February 19, 2014

Breath Focus: Advanced Perspectives on a Basic Practice

I’m known as one of the few Buddhist teachers that does not start people out with breath focus. It’s not that I have anything against breath focus, though. In fact, last Saturday I gave a one-day retreat devoted exclusively to that topic. The workshop was at Gil Fronsdal’s Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California.

You can read about the program below and listen to it for free here:

Breath Focus: Advanced Perspectives on a Basic Practice

Breath focus is sometimes considered an elementary starter practice. But with a proper understanding, it can lead all the way to Enlightenment. On the other hand, it can sometimes become a dead end; it calms but fails to bring deep insight and purification even after many years of practice. The purpose of this workshop is to compare and contrast different approaches to breath practice within Buddhism, unpack the mechanisms by which breath practice confers its benefits and describe how attending to the breath can be optimized and directed towards liberation.
Topics covered will include:
  • A clear conceptual model for how breath works as a focus
  • A chance to sample several distinct forms of breath focus
  • A chance to discuss your experiences around breath with a senior teacher
  • Suggestions on how to avoid dead ends
  • How breath practice fits into the broader framework of mindfulness
Preparation instructions that registered students received:
Please read from my article “What is Mindfulness?” the following sections pp. 4-46 (and feel free to read more of the article if you’d like):
  • Section I. Some Useful Distinctions
  • Section II. Noting: A Representative Practice
  • Section III. Towards A Definition of Mindful Awareness

February 14, 2014

Nachas and Mudita

In Yiddish it’s called nachas—the vicarious pleasure that one gets from the successes of people one feels connected to. As one’s sense of connectedness broadens, it evolves into what is called mudita in Pali –rejoicing in the (spiritual) successes of everyone and anyone.

I’m getting both nachas and mudita from some recent developments for one of my facilitators Maria Myoshin Gonzalez.

Check out her doings at Harvard Business School here, and see below regarding the release of her new Mindful Leadership app.

Argonauta Consulting Inc.

February 7, 2014
Dear Shinzen,

It gives me great pleasure to let you know that the Mindful Leadership App is now available.  It has been a while in the making as it is fairly large with 12 Categories and 73 Guided Meditations. It was a wonderful project and I had great fun doing the recording.  It is intended to complement Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness Transforming Yourself and Inspiring Others and offer you guided meditations for the techniques described in the book and much, much more!
My intention was to create Guided Meditations that over the years of coaching and teaching, people have found to be most beneficial.  They naturally fell into 12 Categories.  There is something for everyone, including Managing Stress; Managing Migraines; Flying with Ease; Micro-Meditations (which are done in 2-3 minutes throughout the day), as well as, Mindfulness in Action Strategies / Tips.  There is also a Mindful Music Category for Teens and anyone who enjoys music; Exercising Mindfully  and Mindful Golf for those who wish to improve and more fully enjoy their game.
As you may know, my aspiration is to spread Mindful Leadership, globally, so that as many people as possible are able to benefit from Mindfulness, personally and professionally.  The Mindful Leadership App is one key way of making this a reality.  Consequently, if you enjoy the App, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with anyone and everyone you think might benefit and be interested.
I hope you experience as much pleasure in listening to the recordings as I experienced in creating them.
Below are the links to Apple and Google Play where you will find the Mindful Leadership App.  The App is for Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as, Android smart phones and tablets.
May you enjoy many Mindful moments.

With best wishes,
Maria Gonzalez
Argonauta Strategic Alliances Consulting Inc.
2 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 800
Toronto, Canada   M4T 2T5


February 8, 2014

Ars Gratia Vitae

Artist Har-Prakash Khalsa--one of my senior facilitators and creator of the Expand-Contract Youtube Channel--currently has a really cool art exhibition aptly entitled "Turn Towards, Turn Away" at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario through March 23, 2014.

You can see some of the pieces, his artist statement, and a video of the talk he gave at the opening night of the exhibition on his new art website here: 

February 5, 2014

Dealing With Anxiety: Part II

My Basic Mindfulness System was specifically designed to conveniently serve as an adjunct to psychotherapy. My hypothesis is that therapy will be deeper, easier, faster (and, therefore, cheaper) if mindfulness is brought into the picture.

