What about this moment is not enough?

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Stadium

In the fall of 2011 I made an unconventional decision: taking a sabbatical from a job as a management consultant to explore the emerging phenomenon of a thing called “mindfulness”.

To kick-start this exploration I signed up for a conference titled ‘Creating a Mindful Society’ held in New York.  The name seemed fitting enough and the conference featured some super-stars in the field of mindfulness. The keynote speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and widely considered one of the most influential people in bringing mindfulness into mainstream western life. I had recently read his first book, Full Catastrophe Living, and I resonated deeply with how he articulated mindfulness and its potential for healing our world. Through my own first-hand experience I had seen the transformative beauty of mindfulness, and I was stoked to learn there was a whole “movement” dedicated to the cause.

When I arrived at the conference I was disappointed to see only about 300 people. It seemed crystal clear to me that mindfulness was the answer to so much personal and societal suffering; why weren’t more people catching on?

After Jon’s talk there was a rousing applause and you could feel the high energy of inspiration. There was time for a public Q&A; I felt a question alive in me and mustered up the courage to ask:

I recently finished reading Full Catastrophe Living, and when I looked at the front page and saw it was written over 20 years ago I was shocked. If I had read the book when it was published in 1990, I would have thought that 20 years later there would be a stadium of people coming to a conference like this. What’s preventing us from filling a stadium and how do we get there?!”

My heart was racing; I was essentially asking for a pep talk from one of my idols on how to bring this to the next level. His face scrunched a little as he brought the microphone up slowly. He looked straight at me and calmly uttered words I’ll never forget:

“Why do you want a stadium? What about this moment is not enough?”

I was dumbfounded. I stood there, mic in my hand, jaw on the floor, as he expounded about how stadium-crowds tend to have a fervor to them that lacks individual and collective awareness, and that usually such events are focused around a very small group of individuals in a devotional worship context. He said that if a stadium gathered to rally about mindfulness he probably wouldn’t show up.

I felt like a fool. I had read his 300-page book and realized I had pretty much missed the whole point.


While I was initially quite embarrassed by this transmission, today I can say with confidence it is one of the most helpful transmissions I’ve ever received. In my naïveté I believed bigger was better and that strength in numbers would unequivocally support the cause…but I now realize that without being grounding in the present moment I was at risk for losing touch with the whole reason for doing this work.

Ultimately, mindfulness is not about getting somewhere else. It’s not about making yourself, or the world, better, bigger, faster, stronger. It may facilitate that, but binding happiness to a specific idea of how things could/should be better in the future is precisely the kind of distorted perception that leads to suffering, as well as unskillful action in the present.

Mindfulness is about being fully awake to the conditions in the here and now, inhabiting the present moment with a compassionate awareness that bears fruit in the form of wise action.

In that moment of asking the question to Jon I was unsatisfied with how things were because I thought it would be better if there were more people there. Jon picked up on this perception and shared his view: not only would more people at a mindfulness conference not necessarily be better, it may be worse! This coming, by the way, from a guy who has dedicated his life to healing the world through mindfulness.

In the years that followed that conferences I spent a lot more time actually practicing mindfulness (rather than just reading about it), and my appreciation for Jon’s transmission has grown immensely. During this time mindfulness has in fact grown to be much more mainstream than it was then. A couple months ago I attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference which had over 2,500 people! Jon was also at this conference and I gathered up the courage to ask him a question again. This question (and response) had a much different effect. I’ll share about it someday. For now, this is enough.

Amusing end-note: I actually wrote a post back in 2011 before the conference sharing my excitement about seeing Jon. Check it out here.

2015 Aspirations – Tasting Mindfulness

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Tasting Mindfulness

 

For 2015, my aspiration is to continue building on the foundation of the previous year while being open to the winds of change.

It feels like roots are stretching into the ground and a trunk is growing, and I will nourish this solidity knowing storms come on their own timeline and often without warning.

In practical terms this means:

1. Continuing the Gathas & GTD practice

2. Continue investigating the link between decision making, rumination and depression.

3. To handle the unknown, I will practice more with “Positive Spin.” This entails asking myself, when facing a negative situation: “Given the facts I have, what’s the most empowering story I could tell?”

I also plan to memorize one of my favorite poems. Continue reading 2015 Aspirations – Tasting Mindfulness

Reflection on 2014: Gathas & GTD Principles

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Gathas & GTD

For reflections on my first aspiration, faith, click here

My secondary aspiration for 2014 was to recite gathas (short meditation poems relating to everyday activities) as a concrete way to integrate mindfulness into my daily life. While my original intention was to practice with one gatha per week for the whole year, I quickly realized I would need more time to integrate each gatha into my daily life.

In response I decided to turn this aspiration into a two-year project, and every other week incorporate a chapter from Ready for Anything, David Allen’s book on essential principles for productivity. Conveniently that book has 52 chapters, so along with the 52 gathas I was able to trade off one per week and complete half of each by the end of this year. Continue reading Reflection on 2014: Gathas & GTD Principles

Reflection on 2014: Faith

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Faith

My primary aspiration for this year was to grow my faith. I define faith as the “confidence born from observing the fruits of practice.”

