Sunday, October 30, 2011

HOW INSIGHT MEDITATION WORKS

Mindfulness meditation is also known as ‘insight meditation.’ That implies that the regular practice of mindfulness affords insight into the person you are and what is going ‘on’ inside your mind and body. But how does insight meditation work?

Immediately, I stop myself. Never ask ‘how,’ it is said? Well, if scientists never asked ‘how,’ we would know next to nothing, which does seem to be the case with many of our politicians and public figures. It is inherent in the nature of things ... and us ... to ask ‘how.’ Of course, the ‘how’ question is sometimes best answered by saying, ‘Just do it.’ That’s how. Well, insight meditation works in the doing.

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware ... and to be aware that we are aware. That is even more important. It’s the awareness of awareness. Mindfulness teaches us to observe. Just observe ... without judgment, condemnation, criticism or analysis ... but with curiosity. A choiceless awareness and acceptance of whatever is the subject of one’s awareness ... even awareness itself.

For example, if we are sad or angry, we just observe the sadness as sadness, or the anger as anger. We feel no compulsion or even need to do anything about it. Yes, really! We just let it be. (I know it’s trite, and it’s been said many times before, but we must let things be before we can let them go. Never forget that.) And if we feel pain in some part of our body, we just observe the pain as pain, again without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

There is no need to deny the existence of any negativity, whether in the form of negative thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations or otherwise. There is also no need, for example, to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Just let them be ... and 'resist not.' Understand that, in and of themselves, these 'things' (negative thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations) have no power to hurt you.

Now, a wonderful thing begins to happen with the regular practice of mindfulness or insight meditation. We start to observe, and as we continue to observe, non-judgmentally and choicelessly, the cause of our sadness, anger, pain or whatever become clear. How? (Ugh.) Because we become aware – yes, aware – that we are reacting with some sort of observable, discernible ‘negativity’. The negativity may take the form of, say, aversion. It may take the form of some sort of clinging to, or craving for, something or someone which, we (wrongly) think, will be the answer to our sadness, anger or pain.

Anyway, we gain insight into the cause of our problem. Of course, insight alone is not enough, but without insight there is no possibility of there being any change for the better.

Back to my theme. Mindfulness teaches us to keep observing whatever sensation arises or is most dominant. Observe. Observe. Observe. As we keep observing the sensation, a most remarkable thing happens. The sensation loses its strength! Yes, it loses its strength and its grip on us and its power over us. Eventually, the sensation, having lost its strength, will pass away. Gone!

What’s even more wonderful is that, not only does the sensation pass away, so does all the negativity referred to above.

This is not too good to be true. It’s not a miracle. But it is amazing!



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THE MINDFUL ART OF KNOWING ONESELF




Sunday, October 23, 2011

TAKING REFUGE IN MINDFULNESS


Buddhism is essentially an education – some have called it an 'educational system' – as well as a praxis consisting of various ideasteachingspractices, activities and ways of understanding ... as opposed to ‘beliefs’ ... for Buddhism is not a 'belief-system.'  Shakyamuni Buddha said, 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.'

A Buddhist is said to ‘take refuge’ in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, but what does it mean to ‘take refuge’? Well, let me start by telling you what the words do not mean.

What follows is very important. Taking the Three Refuges is not about faith or belief ... nor ‘salvation’ as that word is usually understood in Christianity.  No, ‘taking refuge’ involves not faith or belief but a healthy, empirically-based confidence and affirmation based on both personal experience and objective knowledge.

‘Taking refuge’ is not some act or posture of weakness or cowardice whereby one seeks to retreat or withdraw from the pressures of life and seek 'shelter' elsewhere. On the contrary, ‘taking refuge’ is an act of direct, mindful engagement with life itself ... in all of its fullness.

