In neuroscience, you’ll often come across people who say the self is an illusion created by the brain. My view is that the brain and the body work together in the context of our physical environment to create a sense of self. - Evan Thompson
Neuroscientists seem to agree that the "self" is something that we are creating, or constructing. It seems real to us, and we forget, in the lightening quick process of cognition, that we are the architects of our own self-concept. To be sure, we feel, like a separate being, who is responding to environmental stimuli. But this model breaks down under close examination. For instance, we both inherit and create our emotional triggers. What triggers our thoughts and emotions are conditioned by tendencies that we inherit personally, or just because we are a human being. Other tendencies we create on a minute to minute basis.
Our senses communicate to us what we prefer to see -Lily de Silva
A biologist walks through the forest noticing wildlife habitat, the skier notices the aspect of surrounding slopes, a painter notices a symphony of green. Studies show that individuals who describe themselves as compassionate, are more likely to notice compassion in others.
One of the ways we create the self is through our habitual thoughts, and words and behaviors. The kinds of thoughts we are having right now are likely to be the thoughts we will have tomorrow. Look at your mind-stream, your attitude, in this moment, is it something you want to experience again tomorrow?
Repeated action has the cumulative effect of transforming character, and thus through repeated volitional activities we can shape our destinies. - Lily de Silva
A new method known as behavioral activation focuses on helping people with depression to change the way they act. In a recent study, patients engaged in exercising or doing volunteer work or going out with friends; in all cases it had to be something positive and proactive, functional and consistent with the individual’s values. -Time Magazine paraphrase
Our thoughts are influenced by our actions, just as our actions are influenced by our thoughts.
In our efforts to create a self, to improve ourselves, we are trying to "become" a person who is safe, who is good enough to be accepted by others.
The "craving to become"... is the endless desire to become the kind of person who only has pleasant experiences, who is admired and applauded and loved. It’s a desire to become the kind of person who is secure and safe; a person without blemish or imperfection; a person who never fails, who’s never criticized, who’s never judged. Often we’re barely aware of how powerful and compulsive this craving to become is, the degree to which it organizes our world, our relationships, and our choices. It makes us really busy. - Christina Feldman
Some of the ways we construct our identity is by becoming attached to the things we like. Everyone has something- I am a vegetarian, an omnivore, a vegan, a skier, a snow-mobiler, an artist, a musician. How can we do what we love, in skillful balance, without making it about "me"? Without adding too much pride, or comparing ourselves to others? Do we all need to be above average?
Why isn’t it considered meaningful to look out my window and appreciate the camellia blooming? Why isn’t this as meaningful as finishing a grand project or becoming "someone"? It was clear to me in that moment that if I attended to the camellia wholeheartedly, the moment filled with appreciation and beauty. Right then, there was no sense of lack and no need to improve upon the moment. There was no need to be anyone. The camellia didn’t affirm a “me,” but by observing it with my whole being it affirmed a capacity for stillness, receptivity, and appreciation. -Christina Feldman
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
It’s quite shocking to witness the cruelty coursing through our mind when things don’t go our way. Somebody upsets us and a cruel thought arises in the mind. We might not act on it, but it is still quite a shock to witness this tendency. The cruelty we have in ourselves is part of nature. -Ajahn Sundara
May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be happy and peaceful. May I live with joy and ease.
May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with joy and ease.
Loving-kindness practices incline the heart towards goodwill, by watering seeds of compassion already present. Sounds great doesn't it? The bad part is that the opposite is also true: our inner arguments are also inclining the heart, watering seeds of ill-will which are also present, darn it! Focusing on kindness, strengthens kindness, and creates a mind-stream less reactive to ill-will's triggers.
What flows through the mind, shapes the brain, habitual thoughts clear the way for more and more of the same kind of thinking. Sustained anger fertilizes the ground for more anger, sustained kindness is nutriment for kindness.
Intentionally repeating phrases of loving-kindness, or performing other heart practices is like preparing the ground in early spring. It is as if the ground of the earth is tilled and fertilized especially for those seeds. Kindness leaves a deeper impression, grows deeper roots, healthier shoots.
Seeds of ill-will are less supported, but continue to arise. For a long time, thoughts of ill-will continue to arise. I wrote that twice because it is so often misunderstood. We do not instantly turn into soppy greeting cards, or perfectly enlightened beings. Because the mind is conditioned intentionally for kindness, we do slowly start recognizing destructive thoughts, and slowly lose faith in them. As we feed them less, they become weaker, less interesting, less compelling, and eventually they are harmless, because they have no power over us.
By extending the time we spend in a sustained positive mind-state, loving-kindness becomes a strong guardian of the heart, protecting us from our resentment, envy and all the rest.
We need some humility to let go of our righteousness. The wisdom of anger is accessible without ill-will, change is possible within the commitment to non-harming. You know that lighter feeling you experience when you let go of a resentment? Lightening. We cannot will it to happen, a shift of the heart happens in its own time. Trust your basic good nature. Only loving-kindness can protect us from our own ill-will, only compassion is wide enough, deep enough, wise enough, to hold the truth of our lives.
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where—" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
Determination is the thoughtful process of figuring out where we want to go, and the strong commitment to follow through. I don’t know what your aspiration is, but I do know that you have one, and that you will be happier, and more peaceful if you know what it is. Yoga means union, everybody has one, and we manifest our intentions in the small choices we make every day, or not.
In our mindfulness practice, when we are practicing, we are already fulfilling our aspiration to awaken. Full open hearted presence is the path and the goal.
There is no reason for failure. If you don’t practice at all, surely there’s nothing to gain. But if you practice, you cannot fail. The moment you’re doing it, you’re already profiting- Sayadaw U Tejaniya
Whatever we are doing, we can take our practice with us. An ancient word for mindfulness is 'sati' , to keep in mind. Bringing awareness to our thoughts, choosing patience, taking a few conscious breaths, may seem like small things, but they are not. To change our behavior is to embody change on a cellular level.
Be your own hero. Determination is the hero's journey of facing dragons. Heroes don’t look the other way, or define themselves by obstacles, they define themselves by their quest. To be happy, we need to be engaged with an aspiration larger than ourselves, one worthy of struggle. To choose to endure discomfort ( for good reasons!) is empowering. Obstacles can concentrate our energy, sharpen our minds, and challenge our self-limiting ideas. Facing our fears diminishes them.
Just like we prune our trees to energize healthy limbs and grow beautiful fruit, eliminating distractions creates the space we absolutely need to thrive in a chosen direction.
As with any journey, you do best to take along only the bare essentials so that you don't weigh yourself down. -Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Determination requires a foundation of faith and kindness. Faith in yourself, faith in your aspiration as being worthwhile, and the willingness to let go of what you don't need.
To be committed means to give ourselves fully, and to do this, we need to have found confidence in our own hearts. Ayya Khema
And we need compassion for ourselves, because falling down, and getting back up is part of any real journey.
I have no doubt that those who attempt to transform their minds, overcome their disturbing emotions and achieve a sense of inner peace, will, over a period of time, notice a change in their mental attitudes and responses to people and events. Their minds will become more disciplined and positive. And I am sure they will find their own sense of happiness grow as they contribute to the greater happiness of others. I offer my prayers that everyone who makes this their goal will be blessed with success. H.H. Dalai Lama
thanks for reading! may your week be guided by your determination and thoughtfulness.
the compassion of truthfulness
One of the things that most nourishes true compassion is clarity—when we know what we are thinking and know what we are feeling. -Sharon Salzberg
If you want to be truly happy, don't lie. Especially, don't lie to yourself.
Guidelines for speech:
If it's not true and not helpful, don't say it.
If its true but not helpful, don't say it.
If it's helpful but not true, don't say it.
If it's true and its helpful, wait for the right time.
When is the 'right' time? When the other person is not feeling defensive, and most importantly, when you can speak without aggression, without blame, then it is the right time.
I was six when I saw that everything was God,... My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.- J.D. Salinger (from the story Teddy)
Our first level of truthfulness is being honest with ourselves. When we are not honest with ourselves, how can be anything but a source of confusion in the world? We are like a person on the top of a mountain, who takes an inaccurate compass reading and walks downhill. Hours later, those few degrees off the mark have become miles away from our intention. Usually we are knocked off course by fear. We are afraid to be ourselves. Every time we hide from the truth, we strengthen the underlying belief that our truth is unsafe, unacceptable.
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open. -Muriel Rukeyser
Truthfulness, includes not only speaking the truth, but being true to one’s ideal and values as well. -Bhante G
We can make a great effort to live without causing harm.
In the Buddha's lecture a lecture to his 7 year old son, the Buddha instructed Rahula to reflect on cause and effects at three different times.
Reflect before you act: What may be the result of this idea? if I speak these words out loud? or these actions?
Reflect while in the midst of an action: What are the effects of my words? How is this conversation going?
Reflect after: What were the effects of my thoughts, words or actions? What can I learn here?
Some of us wear glasses tinted with catastrophes, victim-hood, anger. Others wear glasses tinted with the rosy lens of denial, masking resentment and anger.
We need to make sure that ...gratitude isn’t based on a “think-pink” attitude—trying to sugarcoat things and pretend that we’re not really feeling critical or negative. It doesn’t help much to paste an artificial expression of gratitude on top of a negative mood or a feeling. - Ajahn Amaro
Sometimes people will develop what looks like compassion but actually it’s submissive appeasing, cultivating “niceness” or wanting to be nice to be liked....compassion is first and foremost about honesty, tolerating and understanding our feelings. -Paul Gilbert
What is truthful, is not always obvious, sometimes it takes time, and sometimes we will never really know. Sometimes our craving for an resolution makes us believe there is an answer to our question, and yet it remains elusive. We can be open and patient with our own confusion and vulnerability, its helpful to everyone.
