Do you know the feeling of easefully sailing through life and then in the next moment feeling as if you are pushing against a strong head wind? A natural response to conflict or pain is Resistance; an instinctual desire to push away the difficulty or wanting to rid ourselves of the discomfort. Why? Because turning toward pain is a vulnerable process and if we don't have the tools (yet) to sooth the vulnerable part of ourselves we tend to push away from it. If we buy into the story that we will be swallowed up by our own vulnerability then we feed the resistant behavior. This familiar cycle to many of us leads to more pain and difficulty. We may spend hours if not days, months or even years ruminating and replaying the details of an event, blaming others, anything really to avoid accepting what has happened and moving in the direction of empowered course correction. Can you relate to what I am talking about? However, if we acknowledge and honor the unpleasant feelings that accompany resistance then we free our minds & hearts to make a clear course correction and to adjust our sails to move with the changing winds. This requires courage to acknowledge what we are feeling, compassionate tools to nurture the part of us feeling anxious or upset, and to consciously choose a new course of compassionate action.
Suffering has many appearances: outward suffering such as a broken arm, inner suffering such as anxiety and depression, and the deepest seeds of suffering such as belief systems that keep us in a place of separateness. The way we respond to our own suffering will either perpetuate suffering through varying degrees of violence toward ourselves or others or will turn into a healing and growth opportunity. The way we response to Resistance and Suffering will determine the course of our life.
When we find ourselves distracted, blaming and sending negativity to another we can remember that this is likely a sign that we are personally suffering and what we truly need is to take honest and nurturing care of the part of us who begs for nurturance. Many people have not been shown or taught self-nurturance and may find relief in seeking support from a trusted friend or mental wellness professional to gain self-compassion skills. Others possess self-compassion skills and must courageously dig deep to bring mindful awareness to the conditioned habits of responding to suffering. Wherever we land on the continuum, the path to healing is clear. Move on over shame and fear, move on in Self-Compassion.
When we find ourselves feeling resistance (gentle reminder: pushing away the difficult sensations rather than turning toward and soothing the part of us who is in pain) we can use this awareness as a reminder that a course correction is required to locate smoother waters. It can be helpful to reframe the role of resistance in our lives so that we might actually welcome it. Rather than resistance serving as an avoidance tool it can serve as a reminder for self-compassion. It is as if we have a built in compass which offers moment to moment feedback requiring courageous course correction urging us to a path of living life with greater ease...adjusting our sails with each deep breath.
In meditation the metaphor of the vast ocean is often used to remind us that underneath the wave lies a vast, still and peaceful ocean. When we practice slowing down and responding compassionately to the suffering in life we will find peace, clarity and hope even in raging storms . The wave IS the ocean, wherever a wave has formed there is calmness below.
Earlier this week I wrapped up teaching the transformational 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training Course from Stanford's CCARE program at Metta Mindfulnes Center in Salt Lake City. In a very short period of time group members learn how to turn toward suffering and make room for shared joy and connection. As a group, We wake up and Rejoice in life just as it is. The benefits are strengthened through continued practice and dedication of living a life of Compassion for ourself and another. Just as we build and strengthen a muscle through exercise, so can we grow and cultivate Compassion through daily practice. When we spend focused time priming the heart and mind to seek out ways to offer and receive Compassion we are transformed. I would like to share a sweet story that illuminates how a simple verbal exchange, a micro-moment, left an imprint on my heart.
I have had a series of surgeries and medical procedures over the last 5 months that have given me insight into the world of Western Medicine, of which I have deep gratitude for modern science and skillful physicians. Holistically, my preventative approach to wellness resides in Eastern Medicine, Meditation, kind body movement and eating a plant-based diet. Yesterday, after 2 visits to medical doctors for treatment of an on-going issue related to my last surgery, I stopped into Real Foods Grocer to pick up a few items to make my daughter's favorite meal. Although part of me wanted to go home and rest a larger part of me knew that cooking this meal for her would bring us both so much joy and nourishment. I chose to listen closely to the part of me who wished to create connection with my daughter. When we pay attention, our hearts guide us to ease and connection. If I were to use a metaphor to describe the opening and closing of the heart, I would offer the image of a peony flower. When closed you notice the petals tightly huddled together protecting what is contained inside. When fully open the petals appear buoyant and supportive of the center and also wildly joyous opening to the sun.
