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THE COMMUNITY OF CONTEMPLATION

IMG_1248Last November, I attended the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies in Boston. There were lots of luminaries in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, education, philosophy, and the humanities. Counted among these were the Dalai Llama, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Arianna Huffington, and so many more who are well-known to those in the field, reflecting the explosion really of mindfulness into all aspects of our modern society.

Some presenters shared results of mindfulness programs they have implemented in particular clinical settings or in business. Several neuroscientists provided the latest in their research on what is happening in the brain during contemplative practices and where in the brain it is happening. The goal of all this being the very mission of the conference: to “advance our understanding of the human mind, reduce human suffering, and enhance our well-being.”

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FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING

Our title today is taken from the ground breaking book, Full Catastrophe Living (1992) by premier leader in the field of mind/body training and the founder of the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Clinic at UMASS Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn.     dreamstime_7048996 (1)

This book  has long since been dog-eared and worn thin by its continual use as an invaluable instruction manual for me. “His major research interests which include mind/body interactions for healing, clinical application of mindfulness meditation for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, and the societal application of mindfulness,” align with my own.

While I entered this stream of contemplative practices long ago from the opening of spirituality vs. the current tide of science and medicine; they are in some ways one and the same stream.

In living the full catastrophe, we accept the pleasurable experiences of life and the painful ones with a quiet balance towards them, not getting too wrapped up in clinging towards one or running from the other.  Understanding in a deeper sense that both of these are just passing phenomena, we can be with either.  

For instance, this morning my mind continued to play the daily theme it has done for some weeks now. With frigid temperatures continuing, along with my chronic, cold induced cough, I think,  “I need a vacation.” Perhaps you’ve had this thought recently too? Many, many others thoughts follow this, but they are all stem from this one.

100414a1266 (1)And there is nothing wrong with this thought (or any other for that matter).  Vacating your life for a bit, whether for a week, a month, or even a long weekend (especially if there are turquoise waters involved) can push the refresh button on our minds and bodies.  We log in so much information and activity every day. The amount we can or choose to delete never really a significant de-cluttering of brain space.

And here is some more thinking, “Some warm weather may help me with this winter cough…”

But what if  we can’t take a vacation or we got to take a vacation and it didn’t “take?” Whatever problems we have, whatever inner turmoil, doesn’t necessarily or even likely cease just because we have gone somewhere other than where we are.

If you have been struggling with sadness, anxiety, or anger before you left, chances are there will be moments while you are away that these emotions still arise.  The saying  “wherever you go, there you are”(a title of another book by Kabat-ZInn by the way) is an undeniable truth.

Since you ARE here right now, being here is always an option.

You can make room for moments right now that are exceptional and rich by not going anywhere. How? By engaging with the art of non-doing.  By being present to comfort and discomfort alike, with no particular preference.  By not judging yourself for not doing, but instead just seeing what IS here.  

As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “The flavor and joy of non-doing is difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless.  The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.  The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lies in knowing that something else surely will.”

 9-winter-theme

Right now, there is sunlight peeking through the frost covered windows of my bright alcove in my office. A host of bird songs are making themselves known on the evergreens outside.  Cars are speeding past this little cottage while my dog sleeps.  I can breathe in warm steam and hot tea and smile at this fortune.  I can send out thoughts of healing for myself and everyone else who is coughing this morning. I can notice how warm my feet feel in these slippers.

All this from non-doing.  What is in this moment for you?

   

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Wherever You Go There You Are

Continuing on our theme of mindfulness, our title today is taken from a book of the same name by ground breaking author and founder of the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Center Clinic (1992), Jon Kabat-Zinn.  The book (long since dog-eared and worn by its continual use by me as an invaluable personal instruction manual), reflects “his major research interests which include mind/body interactions for healing, clinical application of mindfulness meditation for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, and the societal applications of mindfulness.”

We all at times change our circumstances, changing jobs, spouses, home locales, and some of it necessary. Likewise, it is the rare individual that doesn’t love to take a vacation.  Vacating your life for a while, whether for a week, a month, or even a long weekend, has a way of pushing the refresh button on our spirits.  We all log in so much information and activity every day and the amount we delete never seems to really clear our head of it all. 

Planning a trip is half the fun, cruising the internet for the best deals and unexpected finds, purchasing travel books and magazines on places you are getting ready to visit or are dreaming of going to some day hold future promises of enjoyment, instilling  joy in us  just in the thinking.  Shopping for the right attire and gear also occupy us happily. Even when are lives are currently rife with crisis or a season of grief, a holiday can bring a welcomed respite and the chance for perspective that can arise from being pulled from our everyday surroundings.

Concurrently, whatever problems you have, whatever inner turmoil, doesn’t necessarily or even likely cease just because you have gone somewhere other than your daily haunts or made significant life changes.  If you have been struggling with sadness, anger, anxiety, or resentments before you left or altered your lifestyle, chances are there will be moments while you are away that these emotions still arise.  You can keep changing a whole lot of outside circumstances and still feel like something is missing, like it will be better around the bend. But wherever you go, there you are.  As I have mentioned before, there are a million ways to escape our lives for a time, but they all have a way of catching up with us.      

So, what to do if we can’t take a vacation, or if the vacation didn’t take, or most vitally,  if we want to live our days in a way where we can experience moments like those we do on some of the more memorable, exceptional times away?

We need to learn the art of non-doing. As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “The flavor and joy of non-doing are difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress.  Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless.  The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.   The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lies in knowing that something else surely will.”

We are not just doing nothing, but consciously noticing what’s going on right now. In Thoreau’s Walden, he explained it like this:

I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise to noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time…I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.”

It is the opposite of busyness.  While practically speaking, we need to get stuff done, can we carve out five minutes, or better yet, twenty minutes to just be?  Our efforts during our times of doing will be enhanced.   This is what Zinn calls the paradox of non-doing.  You do things of value when you don’t care about whether they will be worthy or not, but whether they act in concet with your efforts at non-doing and letting go of outcomes.  Then the ego and its tendency towards self aggrandizement are pushed aside, creativity and insight become natural byproducts. Your work gains a purity and satisfaction that has no puffed up identity attached to it.  It fulfills. 

So, if today finds you sitting with your daughter, don’t put in another load of laundry, don’t answer the phone (I know it’s calling and the impulse is to move), but  just be with your daughter, whether talking or in silence, be consciously present to this moment which will never come again in the exact same way. Choose to be here, right now, you are anyway.

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