The threefold affirmation of ‘taking refuge’ involves various undertakings and commitments, as well as notions, of:

·    returning [to one's 'true nature'], ‘coming home,’ ‘finding one’s home,’ 'dwelling in,' and ‘being at home with,’
·    reliance, adherence, and ‘holding on to,’
·    spiritual discipline in the forms of ‘giving up’ and ‘letting go’ of certain things ... as well as establishing or laying foundations for future growth and development, and
·    ‘finding,’ 'learning,' 'abiding,' 'being at one with,' and understanding.

The original Pali words of the ‘Triple Gem’ (or ‘Three Jewels’ or 'Three Refuges') – that is, the three ‘I take refuge’ lines – when translated literally, read, ‘I will undertake to find my home in ... .’ Expanding on that idea, in the Infinite Life Sutra the Buddha taught us to 'dwell in the wisdom of true reality.' And what is that? Well, we all share a common life 'entity' – life itself, that is, the very livingness of life. Each one of us is part of life's self-expression. (The word 'self,' here, means self-actualizing.) Now, Buddhists refer to that common life 'entity' as the Dharma-body.

Insofar as the Buddha is concerned, ‘taking refuge’ involves turning one’s back on one’s attachments - which include such things as fixed or inflexible ideas and opinions - and delusions in order to return to, and rely upon, a state of awareness and understanding. As I have said many times before, there is no need to believe when there is understanding. (The very word 'Buddha' – a Sanskrit word – means both awareness and understanding.) Further, it is not a matter of blindly following Shakyamuni Buddha. On the contrary, it is written in the Kalama Sutra that Buddha asked his ‘disciples’ not to believe certain things simply because he said them, or because they were commanded by so-called holy books. No, we are to ‘prove’ all things, and, as I have said many times before, there is nothing to ‘believe.’ What a relief! What a blessing!

Insofar as the Dharma is concerned, ‘taking refuge’ involves giving up various erroneous views about ‘self’ ... including the very notion of ‘self’ itself ... and relying upon a right view of things, that is, seeing things with choiceless awareness ... as they really are. (The word 'Dharma' refers not only to the teachings of the Buddha but also to things, events and phenomena – in fact, everything in the universe, hence the connection with mindfulness in the form of both awareness and understanding.)

Insofar as the Sangha is concerned, ‘taking refuge’ involves turning one’s back on the methods and weaponry of worldly conflict, discord and disharmony, and relying upon and drawing strength from the community of learning, that is, the fellowship of likeminded people. Metaphorically speaking, and more importantly, 'taking refuge' in the Sangha refers to purity of mind and harmony in life.

Taking the Three Refuges means committing oneself to a certain praxis and lifestyle. It is not a matter of being ‘saved’ by the Buddha. We must ‘save’ ourselves, that is, the persons we are, by moving from a ‘sense of self’ to a ‘sense of Being [or "Be-ness"].’ Yes, Buddhism is based upon the principle that we can change our lives by changing the way we see our ‘selves’ and others. It is a means of ‘self-deliverance.’ (No, not in that other sense!) There is no need for any outside saviour.

Taking the Three Refuges means experiencing ‘a feeling of being at home in the universe,' which was Professor William James' definition of 'religion.' Wonderful words – a feeling of being at home in the universe. Taking the Three Refuges is not something you do just once, although in order to become a Buddhist it must be done – that is, affirmed – with deliberate intent and with some formality (even if it be done privately by you alone) on the very first occasion. (Undertaking the Five Precepts is also part of Buddhist 'initiation' and practice.) No, taking the Three Refuges is something you do on a daily basis and from one moment to the next ... mindfully.

In certain sects or denominations of Buddhism – for example, Shinnyo-en – the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are conflated. (In all traditions of Buddhism, it is acknowledged that, although there are three 'jewels,' they are all set in a 'single crown.') Thus, the Buddha is said to be ever-present in his teachings (the Dharma) and in the community of learning and practice (the Sangha). I like that idea. It is a bit similar to the Christian teaching that Jesus is ever-present in both the Word of God (the Bible) and his Church (the 'Mystical Body of Christ'). Jesus is reported to have said, 'The person who has seen me has seen the Father' (Jn 14:9). Buddha is reported to have said, 'The person who sees the Dharma sees me.' Fascinating.

