Diana Winston on commitment to the practice of sitting, why we should sit regularly, and advice on how to keep yourself on schedule.
Your unforgiving alarm rings for all it’s worth. It’s 7AM. You crash out of bed, slamming your toe on your bedside table. You fumble for your zafu in the dark. “It’s over here somewhere,” you mumble. Hearing you awaken from the dead, your cat runs screeching. You are about to plant your still-zombiefied-self on the cushion when nature calls. Three minutes later your mother calls too, and you know you really shouldn’t answer it but she does have that crucial bit of information about the results of American Idol, and… that’s it, the day has started. You’re late for work, the shower’s running cold again, your toothbrush bristles are thoroughly chewed through, the cat is ripping apart your sofa, blackmailing you for food, and of course, as always, despite hundreds of clothes in your closet, you have nothing to wear. You leave the house agitated, jangled, caught in another shouting match with yourself: “You lazy… you didn’t meditate! Again. You’ll never change!” Continue reading “Sit Every Day (Lion’s Roar / Shambhala Sun)”
In a blog post last month, Huffington wrote that “there’s nothing touchy-feely about increased profits. This is a tough economy. … Stress-reduction and mindfulness don’t just make us happier and healthier, they’re a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, the 87-year-old Zen master considered by many to be the father of mindfulness in the west, says as long as business leaders practice “true” mindfulness, it does not matter if the original intention is triggered by wanting to be more effective at work or to make bigger profits. That is because the practice will fundamentally change their perspective on life as it naturally opens hearts to greater compassion and develops the desire to end the suffering of others.
Sitting in a lotus position on the floor of his monastery at Plum Village near Bordeaux, France, Thay tells the Guardian: “If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you’ll appreciate that and it will change you. In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
To read the complete article please go to The Guardian.
Question: You write that the mind has been artificially excluded from the natural world and that you, following the radically empirical lead of William James, are seeking to return it to the world of nature, where it belongs. How did this exclusion of the mind and first-persona experience come about?
B. Alan Wallace: Since the origins of experimental psychology 135 years ago, many scientists and philosophers have sought to explain the relation between subjective experience and the correlated objective processes in the brain. This has been called the “hard problem of consciousness,” and despite all the advances made in the cognitive sciences, this issue remains a mystery. The underlying issue is the “closure principle,” which has dominated the natural sciences since the mid-19th century, and which asserts that there are no nonphysical influences in nature. This immediately implies that the mind—including our perceptions, intentions, thoughts, and emotions—must either be physical (contrary to all empirical evidence) or it must exert no consequences in human life or the universe at large, which is contrary to common sense. Many materialists argue that mental processes are identical to or are nothing more than functions of their neural correlates, while others dogmatically propose that consciousness and all kinds of subjective experiences don’t really exist at all! Although many materialistic theories of the mind-body relationship have been proposed, none of them lend themselves to scientific verification or repudiation, so they are merely hypotheses or speculations, not scientific theories. And they are certainly not scientifically established facts, despite the fact that the scientific and popular media commonly equate the mind and brain, without any compelling reasoning or empirical evidence.
Q: Does this reductionist approach to the mind and consciousness have ramifications for other branches of the natural science?
BAW: A core problem that has remained unresolved over the past 90 years is the so-called “measurement problem” in quantum mechanics, which has to do with the relationship between the weird qualities the quantum realm, in which physical entities exist only in relation to their being measured, and the world of classical physics, in which the objective world appears to exist independently of all measurements. Before a quantum measurement takes place, that which is about to be measured exists only as a probability wave function. But once the measurement occurs, the wave function appears to collapse, and a physical system exists in a definite state. But what constitutes a “measurement”? Does this require a conscious observer, or can it take place objectively? In short, the problem remains unsolved, and there is little evidence that any real progress is being made.
Q: How might Buddhist theories and methods of first-person, contemplative inquiry shed light on these unresolved problems?
BAW: The weakness of modern science in these two regards is a strength of the Buddhist tradition of philosophical and contemplative inquiry, and in each of the above three works, I explore the potential interface between scientific and contemplative methods of research into the nature and role of consciousness in the universe. A solution to the hard problem of consciousness and the measurement problem of quantum mechanics may be drawn from the revolutionary theory of quantum cosmology, especially as proposed by the eminent theoretical physicist John A. Wheeler. Rather than viewing quantum systems as being isolated from the world of classical physics, Wheeler views the entire cosmos as a quantum system in his theory of quantum cosmology. Semantic information—that is information that has meaningful content—rather than space-time and mass-energy is considered to be fundamental to the universe, hence his motto “its from bits.” If one follows the logic of this hypothesis, it immediately follows that meaningful information is impossible without a conscious subject for whom this information means something and without a “something” that is the referent of the information. So the three—the information, the one who is informed, and that about which one is informed—must be mutually interdependent.
This is a theme that lies at the core of the Middle Way, or Madhyamaka view, of Buddhism. The existence of an objective physical world, independent of measurement, is in principle unknowable, just as is the existence of a subjective, nonphysical mind, independent of a known object. Both subject and object are “empty” of any inherent existence of their own, as all phenomena arise as dependently related events. Both the quantum cosmology of modern physics and the Middle Way view of Buddhism imply the central role of “observer-participancy” in the universe, in which consciousness is every bit as fundamental as space-time and mass-energy.
The following article by Jon Kabat-Zinn explores the foundations of MBSR and the importance of meditation practice and retreat attendance.
“As I will recount a bit further along, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was developed as one of a possibly infinite number of skillful means for bringing the dharma into mainstream settings.1 It has never been about MBSR for its own sake. It has always been about the M. And the M is a very big M, as I attempt to describe in this paper. That said, the quality of MBSR as an intervention is only as good as the MBSR instructor and his or her understanding of what is required to deliver a truly . . . . “