Saturday, August 31, 2013

MEDITATION---LIFE IS OMNIPRESENT

‘My presence will go with you … and give you rest’ (Ex 33:14).

‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while’ (Mk 6:31).


Let’s get still now---and relax. There is only life, and there is life everywhere. Life just is. That much we know to be true. It is more than enough. Life---that is, living things living out their livingness from moment to moment. There is only life---and one spirit of life … in all, over all, through all, and all in all. There is only this one self-existent presence and one power expressing itself, and manifesting itself, in all things, as all things. One presence. One power. One order or level of reality. One way of being. We are an integral part of that life---each one of us--for whatever life is, we are living it, embodying it, and expressing it.

Life, truth, reality---God, some people call it. The word does not matter. Life, truth, reality, God is expressing itself right now---in us, as us, and also in all other people and things. This self-existent life is birthless, deathless, ageless, timeless, boundless, formless, and invisible, even though it is constantly taking shape and form, and putting on visibility, in individual things. Those things wax and wane, they come and go---but life itself, the very life of our own life, forever remains, fills all space, and moves unceasingly ever onward, and it 'doth not yet appear what we shall be.'

Let us enter the silence of this moment---the silence that knows no storms. This silence is a peace that passes all understanding. It abides in the hearts of those who live in the eternal now. This silence is a power---a power for good---the very power of life itself. This silence is a presence---the very omnipresence of life itself as it evidences itself as the all and only presence, as it unfolds itself from one moment to the next … ever onwards. This presence---this omnipresence---of life is all there is, and in this omnipresence we are immersed, and in this omnipresence we live and move and have our being. 

One presence. One power. One life. This omnipresence and stream of life fills all, is all, animates all, and empowers all. Every thing, every person, is an individualised expression of the wellspring of this one life, this omnipresence. One All-in-all. This great stream of life is flowing through each of us right now, and we are one with the abundant life all around us. This life activates our every thought, word and deed---and it unifies, sustains, and gives meaning to all things.


Life, which never was born nor caused, cannot other than be. We cannot be less than life. This omnipresence of life is closer to us than our breathing. It is nearer to us than our hands and feet. It is most fully and personally experienced in the silence---as peace, calmness, rest, tranquillity, equanimity, wisdom … and love---indeed, all things we ordinarily associate with the sacred, the holy, the divine. This omnipresence is holy, and wherever we are, we are always in its sacred centre. This omnipresence always was, is, and is to be---and all we know of it is the practice of its presence.

'Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.' This house is not a house made with human hands. It is nothing material or physical. It is a spiritual edifice, and we are building it in our mind, both by the thoughts we habitually think as well as in the silence. 'Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!' In this sacred moment, be still and know that ‘I AM-ness’ that is expressing itself in you and as you. Be still and know that ‘I AM-ness’. Be still and know. Be still.

There is only one self-existent life which flows through all creation. That life is our very life---right now! We can never be less than life, for there is no place where life is not. There is only the eternal now, and in that now-ness there is neither past nor future. ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’ ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ 

Know this---you express life in and with every part of your being, indeed, with every atom of your being. You are one with all life---with all that is---yes, one with all that has ever been or will ever be. Feel the pulsating, animating, vivifying and stirring reality of that omnipresence in every part of your being---now! Thrill to it! Give thanks for it, and for the truth which makes you free! And so it is.



This meditation, and others very similar to it,
are used by me at many of the services I conduct,
and at workshops and training sessions I facilitate. 
The photos were taken by me on my various trips to Japan.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

YOU ARE AN AGGREGATE---YES, A HEAP!

Yes, you are an amalgam---a heap. Perhaps that doesn’t sound very flattering, but as the American comedian Jimmy Durante [pictured left] used to say, ‘Them is the conditions that prevails.’

The historical Buddha saw the human being as simply an amalgam of ever-changing phenomena of existence. It is written that Buddha had this to say about the matter:

The instructed disciple of the Noble Ones does not regard material shape as self, or self as having material shape, or material shape as being in the self, or the self as being in material shape. Nor does he regard feeling, perception, the impulses, or consciousness in any of these ways. He comprehends each of these aggregates as it really is, that it is impermanent, suffering, not-self, compounded, woeful. He does not approach them, grasp after them or determine 'Self for me' ['my self']--and this for a long time conduces to his welfare and happiness.

The instructed disciple of the Noble Ones beholds of material shape, feeling, perception, the impulses, or consciousness: 'This is not mine, this am I not, this is not my self.' So that when the material shape, feeling, perception, the impulses, or consciousness change and become otherwise there arise not from him grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation, and despair. (Adapted from the Samyutta Nikaya.)

The Buddha thus makes it clear that the so-called ‘self’ is only an ‘aggregate’ or ‘heap’ of perceptions and sensations. It is, in the words of Manly Palmer Hall [pictured right], ‘a summary of what is known and what is not known’. We are not a ‘self’; we are persons among persons. However, when it came to attempting to explain the conventionally accepted concept of ‘person’, the Buddha referred to various psycho-physical ‘elements’ at work in a person---the ‘five aggregates’ (skandhas [Sanskrit], khandhas [Pāli], ‘aggregates’ in English)---which are said to serve as the basis (or rather ‘bases’) of what we ordinarily designate as a ‘person.’

These ‘five aggregates’---‘aggregates’ being ‘facts’---are said to be nothing more than ‘constantly changing conglomerates of moments of materiality, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness’ (R C Lester, Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia, 1973: 26). The ‘five aggregates,’ which are also known as the ‘five hindrances,’ are as follows. 

First, there are the aggregates of corporeality or materiality, that is, matter or bodily form, and more specifically the physicality of the sentient being or person, being the gross physical body, gross form, together with the six sense organs (organs of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell---and the mind)---all objects regarded as being compounded entities.

Secondly, there are the aggregates of sensations and emotions (or feelings), and more specifically the physiological processes resulting from the contact of matter with matter, sense organs with objects of sense, including the five ordinary bodily senses as well as mental feeling with ‘feeling overtones.'

Thirdly, there are the aggregates of perceptions, more specifically, those of recognition and perception---being mental discriminations born of sensations, the recognition of objects and, more specifically, the capacity and power to perceive as well as recognise and distinguish between physical objects of all kinds, including the ability to comprehend the specific marks of phenomenal objects.

Fourthly, there are the aggregates of predispositions, more specifically, those of ‘dispensational’ or mental formations or factors (eg fixations and conclusions of the mind such as attitudes, beliefs and opinions), and more specifically volitions which are said to be primarily responsible for bringing forth future states of existence.


Fifthly, there are the aggregates of consciousness, that is, consciousness in the fullest sense of the word. The aggregates of consciousness are composed of moments of awareness as well as awareness of awareness (or mindfulness). Although not an ‘entity’ as such, the aggregates of consciousness binds the varied sense and feeling elements of the individual---physical awareness, bodily feeling-tone, and mental constructs---into a personalized unity, that is, the person among persons that each of us is. Moreover, these aggregates remain more-or-less continuous throughout unceasing change, until death comes with the disintegration of all the aggregates.

The Buddha, ever the empiricist and realist, acknowledged the important distinction between our perceptions or sensations of things and the things themselves, stating that ‘the senses meet the object and from their contact sensation is born’ (Paul Carus, The Gospel of Buddha, 2002[1894]: 54). Also worth noting are these words attributed to the Buddha and quoted above---‘when the material shape, feeling, perception, the impulses, or consciousness change and become otherwise.’ In other words, the same event or situation can bring about different effects, and it is also the case that different events or situations can bring about the same effect. It all depends on the ‘field’ of context (the so-called ‘causal field).

The spiritual philosopher J Krishnamurti [pictured left], although not a Buddhist, articulated a number of distinctive ideas that have much in common with Buddhist thought and teaching. For example, Krishnamurti wrote:

In uncovering what one actually is, one asks: Is the observer oneself, different from that which one observes---psychologically that is. I am angry, I am greedy, I am violent: is that I different from the thing observed, which is anger, greed, violence? Is one different? Obviously not. When I am angry there is no I that is angry, there is only anger. So anger is me; the observer is the observed. The division is eliminated altogether. The observer is the observed and therefore conflict ends. (J Krishnamurti, The Wholeness of Life, 1987[1978]: 142.)

Now, you may well ask, ‘What does all of this matter, assuming for the moment that it is true?’ Well, as I see it, it is very important. True, lasting, in-depth psychological transformation can only take place when there is, firstly, a realization that self cannot change self because self is ‘illusion,’ and secondly, there is a reliance upon a power-not-oneself. That power-not-oneself can take various forms, one of which is the personalized unity that is the person among persons that each of us is. The ‘self’ cannot change the ‘self,’ but the person can change---even if that person be little more than a heap, that is, an amalgam of ever-changing phenomena of existence.


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Sunday, August 18, 2013

THE ILLUSORY MIND [Part 2]

So, what is the mind? Well, for starters, it is much more than the brain. The materialist position, equating the two, is simply wrong. The bulk and the weight of the evidence point the other way---namely, that the mind is both relational and ‘extended’ to situations in the external world. But what of the ‘self’? Does ‘it’ have a transcendental, separate existence of its own? 