There are two models for this. In the first model, a therapist outsources the acquisition of attentional skills. In other words, the therapist “prescribes” a mindfulness training program so that, when the client comes for therapy sessions, they will be able to enter a state of heightened concentration, clarity, and equanimity. In the second model, the therapist combines both functions: they do therapy but they also directly train the client in mindfulness skills. We might characterize the first model as “outsourcing” and the second model as “wearing two hats.”

My former wife, Shelly Young, is a stellar example of the latter. She uses CBT, EMDR, and other methods combined with Basic Mindfulness techniques and really gets results! She has now decided to expand her outreach by offering mindfulness-based therapy via Skype and telephone counseling. Her main site is: www.PresentSolutions4u.com.

She has also developed a 4-session telephone conference group specifically targeting anxiety and panic, starting March 6. Check out details here and register here.

To appreciate the quality of her work, check out this video:

Dealing With Anxiety: Part I

A colleague of mine, Jeff Warren, has written an interesting article on the “nondual scene”. You can check it out here. This inspired me to organize some thoughts I’ve been kicking around for a while.

As a kid growing up in LA, I had the great privilege to attend both American public school and Japanese ethnic school. (Over a half a century later, the Japanese school I attended still exists; check it out here.) At Japanese School, I was a member of the Kendo club. My kendo senseis were incredible—mostly old-time Japanese military types—in a sense, modern-day samurai.

During a club event, someone gifted me a hachimaki (headband) with three very simple kanji calligraphed on it. I could read the kanji and understood what each meant individually. But I couldn’t figure out what they meant collectively. I queried several native Japanese speakers but no one was able to give me a decent explanation. The three characters were:

   入 meaning “enter.”
meaning “not.”
  meaning “two.”

Later in life, when I got involved in academic Buddhist studies, I finally found the locus classicus for the phrase. It appears in the Chinese translation of the Vimalakīrti Sutra. It’s an exhortation to “enter nonduality.” Within the context of sword fighting, that would mean to enter in a state where there’s no separation between you and your opponent.

To “enter nonduality” is equivalent to eliminating separation, but it’s hard to get a tangible sense of how one would go about eliminating separation for real. It’s easy enough to intellectually accept the notion of non-otherness or to be emotionally moved by it. But those ideas and emotions will pretty much evaporate as soon as “other” breaks into your house, or deeply betrays you, or harms a loved one. So how do we tangibly go about the endeavor of achieving industrial strength nondual awareness—the kind that doesn’t evaporate when things happen in the real world?

Here’s one idea.

Consider fear. When there’s separateness, there’s suffering due to fear. Is this true in reverse? Is it the case that when suffering due to fear goes away, so does separateness? Apparently so. And, conveniently, working through the sensory experience of fear is a very tangible endeavor—one brings concentration, clarity, and equanimity to the body sensations of fear until they break up into a flowing energy. In other words, when mindfulness passes a certain critical threshold, the fear “particle” reveals its wave nature. It is precisely at that point that separateness goes away, revealing the primordial oneness that was always there.

So working with the fear family of emotions (fear, anxiety, nervousness, angst, worry, phobia, etc.) represents a tangible way to go about the enterprise of achieving nondual awareness.  (For specifics, check out Chapter 1 The Way of Thoughts and Emotions in the manual and this video playlist on working with emotions from the Shinzen Interviews Youtube Channel. )

Now let’s look a little deeper. I think it’s useful to distinguish two levels of nondual awareness:

NONDUAL   l        versus       NONDUAL   II

Nondual I is the non-separateness of inside and outside I just described. It comes about when we experience oneness of Self and Scene. (In this context, Self means the inner world of Mental Image, Mental Talk, and Emotional Body Sensations. Scene means the outer world of Physical Sights, Physical Sounds, and Physical Body Sensations. See manual pp. 21-34.)

Nondual II comes about when one experiences the oneness of Self/Scene with their Source. The Self/Scene is the world of sensory form. The Source is Pure Consciousness devoid of form.

Above I described one possible way to make Nondual I a tangible enterprise. But how about Nondual II? How can we get to the state where Form and Emptiness are one? One way to make that endeavor tangible involves working with the “Two Doings”—Expansion and Contraction (see “What is Mindfulness?” pp. 40-46):
Each of the trillion somethings of daily life is directly touched by the Two Doings that mold it in real time. But those Two Doings continuously come from and return to the One Nothing. Thus, the Two Doings represent an unsevered umbilicus that connects the myriad momentary forms with the One Timeless Source.
To experience this connection consistently in daily life is to achieve Nondual II.

For more specifics, check out: