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Showing posts from March, 2013

Getting Comfortable in Transformation

The passage to radical change in life can be stumbled upon via many routes, but they all have a common theme: it presents that which doesn’t fit into our standard modes of apprehension and understanding. Perhaps its a sudden realization of how vulnerable and subject to change are all our plans and expectations, thrust on us by a sudden, unexpected separation, career setback, a shocking loss. Or a recognition that we’ve become addicted to unsuitable habits and behaviors. Or it may be the dismay of recognizing how inadequate are the stories we’ve been reciting about our “self;” how they fail to capture our character, capabilities or weaknesses.

Whatever adventure presents the “unfathomable,” we may find ourselves enacting some of Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross’ well known “FIve Stages of Grief,” seeking the illusory comforts of denial, or an anger that masks deeper feelings of disappointment, or a bargaining for more time, before we finally turn towards deeply touching the experience and acceptin…

Paying Close Attention

Paying close attention to another is one of the most profound skills available to us on a spiritual path. For example, in memorable teachings The Buddha proclaimed how few reliable sources of wisdom there are in this life:  “There are two causes that allow right view to develop: the voice of the wise and the practice of appropriate attention. These are the two sources of wisdom.” (Mahavedalla Sutta) 
And yet paying close attention is a state that’s continually sabotaged by habitually ingrained conversational practices: while others speak we might find our minds occupied in planning our responses; we have tight busy schedules, and so we sit through dialogues with building impatience; we fixate on facts and details, overlooking an array of subtle information that’s being imparted to us; we may armor our empathetic faculties, guarding ourselves from connecting and opening to the feelings being articulated us via verbal and nonverbal communication (see examples below).
Paying close attent…

Dropping the mask

It’s tempting to believe in the social identity: the roles we perform, the personas we embody, at work, with friends, amongst family gatherings. Over the years we become so caught up perfecting these roles that we forget they’re fabrications, based on exaggerating our “winning” traits—our knowledge, sophistication, skills, achievements, etc—while concealing what believe be our weaknesses—inexperience, confusion, disappointments, loneliness and so on.
We establish our roles to win visibility to others, so they can provide us with approval, pleasure and comfort. Unfortunately, the hunger is unquenchable: we’re filling an emptiness, experienced as internal discomfort, that’s produced by our own feelings, attitudes, perceptions. The lack was established by all that we’ve abandoned to gain attention, and each subsequent abandonment creates even greater appetites.
As our identities are forged by insatiable thirst, we cling to them and protect them fiercely. We worry about being judged, as …

Watching the Parade

One of the most efficient spiritual practices available to us during times of busyness and agitation is learning how to greet our experience without resistance. This means allowing the mind to put on its dazzling parade of emotions and thoughts, watching the procession as it marches through awareness. We do this without arguing, commenting, blocking or avoiding the experience through our habitual external diversions, even though the inner spectacle might be comprised of scary characters (dark fears of what might happen in the future) or exciting attractions (sensual cravings and memories).
This doesn't mean we applaud what's passing through. It takes great patience, for example, to learn how to witness anger or feel fear without acting out on the impulses. A safe seat to view the parade is from the ebb and flow of breath sensations in the body below. The skill of observing entails knowing where to focus our attention. It's tempting to attend to the loudest visitors in the…

unconditional freedom

Unconditional freedom can be found amidst a river of intense emotions and the hectic current of life, when we make a conscious decision to stop all forms of activity, dropping our habitual tendencies to push on through the ceaseless waves of dramas.  It asks that we stay put in the fray, knowing that even more challenges may arise spontaneously from underlying depths.
Unconditional freedomarrives when the momentum unwinds and we investigate the fears and craving that push us around, rather than act on their behest. We begin to understand how the view that there is something missing from this moment is what creates our discomfort. There is nothing missing.
Unconditional freedomruns against the flow of human activity, the activities promoted by what is taught, advertised, marketed, and often agreed upon by the horde. It provides us leeway despite the demands placed on us by work, family, friends and our own, incessantly judgmental minds and physical stresses. It relieves us from the belie…

