Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DALAI LAMA SAYS ‘MINDFULNESS IS NOT RELIGIOUS’


His Holiness the Dalai Lama (pictured above, in Germany), addressed the concluding session of the International Congress on Mindfulness on 21 August 2011, reiterating that mindfulness is not a religious practice.

The Dalai Lama made the point that we all ‘practise’ mindfulness every day in different forms. (Of course, not all of us do it that well, nor are many people even aware – let alone ‘choicelessly aware’ – of what they are doing.)

The Tibetan spiritual leader said that the first step of mindfulness was concentrating on breathing – focusing one subject. In that regard, I use in my mindfulness meditative practice a 'version' of ānāpānasati (mindfulness on in-and-out breathing), being the 'method' – sorry, I know that's a most unfortunate word – taught by the late Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw (pictured left) of Burma. You fix your attention at that point in the nostrils against which the breathing air strikes on its in-breath ... without actually following the breath along its way. (Alternatively, you may be mindful of and follow the rise/expansion and fall/contraction of the lower abdomen. That can be better where, for example, you're a mouth breather.)

The Dalai Lama’s address was webcast live on the Internet.

Over 30 international speakers – specialists in medicine, psychology and education – addressed the four-day International Congress on Mindfulness which was held at the University of Hamburg, in Hamburg, Germany, between 18 August and 21 August 2011.



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Monday, August 29, 2011

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BUDDHISM

'Everything arises from the mind.'
- Buddha Shakyamuni.

The great esotericist Manly Palmer Hall (pictured left) once wrote, ‘In Buddhism we have what is probably the oldest and most perfectly integrated system of what we now call psychology.’ I think Hall is right. Certainly, there were others before Buddha Shakyamuni whose teachings were psychological in nature, but I don’t know of any other person before the Buddha who had expounded such a clear, coherent, logical and empirically-based set of psychological principles and techniques.

Yes, first and foremost, Buddhism is applied psychology, the aim of which, in the words of the Venerable Ajahn Chah, is to ‘cure disease of the mind.’ The Venerable Narada Maha Thera said something similar when he described Buddhism as ‘a system of deliverance from the ills of life.’  Alan Watts saw Buddhism as 'something more nearly resembling psychotherapy,' as opposed to its being a religion or philosophy 'as these [terms] are understood in the West.'

Specifically, the 'system' treats what Buddhism often calls an 'illusory [or a 'false'] mind' (that is, a mind characterized and dominated by wandering, oppositional and discriminatory thoughts) with a view to bringing into manifestation a 'true [or 'pure'] mind' (being a mind which is not in opposition to itself).

Buddhism has something distinctively unique and, I think, very meaningful to say about ‘disease of the mind’, and it is this –– the root cause of our disorder, distress, sorrow, anxiety, stress, tension, insecurity, discontent, frustration, and general ‘unsatisfactoriness’ (dukkha) is ... attachment, craving, grasping and clinging of various kinds (collectively, upādāna) ... especially, clinging ... to ‘mind stuff’ in the form of, among other things, ideas, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions and prejudices. All of this ‘mind stuff’ we then turn back on itself ... and on ourselves. That is tantamount to insanity but we are all very good at doing it ... most of our waking hours (if not whilst asleep as well). Instead of living by reason and direct experience (sanity), we are driven by emotional compulsion. Worse, we cling to the ‘self’ as self, and we even manage to convince ourselves that we ‘belong’ to that self, and that we are those myriads of I’s and me’s that make up our waxing and waning consciousness.

Now, some dispute that Buddhism is a religion. I think it is a religion ... at least in some of its manifestations, but not others. Be that as it may, Buddhism, as Watts stated, is certainly not a religion as Westerners generally understand the term.

Nor is Buddhism a philosophy as we generally understand the term, although it does contain much which is philosophical, as well as ethical and moral, in nature. However, that which is philosophical in Buddhism is very much 'practical philosophy' ... with the emphasis on 'practical' or, rather, practice.

One thing Buddhism is not, is a ‘belief-system.’ I hope I have made that perfectly clear in my previous blogs. (The Buddha said, 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.')

Yes, first and foremost, Buddhism is a form of ‘therapy’ ... self illusion therapy or ego delusion therapy, you could call it. The basic premise of Buddhism is this –– all of our problems and difficulties in this life arise out of our mentality. More specifically, the root of all our problems and difficulties – all our  upādāna – lies in our illusory sense of a separate selfhood, in our misplaced concept of I-ness, that is, in a false view of who we really are. To borrow a couple of phrases from the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous, the result of our misbelief in a separate ‘self’ is ‘self-will run riot’, and the regular practice – note that word practice – of Buddhism is able to relieve us of the ‘bondage of self.’