The short answer to that last question is---no. That is the position asserted by most forms of Buddhism, and it is a position that increasingly is being supported by the findings of modern neuroscience and neuropsychiatry.

Hundreds and thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences (‘selves’) harden into a mental construct of sorts. We call ‘it’ the self, but  the so-called self, or ego-self, is no more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’), that is, mental states (cittas). These mental states are cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears---note that word, appears---to give them a singularity and a separate, independent, unchangeable and material existence and life of their own. The so-called ego-self---as well as the so-called ‘mind’ (nama)---has no separate, independent, permanent existence in the sense of being, to quote from Vipassana Bhavana, ‘compact, all of one piece, doing all these different mental functions’:

‘We’, our entire existence, at any given time is simply the arising of one of those mental states, which is quickly replaced by another. (Vipassana Bhavana.)

Now, it is through this perception of an internally created sense of 'self' that we experience, process and interpret all external reality. With alcoholics and other addicts, this false or illusory sense of self also becomes chemically altered (seemingly for all time)---with truly disastrous consequences for the addict and those associated with him or her. Each of us---not just the alcoholic or other addict---clings to the ‘self’ as self. 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 (the latter simply being the function consisting of apprehending the bare phenomenal world, that is, cognition):

Whenever there is a functioning sense-organ (eye, ear, tongue, nose, body and mind), a sense-object (visual form, sound, taste, smell, touch and thought) entering into the field of the sense-organ then, with these brought together, there is the manifestation of the part of consciousness referring to the specific sense-organ. (Majjhimanikāya, i, 190.)

Buddhist teachings refer to different types of ‘conditions’ that give rise to cognitive events. In the case of sensory perceptions, external objects are the objective or causal condition. However the immediately preceding moment of consciousness is said to be the immediate condition, with the particular sense organ being the physiological or dominant condition.


In short, Buddhism sees a human being as being simply an amalgam of ever-changing phenomena of existence. Yes, the so-called ‘self’ is nothing more than an ‘aggregate’ or ‘heap’ of perceptions and sensations. It is, in reality, a non-selfThere is no unifying consciousness, and no ultimate ‘self.’ Rather, the human mind is a field---indeed, a veritable battle-ground---of conflicting tendencies, feelings and emotions, for the simple reason that the mental is not a unitary agent. Consistent with an overall pluralism, we are always dealing with a plurality---indeed, pluralities---of complex interacting but otherwise waxing and waning forces, for such is the nature of reality. At the same time, Buddhism espouses an ‘extended’ view of the mind such that the mind is seen to be more than just the activity of the brain. Rather, the mind is an embodied and relational process. True, the mind is a product of the brain, but it is conditioned by both internal and external events.

I go so far as to say this---most of our problems, at least those of a mental or emotional character, as well as problems in our relationships, arise because we fail to recognize the ‘illusory’ nature of our ‘self.’ We constantly talk about our ‘self,’ we are told all the time that we must love our ‘self,’ and we react badly when we feel that some other person is attacking our ‘self.’ If only we could grasp this simply truth---more than half of our problems would die from attrition if we, the person that each of us is, acknowledged that ‘self is illusion.’

Know this. You are not a ‘self,’ you are a person among persons. Be confident, but forget all about self-confidence. Be a person of esteem, for that you are, but forget all about self-esteem. Seek the truth (that is, the 'real' and 'actual') in all things, but forget altogether about self-seeking. The purposes of ‘self’ are in direct and stark contradistinction to the pursuit of happiness, peace of mind, and serenity.


 The photographs in this post were taken
by the author on a trip to Japan in 2012.


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Sunday, August 11, 2013

THE ILLUSORY MIND [Part 1]

How well do you know your ‘self’? Well enough to know that your ‘self’ does not exist? Please read on.


More and more psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors are drawing upon the insights of Buddhism to better understand the nature and activities of the human mind. In my own therapeutic practice, I apply, quite eclectically and unashamedly, ideas and teachings from a number of different traditions, both Eastern and Western. A pragmatists, all I am interested in is results---and changed lives.

When we turn to Buddhism we discover that its ideas, teachings and practices espouse a psychological realism that expressly acknowledges the reality of cognitive and other mental processes. The mind is seen as both relational and ‘extended’ to situations in the external world. Yes, mentality belongs to the spatio-temporal world along with everything else such that a person’s mental things and processes are not wholly internal to that person.

In addition, Buddhism views a person as being a human body-mind as a whole, that is, an autonomous and dynamic system that arises in dependence upon the natural world as well as human culture. So-called ‘consciousness’---not so much an entity in its own right but a dynamic, ever-changing process---emerges when the mind and the body cohere. The physical body is essential for the emergence of the mental, but having said that, Buddhism has never regarded the body and the mind as being separate. Mind is said to ‘extend’ into the body, with the body also ‘extending’ into the mind.