Then there is what is known in Buddhism as 'Buddha nature,' that is, the 'Buddha within.' Now, not all Buddhists assert that there is such a 'thing' as ‘Buddha nature,’ but for the most part I find the idea quite attractive. As I see it, ‘Buddha nature’ is not a ‘soul’ or ‘self’ but simply the inbuilt potentiality we all have as human beings to ‘awaken’ to our true being ... as fully awakened or enlightened human beings. In that regard, the Sixth and Last Patriarch of Chán (Zen) Buddhism, Master Dajian Huineng, made it clear that 'taking the Triple Gem' simply meant returning to one's true, innate 'Self-Nature.' (In Esoteric Christianity there is the idea of the indwelling 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' [Col 1:27 (NKJV)], which some see as the Christian 'equivalent' to what is called 'Buddha nature' in Buddhism.)

Thus, ‘taking refuge’ in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha means resorting to the practices by which Shakyamuni and others since have achieved ‘enlightenment’, that is, total freedom from the ‘bondage of self.’ It means finding within those three things, and within the person each one of us is, the teacher, the teaching, and the community of learning and practice that will enable us to ‘wake up’ and ‘stay awake.’ Mindfulness was the form of meditation that the Buddha Shakyamuni successfully used to achieve enlightenment. Yes, there are other forms of meditation – even within Buddhism – but mindfulness is the only one which has the ‘imprimatur,’ so to speak, of the historical Buddha (who otherwise taught us innumerable 'ways of practice'). That’s good enough for me. Anyway, I find it works ... and that is the way Buddhism is supposed to ‘work’ as well. It’s entirely a matter of direct experience and empirical proof.

In this short YouTube video the Rev. Koyo S Kubose of Bright Dawn Institute for American Buddhism demonstrates how to ‘apply’ the Three Jewels in one’s meditation practice:




Now, as Richard Nixon used to say, let me make one thing perfectly clear. You do not need to become a Buddhist to ‘wake up.’ Any person who is prepared to ‘come home’ in the sense described in this blog is, for all intents and purposes, a 'student of the Triple Jewels,' and is able to find within their own personhood all they need to become free from the bondage of self. So, come alive, wake up ... and stay awake ... mindfully.



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Sunday, October 16, 2011

GOLDIE HAWN’S LOTUS GROWS IN THE MUD

The celebrated actor, producer, director and author Goldie Hawn (pictured left), whose autobiography A Lotus Grows in the Mud is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read, created The Hawn Foundation in 2005, whose mission is to ‘equip children with the social and emotional skills they need to navigate the challenges of the contemporary world in order to lead smarter, healthier, and happier lives.’ Wonderful!

Working with leading neuroscientists, educators and researchers, The Hawn Foundation has developed the MindUP program, a curriculum that has already been implemented in classrooms in more than 1,000 schools in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The MindUP program is now on its way to a number of other countries including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. (The program is expected to start in Australia before the end of this year.)

Here’s a short Hawn Foundation video on the MindUP program:





The exciting, cutting-edge curriculum (now available through Scholastic Books) – which goes beyond mere academics – features some 15 very practical but evidence-based ‘lessons’ designed to help children:

·         reduce stress and anxiety,
·         improve concentration and academic performance,
·         understand the brain science linking thoughts, emotions and behaviour,
·         manage their emotions and behaviour more effectively,
·         develop greater empathy for others and the world, and
·         learn to be optimistic and happy.

Ms Hawn’s curriculum dramatically transforms the way we view education, using methods that are backed up by the latest research about the brain, but does it work? Yes. Already research shows impressive results in children who are learning in the MindUp classroom. For example, a University of British Columbia study reveals that children in Vancouver schools who participated in the program reported not only increased optimism but also decreased aggression in both the classroom and the playground.

Says Hawn, ‘We’ve had children who have lived through genocide, people trafficking and parental drug addiction, and experts have come in to test their cortisol (stress) levels after they slow down and focus on their breathing, and their stress levels are lower.’