Tunnel Vision

Very little in life falls under our control. The approval we seek from others is unstable, as is the fame that many pursue. Economic structures change without our permission, leaving us vulnerable to all forms of financial instability. Even the sensual pleasures we’re accustomed to are fickle: A gadget that’s shiny and promising this week will soon enough be just another item in the junk drawer. Yet we can control our awareness—how we focus our attention—which in and of itself determines so much of our happiness and suffering.
• An awareness that’s caught up by external routines and fails to notice our internal experience results in thoughts and actions that are motivated by concealed physical stresses and moods. For example, we may believe we steer clear of certain activities because they’re tedious, when in fact the avoidance is motivated by a hidden fear of failure and social embarrassment. Or we may fly off the handle with a loved one, failing to notice feelings of frustration th…

Exploring and Reconnecting with What's Meaningful

Each of us begins life completely dependent on others for nurture and protection, a reliance that last for years. Given this initial helplessness, an infant looks for reassurance via the watchful, attention of the parent or caretaker. Being seen conveys so much: the infant is loved, treasured, protected; assured of care while exploring the world, interacting with others. 
If the caretaker is caught up in other dramas or a narcissistic self-regard, insecure connection results; the child feels vulnerable and exhibits a lack of confidence, displaying little desire to explore. The toddler, disconnected, becomes increasingly anxious of securing and maintaining the caretaker's attention. And if the disruption of this primary relationship continues, a wounding occurs; the child doesn’t feel loved for its innate, authentic, spontaneous self.
Children will do anything to secure attention and regard, abandoning their authentic behaviors, amplifying or suppressing needs, seeking secure conne…

The weak link in the chain of suffering

In every moment of life, there's an underlying physical reaction to everything we experience, a subtle opinion that's expressed in the body: What has just occurred is "agreeable" "disagreeable" or "neither." For example, the subway door slides shut in front of us; before we manage a thought about the event, a physical editorial has already arisen in our autonomic nervous system and muscle groups: our breathing becomes shallow, the abdomen clenches, the shoulders constrict and lift, the jaws lock; missing the train is now "disagreeable." (This somatic reaction sequence, referred to as "vedana" by The Buddha, is virtually automatic, and has been confirmed by neurologists as a function of the brain's subregion responsible for survival, the amygdala.) 
These physical commentaries are sculpted by a lifetime of previous reactions to various experiences: we've come to associate missing the subway with other uncomfortable even…

Seeing Through the Grand Illusion

Cognitive scientists, like Professor Dan Simons of Illinois University, have documented what's called "inattentional blindness:" we spend much of our existence in a kind of daydream, failing to notice the subtle changes occurring in our perceptual field. Show someone a photograph of a building, have them look away for a moment: when they return to what seems to be the same photograph, most won't notice that a large tree has been removed via photoshop. We believe we're aware of change, but much of the time it has to be inescapable before we notice; we are overloaded with stimuli.
Now consider this: For a very long time people believed that each individual owned a unique soul, a lasting "me," an identity or persistent observer of life that lurked at the core of the mind. This belief was based on appearances rather than close observation, similar to how the Sun appeared to revolve around the Earth (it required close observation by Galileo and others to pr…

overview of the journey

Everything is in flux.
One of the most fundamental insights of spiritual practice is that despite all the safeguards civilization provides, the feelings of security we achieve through work, relationships and family, etc, we remain inherently vulnerable to abrupt loss and change. Everything is in flux: the world, people in our lives, moods and thoughts arising and passing in our minds. This fundamental change includes the way we relate to people, places and things: each new iGadget feels exciting and promising out of the box; months later it brings little more than a momentary diversion to the day.
So, what can we can count on in our march through time?  With age we'll lose control of our bodies, eventually we'll be separated from everyone and everything we love. Given this lack of control, for long stretches, if not entire lifetimes, we'll grasp at fleeting solutions that provide false shelter. We'll acquire countless commodities to avoid feeling powerless; we'll peo…

meaningful connection and support

We support each other in the most lasting and meaningful way by listening and providing a stable, safe connection to each other's underlying emotions and feelings, rather than following the impulse to get caught up in details or judgments, to fix mistakes, to immediately agree or disagree with actions, etc. 

So, what does empathetic connection look like?

1) We direct our attention to someone, and sustain it, putting aside all our inner commentaries and distractions

2) We read the core emotional state that lies beneath their words. This requires focused attention: reading facial expressions, body language, listening to vocal inflections, etc.

3) When a true connection occurs, we begin to somatically feel a sympathetic articulation of the emotion they're expressing and manifesting

We're choosing to focus on what lies beneath their stories; details separate and isolate us, while feelings unite and connect, for they are universally experienced. So, even if there's conflict, ask…