’s teachings, which he passed on to Iyengar and Jois. In addition, in the early years of the 20th century, an apparatus-free Swedish drill and gymnastic routine, developed by a Dane by the name of Niels Bukh (1880–1950), was introduced to India by the British and popularised by the YMCA. Singleton argues that “at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” The link again is Krishnamacharya, who Singleton calls a “major player in the modern merging of gymnastic-style asana practice and the Patanjali tradition.”
- Europe’s New Politics: I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but I thought this recent BBC podcast on the rise of populist, anti-immigrant parties in Denmark & Sweden was worth highlighting. The Danish cartoon controversy aside, it is disturbing to witness the rise of intolerance in Western Europe. Immigrants are stereotyped as being ill-suited because of culture (Islam) and economics (over dependence on the welfare state). To be fair, in both Denmark and Sweden, we are talking about minority parties. But in both cases they have real influence on parliamentary proceedings.
- How effective is yoga?:
The aim of this overview was to evaluate critically all systematic reviews of yoga for the symptomatic treatment of any condition. Twelve electronic databases were searched and 21 systematic reviews relating to a wide range of conditions were located. Nine systematic reviews arrived at positive conclusions, but many systematic reviews were associated with a high risk of bias. Unanimously positive evidence emerged for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction. Despite an impressive number of systematic reviews, evidence of effectiveness is positive only for two indications.
Part of our series on Kaoru Nonomura’s account of his year-long stay at at Eiheiji, the premier Zen training center in Japan. In this passage, Kaoru and his fellow novices just celebrated a major milestone (the “Registration” ceremony), which removed their provisional status and made them into resident trainee monks.
From Eat Sleep Sit, p. 184:
There isn’t the slightest trace of relief or jubilation at having passed an important milestone. … Even though our status had altered, we were in no state to know what to think about it. Certainly the registration ceremony was an important rite of passage, but our daily lives were not about to change. That’s the nature of Zen discipline. Attaining high office or completing long years of discipline does not alter one’s treatment either. Zen discipline is not a staircase or a means of getting somewhere, it is rather about the successive moments of life — of existence itself. It means being fully aware in body and spirit of the fact of your life, and continuing to cultivate and practice the best way to live as a human being. This is the meaning of Dogen’s words, “Dignity is itself the Dharma. Propriety is itself the essence of the house.”
During our lifetimes we generally pay a lot of attention to our bodies, but rarely think about what goes with us when we die. We cannot, of, course, take any physical or material aspect of our lives with us when we die. It is only the consciousness that goes with us. It is also the consciousness that experiences suffering or, more accurately, is able to perceive the experience of suffering. Most importantly, it is consciousness itself that can be transformed into wisdom during the dying process. The majority of the time we are focused on maintaining our physical body and material environment, when we actually need to place our attention on practice! Realizing this can help us shift our focus and motivate us to practice every day.
… Just as all of us make great effort to maintain our everyday lives, we should make similarly great effort in our preparations for death. If we are living and practicing the essence of the Dharma teachings, there should be no difference between our spiritual practices while we are living and those that we engage in at the time of death. One practice that we all share on the path, no matter what other teachings we have received or practices we have committed to, is training in mindfulness to ensure that in our last moments we will be able to make good use of our death.