When Buddhism uses the word ‘illusion’ it does so in a special way. Referring to a thing as an ‘illusion’ does not mean that the thing does not exist. It simply means that the thing in question has no separate, independent, unchangeable and permanent existence. Buddhism psychology aims to treat 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).

Buddhist psychology teaches the doctrine that ‘self is illusion,’ and that belief in the existence of some supposedly permanent and substantial ‘self’ or soul is a delusion. t There is no actual ‘self’ at the centre of our conscious---or even unconscious---awareness. The ‘self’ does not exist---at least it does not exist in the sense of possessing a separate, independent, unchangeable, material existence of its own. In words attributed to the Buddha, whether ‘past, future, or present; internal or external; manifest or subtle...as it actually is ... “This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am’” (Majjhima Nikāya I, 130). Buddhist scriptures are very firm on this teaching of ‘not-self’ (anattā):

Even as the word of ‘chariot’ means
That members join to frame a whole;
So when the groups [the ‘five aggregates’] appear to view,
We use the phrase, ‘a living being.’  (Milindapantha, 133.)

Just as the word ‘chariot’ is but a mode of expression for axles, wheels, chariot-body, pole, and other constituent members, placed in a certain relation to each other, but when we come to examine the members one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense there is no chariot; … in exactly the same way the words ‘living entity’ and ‘Ego,’ are but a mode of expression for the presence of the five attachment groups [again, the ‘five aggregates’ (see below)], but when we come to examine the elements of being one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense there is no living entity there to form a basis for such figments as ‘I am,’ or ‘I’; … .   (Visuddhi-Magga, 133-34.)

Our so-called consciousness goes through continuous fluctuations from one moment to the next. As such, there is nothing to constitute, let alone sustain, a separate, transcendent ‘I’ structure or entity. We ‘die’ and are ‘born’ (or ‘reborn’) from one moment to the next. Whence comes our sense of ‘I-ness’? To quote Robert C Lester, author of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia:

The ‘I-ness’ or selfhood of man, perceived as unchanging --- his sense of individual being in time, having experiences --- is an unwarranted extension or assumption from experience to experiencer, from knowledge to knower, thought to thinker.

No wonder Jesus exclaimed, ‘I of myself can do nothing’ (Jn 5:30). Perhaps he understood the illusory nature of the ‘self.’





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Sunday, August 4, 2013

MINDFULNESS IN SCHOOLS WORKS WONDERS

It has been well-known for many years that mindfulness-based approaches for adults are effective at enhancing mental health, but few controlled trials have evaluated their effectiveness among young people.

The aim of a recent British study, reported in the August 2013 edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry, was to assess the acceptability and efficacy of a schools-based universal mindfulness intervention---known as the Mindfulness in Schools Programme (MiSP)---to enhance mental health and well-being.

The MiSP curriculum’s primary aim is to teach young people skills to work with mental states, everyday life and stressors so as to cultivate well-being and promote mental health. One of the strengths of the study was the choice of a follow-up period in the most stressful part of the school year to test whether the MiSP curriculum conferred protection as evidenced through less self- reported stress and greater well-being.

A total of 522 young people aged 12-16 in 12 secondary schools either participated in the MiSP (intervention), which has been operating in the United Kingdom for some time now, or took part in the usual school curriculum (control).

The results of the study were more than acceptable, even allowing for the fact that the study had several limitations noted in the report. Rates of acceptability were high. Relative to the controls, and after adjusting for baseline imbalances, children who participated in the intervention reported fewer depressive symptoms post-treatment (P = 0.004) and at follow-up (P = 0.005) and lower stress (P = 0.05) and greater well-being (P = 0.05) at follow-up. The degree to which students in the intervention group practised the mindfulness skills was associated with better well-being (P<0.001) and less stress (P = 0.03) at 3-month follow-up.

The findings provide promising evidence of the programme’s acceptability and efficacy, with the authors concluding:
'In summary, although schools-based interventions can sometimes be implemented as a result of short-term policy drivers or charismatic innovators, interventions that demonstrate acceptability, efficacy, cost-effectiveness and potential for implementation are most likely to be sustainable. This feasibility study is the first step towards evaluating the MiSP curriculum and provides preliminary evidence of acceptability and efficacy.'


Resource: Kuyken W, Weare K, Ukoumunne O C, Vicary R, Motton N, Burnett R, Cullen C, Hennelly S, and Huppert, F. ‘Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in SchoolsProgramme: non-randomised controlled feasibility study,’ British Journal of Psychiatry (2013) vol 203, issue 2 (August), 126–131. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.113.126649


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