The essence of Buddhism, in two words, is ... ‘Wake up!’ Yes, Buddhism is ... an ‘awakening.’ Buddhism is a set of humanistic principles and teachings which, when put into regular practice, enable us to overcome (‘cure’) our false view of ourselves – which is due to ignorance (avijjā) – and thereby experience a psychological transformation or mutation. We then overcome what Manly Palmer Hall referred to as our ‘psychological astigmatism.’ That is a condition in which we fail to see things as they really are because we are locked into certain habits of mind and modes of perception which are based on the supposed existence of a separate self. That is why Buddhism has been described as a teaching of ‘practising within.’

Buddhism is a whole mind-body experience. Buddha Shakyamuni was a radical empiricist. He taught people how to realize for themselves enlightenment ... by direct experience. It is through the regular practice of mindfulness, from one moment to the next, that we experience – note that word experience – life directly ... without those mental filters and psychological barriers which we tend to erect between ourselves and the objects of experience.

Buddha Shakyamuni was very smart. He knew that it was impossible to directly cultivate 'happiness.' That is why he spoke in terms of the causes of 'unhappiness'. Do you want to be happy? Of course. We all do. Then correct the causes of your unhappiness. That is how Buddhist psychology works.

Although the Buddha was not a psychologist per se, he nevertheless 'discovered' and understood the unconscious mind (bhavanga-citta), the ego (atta), and ego fixation (atta-vādupādāna... some 2,500 years before Sigmund Freud            

              Mushin - Empty Mind



That is amazing! Yes, if nothing else, Buddhism is an education. In that regard, the English word education’ is derived from the Latin roots educo and educare.  Educare means ‘to rear or to bring up,’ and can be traced to the Latin root words e and ducere.  Together, e-ducere means to ‘pull out,’ to ‘draw out,’ and to 'lead forth’ ... all aptly applicable to Buddhism, for the teachings of Buddhism, if diligently practised, will indeed 'draw out' one's innate potential to become a buddha.

Buddhism is also a praxis ... and a practice. It consists of various practices and activities by means of which we can better come to understand ourselves, others and the world. However, those practices and activities have to be enacted, practiced and realized in our minds and bodies. We learn in Buddhism that our mind is part of the ‘problem,’ but it can still be used to faithfully report on the flow of life from one moment to the next. That is why mindfulness is so important. We are not separate from life. We can never be less than life. We are persons among persons, each part of the endless procession of life. We are not those waxing and waning I’s and me’s, those various ‘selves’ which we mistakenly take for the person each of us really is.

It has been said that, for the first time, Buddha Shakyamuni taught that not only was self-deliverance possible, it could be attained independently of an external agency. He said, ‘I have delivered you towards deliverance. The Dhamma, the Truth is to be self realized.’ Further, he encouraged his followers to ‘come and see,’ that is, to investigate for themselves whether or not his teachings worked.

No wonder Krishnamurti - who was not a Buddhist - could nevertheless say, 'The Buddha comes closer to the basic truths and facts of life than any other.'

Now, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you're a Buddhist. The only thing that really matters is that you attain freedom from the bondage of self. That is where mindfulness is very useful, for it involves observing and releasing all those habits of mind that would otherwise preserve and maintain the illusion of a separate self.



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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


Thursday, August 25, 2011

MINDFULNESS, PSYCHOLOGICAL MUTATION AND HEALING

‘The mind is made up of thousands of yesterdays.’

So said Krishnamurti (pictured left), who often spoke of what he referred to as a ‘complete psychological revolution in the nature of the whole human being.’

This ‘psychological revolution’ – this ‘real crisis in the life of man’ or ‘radical inward revolution’ – can happen instantaneously or incrementally (although Krishnamurti appeared to doubt whether any change which was not immediate could be ‘true’). In either case, the experience is ‘revolutionary.’

The ‘psychological revolution’ of which Krishnamurti often spoke is one which you ‘must radically, profoundly, bring about [yourself].’ It is not something that others can do for you. Only you can effect this change within yourself, and it is a change which affects the conscious mind as well as the unconscious. The change comes from finding a ‘way of living’ where you ‘come into reality.’ It is an awakening, in which we wake up ... and then learn to stay awake.

