Friday, April 16, 2021


There are so many different methods and techniques of meditation. Which is best?

Well, a good answer is that question is, whichever works for you. However, let's explore the subject of meditation a bit further.

As for me, I like what that great iconoclast and saboteur of conventional wisdom J. Krishnamurti, pictured below, had to say about the matter. He warned against using any sort of method or technique, for all such things are simply conditioning, thought and the past. In my posts on this blog I have often recounted the following famous Zen story. A disciple says to the master, ‘I have been four months with you, and you have still given me no method or technique.’ The master says, ‘A method? What on earth would you want a method for?’ The disciple says, ‘To attain inner freedom.’ The master roars with laughter, and then says, ‘You need great skill indeed to set yourself free by means of the trap called a method.’

Krishnamurti spoke and wrote much on the subject of meditation even though he never taught any particular system or type of meditation other than the awareness of both the world and the whole movement of oneself. True meditation, he would say, is a choiceless awareness applied it to one’s whole day, indeed one’s whole life. In a similar vein Alan Watts wrote that meditation is ‘the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment’. 

Whatever life may be, it is all here now, and all we have to do is to learn to perceive it here and now. We need to see each thing as it really is – as a new moment.

Meditation is being aware of every thought and feeling, just watching and moving with them, without judgment, but only with choiceless awareness. It occurs when the mind understands its own movement as thought and feeling with complete attention, for meditation demands an extraordinarily alert mind, a state of mind which looks at everything with complete, but bare, attention, a state of mind that is entirely free and unconditioned.

Krishnamurti saw meditation as a lifelong inquiry into what it means to be truly present and aware. Meditation occurs when you live in the action of the present moment, as opposed to the so-called present moment itself, for the moment you say the present moment you are in the past, you are involved in memory, and thus not living in the present moment. One can only be said to live in the present when the mind is free from all ideas of ‘self’. When you have the idea of ‘self’ (that is, mental images of ‘I’ and ‘me’) you are living either in the past or in the imagined or expected future. 

In a state of choiceless awareness and ever-presence, the observer and the observed are one. Any sense of duality disappears. The one life that manifests itself in all things, as all things, is experienced in all its fullness.








Friday, February 5, 2021


We all need to cultivate a ‘beginner’s mind’.

One of the best books ever written on meditation from a Buddhist perspective is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Japanese Sōtō Zen monk, rōshi and teacher Shunryu Suzuki, pictured below.

Having a ‘beginner’s mind’ means seeing all things as if for the first time. In truth we are always seeing things for the very first time because everything is in a constant state of flux, but we seldom think of it that way. Even the familiar and the everyday—those things around us that we habitually see—they never remain the same.

When we see things with a beginner’s mind, we see each thing in all its directness and immediacy and freshness. Everything is new and wonderful, and you are part of the ongoing unfoldment of life itself from one moment to the next. In that regard, I am reminded of something the great German mystic Meister Eckhart once said, namely, 'Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.'

There are many schools of Buddhism, but there is this golden thread running through all of Buddhism, namely, that each one of us can be—and in a very real sense already is—a Buddha. Now, I am not talking about the historical Buddha as such. I am talking about a potentiality within each one of us that is always trying to burst its way into full expression in and as us. In the New Testament Saint Paul writes of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27) which, as I see it, is more-or-less the same idea. This is what Shunryu Suzuki has to say about the matter:

'To do something, to live in each moment, means to be the temporal activity of Buddha. To sit in this way [Zazen] is to be Buddha himself, to be as the historical Buddha was. The same thing applies to everything we do. Everything is Buddha’s activity. So whatever you do, or even if you keep from doing something, Buddha is that activity. …'

Suzuki refers to this way of living as ‘being Buddha.’ He writes, ‘Without trying to be Buddha you are Buddha. This is how we attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment is to be always with Buddha.’ Suzuki quotes the historical Buddha’s statement, ‘See Buddha nature in various beings, and in every one of us.’ In that regard, a number of Buddhist scriptures state that the historical Buddha said that we are all buddhas, a buddha being a person who is enlightened, that is, awake. This is reminiscent of what Jesus himself affirmed, namely, 'Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods' (Jn 10:34; cf Ps 82:6). Sadly, all too often we fail to see the world around us—as well as ourselves—as they really are.

Start seeing everything afresh with a beginner’s mind.


