Mindfulness Exercise

Buddhism and Modern Psych Week 2: Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain

In preparation for meditation, the teacher first talks about being mindful — our brains often wander off to random topics.  We all do this.  While involved in one task, you’re thinking about others.  He says that, anecdotally and scientifically, meditation helps to calm and quiet those extraneous thoughts.  The first step, as in the first step to realizing dukkha, is simply to realize this is happening.

The Challenge:

Walk down the street, and see what you normally pay attention to.  Then mindfully pull your attention from that, and see what you’ve been ignoring.  Other people, the sky, billboards, building materials of the structures?  If you usually are focused on the crowded path, the smelly odors, or the trash on the sidewalk, can you instead look at the expansive sky, notice a happy baby, feel compassion for a downtrodden pedestrian?

This is not directly quieting your mind, as you are still in fact observing life around you.  But it helps you to be aware, and helps retrain your mind to new areas.

I always saw my tile counter top as “ugly grey,” but when he said to notice more, I mindfully looked a little deeper, (since I had my computer on the tile while washing dishes as a chore of love!), and I realized they are an intricate pepper-speckling of white and black dots along with various shades of grey (not the steamy book!) There is no solid background color, it’s a detailed pointillism of color!  While I still don’t like it in my kitchen, I feel I at least have a bit more appreciation for the confetti-like speckles of the tile.  Perhaps I can train myself to think “fiesta!!  Party!” every time I see them 🙂

What other things could I notice in a new light?

 

We All Have a little Keanu In Us

Buddhism and Modern Psych Week 2: The Eightfold Path

In the lesson today, I was caught off guard by the comment the professor made:

“Buddhist practice, in the spiritual sense, involves having a little Keanu Reeves in you, you know.”

Adorable Neo chibi by Claudiney

Adorable Neo chibi by Claudiney

And while I first laughed, I know this is a true allegory.  Referring to Neo of the movie series, The Matrix, The professor states how Buddhists felt the movie resonated with their beliefs that we all need to “wake up” and better see the truth of the world; and I know many Christian friends who said the same.  Both groups have made comments that the movie portrayed the fact that we are blinded by this current physical world, and cannot see the truth of the spiritual battles around us.  Like Neo (Keanu’s character), many of us feel sort of “stuck” in our lives, and that there’s something bigger and deeper out there, and that we want to WAKE UP! and see what the truth is — even if it’s scary, and dangerous, and takes a lot of work!

Christianity offers freedom through Christ; Buddhism offers it through the Eightfold Path  – and there are actually many overlapping guiding principles/rules here.

EIGHTFOLD PATH:

  1. Right View (understanding)
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech (no gossip, insults, lies, etc)
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness (beginning meditation)
  8. Right Concentration (deeper meditation)

I look forward to learning more about each of these parts of the path!  Let us continue down this rabbit hole…

Feelings and Illusions

Buddhism and Modern Psych Week 1: Feelings and Illusions

“To the man who is afraid, everything rustles” – Socratese.  But if we’re staring at the ground, fearing every rustling bush, we miss the expanse of the sky!

When first made to listen to scary “horror movie” type music, illusion images were more often perceived as threatening images (ie: rope was thought of as a snake instead of a rope 75% of the time)

The problem: happy music did not produce the opposite effect, or making people more often see the non-threatening squirrel/rope/pot.

Study showed that people who were made to watch a scary movie, such as Silence of the Lambs, afterwards perceived profile pics of various ethnic men as more menacing.  Are we creating our own fears and troubles?  I probably wouldn’t fear random men walking on quiet allies if not for so many movies depicting them as dangerous criminals.

We are more prone to fear and suspicion.

From a survival aspect, this may be a good thing — a “better safe than sorry, let’s be cautious” approach can protect you.  But do we want to be afraid of everything?  Is it better to stare in apprehension at the ground and jump at every rustle?

By manipulating people’s emotions, you can manipulate their perceptions.

Buddhism says feelings are not real or reliable, and so mediation helps up better see truth.

 

Coursera Course: Buddhism and Modern Psychology

In preparation for my trip to India, I have 4 books to read.  Additionally, I found a free online course about Buddhism and Modern Psychology, exploring what science is finding regarding life and meditation – does Buddhism offer up some answers from ancient days?  I thought I’d at least give the class a trial run, and see what thoughts it sparks for me in the first few weeks.

Buddhism and Modern Psych Week 1: The First Two Nobel Truths

1. The Truth of Dukkha (life is dissatisfaction)

2. The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha (our attachments or cravings cause this suffering or dissatisfaction)

Depiction of the beloved characters of The Princess Bride. Amazing artwork by Sarah from http://sarahmensinga.blogspot.com/

Perhaps the Man In Black summed up the Buddhist belief quite nicely, when he declared:

“Life is pain.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

A Buddhist belief is that life is filled with suffering, and that we should spend our energies in freeing ourselves from this.  But it’s not suffering in the way most of us think – not just being in physical or emotional pain, or being depressed.  No, it’s much more general than that.  It is simply having some attachment or craving, some desire.  To play off the example the teacher gave: notice this in eating – when I have a large piece of cake in front of you (or whatever food that looks tasty) can I just eat one piece, focus 100% on the taste, the texture, the scent of it and be done?  Not usually – halfway through chewing, when flavor has become diluted, I already start to think about and yearn for the next bite, and eat too quickly.

If I was fully satisfied with the first bite, I would not have wanted nor needed the second.  So in some sense, there’s a dissatisfaction with the first bite that makes you crave or think about the next.  Or maybe I can be mindful and enjoy that first bite fully — but I definitely sense a loss immediately after and crave a second bite!

Or how often do I find myself doing one task and counting down the seconds till it is done, or getting irritated that I have to finish the task – not Doing my Chores of Love practice.  In yoga, a goal is to focus on being in the moment — but how often do I start thinking of other things?  My “laundry list” of chores, what I’ll get at the store, who you need to call… and it’s not just limited to yoga, but even playing with my family — I may be enjoying that time, but if I am not 100% focused on it, my mind may be wandering to topics of stress, dissatisfaction, or thinking of doing something else – which means I may not be 100% satisfied by that moment, with 100% of my mind and body.

Is it bad now that I just pointed that out?  That I am now more aware of my lack of enjoyment or the minute desires in daily life?   Is this some pessimistic view? At first, I thought “yes!  I was ignorant of my cravings, now they are painfully obvious!  Geez, way to make me feel all depressed that everything is suffering and I’m never happy!” but I think it is a necessary step for me to learn to break from these desires, and live more fully in the moment of peace.

The first step of the scientific method is to identify the problem.  If you are unaware of the issue or problem, how can you begin to fix it?

Is the desire to break from desire a paradox?  I do not know.  Maybe that topics will come up later.

But for now, my baby step is that “life is dukkha” and I don’t want to be buried and burdened with dukkha!  So I will be aware of it, and see what else unfolds.

 

EDIT:

An interesting article, Life Is Suffering? What Does That Mean? Dukkha: A Little Word With a Lot of Meaning, from another point of view, where the author does not like the English translations of dukkha as suffering, dissatisfaction, or stress.  Rather, there are three types of dukkha, of which suffering/stress is only one:

  1. Suffering or pain (dukkha-dukkha)
  2. Impermanence or change (viparinama-dukkha)
  3. Conditioned states (samkhara-dukkha)

Perhaps something for me to explore more later, but as one who often overwhelms myself by a squirrel-like gathering of information before making any progress, I want to try to just focus on notes from the Coursera course, and the 4 books for yoga school before I start to bring in too many other sources and just get frustrated!