This liberating experience is a ‘radical’ and ‘inward’ one but it can only happen when an individual realises that inner change is of ‘primary importance.’ That means that you have to want it more than anything else. In that regard, there is an Eastern story which goes like this. A seeker after wisdom asked a master, ‘How can I attain wisdom?’ The mater replied, ‘Let me show you.’ He took him down to the sea and immersed his head in the water three times. Then he asked him, ‘What did you desire more than anything else when your head was under water?’ ‘Air,’ replied the seeker. ‘When you desire wisdom as much as you desired air, you will attain it,’ said the master. (In some accounts of this story the master is none other than Socrates.)

Yes, so great is the power of change that if you want it – that is, really want it – you will have it! But first you must see the ‘danger’ inherent in the way you’re living. Krishnamurti would say, ‘It is like seeing the danger of a precipice, of a wild animal, of a snake; then there is instant action.’ Yes, so often we do not want to get well. No wonder Jesus asked the man who had been an invalid for 38 years, ‘Do you want to get well?’ (Jn 5:6).

The change produces freedom – ‘freedom from psychological fear, freedom from greed, envy, jealousy, dependency; freedom from the fear of being lonely, from the fear of conformity’ – and the freedom which comes into being comes not through the pursuit of freedom but when one ‘understands the total conditioning of his own mind.’

This is not some pathetic so-called ‘complete makeover’ of the kind that is so sickeningly popular these days, but a total reorientation of one’s life and being. Everything else becomes secondary to the task of remaining ‘alert’ and ‘anew to the challenge of life.’ What is required is vigilant, ‘thought-less’ self-observation and choiceless awareness of ‘the outer as well as of the inner.’ Says Krishnamurti, ‘To observe the action of the past is again action without the past. The state of seeing – in the form of a disinterested and passive alertness – is more important than what is seen. To be aware of the past in that choiceless observation, is not only to act differently, but to be different. In this awareness memory acts without impediment, and efficiently.’

New Thought minister and writer Emmet Fox (pictured left) wrote, ‘Has it ever occurred to you that the only time you ever have is the present moment?’ He went on to say, ‘It means that you can only live in the present. It means that you can only act in the present. It means that you can only experience in the present. Above all, it means that the only thing you have to heal is the present thought.’ When we do that, we free ourselves from what Krishnamurti called the ‘background,’ and when we are free of the background, we can, in Krishnamurti’s words, ‘renew life’ and ‘recreate ourselves’ immediately, without dependence on time.

That’s a powerful idea – the only thing we have to heal is the present thought. We need to ‘get the present moment right.’ What we call the past is nothing more than our memory of the past ... experienced in the moment of the present. However, until we awaken to that fact, and stop living in the past, I regret to advise that our present and also our future will all be in the past. We are the result of the past, and all too often we live in the past.

For Krishnamurti the ‘past’ was not the chronological past but all ‘the accumulated experiences, the accumulated responses, memories, traditions, knowledge, the sub-conscious storehouse of innumerable thoughts, feelings, influences and responses.’ All psychological maladjustment can be seen to be a condition of the past, and, if Krishnamurti is right, we can instantaneously free ourselves from the past. ‘Freedom from the past,’ says Krishnamurti, ‘means living in the now which is not of time, in which there is only this movement of freedom, untouched by the past, by the known.’

Krishnamurti had little or no time for those ‘analysts’ who were of the view that it was necessary to examine ‘every response, every complex, every hindrance, every blockage,’ for all that implied a process of time, but nothing which was the result of time could, he said, free us from the burden of the past. For Krishnamurti, ‘choiceless awareness’ was ‘a much simpler, a more direct way’ to liberate oneself from the past. He referred to it as a ‘psychological mutation.’

Ultimately, one’s understanding of oneself and reality is ‘from moment to moment.’ If you can ‘get that right’, then, as Dr Emmet Fox would say, ‘the whole picture will change into one of harmony.’ Gone will be the contradiction, friction and conflict between all the warring ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ within that supposed ‘self’ which we mistakenly take for our true being or personhood. We need no longer be anxious, depressed or fearful. Mindfulness, in the form of a constant, meditative choiceless awareness of the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’, provides us with ever-present opportunities for self-healing, for it is (to quote Krishnamurti once again) an ‘objective, kindly, dispassionate study of ourselves, ourselves being the organism as a whole: our body, our feelings, our thoughts.’

Now, this is important. I am not saying that we can heal ourselves of all maladies including psychological illnesses. As regards the latter, some people can at times experience a gross distortion of reality – a state of affairs which is not readily amenable to healing of the kind the subject of this post ... at least not until other therapeutic modalities are effectually in place. What I am saying is this – ultimately, all healing is self-healing which frees us from the bondage of both the past and a non-existent, but ever so persistent, ‘self.’ Yes, not only must each of us be our own teacher and our own pupil, we must also be our own healer ... to the fullest extent humanly possible.