Wednesday, January 6, 2021


A recent study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has found that MBSR can assist in the treatment of migraine.

Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause multiple symptoms. It is frequently characterized by intense, debilitating headaches. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness or tingling, and sensitivity to light and sound. The condition of migraine often runs in families and can affect all ages.

Photo credit: MedicineNet. All rights reserved.

MBSR is an eight-week program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Thereafter, participants are encouraged to practise mindfulness on a daily basis. For what it's worth, here is my definition--description might be a better word--of mindfulness:

Mindfulness is the watchful, receptive and purposeful presence of bare attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the content of the action—both internal and external—of the present moment ... from one moment to the next.


The outcomes of this recent study indicate that while MBSR does not appear to reduce the frequency of migraines, pain perception and other secondary outcomes including quality of life did improve.

Migraine is the second leading cause of disability around the world. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of migraine sufferers discontinue migraine medications for various reasons. In recent years there has been a growing interest in non-pharmacological approaches to the treatment of the condition.


‘For a condition with recurrent, lifelong unexpected attacks,’ the study authors wrote, ‘improving a patient’s pain perception and ability to function despite migraine has significant implications for overall long-term emotional and social health.’


Wells R E, O’Connell N, Pierce C R, et al. ‘Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation vs headache education for adults with migraine: A randomized clinical trial.’ JAMA Intern Med. Published online Dec 14, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.7090

Saturday, December 19, 2020


‘Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day,’ wrote Etty Hillesum, ‘is the rest we take between two deep breaths.’

Here’s a famous bit of Zen. A pupil goes to the master and says, ‘I have no peace of mind. Please calm my mind!’ The master replies, ‘Bring your mind here and I will calm it for you.’ The pupil then says, ‘Yes, but when I look for my mind, I can’t seem to find it.’ The master replies, ‘There, you see, I’ve calmed your mind already.’

There are many interpretations of this piece of Zen wisdom. Here’s my take on it, but first I want to say a few words on the subject of the mind and the brain.

The classical materialist view asserts that the mind and the brain are one and the same. However, recent discoveries in neuroscience and quantum physics suggest that the mind and the brain are not co-extensive or identical. There is mind—or intelligence—throughout the whole body. The brain uses the mind—to think, feel, and so on—but the mind is ‘larger’, for want of a better word, than the brain. The brain is infused with mind, as are all parts of the human body. In addition, mind exists outside of and even beyond the brain. Mind is intelligence and there is intelligence wherever there is life in any shape or form. The brain is a physical object that can be seen by the eye. It is perceptible by the senses, and like all material objects it has size, weight and form. Not so the mind which has no constituent parts. 

In a fundamental sense, we have no individual mind at all. Hence, there is no mind to calm. So, what exactly are we, each one of us? Well, each of us is a centre—both an inlet and an outlet—of consciousness from which all things are a matter of observation and awareness. We are made up of ‘mind-stuff’ and consciousness is the ‘stuff’ or very ground of our be-ing. Let me explain. You have a body but you are not that body. You experience sensations in your body but you are not those sensations. You have a brain but you are not that brain. You have thoughts but you are not those thoughts. You have emotions, feelings and desires but you are not those emotions, feelings or desires. All those 'things' are impermanent and insubstantial. So, what are you? You are that in you that lives and moves and has its be-ing in and as you. You are the impersonal, and you are the personal. You are your very own be-ing.  Life is be-ing, and its be-ing is your very own be-ing.

There is no need to calm your mind. For starters, where is your mind? Can you find it? You cannot calm it—or for that matter do anything else with it—unless you can first locate it. In the Zen exchange set out above the master does the only thing any teacher or so-called guru really can do. The master manages to get the pupil to have an enlightening experience in which the pupil comes to ‘see,’ know and understand for himself or herself, perhaps for the very first time. Here, the master successfully leads the pupil to experience, in that Zen direct intuitive way, the fact that they have no mind to calm. All the pupil—and all of us for that matter—has to do is to … be calm.

Do you want to be calm? If so, practise calmness. Practise stillness. Practise quietness. Practise silence. The very truth of your be-ing is calmness, stillness, quietness and silence. A good way to start—and finish for that matter—is to get the body calm. Yes, the body. If the body is calm, you will soon be calm. Dr Norman Vincent Peale offered this gem of advice: ‘Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.' Got that? Sit ... be ... let ... .