Faith does not mean everything works out the way we want it to. It simply means that we know two things with confidence: First, nothing has gone wrong. Second, by taking care of this moment completely we are taking care of every moment that unfolds from this one (i.e. the rest of our lives).

This confidence supports us in those moments when we are working with an edge or feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of a challenge. Trusting wholeheartedly in ourselves and in the potential for transformation can help facilitate seemingly miraculous shifts in well-being. Of course most of us need constant reminders in the form of friends, teachers and teachings that things are okay, but by gradually watering the seed of faith in ourselves, we can grow in our capacity to hold space for what arises.

How does one water the seed of faith?

By meeting what arises, being present with it, and seeing what happens.

At times, this can be difficult. Continue reading Reflection on 2014: Faith

Effectiveness as a Teacher

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Cape Town

 

Your effectiveness as a teacher has a direct correlation with the depth of your own personal practice -Jeremy Hunter

Many years ago I was sitting on a mountain in South Africa. It was a warm summer day in Cape Town and I was soaking in the sun on a perch overlooking the magnificent Camps Bay. I was nearing the end of a consulting project in the region and had been mulling over my next steps of a while. I resolved that day I was going to decide what I wanted to do next with my life. No small resolution, but it was time.

I asked myself three questions: “What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at? What makes a difference in the world?” In response to all three questions one word emerged: “teaching”.  I received fulfillment from helping others learn, perceived I was pretty good at, and felt a quality teacher could make a tremendous difference. Plus, both my parents were teachers so I had some ancestral momentum.

Check. Continue reading Effectiveness as a Teacher

Pain in the neck

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OW Boston

One morning I awoke with pain in my neck.

I shrugged it off, reasoning that it was likely just a short-term kink.

The next morning I awoke with a similar pain.

Again, I engaged my habitual response to discomfort and thought little of it.

This pattern continued, but after a week there was worry that something was wrong, and the worry was strong enough to call me to action.

The first thing I did was Google “Neck Pain.” Continue reading Pain in the neck

Personal Sustainability – Mental, Spiritual & Themes

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Balancing Act

In this post I’m exploring the latter half of the four areas of personal sustainability, Mental and Spiritual, as well as sharing a few themes which apply to all.

Sustainability is defined as “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” In this way I view sustainability as not just doing something as long as you can, but doing it in a way that promotes well-being (ecological balance) and prevents burnout (depletion of resources).

Mental (focus of energy)

When most people use the term burnout, I think they are referring to mental exhaustion. I don’t know anyone who intends to be burnt out by their work, but I know plenty of people who feel that they are. Here are some helpful ways I’ve found to address this: Continue reading Personal Sustainability – Mental, Spiritual & Themes

Sitting with Thay

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Sitting with Thay

Bell

Line forms, patiently waiting

Shuffling of feet, clinking of bowls, heaps of deliciousness

Stepping outside, inhaling freshness

Walk

The sun, it shines

Entering the hall, seeing a path, straight ahead: emptiness

I’ve arrived, I’m home

Sit

Breathing in, breathing out

Opening my eyes, directly in front, I see Thay

Posture straightens, thoughts abound

Breathe

Present moment, wonderful moment,

Following my breath, curiosity steadily rising, who are you?

Zen master, reading contemplations

Eat

Consuming energy, digesting freedom

Looking at Thay, I crave acknowledgment, who am I?

Be free, my friend

Stand

We turn, we bow

I stall awkwardly, hoping that perhaps, we might speak?

He passes, without words

Calm

Woman approaches, announces suffering

Asks for support, my heart opens, I am here

Deep listening, loving speech

Care

She bows, I smile

An insight manifests; Thay isn’t gone, he’s within me

No discrimination, no discrimination

Peace

Benefits of Mindfulness

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dessert in the desert

“If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”
-Michael Carroll

If you Google “benefits of mindfulness” you will find hundreds of recent scientific studies. There is proof of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness at strengthening attention in schoolchildren, creating more resilient business leaders, increasing brain density of the pre-frontal cortex, improving the functioning of the immune system, and plenty more. But most seasoned mindfulness teachers will tell you that while all those benefits may be true, they are side-products of the process and not to be focused on as the “goal.”

Three years ago I was speaking on the phone to Michael Carroll, the founder of an organization which focuses on sharing mindfulness to business audiences. We were talking about a new initiative I was involved with, and while I was extolling the numerous benefits of the program he stopped me and said, “If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”

I was admittedly confused. Continue reading Benefits of Mindfulness

2014 Aspirations

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Wake Up OI

New Year, New Me. This year I have three primary aspirations:

1. Observe the fruits of practice

On October 15th, 2013 I was ordained into the Order of Interbeing, the core lay community of Thich Nhat Hanh, and given the practice name “True Garden of Faith.” No one is quite sure how names are chosen (except those who choose), but it is generally accepted that your name is an assignment, an indication of how you can grow in your practice of mindfulness, of understanding, of love.

Faith, as defined in The Art of Power, is confidence born from observing the fruits of practice.

Let’s break it down:

Observing: Shining light on what is occurring without judgment, without expectation. Steadily bringing attention back over and over and over to decipher what is truly there. Continue reading 2014 Aspirations

a brand new day is before me…