I arrived to Real Foods with a heart partially opened and feeling sad to have spent much of my day in doctor's offices which caused me to miss time with a best friend. I was aware that part of me was physically suffering and part of me was committed to remain open to the present moment experience of the unknown. (Side note: The awesome researcher Barbara Fredrickson calls the ability to hold both sensations "co-experiencing" and she shares through research this is a factor is resilience and life satisfaction). When I walked to the aisle of produce I was struck by the vibrancy of colors and the freshness of the nourishing vegetables in front of me. I could feel my desire to touch and smell each one grow as I paused to notice the details of shape, form and texture. After mindfully selecting and filling my basket with an abundance of parsley, beets, green apples, arugula and ginger I made my way to the check-out line. As I was mid-way through the check-out process a short and elderly "gentle" man wearing a huge smile and a cowboy hat stood in line behind me. He waited patiently to pay for 2 gallons of milk. We made eye contact and smiled at one another and as I began to notice his patience I said to him "You got behind the wrong lady, I am sorry this is taking so long." He smiled both with his mouth and his eyes and said "It looks like you selected a lot of healthy vegetables. I am happy to wait, I WANT YOU TO BE HEALTHY." I could feel his words undoing another layer of petals around my heart. In that instant, I knew I was not alone. The stranger next to me was no stranger at all. He offered Loving-Kindness to me by wishing me well with all of his heart. He may have no idea how deeply his words penetrated my tender heart nor how this softening would carry me through the night in my interactions with my beloved daughter. She and I were both recipients of his Kindness and Compassion.
I shared this story with my daughter while we made dinner that evening. She said to me, "Mama, the way you describe the man at the store is the same way you describe your great uncles who helped take care of you when you were a little girl." Again, another connection, another layer of softening. I smiled and nodded in agreement while she looked at me with a sparkle of knowing in her eyes.
Each moment of the day we come in contact with many people for whom we do not know the details of their life. Each of these micro-moments presents an opportunity to act with Kindness and Compassion. How many times have we shown up frantically to the store, running through our to-do list in our mind, barely making eye contact with the cashier or others around us, or forgetting to connect even with ourself. When we SEEK out ways to act with and to receive Compassion and Loving-Kindness we not only moisten our own heart but our words or gestures may be the heart-felt medicine a stranger needs to moisten and heal her own. As Barbara Fredrickson writes in her book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, she claims that “love blossoms virtually anytime two or more people . . . connect over a shared positive emotion.”
**Becca Peters will offer another 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training course in January of 2016. Please reach out to her if you'd like to reserve a spot for yourself or as a gift for a loved one by emailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are often taught that setting an intention is an action item, a verb, some way for us to measure outward success, another thing TO DO. When was the last time you set an intention for how you would like to practice BEING. If we look reflectively at the motivation behind an intention we will likely uncover a heart-felt aspiration. We may aspire to practice patience, to be more present with our loved ones, to be less critical of ourselves...to open to joy.
Are you willing to set an intention by choosing to cultivate a specific heart-felt tone for the day, an intention to practice and reinforce a new way of BEING? It reminds me of a story based on the children's book Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. When my daughter was very young we read her favorite book and decided that together we would plant a rainbow of love in the backyard. Our aspiration was simply to cultivate love, to meet the day with an open heart and to grow that love by planting seeds all around us. We selected the flowers, tilled the soil, and one-by-one planted each flower with kindness and the heart-felt aspiration of sharing this kindness and beauty with the world. After each flower was gently placed in the soil and nurtured with water my daughter and I looked up. In the sky above us was the most vibrant and stunning rainbow. This moment will stay with me forever and is a great reminder that what we aspire to create, what attitude with which we choose to greet each breath, really sets the tone for how we perceive the world. Our perceptions absolutely color our experience so why not drop-in to your own heart-felt aspirations, take 3 deep cleansing breaths, and consciously plant seeds today that will support how you want to show up for life.
A Mind Entangled in Knots, if undone, will no doubt be free.
(excerpt from Thupten Jinpa's "Essential Mind Training")
In speaking of the second of five Mindfulness Trainings, specifically speaking of True Happiness, Caitriona Reed offers a spacious perspective of the magnificence of the unknown. An excerpt below is taken from her thoughts housed within "For a Future to be Possible" by Thich Naht Hanh:
"…We cannot fix the world, we cannot even fix our own life. By accepting failure we express our willingness to begin again, time after time. By recognizing failure we change, renew, adapt, listen, and grow. It is only by practicing without expectation of success that we can ever truly open to the world, to suffering and to joy. What extraordinary courage there is in risking losing what you know for the sake of the unknown; risking what you think you are capable of for the sake of your true capability! What profound freedom - not having to get it right all the time, not having to live for the sake of appearance! By opening to our own failure, we open to the magnificence of the unknown, participating unconditionally, renewing our life."
Intimate Speech: It’s so important to know our intention, our motivation. This arises out of the silence, the deep inner stillness of silence.
Is it true? Is it kind? Is it beneficial? Is it necessary? And is it the right time?
Intimate Speech by Roshi Joan Halifax
Toad, a poem by Mary Oliver
I was walking by. He was sitting there.
It was full morning, so the heat was heavy on his sand-colored head and his webbed feet. I squatted beside him, as the edge of the path. He didn’t move.
I began to talk. I talked about summer, and about time. The pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night. About this cup we call a life. About happiness. And how good it feels, the heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.
He looked neither up nor down, which didn’t necessarily mean he was either afraid or asleep. I felt his energy, stored under his tongue perhaps, and behind his bulging eyes.
I talked about how the world seems to me, five feet tall, the blue sky all around my head. I said, I wondered how it seemed to him, down there, intimate with the dust.
He might have been Buddha – did not move, blink, or frown, not a tear fell from those gold-rimmed eyes as the refined anguish of language passed over him.