Research from Germany on the efficacy of the MindUP program has produced similar results. Once again, the children participating in the MindUp were more able to manage their cortisol levels than the control group. Hawn states that aggression went down in the playground by about 30 per cent. In addition, the children were found to be much more focused and attentive in school ... and also much happier.

For those who are interested, Ms Hawn has written a book 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children--and Ourselves--the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives as a guide for parents to teach the MindUP program at home to children aged 5 to 12.

Here, by way of example, is some advice from Goldie on teaching young ones 'mindful breathing' ...

Sit with your children for 10 minutes a day (two sittings of five minutes recommended). Focus on your breathing, then ask your children to sit comfortably with their hands in their lap and to close their eyes. Expect young children to be able to do only a few seconds at first, then build up. Get them to put their hands on their bellies to feel the rise and fall of their breath. Be prepared for distractions and fidgeting ...

and 'mindful listening' ...

Gather together household items such as pencils, paper, coins or a pot. Place them in a box, so children can’t see what they are. Ask them to close their eyes, then to focus on the sound you make with them.


Get the book. There's much more in it. Way to go!


(NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)

The book 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden
is published by Piatkus [Hachette Australia] (RRP AUS$29.99)

For information regarding the book 10 Mindful Minutes contact Jaki Arthur
at Little, Brown publicity on jaki.arthur@hachette.com.au or 02-8248 0864



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MINDFULNESS IS A PATHLESS LAND

For much of my life I have fought an inner – and at times also an outer – battle of sorts as regards my attitude to, and participation in, religious bodies and organizations. To some extent, the battle is an ongoing one. It is this – should I, or should I not, involve myself in institutional religion? Part of me sees value in participating in the activities of organized religion and part of me doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.

Regular readers of my blogs and some of my other writings (eg this address here) would be aware that the teachings of Krishnamurti (pictured left) have had, and continue to have, a great impact upon my life and my thinking, and it was Krishnamurti who, in an historic and oft-quoted speech delivered at Ommen, Holland on 3 August 1929 proclaimed that religious organizations cannot lead us to Truth.

This is just a small part of what Krishnamurti had to say on that day:

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organised; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.

The statement, ‘Truth is a pathless land,’ has always troubled me. What does it mean? If there is ‘land,’ it must surely be possible for there to be, or to create, one or more paths over that land. Of course, it always occurred to me that Krishnamurti was speaking metaphorically, but what did he actually mean? Well, it was only recently that I read what follows:

Truth is perfect and complete in itself. It is not something newly discovered; it has always existed.

Truth is not far away; it is ever present. It is not something to be attained since not one of your steps leads away from it.

The great Zen master Dōgen (pictured right) wrote those lines. Reading them was an epiphany for me. It is quite likely that I had read them before, but reading them recently was a real ‘awakening’ for me. Truth is ‘not far away’ but ‘ever present.’ Further, it is ‘not something to be attained’ because  ... yes, you are Truth in the sense that Life is Truth, and you are an integral part of Life’s Self-expression or Interbeing. Life cannot other than be. You cannot be less than life. Never.

That’s it. There is no path. There is no need for a path. There is nowhere to 'go.' You are already 'there.' That is why some Buddhists speak of the ‘ever-present Buddha Nature,' the ‘ever-present Buddha Mind,’ and the 'Ever-Present Buddha.' That is why some progressive and esoteric Christians speak of the 'Cosmic Christ,' the 'Mystic Christ,' and the 'Living [or Master] Christ' (as opposed to the historical Jesus). The words don’t matter a damn. What is being described, among other things, is a state of being in which there is an emptiness of what has been referred to as ‘self-nature.’ We move from a ‘sense of self’ to a ‘sense of Being’ ...and even to a sense of Non-Being, difficult though that may be to understand. Indeed, it is incapable of being understood or described in a rational sense ... but it can be experienced. How? Well, by the regular practice of mindfulness. That's one way.