Harlan, she said. "I don't even know what an Indian is supposed to be. How could you know?" Well that's the thing he said. I wrote these poems because I wanted to know. They weren't statement of fact, they were more like questions. "But Harlan, that's what poetry is for. Its supposed to be about questions... Her confusion was the best thing she could offer. ...She knew the name of her tribe, the name of her archaic clan, and her public Indian name, and her secret Indian name, but everything else she knew about Indians was ambiguous and transitory. -Sherman Alexie
Even when being truthful is most difficult, it is liberating.
When you are in an emotionally rocky state, the most skilful response may simply be to receive what you are feeling at the present moment with some clarity and sympathy; to sit quietly and allow things to blow through. Whatever the state, the initial response has to be to stay present and cultivate spaciousness. - Ajahn Sucitto
At the end of the Book of Job, God sort of shows Job the ultimate Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom video with lions ripping apart gazelles and vultures tearing carrion and hailstorms and earthquakes... And then God says to Job, `What do you think of that? ...Hope you like it because I'm in that, too. - Rabbi L. Kushner
Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions...Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food? Book of Job
Truth is protective, it protects us from the remorse of deception, it safeguards from delusion.
Things that are real pose no danger to the mind. The real dangers in the mind are our delusions, the things we make up, the things we use to cover up reality, the stories, the preconceived notions we impose on things.
When you really look, you see the truth. If you're true in your looking, the truth appears. Only when you strip away all the unreality in your mind will you find in what's left that there's nothing to fear.
There are no dangers. There's just reality meeting with reality, truth meeting with truth.... That's where this simple exercise of watching your breath, adjusting your breath, and watching it again can take you, if you really follow it all the way through. -Thanissaro Bhikkhu
thanks for reading!
Thanissaro Bhikkhu will be in Bellingham!
September 10-11, Retreat with Thanissaro Bhikkhu
the suffering and grace of patience
In our Monday evening practice group, we are in the midst studying a traditional group of skillful qualities, this week it's patience. The root of the word "pati" means to suffer, and in English patience has the connotations of not-so-pleasant, a virtue requiring fortitude and endurance. Its opposite, impatience, is defined as irritation, annoyance, agitation, even more unpleasant!
Patience is mindfulness with an edge, mindfulness that can focus around a specific challenging point. Impatience is a teacher! Buddhist teachings describe patience as a powerful antidote to anger.
Many people think that to be patient in bearing loss is a sign of weakness. I think this is a mistake. It is anger that is a sign of weakness, whereas patience is a sign of strength. For example, a person arguing a point based on sound reasoning remains confident and may even smile while proving his case. On the other hand, if his reasons are unsound and he is about to lose face, he gets angry, loses control and starts talking nonsense. People rarely get angry if they are confident in what they are doing. - HH Dalai Lama
A recent study found a correlation between shortened telomeres, ( the protective ends on chromosomes which shorten as we age) and the character trait of impatience. Those of us who want to live faster, might be ageing sooner.
Impatience steals time, it doesn't make time. Tara Brach tells the moving story of a young mother diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. She recovered to a deeper appreciation of her life, the experience of illness taught her she "has no time to rush".
How to 'practice' patience? Notice impatience, notice the hot quality of its anger and frustration. With all of your kindness, don't give in. Honor your deeper desire to be present for life as it is. For a moment, allow yourself to let go of the feeling it 'should' be faster.
You’ve expressed your anger so many times, you know where it will lead. The desire to say something mean, to gossip or slander, to complain—to just somehow get rid of that aggression—is like a tidal wave. But you realize that such actions don’t get rid of the aggression; they escalate it. So instead you’re patient, patient with yourself.... there is no resolution. The resolution that human beings seek comes from a tremendous misunderstanding. In working with patience and fearlessness, we learn to be patient with the fact that we’re human beings, that everyone who is born and dies from the beginning of time until the end of time is naturally going to want some kind of resolution to this edgy, moody energy.... Pema Chodron
Thank you for reading!
Please join us on Mondays or schedule a private appointment for personal guidance in deepening your practice, or to begin mindfulness training. MBSR classes will being in the Fall firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Monday evening practice group at the Methow Valley Wellness Center has grown up! It began as a direct outgrowth, of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course. Each week I offer reflections on a specific topic, this blog is an excerpt. The process of preparing the talk has become an important dimension of my practice, for which I am deeply grateful.
I draw reflections from the psychological and philosophical aspects of Buddhist teachings, and a wide range of Western psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuro-science, and culture. I try to leave a few minutes for questions. Questions asking me to clarify the teachings are welcomed! Scheduling a private appointment is the best way to explore personal issues, or to generally deepen practice.