This dharma talk is about the “anguish of language.” Let’s begin to look at the function of speech through a case in Dogen’s Shobogenzo : “The great master Hyung ju was asked by a government official who had brought an offering, “It is said that the World Honored One had intimate speech, and Mahakashapa did not hide it. And what was the World Honored One’s intimate speech?
This is a wonderful question. And it’s a challenge, as you can imagine. Another koan to consider:
Hyung ju said to the man who was presenting a gift to him:
“No I don’t.”
“If you don’t understand it, that is the world’s honored one’s intimate speech. If you do understand it, that is Mahakashapa not hiding.”
You might remember the story of Mahakashapa. The Buddha was talking before a great assembly and, at a certain point, he held up a flower. Everyone in the assembly was asking, ‘What was that about?” and Mahakashapa, in the back of the assembly, just smiled. This is a story about that kind of connection, in fundamental silence. The whole assembly was quiet, the flower is herself silent, and it’s a much deeper silence we are referencing here that gives birth to intimate speech, that incredible sense of connection that happens through the medium of a moment, a moment that is characterized by openness, ease, spaciousness, boundlessness.
A little later we’ll look at the function of discrimination in how speech arises, but I wanted to begin with three precepts from the Order of Interbeing that are interesting to use as a base for our exploration, and to look also at the classical definition of dis-speech if you will.
The first precept in the Order of Interbeing says: “Do not be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thoughts are guiding means, they’re not absolute truth.” This is a basis for how we communicate. The precept guides us to not be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. It goes on to state that all systems of thoughts are guiding means, they’re not absolute truth.
What we often say in the zendo, usually during sesshin, is, “Don’t believe your thoughts. Don’t believe them. They’re just concepts in the mind, see if you can drop beneath the mind.”
Later on in the precepts, Thich Nhat Hanh articulates two mindfulness trainings that are related to speech. In the eighth precept of the fourteen, “Do not utter words that create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to resolve all conflicts, however small.” This is a very powerful admonition not only for our community of practice, but also as a vision of a global community. “Make every effort to resolve all conflicts, no matter how small they are.”
Then in the ninth Precept, he bares down a little bit, because he is very committed to engaged practice. He says: “Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that can cause division or hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things that you are not sure of. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice even when doing so may threaten your own safety.”
This is a very big step in the Buddhist world. It was a big step in Vietnam: if you must, you must risk your own life by speaking the truth. Even when speaking the truth puts you at risk, you must speak the truth. These two precepts on speech are at the center of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, they’re the articulating point as 8th and 9th. The 7th has to do with the breath, the function that sews mind and body together, and the last precepts have to do with body.
In the classical or Theravaden teachings of the precepts of speech, there are certain perspectives on speech that are identified as ones you must avoid. You can’t lie. You have to speak the truth. Another is the destructiveness of engaging in gossip and slander. Another behavior of speech that harms is using harsh or cruel language, rough language, even skeptical language. The fourth type of speech that is considered harmful is engaging in trivial talk, frivolous speech.
These dis-positive speech behaviors are interesting to consider in our current world. As I move around our own monastery or move around airports, one hears how much toxic speech comes out of people’s mouths. You listen to cooks at fast food places in the airport and you hear what they’re talking about and you might ask yourself: is this what’s going into the food?
The Buddha identified five conditions we are to explore in relation to speech:
1. Do I speak at the right time or not? Is this the right time? Really stepping back to see if this is the right moment.
2. Do I speak the facts or not. Am I saying what’s really true?
3. Am I speaking harshly or gently?
4. Do my words benefit beings or not?
5. What is my motivation? Do I speak with a good heart or is my heart malicious?
When the Zen teachers of America, as a community of Buddhist priests, began to explore the function of speech in our communities, we agreed to use the Gatekeepers of Speech, that lead to the classical admonitions.
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it beneficial?
- Is it necessary?
- And is it the right time?
I really appreciate the guidepost: “Is it necessary?” Imagine reflecting only on this before you opened your mouth? Is it necessary?
In the classical teachings of the Buddha there are various kinds of karma (meaning action, cause and effect.) Weighty karma is interesting, because it involves terrible things like wounding a Buddha, or killing a fully enlightened being, or killing a parent, that’s weighty karma. But the weightiest of all karmas is causing a schism in the sangha which is done through speech. This is very deep, and very interesting to contemplate.
In the classical teachings of the Buddha, he articulates guidelines in a community of practice, and this pertains to our families as well. How do we relate to each other to create depth and coherence in a family system? Or in a community system? One is that we all share a common space. We’re not living all over the place; we share a common living circumstance. We also share the essentials of daily life, including food. We break bread together, we become companions. We observe the precepts. We understand how important it is to practice in a wholehearted deep and loving way together, and we help each other to live wholesomely together. We use words that benefit individuals and the entire community, and we avoid using words that are harmful to ourselves and to others in our community. We create the opportunity to share insight, communicating deeply about our values, and to not engage in trivial speech, which is a caricature of what it is to be human. To speak deeply about subjects of relevance and concern. We share a common practice and ethos.