Mindfulness involves the choiceless awareness of what is ... from one moment to the next. Mindfulness is a conscious participation in the livingness of life in the recognition that Life is manifesting itself at all times in you ... and as you.

Now, having said all that, is there any place at all for organized religion? In my view, yes. If Truth is everywhere present – and even Krishnamurti acknowledged that – then it must be capable of being ‘experienced’ (if that be the right word, and I suspect it isn’t) in religious organizations and the like. You cannot be less than Life or Truth ... wherever you are or go. Further, participating in the rites, ceremonies and rituals of organized religion can be quite transformative if one approaches it in the right frame of mind.

However, we need to be very careful here, because it seems inherent in the nature of organized religion – or perhaps in those who occupy positions of religious authority and power – for there to be a tendency to assert that Truth lies outside of us when, as I see it, we are the embodiment of Truth.

I know what I am now going to say is heresy to conservative Bible-believing Christians, but I don’t care. I am proud to be a heretic, and I don’t mind being called one. You see, the word ‘heretic’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘one who chooses.’ I choose to be different. I choose to affirm what, in good conscience, I see as the true position in relation to any matter. As I see it, Jesus was a heretic as well, which is one of the reasons people rose up against him. Now, Jesus’ purported utterance, ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn 10:30) [TNIV], is not an expression of his being, or claiming to be, God or the Son of God in a unique or exclusive sense. No, that is not how I see it. To me, Jesus is saying, in effect, ‘I am one with life itself – the very ground of being. There is no separation between the person that I am and the source and fountainhead of life itself. Not one of my steps leads away from life, which is truth.’

The difference between Jesus and most of us is that he was fully and mindfully aware of his true spiritual identity – at all times and in all places. For the most part, we live and act mindlessly ... and are thus only half-alive at best.

Mindfulness is a state of ‘at-one-ment’ with Truth ... that is, with all that is. Mindfulness is a 'pathless land.'



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Sunday, October 9, 2011

UNITED KINGDOM ONLINE MINDFULNESS COURSE FOR STRESS AND ANXIETY



The UK public charity known as the Mental Health Foundation has launched the country’s first interactive online course in mindfulness with the aim of tackling the problems of stress and anxiety. The course was developed in association with expert practitioners in mindfulness.

There appears to be a fairly direct correlation between the recession and budgetary cuts and levels of stress and anxiety. The Foundation states that incidences of stress and anxiety have been on the rise in the UK in recent years, affecting millions of people and resulting in the loss of over 11 million working days in the UK each year.

Practising the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques taught in the Mental Health Foundation’s online course has been clinically proven to help reduce stress, anxiety and sleeping disorders, whilst also improving mood-regulation and energy levels.

Dr Andrew McCulloch (pictured left), the CEO of the Mental Health Foundation, says:

‘There is a considerable body of clinical evidence demonstrating the potential benefits of mindfulness for those experiencing stress, anxiety, or related disorders like insomnia or mood-disturbance. However, our research has shown that many people do not have access to a mindfulness course in their area, while those who do may be put off by the cost or the difficulties of planning their diaries round a fixed course schedule. By working with expert practitioners to develop this online course, we have created an accessible, flexible and low-cost option for anyone interested in mindfulness, so that more people can take control of managing the impact of stress and anxiety on their daily lives.’

Research carried out by Foundation published earlier this year revealed that 81 per cent of the UK public think that the fast pace of modern life is a major cause of stress, unhappiness and illness in UK society, whilst 86 per cent believe that people would be much happier and healthier if they knew how to slow down and live 'in the moment' (that is, to be fully present in the here-and-now) – one of the key elements of mindfulness.

Here is a short YouTube video in which Dr McCulloch talks about the research the Foundation has undertaken with respect to mindfulness as a treatment for recurrent depression and the Foundation’s campaign to increase availability of mindfulness treatments on the NHS:




There is clearly a need for greater access to mindfulness. The Foundation’s research has revealed that only 20 per cent of general medical practitioners said there were mindfulness courses available in their area, even though 72 per cent of them were of the opinion that it would be advantageous for their patients to learn mindfulness skills.