Acknowledgment is made, and gratitude is expressed,
to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, Ojai, California, USA.


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



Monday, August 22, 2011

MINDFULNESS AND THE GETTING OF WISDOM

In the third chapter of the Epistle of James we are told a number of important things about the nature of 'wisdom' (calligraphed left).

First, we are told that wisdom and meekness are very much associated. Yes, meekness. The word meekness refers, not to timidity, mildness or blandness, but to being in a right relation to God – or, if you wish, Life itself – and one’s fellow human beings, and to being disciplined as regards one’s intellect, emotions and will.

Secondly, we are told that wisdom and such discordant and unholy things as envy and strife, which only serve to divide – as opposed to unite – people, are antipathetic (that is, incapable of living in harmony with each other).

Thirdly, we are told that wisdom comes ‘from above’ – meaning, of course, not literally from ‘above’ or ‘out there’, but from the ‘source’ of all life, power and goodness (if you like, ‘God’).

Fourthly, we are told that wisdom manifests itself as purity, peacefulness, gentleness, easygoingness, mercy, impartiality and lack of hypocrisy – the 'fruit' (to use a Biblical metaphor) of our mindfulness practice.

Now, we are told in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke that Jesus ‘grew … filled with wisdom’ and that he ‘increased in wisdom and statue and in favour with God and man’. Note that important connection between wisdom and our relationships with God (as we understand God) and other fellow humans. The truly wise person is a grounded and harmonious person, someone who is disciplined, someone who is non-resistant, that is, does not have a hostile or resistant spirit – yes, what the Bible refers to as a ‘meek’ person.

We all know of people who are knowledgeable in this or that but are far from being wise. The world is full of educated idiots, and I fear that for much of my life I have been one of them ... with lots of degrees, diplomas and certificates on the wall to make it ‘official’!

Yes, we all know that 'knowledge', in the sense of intellectual or book knowledge, is not the same thing as 'wisdom'. Wisdom is knowledge of, and not just about, life which is acquired from the experience of life itself – the ‘wisdom of the years’, so to speak. Wisdom is not so much knowledge as the understanding of knowledge. However, there is another 'kind' of wisdom, which is real wisdom. True ‘spiritual’ wisdom is rooted in, and otherwise derived from, a relationship with the 'Ground of Being' – the one Power and Presence active in the universe and in our lives – the very Livingness of Life itself!

Historian and philosopher Will Durant once wrote, ‘Ideally, wisdom is total perspective - seeing an object, event, or idea in all its pertinent relationships.’ Krishnamurti said as much, when he said, 'In the acknowledgement of what is, there is the cessation of all conflict.' Krishnamurti would always speak of the importance of seeing things as they really are - life as it really is - without judgment, without condemnation, without any interpretation, explanation or mediation of any kind - choiceless awareness, he called it. That is mindfulness ... and wisdom.

I mentioned the word 'discipline' above. Krishnmaurti often spoke of the importance of discipline, linking it with the notions of 'freedom' and 'intelligence' (cf wisdom). Here is a short YouTube video in which Krishnamurti refers to discipline as 'the act of learning all the time':

video


The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things’ (Phil 4:8).

Now, that, also, is wisdom.


Acknowledgment is made, and gratitude is expressed,
to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, Ojai, California, USA.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

BE KOSHER ... EAT MINDFULLY!

Mindfulness and Judaism? Yes, of course. Why not?

Kashrut, more commonly referred to as Kosher, refers to the traditional Jewish approach to eating. I know a bit about the subject, and I will always be grateful for the knowledge and warmth of fellowship that I received at the Congregation of Temple Emanuel, at Woollahra, New South Wales, during the time that I worshipped and studied there.

Mary L Zamore (pictured left), who is the associate rabbi of the Reform Jewish congregation Temple B'nai Or in Morristown, New Jersey, has edited a new book entitled The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.

The book features essays written by more than three dozen progressive thinkers on a wide range of topics that explore food choices, and the ethics and morality of food production.

Rabbi Zamore, who writes from a Reform (Progressive) Jewish perspective, makes the interesting point that the term ‘Kosher’ has been misunderstood for hundreds of years by those outside of the Jewish culture.

From my experience I would say that it is also the case that many Jews are not really, or at least fully, aware of the true meaning of ‘Kosher’.

Listen to what Rabbi Zamore has to say about the matter:

' Being Kosher or practicing Kashrut is really about mindfulness. It’s about being aware of what we are eating and how it’s produced, which involves not only how the workers were treated in the process but also how the animals were treated.'