The Buddha articulated these insights 2500 years ago. Dogen zenji, who brought the Soto school to Japan in the early 1200s, recognized the impact of communications on relationships. He articulated what he called the Four Beneficial Actions. The first was the action of giving, what is it to give your energy, your resources, your life, to truth. To be really seated in the dharma, in truth, in reality, as a non-dual experience. The second was the importance of kind speech. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to engage in speech that is harmful, but to engage in speech that is beneficial to others. Then he spoke about ‘identity action.’ This is very important in our world and in the Buddhist community. What is it to treat every individual with ultimate regard? Not that this one is more special than that one, but holding all individuals in ultimate regard, treating them all equally well. The fourth is beneficial action. How do we embody basic goodness, how do we actualize it through the medium of our body, through our actions in the world? Beneficiality, goodness for others.
Dogen wrote, in Moon in a Dewdrop,
“Kind speech means that when you see sentient beings, you arouse the mind of compassion and offer words of love and care. It is contrary to cruel and violent speech. You should be willing to practice it for the entire present life. Do not give up. World after world, life after life. Kind speech is the basis for reconciling rulers and subduing enemies. You should know that kind speech arises from kind mind and kind mind from the seed of compassionate mind.”
“Kind speech is not just praising the merit of others. It has the power to turn the destiny of the nation.”
Most of us are very in touch with what’s happening in the world today, and how the destiny of the world rests in speech, and how we wish it were more kind.
Katagiri Roshi gives a slightly different perspective, reified in the Pali canon:
“Kind speech is not merely speaking with an ingratiating voice like a cat that’s purring. This very naturally consciously or unconsciously is trying to get a favor by fawning of flattering. This is not kind speech. Kind speech is not the usual sense of kindness. It can appear in various ways, but we should remember that it must constantly be based on compassion. Under all circumstances, that compassion is always giving somebody support or help or a chance to grow.”
This is a very pivotal statement in our exploration, because what Katagiri Roshi says is that kind speech isn’t necessarily being a sweet person. Kind speech means speaking the truth to benefit others. It means speaking truth to power as Gandhi articulated. How do we speak truth to power in a way that is beneficial but not fawning or attacking?
Speech also is a reciprocal experience. There’s the speaker and the listener. I had a very interesting experience a few days ago, where someone called me to discuss an issue. When I’d say something, they would seem to hear me, but they weren’t hearing what I was saying at all. It was an interesting moment. As I was taught to do I’d ask: “What did you hear me say?” “What do you think I meant by that?” What I realized in the interaction was that mutuality, reciprocity in speech and listening, is a very fundamental part of this training in right speech and right communication. Instead of right speech, we could say right communication, which involves reciprocity and mutuality. When someone is engaging in slanderous speech in relation to an individual or the sangha or gossiping, one stops that. One tries to transform that. One endeavors to clarify the communication. One invites inquiry into the process. One does not engage in that mutuality of slander by tolerating listening, or by that kind of invitation allowing the slander to deepen in the atmosphere.
I think that the “right speech” precept should be called “right communication,” because times have changed. At the time of the Buddha, the Buddha was speaking directly to his students and to those who came to him for advice. But now, we’re dealing with a huge range of communication media, including texting, email, advertising, radio, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV, and so on. How do we actually create a context where right communication can happen? Communication that is truly about benefiting the world?
One of the interesting and contemporary perspectives on right communication comes from Suzuki Roshi, who realized that the fifth precept on intoxicating substances also included speech; dogmatism, trying to proselytize, was a form of intoxicant. You can use speech to convince people to join your view. He says: “Do not sell liquor means not to boast or emphasize the advantage of things. If you boast about the profundity of Buddhist teaching, you are selling a kind of liquor to the people. Any spiritual teaching by which we’re intoxicated is liquor.”
I think this is very wonderful for Suzuki Roshi to say. People do get intoxicated by teachings just as they get intoxicated by movies, by advertising.
“Do not sell alcohol,” says Suzuki Roshi, means absolute freedom from all teachings. Complete freedom from all teachings. We should practice the precepts, yet not be bound by them.
So how do we listen to the teachings. or look at television. or go to a movie and be in that communication medium and yet not be tainted, not become intoxicated?
The Lankavitara Sutra of the Sixth century puts it very simply. “Words or speech arise from the experience of mental discrimination.” When we’re dropped beneath ‘this is that, that is this” kind of mind, when we’re in the experience of ‘intimate speech’ referenced in the koan, we’re deeper than the mind that is discriminating, that is categorizing, that is caught in this little box-making: “Words arise from the experience of mental discrimination.”
So any time we’re engaged in speaking, in thinking, in reading, we’re not in that mind of intimate speech. My first teacher, Seung Sang, called it ‘before thinking mind.’ It’s the mind and heart of transmission, the non-dual mind, the mind that’s profoundly open. It’s why when we do deep practice here, we are in silence, and why we ask people to not read, or get on the internet, not even to journal, but to see if the speaking function can calm down. Behind that, the thinkng function then can calm down, so beginner’s mind or “before thinking mind”, “not knowing” can be more present.