So, stop looking for your mind. Stop analyzing and judging the contents of what you take to be your mind (eg your thoughts, feelings, memories and mental movies). Stop identifying with those ‘things’ as if they were you, the person among persons that in truth you are. 

Sit. Be. Let.

There, I’ve calmed your mind already. You're welcome.

The photos in this post were taken by the author in the Topes de Collantes, which is a nature reserve park in the Sierra del Escambray mountain range in the central region of Cuba. The bottom photo is of the famous Vegas Grande Waterfall located in the park.



Tuesday, December 8, 2020


Recently, I left my cell phone on the bus. Fortunately, the phone was handed in to the bus driver and was taken to the lost property office at the bus depot nearest to where I live. The next day I went to the depot to collect my phone. Now, on the home screen of the phone was a photo of myself, taken in July 1991. I am seen at the summit of Diamond Head, at Waikiki, on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu. I am wearing a T-shirt to prove it. (LOL.) 

Anyway, the man at the lost property office brought out some phones. I pointed to the one that was mine and said, ‘That’s my one.’ He looked at the photo on the home screen and said, ‘Is this your son?’ Now, I wasn’t at all taken aback. I simply said, ‘No, that used to be me.’ I was then 36.

I remember seeing a TV show around 1983 in which the American singer Patti Page sang a song ‘The Person Who Used to Be Me’.* In this song Ms Page contrasted her then present self with black-and-white images of a much younger Page projected on a screen behind her. The images were from some of her 1950s TV shows.

Here are some of the lyrics from the song:

Who is that person on the screen?

I am sure it is someone that I’ve seen.

Though it's been so very long

And I could be very wrong

To believe that the face I see
Is the person who used to be me.


Time can play tricks on me, I know.

I have trouble now remembering the show.

Yet I’m sure I know that face

From some other time and place

That is lost in the used-to-be.

It’s the person who used to be me.

Now, do you really think you are the same person you were 5 years ago … 10 years ago ... 20 years ago? Well, in one sense you are, but in another sense you are an altogether different person both in body and in mind. Even your sense of self this very moment is different from your sense of self 10 minutes ago, or 10 seconds ago, let alone 10 or more years ago. Your sense of self is undergoing constant change as a result of every new experience. Buddha taught that the so-called ‘self’ is only an ‘aggregate’ or ‘heap’ of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, sensations and memories. The self, in the words of Manly Palmer Hall, is nothing more than ‘a summary of what is known and what is not known’. 

Each one of us is a person who recognises that there was, yesterday, and even before then, a person whose thoughts, feelings and sensations we can remember today, and THAT person each one of us regards as ourself of yesterday, and so on. As a result of this, we create a sense of self. We even come to identify with that self as us … as you and me. Nevertheless, our ‘self’ of yesterday consists of nothing more than certain mental occurrences which are later remembered as part of the person who recollects them.

Here is a short ‘sense of being meditation’ which I penned many years ago. It is designed to assist you in the task of dis-identifying with ‘the self’:

I am a person who has a body, but I am not that body.
I am a person who has a brain, but I am not that brain.
I am a person who thinks thoughts, but I am not those thoughts.
I am a person who feels feelings, but I am not those feelings.

I am a person who senses sensations, but I am not those sensations.
I am the reality of me ... the person who I am.

I am not my sense of self ... the false and illusory ‘I's’ and ‘me's’ which well up and later subside within me ... from one moment to the next.

Yes, you are a person ... a person among persons ... a vital part of life’s self-expression. You are a person who sees, thinks, feels, senses and acts. More accurately, you are a person in which there occur, from moment to moment, the various activities of seeing, thinking, feeling, sensing and acting.

P F Strawson, pictured, a British philosopher, wrote much on the subject of the person. He articulated a concept of ‘person’ in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed to it. Each one of us is a person among persons—a mind-body complex. 

The point is this. We are much, much more than those hundreds of waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ with which we tend to identify as 'us' in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me’, that is, the person each one of us is. Only the latter is ontologically real. None of those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ are the real person each of us is. Never forget that!

Personal freedom, as well as personal transformation, come when we start to see, think, feel, act and live from our personhood as a person among persons. We need to get our mind off our temporary, ephemeral ‘selves’. We need to rise above them if we are to get real. Self can’t change self. Why? Because self is image inside a person. It is not the real person at all. The person each one of us is can indeed change—and change for the better—if we want, that is, really want, change more than anything else and are prepared to go to any length to get it.