In other words, Kosher is not just about health and hygiene or religious obedience.

Zamore makes it clear that Kosher is a ‘spiritual’ practice ... that is, a non-physical practice which is all about attention, awareness and, most importantly, connection as well as reconnection ... to oneself (that is, within one’s body and mind), to others and to one’s God (or, if you so choose, Life itself or some other 'power-not-oneself').

In a specifically Jewish context the practice of Kashrut is, says Zamore, all about ‘one’s connection to community, the Torah and God.’

All very interesting.

Here's a short YouTube video on the subject of Kashrut:




Kosher or otherwise, the daily moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness is ‘sacred’ in the true sense of the word ... that is, something ‘set apart’ from other things, if only by the ‘distance’ one consciously and deliberately places – in terms of choiceless awareness and so forth – between the person each one of us is and the things (both physical and non-physical) of which we are mindful.

The 'sacred'? Yes, very much so. In that regard, I treasure what the Unitarian Universalist minister, and former executive director of Amnesty International USA, Dr William F Schulz (pictured right) has had to say about the so-called ‘sacred’. Schultz, who served as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1985 to 1993, has written, ‘The Sacred or Divine, the Precious and Profound, are made evident not in the miraculous or supernatural but in the simple and the everyday.’

Beautiful words!



Saturday, August 13, 2011

MINDFULNESS: YOU CAN’T SAY 'IT’S JUST NOT CRICKET'

In the annals of Australian cricket master cricketer Justin Langer AM (pictured left, and also below) is one of Australia's great top-order batsmen.

Justin's own website reliably states, ‘Originally playing at number 3 he moved to opener in 2001 and played 105 test matches scoring 7,696 runs including 23 test centuries.’ Not bad, to say the least. In fact, as we Aussies like to say, ‘Bloody beautiful, mate!’

According to this recent article in The Times of India Justin engages in daily meditation. (I also know he's into yoga.) He has his own little ‘ashram’ (his word) at the bottom of the garden of his home in Perth, Western Australia. From the content of the article, and its wording, I get the impression that Justin, who was known in the cricket world for his mental toughness, practises some type of mindfulness meditation, for it has taught him to ‘live for the moment’ and ‘focus on the present.’

I have an important confession to make. I am not a fan of cricket. Sorry, but I would rather watch paint dry than watch cricket. Actually, if I am forced to watch cricket, I try to watch it mindfully. Not being all that familiar with the rules, I simply watch ... and observe ... each 'shot' (hit, catch, bowl, etc). I observe the bat, its colour and position, and its spatio-temporal movement. Ditto each bowl, etc. All this is done without judgment, condemnation or analysis ... for I can rarely tell a good 'shot' from a bad one. Of course, if you happen to be someone watching the game who is 'serious' about the matter, or if you're an umpire or a commentator, coach or selector, you will of necessity engage in (hopefully informed) judgment and analysis. You must.

What if you're a player on the field? Well, I guess a certain amount of self-evaluation and self-analysis must take place, but never to the point that you take your eye off the ball, or (if you're a batsman) you look at where you're going to hit the ball as opposed to keeping your eye on the ball whilst making sure the bat is 'coming through' facing the ball. I'm probably not making myself all that clear to those who really know what they're talking about (ha!), but mindfulness ... in the sense of attention and awareness from one moment to the next ... is very important for any player regardless of their position on the field or in the team. This is so, even if you've never heard of the concept of mindfulness.

Although, as I say, I know little about the game of cricket itself, I do know this much – the successful pursuit of any sport like cricket, baseball or golf requires, among other things, confidence and, most importantly, concentration.

We need to be careful when using the word ‘concentration’ in the context of mindfulness meditation. Concentration in the form of a fixed and rigid, even ‘absorbed’, focus on some word, sound or object may be the ‘name of the game’ in some forms of meditation, but not so when it comes to mindfulness meditation. Here, the word ‘concentration’ is used in the sense of one’s being able to be attentive to what is happening in each changing moment ... and things can and generally do change very fast in sports of the kind in question.

This also needs to be kept in mind. Concentration means, not so much blocking out distraction – for that is not always possible or even necessarily desirable – but being attentive to and choicelessly aware of whatever is the ‘content’ of the moment having regard to the ‘need’ of the particular moment in terms of the overall goal. That way, one can play in the moment for each hit or shot.

One final thing ... effort defeats itself. Yes, one must be mentally tough, persistent, determined, and so forth ... but trying too hard to, for example, hit the ball is not the way to go.

Finally, here's some video footage of the man 'in action':



Good on ya, Justin!


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Thursday, August 11, 2011

A SPIRITUAL GUIDE TO MINDFUL LIVING


No, I am not talking about a so-called spirit guide, but a 'spiritual guide' ... that is, a guide which makes reference to certain 'spiritual' [see below] principles.

The meaning of the word ‘spirituality’

First, what do I mean by the word ‘spirituality’?

The English word ‘spirit’ comes from the Latin spiritus meaning, among other things, breath, breathing, air, inspiration, character, spirit, life, vigour, and courage.

Spirituality does not require nor depend upon any notions of ‘supernaturalism’ but refers to non-physical and non-transient things such as faith, hope and charity as well as states of affairs or human consciousness which, going ‘beyond words’, are only partially (if at all) graspable by human concepts ... things that cannot be seen but which are otherwise capable of being apprehended, if not fully understood. 

Spirituality is thus a composite word referring to the ‘domain where mind, personality, purpose, ideals, values and meanings dwell’ (Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan). In a similar vein, Father Joe Martin (pictured left), an acknowledged authority on spirituality and addictive disease, would always make it clear that spirituality, in the first instance, had little or nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the development of the mind, the emotions and the will.

Similarly, another Catholic priest, the Redemptorist Father Gerard H Chylko, wrote that spirituality is ‘made up of all those qualities of mind and character that make us who we are: our values, our desires, our feelings, and our dreams’.

All of the above makes perfect good sense to me.

Finally (at least on this point), Quaker writer Parker J Palmer has described spirituality as a ‘longing to be connected with the largeness of life’, that is, to something larger than one’s ego or 'self' (that is, some ‘power-not-oneself’). I like that.

Many people say, 'I am spiritual, but not religious,' as if the two things were worlds apart. Mind you, it does seem that way far too often! Never forget that religion is concerned with spirituality but, sadly, it is also concerned with other things as well ... such as power, wealth, control, dependency and, even at times, abuse.

Perhaps the main difference between spirituality and religion is that the former gives one complete freedom to choose one’s own individual path towards wholeness, recovery and ‘enlightenment’. Religion is the institutionalised, organised formal practice of a particular spiritual tradition's beliefs (ugh!), ethics, and rituals, whereas spirituality, doesn’t necessarily entail any adherence to a religious tradition.

Seven principles for mindful living

I have referred to these working ‘principles’ in many different blogs but I thought it might be helpful to bring them altogether ... for present purposes and otherwise.

These ‘principles’ are NOT articles of faith. They are NOT beliefs. I will have more to say about ‘beliefs’ shortly. At best, these principles are to be ‘accepted’ as working hypotheses ... and as guideposts to mindful living. They have served me well.

First principle: Life is one

Now, I must be careful here. I am not advocating monism or pantheism. When I say that life is one, I am trying to say a couple of things.

First, a single logic applies to all things and how they are related. All things exist in the same order or level of reality ... and on the same ‘plane’ of observability. If that were not the case, it would be impossible for us to be attentive to, and otherwise aware of, what happens from one moment to the next. Just think about that for a few seconds, and it will be obvious to you that such is the case.

Secondly, nothing is simple, indeed all things are complex, have internal differentiation, and interact with other things ... but, once again, all on the same level or order of reality and observability. Yes, all things are constituent members of wider systems and exchanges of things. The forms of things are constantly being transmuted.

Call it the ‘interconnectedness of all life’ or, if you like, ‘InterBeing’ (the latter wonderful term comes from Thich Nhat Hanh [pictured right]; see also the 'InterBeing' calligraphy, above left). In that sense, there is only one life manifesting itself in all things and as all things.

You don’t have to be a monist to know, intuitively, that life forever ‘gives’ of itself to itself in order to perpetuate itself. In that sense, we can rightly say that the ‘One [referring to ‘life’ itself, not some supposed transcendent Being] becomes the many.’

Also, when we look around us, what do we see? Living things, all living out their livingness, in and as themselves.

I also think it is self-evident and intuitively obvious that the ‘life’ flowing through your veins – and through and in all other living things as well – is, in a metaphysical (if not also in a physical) sense the same ‘life’ flowing through me. That’s as strong as I can put it without plunging into subjective idealism or monism.

Second principle: There is nothing ‘supernatural’

This second principle flows logically from the first.

As I have said many times, how can we conceive of there being any existence, or other order or level of reality, other than our ordinary ‘natural’ existence, that is, the way in which ordinary things exist in space and time. Any notion of there being different orders or levels of reality or truth is contrary to the very nature and possibility of discourse ... that is, unspeakable ... not to mention meaningless.