Speech is an outflow of energy. When people, for example, are gravely ill, we encourage them not to speak so much. The Sanskrit word ‘asrava’ connotes exactly this kind of energy loss that happens when people speak for too many hours during the day. The capacity for concentration definitely diminishes when the speaking function is overly engaged in. So we want to explore what it is to be very conscious about our speech, very mindful about the experience of speaking.
Speech also has a very powerful effect of that whole domain of practice that we call Engaged Buddhism, a Buddhism of social action and social service. Social action means the transformation of those institutions that are engaged in structural violence. Social service means direct service to populations in need or environments that are marginalized. Chris Queen, who’s written on Engaged Buddhism, talks about an ethic that involves discipline, virtue, altruism, and engagement—four different expressions of a deep Buddhist ethic. The ethic of discipline means we restrain ourselves from engaging in speech that is harmful or trivial or non-factual, untruthful. We just don’t do it. And that restraint, renunciation, discipline is a very important part of what it means to live in a sane and ethical society.
An ethic of virtue, Dr. Queen writes, is engaging in speech that actually promotes depth, understanding, insight and harmony in society. An ethic of altruism, he references, it’s knowing when it’s right to speak the truth. Knowing when the moment is right, even when that might produce a short-term difficulty.
Sally Taylor, also a Buddhist scholar, talks about another kind of speech. She calls it ‘prophetic speech.’ This is very important in Engaged Buddhism. because so much of how Buddhists have engaged in speech has been narcotizing; it doesn’t necessarily result in transformation. She says that prophetic speech avoids psychic violence or interpersonal vilification on one hand, but doesn’t engage in narcotizing, non-dualist speech that makes it seem as if the perpetrator of violence isn’t culpable or responsible for his or her actions.
It is speech that holds individuals or institutions deeply accountable. This is a kind of speech that has a much higher level of accountability. In fact, in the Pali cannon, the Buddha teaches that as long as speech is based in compassion and is truthful and timely, it’s okay to admonish deeply individuals and governments.
But the more nervous Buddhists don’t feel so comfortable with this. In fact, from the point of view of social responsibility, justice and environmental sanity, although I believe that Buddhists hold a very good heart in this regard, often Buddhist voices are rather muted and not calling governments and individuals to accountability. Some of us feel that it’s absolutely necessary to do this, to speak out.
I don’t believe this reflects the lack of resources within Buddhism because certainly the central teachings in Buddhism on non-violence, patience, generosity, compassion, interdependence suggest powerfully that when such things aren’t present in the mind of an individual, we need to help them be present not only through actions but also through education and transformation. But more than that, many engaged Buddhists feel we have to actively condemn institutions that engage in criminal behaviors, in amoral and immoral behaviors like piracy or prostitution or slavery or the black market in drugs or the exploitation of and violence toward women and children. We can’t just look into the suffering of the perpetrator. It’s not enough. We have to engage in much more forthright behavior based on the insight of the suffering of the perpetrator, but to actually engage in speech and activities that promote social change.
Martin Luther King was such a person who did not hold back. He said: “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about something we care about. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” And Ellie Wiesel said: “We must always take sides. This seems contrary to Buddhism: you would think that you don’t want to polarize, you don’t take sides. Ellie Wiesel says: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Gandhi said it another way: “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”
We must expect that our prophetic speech might be disagreeable to people, to our leaders. But let’s think of it as a bitter pill—it’s hard going down, but hopefully it produces a better effect. What makes the difference in “prophetic speech” is if you drop beneath the discursive and the discriminative to the place where intimate speech is present.
Do you have a way to do that? To stop the asrava, the outflow of energy which is produced in a mind that’s very active and compulsive. Do you have a way to step down to a place where you can touch into your fundamental motivation? Why really am I here? What am I here to serve? How can I do my best? How can I really be of benefit to others? What will really make a difference when I open this mouth? How can I be more skillful? How can I use words that not only heal but that transform individuals as well as social institutions?
So in this regard then, I hope that we can consider the profundity of examining, inquiring into the function of speech and communication in our lives. I think that no matter what kind of people are in a society or community, more difficult than intoxicants, more difficult than sex, the most difficult of all the guidelines we live by is speech. How can we drop beneath speech altogether? How can we use speech to benefit? How can we use speech to transform? How can we not engage in mutuality that is slanderous and gossipy? How can we not engage in speech that is just stupid and trivial? And how can we engage in a communication with each other that is based in the deep consideration of truth and its timeliness. And finally to ask ourselves, is it really necessary? And if it is, then it is both beneficial and transformative.
It’s so important to know our intention, our motivation. This arises out of the silence, the deep inner stillness of silence. I hope we can step into internal quietness, to really see what is really necessary, to see what is true.
Wandering mind not a happy mind
About 47% of waking hours spent thinking about what isn’t going on
November 11, 2010 | Editor's Pick Popular
By Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer
People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.
To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.
Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.
“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.”
Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.
“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”
The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.
Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.
“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.
Killingsworth and Gilbert’s 2,250 subjects in this study ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. Seventy-four percent of study participants were American.
More than 5,000 people are now using the iPhone Web app.
The news: It turns out meditating is good for more than just quiet time: It can actually help us fight the cripplingly high stress levels we experience during our busy lives, in the office or elsewhere.
Scientists from Harvard University and the University of Sienna recently found that meditation is so powerful it can change the physiology of a person's brain, resulting in positive changes like a decrease in anxiety and depression.
The science: Scientists put 24 participants with no history of meditation through an eight-week course on best practices for, "mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)," fancy science talk for meditation. The course consisted of 2.5 hour sessions each week where participants learned "body scanning, sitting meditation, walking meditation and mindful stretching movements." The scientists also requested each participant perform at least 45 minutes of meditation each day. MRIs were performed before and after the meditation boot camp, and each participant answered a series of psychological evaluations to determine their stress and anxiety levels before and after the MBSR course as well.
The team compared these results to a control group who went through no meditation training at all during the eight weeks.
The comparison demonstrated "an increase of cortical thickness in the right insular lobe and somatosensory cortex" of the meditation group. In layman's terms, meditation made parts of the brain corresponding to emotion and perception thicker. This ultimately resulted in "a significant after-training reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, state anxiety, depression and alexithymia."
So ultimately, meditation made people more emotionally attuned and less depressed — a pretty good argument to spend time solemnly reflecting each day.
The takeaway: We live in a society where depression, anxiety, and stress are increasingly part of our lives. Stress levels among Americans have risen by up to 30%, and it's not much better in Europe or Asia, where anxiety and depression is growing at alarming rates. Instead of solving the root causes of these problems, Americans are resorting to antidepressants at a higher rate than ever before. One in 10Americans is now taking a prescription antidepressant.
Meditation, while not a panacea, can help us deal with such a society by decreasing our stress levels and increasing our abilities to emotionally relate to ourselves and others. And with further research, it could provide an alternative to being constantly doped to the gills in order to be happy (or just less sad).
Last year I attended a Mindful Self-Compassion Retreat just like the one mentioned in the article below. IT WAS LIFE CHANGING. You may have noticed, as have I, that many teachings around mindfulness often suggest ways for us to be better "doers"...parents, workers, lovers, partners, surfers, etc. I am left wondering, "Why not teach ways for folks to tend to themselves as human beings, just as they are, not needing to be a better version of who they are?" Mindful Self-Compassion offers an approach to living that invites us to include ourselves in the circle of compassion. This reflective process looks & feels differently for each of us depending on our unique life experiences. Despite our differences an indisputable commonality is the sense of shared humanity, that "just like me" she/he also knows what it is like to suffer and wishes to feel understood, cared for, included, and at ease. When we learn to treat ourselves with compassion we begin to observe with curiousity our habits of thought, behavior, and attitude. We practice being present to the edges of the heart with a soft gaze inward and asking "What does the part of me who is suffering need to hear right now?" We learn to soothe and comfort ourselves and to let go of striving to be a better version of who we truly are. This reflective process becomes a launching pad for making awakened decisions in life that align with our core and universal needs. We naturally feel more connected to the world and, therefore, wish to live in such a way where we treat ourselves and others with compassion.
For those of you who have entrusted your heart in personal therapy with me or have courageously participated in a group class, you know that I truly believe in the process of self-inquiry met with self-compassion. In real life this translates into "being with" what we are truly aware of rather than focusing on changing or getting rid of our authentic experience. This approach makes room for joy and wonder.
If you'd like to be a part of an upcoming Compassion or Mindfulness Class, or would like to arrange a private group class please visit:
The One Vital Skill They Don't Teach You In Business School
Getting into a top business school requires demonstrating a certain level of success. Many people believe we need to push ourselves hard in order to succeed in business and in life. I used to believe this too. I went to an Ivy League school, got my MBA from Stanford and worked in finance for almost ten years, where I would work hundred plus hour weeks and push myself to the brink of exhaustion.
I got burned out and quit my job. I still wanted to have an impact with my career, but I wanted to do it in a more enjoyable and sustainable way, without sacrificing my values. Since then, I’ve learned one vital life skill that I wish I had known thirty years ago that has helped me tremendously on this path.
This one skill allows you to be successful (and redefine what “success” means to you) without all the self-criticism and suffering. This vital tool is self-compassion.
Recent research suggests that treating oneself kindly, rather than criticizing oneself, actually leads to greater willpower and better results. This is a radical concept for anyone used to pushing themselves hard to get things done. Luckily, it’s a skill that can be taught and cultivated over time.
If you want to start cultivating the skill of self-compassion, here is a simple and practical exercise: write yourself a self-compassionate letter.
A 2010 study showed that people who wrote a self-compassionate letter to themselves once a day for seven days were less depressed, less anxious, and experienced greater happiness up to six months later! Click here for instructions on how to write a self-compassionate letter.
Think of a friend of yours who had some sort of misfortune or was feeling inadequate. How would you respond to this friend? In particular, what tone of voice would you speak in, and what might you say? Take a moment now to think of a friend and imagine what you would say.
Now think of a time when you’ve been suffering. You’ve failed, had some misfortune, you were feeling inadequate in some way. What conversation went on in your mind? What was the tone of your voice? What was the content?
I recently spent a week at a self-compassion retreat with leading self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, and her colleague Christopher Germer, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in mindfulness and compassion-based psychotherapy. At this workshop, they demonstrated that even though many of us may not think we know how to be self-compassionate, we really do because we’ve been doing it with other people our whole lives.
According to Kristin Neff’s definition, self-compassion involves three main steps;
Mindfulness “Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions, so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated,” Neff says. In order to practice self-compassion, you first have to recognize that you’re having a hard time. We can’t change our suffering if we do not first acknowledge that we are indeed suffering. Even if it may seem like something insignificant, if you feel upset, even a little bit, then you are suffering.
Mindfulness, as defined by Neff, is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. If you’ve never meditated and are curious to learn more about mindfulness, here is a free 30 day meditation challenge that’s just five minutes a day.
When we suffer, we often assume we are alone in our suffering and this creates a sense of isolation that compounds the problem. If, instead, you were to say to yourself; “other people have had this problem too, it’s part of being human,” you will begin to identify with our common humanity and start to recognize that we all suffer in one way or another. As you connect with this common humanity, you may notice a softening of your heart and a sense of our interconnection.
Self-Kindness The third component of self-compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness and gentleness. As Neff says; “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.” For many of us, this feels very foreign at first as we’re used to speaking to ourselves in a harsh and critical manner.
The next time you’re struggling with something, think of how you would speak to a friend in the same situation and then say those words to yourself. Another great tool is to ask yourself in any given moment; “What do I need right now?” Or, you can try a loving kindness or self-compassion meditation.
Underneath it all, self-compassion is really about embracing our imperfections, which, ironically, allows us to feel better.
To learn more about Dr. Neff and Dr. Gerner's work please visit: www.mindfulselfcompassion.org
As you know, the Compassion Cultivation Class to be held in March at Metta Mindfulness Center is currently full. Many of you have inquired about the next Mindfulness Class offering. I am happy to announce that I will offer a 6-week summer course beginning in June; UCLA's Mindful Awareness Practice course. Take a peek at the attached flyer...and please don't wait to sign up if you are interested...classes fill up quickly.
There are only 5 days left to reserve your seat for the SLC Screening of the film Kindness is Contagious! Come join us on February 17th, 7pm at the Gateway Theater, for the feel-good documentary infused with current scientific research of the neurological and far-reaching positive impacts of spreading Kindness!
What does Meditation have to do with bursting the bubble of Ego?Read More
"In Western culture we are conditioned from an early age to think of ourselves as a separate, individual person, unique and different from the rest. There is, of course, some truth in this, but along with our uniqueness and individuality, comes our total interconnectedness with all beings and everything on this planet. Each time we take a breath, we are sharing that breath with every other life form that breathes! While we are breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide during the day, trees and other plants are breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. It is a beautiful symbiosis…" - Ayya Anandabhoi
How Meditation Helps With Difficult Emotions
Enjoy a preview of the second installment of Mindful's Getting Started series.
Illustration by Jason Lee
How are you feeling? Meditation gives us a chance to entertain that question at a deeper level. In Getting Started: Emotions, Mindful shares authoritative practices to learn how to tame raw, difficult emotions, and foster feelings that are positive, powerful, and beneficial. For a sneak peek, here are some meditative practices for working more creatively with fear. To learn more meditative practices for working with anger, love, sadness, and jealousy, you’ll want to catch the June issue ofMindful, on newsstands mid-April.
• • •
It’s hard to imagine life without fear. Its raw power can save lives. It can also paralyze us and invade every part of our life. Taming it and directing is one of life’s greatest challenges.
Fear is primal. And essential for survival. It’s highly energetic, and even exhilarating. Lots of people love horror movies, and kids (young and old) get a huge kick out of scaring each other. But fear is no joke. It can be a highly aroused state that overtakes us in response to a perceived threat, causing us to either fight, flee, freeze, or faint. It can be a deeply unpleasant feeling.
As with all emotion, the practice of meditation can stabilize us enough in the midst of fear to help us see more clearly—to distinguish a false threat from a real threat that needs to be acted upon. The type of fear meditation can have the most effect on is the fear (and fears) that we continually generate in our own minds, the product of our rich imagination and our desire to control everything, rather than be tossed around in the risky and stormy world.
As our fear rises, we can start yammering in our heads to reinforce the size and shape of the threat: “They’re not going to like me… they’ll think I’m stupid…I’ll never get another job…I’ll lose my mind…and all my friends… and my apartment…” By now, our palms are sweaty and we’re in a total panic.
The good news: This is all natural. The very intense energy of fear, when we’re able to let it dissipate, can become a powerful driving force. It’s nothing other than the energy of life.
NAME THE FEAR
Being able to recognize that fear is present can be hugely important in not allowing it to control you.