Given the shortage of money within the NHS, government health bureaucrats could be excused for experiencing rising levels of stress and anxiety. The good news, says Dr McCulloch, is that mindfulness-based therapies are much cheaper than treating depression, stress and anxiety with drugs. He says:

'This would have huge knock-on benefits both socially and economically, making it a sensible treatment to be making available, even at a time when money is short within the NHS.'

The Mental Health Foundation’s online mindfulness course is available at this site.



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Monday, October 3, 2011

TWO SELF-HELP MYTHS THAT MUST BE EXPLODED ONCE AND FOR ALL



Ring bells! Blow trumpets! Today is the first anniversary of this blogsite. I uploaded my first posts on 3 October 2010, and this is my 128th post.

I have always been interested in self-help literature, but there is a lot of rubbish, and even some very dangerous ideas as well, in many self-help books.

Now, the man Dr Norman Vincent Peale (pictured left), and his many writings, sermons and talks, have had an enormous impact on my life, but when I read some of his writings today, I recoil. Take, for example, the first chapter of his monumental best-seller The Power of Positive Thinking. The chapter is entitled ‘Believe in Yourself,’ and the first three sentences of that chapter are as follows:

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.

I must have read those lines hundreds of times over the years ... and they seemed to make sense to me for many years as well. I have even quoted those lines to others including several former students of mine. Although I still endorse much of what Dr Peale wrote and preached in his long life, I no longer think we must ‘believe’ or ‘have faith’ in ourselves or our abilities.

Then there is the whole ‘self-esteem movement.’ Dr Robert H Schuller, whose own ministry and writings have been greatly influenced by the thoughts and writings of Dr Peale, wrote in his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, ‘A person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem.’ Really? I’m not so sure. Please read on.

MYTH ONE: WE MUST BELIEVE IN OURSELVES

We are told that we must believe in ourselves, and have faith in ourselves. Why? How does believing in yourself make any difference to your ability to do X or Y? What you need is knowledge and insight – knowledge of what you can and can’t do, and insight into the person you are.

We are told – especially by proselytizing Bible-believing Christians – that even the most militant atheist has faith in something or someone. For example, we are told that when we board a bus, we are demonstrating that we have ‘faith’ in the driver of that vehicle or in his driving ability. Nonsense. We are simply acting on the knowledge that, statistically, it is more probable than not, but by no means certain, that we will arrive safely at our destination. We then make an assumption – yes, an assumption – that, all things considered, it is ‘safe’ to board the bus. Belief or faith is not required or involved at all.

As I have said, time and time again, people ordinarily believe when they don't know or understand something. Do you believe in God or Jesus? Buddha? Now, I have nothing against God (unless that God be a cruel, tribal or sectarian God) or Jesus, but why believe? Obey? Yes, if you like. Follow? Perhaps. But believe? No!

There is no need to believe anything ... and nothing to believe ... or disbelieve for that matter. Whether or not something is the case does not depend upon belief or disbelief. Forget all about believing and 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, predilections and biases of various kinds. Shakyamuni Buddha referred to beliefs as being in the nature of thought coverings or veils (āvarnas). In other words, beliefs distort reality. Indeed, they prevent us from knowing and experiencing things as they really are. In that regard, I have always found helpful these words attributed to the Buddha: 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.'

So, forget about ‘believing’ in yourself ... or in anyone else for that matter.

MYTH TWO: WE MUST HAVE A HIGH SELF- ESTEEM

This myth is closely related to the first one, if it doesn’t actually devolve from the first.

For years now, educators and psychologists – especially child psychologists – have spoken of the supposed need to boost children’s ‘self-esteem.’ We in the West have suffered for far too long under that dreadful system of 'self-esteem-based education'.