In short, we can have no conception of any such existence, nor any conception of what it might possibly be like.

Further, as already mentioned, if there were 'higher' and 'lower' orders or levels of reality, it would be impossible for us to be attentive to, and otherwise aware of, what happens from one moment to the next. The 'observer', the thing 'observed', and the 'act of observing' itself, must all be located on the one order of level of reality.

Listen to these words from the late Australian bishop Lawrence W Burt (pictured left):

'In a universe of LAW there can be no supernatural. There may be the super-physical, or super-normal, but there can be no super-natural. You cannot transcend Natural law, nor suspend it.' [Original emphasis]

So, if someone says to you, ‘There is a supernatural dimension to life, I’ve experienced it, but the reason you haven't experienced it is because you don't believe like me,’ just smile benignly, and say, ‘Have a cup of tea.’ (That's pure Zen. See the other piece of calligraphy, below, which reads, 'Go and have some tea.')

Having said all of the above, if you choose to believe [see below] in the 'supernatural', that does not prevent you from practising mindfulness. You see, mindfulness doesn't require any beliefs at all, nor will any beliefs prevent mindfulness from 'working' ... except, perhaps, a negative belief pertaining to the nature of mindfulness itself (eg that it is 'demonic' or something similarly silly). Further, as mindfulness, being entirely naturalistic, operates on the one so-called 'ordinary' order or level of reality in which all things live and move and have their being, mindfulness can and will work irrespective of the existence or non-existence of other supposed orders or levels of reality.

Third principle: Reject the unobservable as the cause of the observable

This third principle flows logically from both the first and the second principles.

One of the reasons I like Buddhism, and am a Buddhist, is that Buddhism, at least in its simplest and most ‘uncluttered’ forms, is almost entirely empirically-based. (Not so with most other religions, especially the monotheistic ones which, at their fundamentalist irrational worst, become quite toxic.)

Now, whether you are a Buddhist or not, it pays to be an empiricist. Buddha Shakyamuni was one ... indeed, one of the greatest empirical philosophers of all times. He refused to affirm that which was unobservable. He relied solely on the observable. Not a bad way to proceed. The 'answer' to any problem can only be found on the same order or level of reality as the 'problem.' Obvious, isn't it?

Unfortunately, many people still seek 'answers' to their problems from 'outside' or otherwise 'beyond' this spatiotemporal world, and they even believe [sic] that they receive answers. It's only a matter of time before this sort of problem is categorised by the American Psychiatric Association or some similar body as a 'mental illness.' Indeed, as belief in the so-called 'supernatural' wanes – particularly in Western societies – then it will no longer be able to be asserted by religionists of the kind in question that their false and fixed, and otherwise irrational, belief [sic] is one 'normally held by others of the same culture or subculture.' At that point in time, belief in the so-called supernatural will be seen to be what, in truth, it really is – a clinical delusion. Even at this point in time, it's a very fine line, for as the noted psychiatrist Dr Thomas Szasz has said, 'If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.' It's not funny. It's serious.

Nothing – I repeat nothing – is more important than, or superior to, facts ... that is, occurrences in space and time. Nothing! Indeed, there are only facts.

So, discard forever the idea that there are entities beyond space and time which yet work out their supposed purposes within space and time. Both science and logic compel us to reject the unobservable as the cause of the observable.

In all things, draw your conclusions and inferences from objective facts, based on observation and the use of unaided reason, and without appeal to any supposed ‘supernatural’ causes ... and NEVER accept anything that offends against your sensibilities or is otherwise contrary to reason.

So, if some person says to you, ‘You will never understand God [or Super-person X or whoever] unless you get beyond or abandon reason,’ again, just smile benignly, and say, ‘Have a cup of tea.’ (More Zen! The only sensible response to people of that kind. If they mention so-called 'revelation', tell them that reason is the only form of 'revelation', for the reasons previously given.)

Once again, there is only one order or level of reality. That is why we speak of the practice of mindfulness in terms of the presence of bare and curious attention to, and choiceless and non-judgmental awareness of, the action of the present moment ... from one moment to the next.

Fourth principle: Don’t ‘believe’

People ordinarily believe when they don't know or understand something. There is no need to believe anything ... and nothing to believe. Strange as it may seem, there is also no need to disbelieve anything ... and nothing to disbelieve. Whether or not something is the case does not depend upon belief or disbelief. That is why Buddha Skakyamuni said, 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.'