As you NOTICE your heart pumping more, your chest tightening, your back stiffening, let an imaginary alarm bell go off in your head.
Take 3 or 10 or 20 deep breaths, however many you need to SLOW your body down. Place your hand on your heart if that will help.
Acknowledge to yourself, “I’m scared. I’m afraid.” NAME THE FEAR so you automatically create a bit of distance between yourself and the intensity of the emotional reaction.
Say a few phrases of WELL-WISHING toward yourself and for others:
May (I/others) see the source of our fear.
May (I/others) be safe and free from fear.
May (I/others) be happy and at ease.
LEAN IN TO FEAR
Whenever you feel the energy of fear, DON’T AVOID the feeling. Sit with it.
As fearful thoughts of dread and worry continue to arise, approach them withFRIENDLINESS. Don’t treat them as a threat.
Be kind toward yourself for being afraid. See what happens when you hold your ground and let the fear rise in your mind. You may FIND CONFIDENCE within.
• • •
Getting Started: Emotions was compiled by Barry Boyce, editor-inchief of Mindful, in consultation with:
Jeffrey Brantley, MD, director of the MBSR program at Duke University’s Center for Integrative Medicine. Author of Calming Your Angry Mind.
Vinny Ferraro, meditation teacher and senior trainer, Mindful Schools.
Stefanie Goldstein, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and co-author of the audio program:Mindful Solutions for Addiction and Relapse Prevention.
Christa Turksma, child-clinical psychologist and specialist in developing mindfulness for teachers and families.
Is anyone else starting to feel the "busy-ness" of the upcoming holiday season creeping in? It can feel much like a roller coaster ride - buckling our seat belt in preparation for the end of the year festivities. Have you considered slowing down and setting an intention NOW & for the New Year to find more ease and joy in life? Luckily we CAN learn to slow down and make choices that support our own well-being and offer a deeper sense of connection to others.
Becca Peters, LCSW and Certified Mindfulness Facilitator offers evidence-based classes in Salt Lake City where you can learn Meditation & Mindfulness as well as Compassion Cultivation Training. The next Mindful Awareness Practice Course from UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center will be offered in January of 2015. Then, in March, Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism's Compassion Cultivation Training Course will be offered. Both classes are taught by Becca Peters and offered at Metta Mindfulness Center in Salt Lake City. Space is limited and sign up for both classes is available NOW at www.beccapeters.com
You don't have to wait until the New Year to practice slowing down. You may access FREE morning meditation groups at Metta Mindfulness Center every Monday, Wednesday, & Friday from 8am-8:30am. Advance reservation is required. Reserve your spot on the cushion at www.beccapeters.com
Wishing you a beautiful day.
Rebecca Peters, LCSW, Certified Mindfulness Facilitator through UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, and owner of METTA Mindfulness Center is offering a:
6-week Mindful Awareness Practice Course (MAPs I), created by Diana Winston & Dr. Sue Smalley of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, University of California Los Angeles
The 6-week course will be held on Tuesdays beginning October 28th through December 9th
**No class on November 25th
$185 per person **Space is limited
6:30 – 8:30 pm
Location: METTA – The Mindfulness Center
360 West Broadway #206
SLC, UT 84101
Online registration :
Read more about MAPs Classes:
Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) Classes Overview
Mindful Awareness Practices are the signature educational programs of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, University of California Los Angeles. These six-week class series are open to the public for registration. The classes lay the foundation for students to understand basic principles of mindfulness, develop a personal meditation practice, and to apply the principles in their daily life on an ongoing basis.
Each class is a combination of lecture, practice, and group feedback and discussion. MAPs is taught in a context of a supportive community environment with classes no larger than 20-30 students. Students report that the group support was one of the most helpful and inspiring aspects of the class. MAPs instructors have years of personal experience practicing mindfulness and teaching it nationally and internationally. MAPs is helpful for people of all backgrounds and religions. These classes are suitable for ages 16 and over.
MAPs classes meets weekly for two hours per week for six weeks. Students will complete daily home practice meditation assignments starting at five minutes a day and working up to 20 minutes daily by the end of the course. Students will receive a complimentary Home Practice CD and a copy of the book Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan Smalley, PhD. and Diana Winston.
Students will learn Mindful concepts that include:
- Overview of Mindfulness
- Mindfulness of the Body
- Obstacles to Mindfulness
- Mindfulness to help with Physical Pain
- Working with Difficult Emotions
- Cultivating Positive Emotions
- Working with Difficult Thoughts
- Mindful Interactions
Students will also learn a variety of mindfulness practices so that the student can discover which practice is useful to them. Practices taught include:
- Sitting meditation
- Eating meditation
- Daily life meditations
- Relational mindfulness
- Walking meditation
- Standing meditation
- Movement meditation
- Practices to develop positive emotions
A favorite new book entitled DARING GREATLY by Brene Brown is a must read. She is a researcher who provides results from studies around vulnerability and shame. It is profoundly insightful and I highly recommend it for anyone who is curious to understand the tenderness around being a human being and the ways in which we hold back from living greatly. Happy reading!