Finally, please also remember that there is no human problem that’s not common to other persons among persons.

* ‘The Person Who Used to Be Me’: [from] Here's TV Entertainment / lyric by Buz Kohan; music by Larry Grossman. Fiddleback Music Publ. Company, Inc. & New Start Music. 1983. All rights reserved.



Sunday, October 11, 2020


Some of the most satisfying work I’ve done in my career was lecturing in mental health law at what is now referred to as the mental health portfolio of the Health Education and Training Institute. When I lectured there the body was known as the NSW Institute of Psychiatry.

Our mental health is so damn important. Sadly, the current COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in elevated rates of stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, self-harm and suicidal behaviour. Now, in serious cases professional help will be needed but there are some things we can do by way of self-help. One of them, the subject of this post, involves simply being aware of our breathing.

Now, there’s a saying, ‘Your breathing is your greatest friend. Return to it in all your troubles and you will find comfort and guidance.’ How true that is. What happens when you are stressed? Well, a number of things. Among them, your heart rate increases, and so does your breathing which ordinarily becomes more shallow as well.

At the first sign of your becoming stressed, immediately become aware of your breathing. Don’t try to change it. Don’t try to slow it down or deepen it. Indeed, don’t ‘try’ at all. Sometimes effort defeats itself, and this is such a case. Simply be aware of your breathing where your breath is most prominently felt. Perhaps that’s in your nostrils, mouth, throat, lungs or abdomen. This varies from person to person. Wherever your breath is most prominently felt, simply be aware of the sensation—and stay with the feeling. Don’t attempt to change this in any way. Just observe and be aware.

Does your breath feel warm? Cold? Fast? Slow? Deep? Shallow? Again, don’t attempt to change any of these things. Forget all about judging yourself. There’s no right or wrong here. Things just are.

Simply observe, be aware, and stay aware, of your breathing for 5, 10 or 15 minutes—that is, for as long as it takes for your breathing to slow down as well as deepen.

That’s right. Stay aware of your breathing until it slows down and deepens of its own accord. Your awareness of your breathing will result in your breathing slowing down and deepening. How is this so? Well, awareness is non-resistance—that is, non-judgmental self-observation. Awareness is letting be and letting go. Yes, awareness effects positive changes in your body and mind. The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, pictured, writes:

Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used. 

Now, if at any point in time during your awareness of your breathing you become mentally or emotionally distracted by some troubling thought, feeling, idea, memory or sensation, gently — please note that word ‘gently’ — bring your awareness back to your breathing.

One more thing. Don’t forget to breathe. Some people, when they become consciously aware of their breathing, forget to breathe. I am sometimes guilty of that.

Conscious awareness of your breathing will bring you relaxation and comfort. Try it.

Note. This post is a slightly reworked version of a previous post, ‘Your Breathing is Your Greatest Friend’, published on July 5, 2015.

Photo credit. The photo of Thich Nhat Hanh is by Dana Gluckstein. All rights reserved.






Monday, July 6, 2020


New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin provides evidence that mindfulness meditation training results in increases in prosocial behaviour, even in the absence of explicit ethics-based instructions.

The study author Daniel R Berry PhD, pictured, who is an assistant professor at California State University San Marcos, states:

Based on our lab’s experimental research, we believed that training in mindfulness promotes positive interpersonal outcomes through social cognitive changes that entail how we pay attention to others’ needs in social interactions.

The interesting finding is that mindfulness need not rely on appeals to act ethically.

The study does include some caveats. One such caveat is that the effects of mindfulness training on prosocial behaviour were only reliable when prosocial behaviour was measured immediately after the training concluded. 

Secondly, Dr Berry has stated that one must be in careful interpreting the effects showing that mindfulness reduces prejudice. Specifically, most studies of prejudice in the study’s meta-analysis did not use social ingroup as a reference to examine the gap in prosocial behaviour between social ingroup and outgroup members. Thus, mindfulness may be increasing prosocial behaviour toward others in general but not closing the gap in helping that typically favours ingroup members. More research is needed in that regard.

Study: Daniel R Berry et al. ‘Does Mindfulness Training Without Explicit Ethics-Based Instruction Promote Prosocial Behaviors? A Meta-Analysis.’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol 46, Issue 8, 2020. First Published January 23, 2020