So, forget about belief-systems. Beliefs are for ‘spiritual cripples’ ... for those who can’t, or won’t, think for themselves. Beliefs, by their very nature, take the form of prejudices, or biases, of various kinds. The Buddha referred to beliefs as being in the nature of thought coverings or veils (āvarnas).

Choose a religion or, if you don’t like religion, a philosophy or a ‘way of life’ that doesn’t require you to believe or disbelieve anything. Life is Truth, and life is forever open-ended. We, as part of life's self-expression, are always in direct 'contact' with, and can always be choicelessly aware of, Truth. No doctrine or dogma, and no priest, guru or saviour, is needed for you to know and experience Truth. Beliefs actually get in the way of things. They are a barrier to Truth. In the words of Krishnamurti, 'Truth is a pathless land.' He also said, 'To find truth, or God, there must be neither belief nor disbelief. ... To seek God without understanding oneself has very little meaning.'

So, that is another reason I like Buddhism. Buddhists don’t ‘believe’. They know (well, obviously not everything, or even most things, but some things at least) ... and they try to understand.

Avoid, like the plague, those who say things like, ‘Super-person X is the only way to God,’ or ‘You must believe this [or "Super-person X"] in order to be saved.’ As I have said many times, if people are rewarded for believing such things, then I wouldn't want to believe [sic] in or worship such a god.

We, in the West, live in an age of crass materialism. Is it because most Westerners have given up on so-called 'orthodox' Christianity? The mainstream Christian churches would have you believe [sic] that is the cause of Western materialism ... that, along with human greed. No, I tend to agree with Bishop Burt (referred to and quoted above), who, after accusing the Christian Church of having 'lost the chart of man's spiritual origin and destiny,' went on to say:

'Western materialism is the product of certain orthodox Church doctrines which have been the substance of Christian thought for centuries. If modern civilisation is to be saved from the suicidal doom to which it is drifting, materialistic doctrines, even though invested with a halo of sanctity, must be expunged from Christian teaching.'

'Orthodox Christianity has lost its appeal to thoughtful people because its primitive doctrines are divorced from reason, from logic and commonsense.'

Those words were spoken in Sydney, Australia, over 70 years ago. Ever since then, Australians and most other Westerners – who, like me, are not prepared to believe that which offends against one's sensibilities or which is otherwise contrary to reason – have been leaving the churches in droves. For the most part, I don't blame them.

So, dear friends, whatever you do ... don't 'believe'.

Fifth principle: There is no ‘self’

That's right, there is no such thing as ‘self’. Now, I know that is a hard concept for many to grasp, but it is the considered view of most leading philosophers and neuroscientists.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, there is something intrinsically wrong with the notion of the ‘self’. So-called ‘consciousness’ – for there really is no such thing (except in a ‘relational’ sense) – is neither a fixed quantity or quality nor of fixed duration, but simply ‘something’ quite intermittent in nature that undergoes change moment by moment.

The truth is our ‘stream of consciousness’ (awareness-ing) goes through continuous fluctuations from moment to moment. As such, there is nothing to constitute, let alone sustain, a separate, transcendent ’I’ structure or entity. Yes, we have a sense of continuity of ‘self’, but it is really an illusion. It has no ‘substance’ in psychological reality. It is simply a mental construct composed of a continuous ever-changing process or confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’) which are cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own.

Sixth principle: Obey the ‘law of indirectness’

The metaphysical ‘law of indirectness’ is easy to explain because it is self-evident and intuitively obvious. It is also empirically based.

The ‘law’ says this – don't attempt to put a negative or otherwise troublesome thought or problem out of one's mind directly but rather let the thought or problem slip from the sphere of conscious analysis.

That is the ‘right’ ... indeed, the only ... way to proceed.

Don't try ... instead, let.

Seventh principle: Resist not!

There is another metaphysical or spiritual ‘law’ which is very closely related to the one mentioned above – the ‘law of non-resistance.’

Put simply, this ‘law’ says, ‘Whatever you resist, persists.’

Even Jesus is reported to have told his followers, 'Resist not evil' (Mt 5:39). The American spiritual teacher Vernon Howard, whose writings and lectures have had a big impact on my life, said this: 'Resistance to the disturbance is the disturbance.' Get the picture?

So, when it comes to your mindfulness practice, don’t try to actively bring thoughts or feelings up to the surface. Instead, be with the moment. Indeed, remain embodied in the moment. Whenever a body sensation, sense perception, thought, feeling, emotion, image, plan, memory, reflection or commentary arises, do not resist it or try to expel, drive it away or change it. Simply observe and notice, with passive detachment, and without attitude, comment or judgment.


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