One of the greatest books ever written is Charles Sykes’ book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write or Add. If you haven't read that book, please do so. As a university lecturer based in Sydney, Australia, I taught law – which is all about the power of the written and spoken word – for almost 20 years, and I was simply appalled at how few of my law students over the years could write a decent English sentence. (The problem got worse as the years progressed.) It wasn't really the fault of the students. It was the fault of a number of silly people in high places in government and educational bureaucracy over the previous 2 or 3 decades who preached that literacy of the supposed 'old-fashioned kind' was unimportant. What was supposedly important was ensuring that every 'precious' student had a 'healthy ego' and was not 'stigmatized' in any way. So, the task of the teacher or lecturer was to 'jolly them [the students] along.' The result? Wholesale mediocrity and narcissism of an almost clinical kind.

Fortunately, the tide has turned somewhat ... but not, so far as I can see, in teaching. However, there is a strong counter-movement – led by psychological giants such as Dr Martin Seligman (pictured left) – against the supposed need for ‘self-esteem.’ All too often in practice, efforts and appeals by psychiatrists, psychologists and motivational speakers and preachers, as well as educators, to 'enhance' or 'boost' the so-called self-esteem of their clients, listeners or students are little more than paternalistic attempts at imposing their own conception of so-called truth upon their hapless 'victims.'

But back to this expression 'self-esteem.' ‘Self’ what? The ultimate, fundamental and bedrock objection to the whole 'self-esteem movement' is this – as I have written so many times before, there is simply no such thing as ‘self,’ so please forget all about such things as so-called ‘self-awareness,’ ‘self-consciousness’ ... and ‘self-esteem.’

True, we have a sense of continuity of a so-called ‘self’, but it is really an illusion. It has no ‘substance’ in psychological reality. 'Self' 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.

Having said that, I certainly do not deny that there is such a thing as 'esteem.' Let's proceed to look at how 'esteem' and the person that you are are connected or related. We will see that any connection or relation is neither dependent upon nor constituted by the supposed existence of what is otherwise a non-existent 'self.'

Now, how well do you know the person you are? I am not talking about ‘self’ knowledge, but knowledge of, and insight into, the person – note that word person – that you are.

Know this about the person you are. You are a person of inherent worth and dignity. Know that, and never forget it. You are a person among persons. You are a vital part of the interdependent web of all existence. You are, therefore, a person of esteem ... no matter what others may think of you. (And what they think of you is none of your business, anyway.)

I repeat, you are a person of esteem. It is part and parcel of being human ... and part of the very livingness of life. Is that not amazing? Esteem is something you are. It is not something you 'have' or must 'develop.' Now, having regard to those facts, know that you can truly be the person you want and will to be. Note, I have not used the word ‘self’ or 'ego' (heaven forbid) in any of that ... because there is simply no need to.

The whole concept of so-called 'self-esteem' is fundamentally flawed in more than one respect. Even if it were not, I would still reject the concept on the basis that it is far too focused on 'thoughts' and 'thinking' as opposed to such all-important things as awareness (cf mindfulness) and action. The cure for so-called 'low self-esteem' is this – act as a person of esteem. We have William James (pictured left) to thank for the 'act as if' principle. In his words, 'If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.'

Yes, I am aware that there are such things as 'learned helplessness' and 'self[sic]-defeating behaviour,' but they are things which can be overcome – over time – by means and as a result of the regular practice of mindfulness and associated disciplines and, in some cases, with the assistance of professional help from persons trained in the psychological sciences.

Now, mindfulness meditation is also referred to as ‘insight meditation.’ That’s what we need above all other things – insight. Mindfulness, as a way of being and living, gives us insight into the person each one of us is ... and insight into our respective thoughts, feelings, memories, images, bodily sensations, and so forth. Of course, insight alone never changes anything, but without insight you can’t change for the better. Armed with knowledge of the person you are, and insight into the workings of the person you are, you will be both successful and happy ... provided you get rid of your ‘self’ ... and your 'ego-itis.'

'Self-esteem'? There's really no such thing, and that means there is also no such thing as 'good' or 'high' self-esteem. Now, this is all you need to know – you are a person of esteem ... no matter what you have done, or not done, in your life. Know that ... and act accordingly ... but please don't believe.



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