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In the profound text "Entering the Heart of the Sun and the Moon," (http://www.amazon.com/Entering-Ngakpa-Chogyam-Khandro-Paperback/dp/B00LLP1SPY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1427864006&sr=8-2&keywords=entering+the+heart+of+the+sun+and+the+moon) co-authors Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen provide an illuminating commentary on romantic love from the perspective of the Aro gTér (Aro tradition), a lineage within the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. This tradition emphasizes the need to overcome the duality of the human mind, i.e., the segregated tendencies of form (i.e., meaning-making, conditioning, explication) and emptiness (i.e., non-meaning). In the text, romantic love is approached as a mechanism of spiritual journeying. While those who are familiar with Buddhism and have a meditation practice may benefit most directly from this text, even the novice will find it intriguing and useful. I also enthusiastically recommend the Aro Buddhism podcast. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/aro-buddhism-podcasts/id346459024)
What follows are recommended readings, videos, and podcasts concerning the major teachings of Buddhism and meditation/mindfulness techniques; if you have trouble with any of the links, please contact me directly at [masked] and I will email them to you. Enjoy! (#1) The Eight-Fold Path in Buddhism The central component of Buddha’s teachings is, arguably, the eight-fold path: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/8foldpath.htm (#2) Recommended Readings: Meditation and Buddhist Psychology The Cambridge Insight Meditation Center located in Cambridge, MA, where I first began to learn about meditation, offers a list of recommended readings for “beginners” who want to learn more about meditation, mindfulness and Buddhism. I highly recommend each of these books: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg A Still Forest Pool by Ajahn Chah Breath by Breath, The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation by Larry Rosenberg Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein (#3) Helen Rosen on Meditation In her article Psychotherapy: Meditation and Change, Dr. Helen Rosen writes, “One of the primary practices of vipassana meditation is to notice mental states, as well as feelings, which arise and pass away while sitting on the cushion. It is understand that at least for the period in sitting meditation, no action will result from these mental states. They are continuously experienced, observed, tolerated, and accepted without the need for changing them, judging them or behaving in any particular way because of them …. For many of us, just observing mental states without the almost immediate translation into action (or an action plan) is radical” (p. 31). (#4) The Raisin Exercise Many of those who are not familiar with meditation may want to begin with a simple exercise aimed at promoting mindfulness. The raisin exercise is a well-known strategy used to enhance one’s capacity to be more fully present in the here-and-now of the moment. Clare Josa introduces the raisin exercise on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2Eo56BLMjM (#5) The Five Hindrances The “Five Hindrances” are central to Buddhist psychology and meditation practice; for a great summary of the Five Hindrances and ways to work with them, please review the following: http://insightmeditationcenter.org/articles/FiveHindrances.pdf
Andrea Fella on Mindfulness Primary instructor at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA, Andrea Fella in this talk (http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/6241.html) describes the core components of staying with the present moment and the utility of mindfulness for our everyday lives. The Philosophy of Buddhism The “Philosophy Now” podcast (https://philosophynow.org/podcasts) offers an intriguing panel discussion (https://philosophynow.org/podcasts/Buddhist_Philosophy) on the fundamental concepts of Buddhism and its philosophical implications. The Five Hindrances The “Five Hindrances” are central to Buddhist psychology and meditation practice; this article (http://insightmeditationcenter.org/articles/FiveHindrances.pdf)summarizes the Five Hindrances and ways to work with them. James Tobin, Ph.D. | Licensed Psychologist, PSY 22074 | Website (http://jamestobinphd.com/) Catalog of Work (http://www.slideshare.net/jamestobin999/presentations)
Dear Buddhism and Romantic Love Group Members: I was recently interviewed by "Slayed" Magazine about meditation, and thought you might find it of interest. The entire interview is available below. A portion of the interview was published in the Summer 2016 edition of "Slayed" which can be uploaded here. (http://www.slayedmagazine.com/) 1. What is Meditation? Although there are many different views of what meditation is, and many different approaches and techniques, a core element across all perspectives is the practice of meditation being a mechanism for observing one’s own mind and achieving a greater level of self-awareness. Since birth, perhaps even before birth, the human mind has been “conditioned” to sense, perceive, feel and act in characteristic ways that, over time, become patterned and rigidified. Meditation is primarily a tool designed to identify these conditionings; in Buddhism they are known as “ego attachments” and are viewed to be the casual agents of human suffering. Secondly, meditation aims to liberate the mind from these attachments. If this occurs, the impermanent nature of existence is internalized and suffering ceases. Those who maintain a mediation practice gradually develop a keen observing self that is capable of identifying the attachments constituting one’s identity. The significant by-products of meditation practice are mourning and humility: you are able to recognize more clearly the trajectory of your life and how your mental tendencies have negatively impacted that trajectory. Ultimately, there is something very human about these evolving recognitions. Through meditation practice, you also are afforded the opportunity to attain a greater tolerance of, and sympathy for, the suffering of others. 2. Is meditation important? The numerous religious and spiritual traditions that have inspired contemplative practice can be broadly categorized into two main categories: (1) those meditation techniques directed toward concentration and attention and excluding chaotic stimuli (“relaxation” meditation), and (2) those concerned with expanding one’s awareness of self and experience (“insight” meditation). The former is helpful in supporting self-regulatory capacities and mitigating anxiety, and meditation techniques in this category have been scientifically proven to yield profound physiological, cognitive, and emotional benefits. Consequently, they have been applied to numerous and diverse types of medical, psychiatric and psychological problems. Conversely, the insight meditation category focuses on techniques designed to increase awareness of one’s own mind and gradually restructure mental components and self-states. This restructuring enables a less constricted contact with experience. 3. I have heard that meditation can be dangerous. Is this true? Yes, it can be “dangerous” to the extent to which emotional and cognitive processes underlying the patterns of one’s mind, previously untenable, are now accessible through the meditation process. Mediation essentially has a distilling impact; as experience and the mind’s organization and categorization of experience become untethered, one is left with plain stark awareness. Awareness de-linked from meaning-making is often highly unnerving and can lead to unbridled emotional states and prolonged inner turmoil. This is natural but, for many, can be alarming, even disheartening, promoting a sense of personal frailty and vulnerability. But, over time, this vulnerability typically transforms into a more serene stability and enthusiastic curiosity. New mental structures are formed that cradle experience rather than seek to modify it in accordance with one’s conditionings and cravings. 4. How many types of meditation are there? There are literally hundreds of contemporary meditation approaches that have evolved from original formulations introduced by spiritual teachers in Tibet, Burma, China and India centuries ago. This rich and complex legacy has ultimately resulted in much confusion about, and erroneous delineations between, different schools of meditation and the varying ways mindfulness, concentration, and mind-body synergy are negotiated within these schools. Furthermore, this rich tradition has inspired numerous lines of scholarly inquiry on contemplation which are only recently spawning important debates on the relationships between religion, morality, spirituality and psychology, and between Eastern and Western approaches to mental life and spiritual journeying. 5. How do you practice Mindfulness? In my estimation, mindfulness has been somewhat overblown in the popular culture. Simply put, mindfulness is the basic foundation of meditation practice and refers to the essential process of becoming more “aware,” i.e., purposefully attending to a stimulus and observing the mind’s expectable meanderings away from the stimulus. Joseph Goldstein, an important American meditation teacher and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, argues that mindfulness can be effectively practiced either formally or informally. For example, often when I am driving in my car I will attend closely to the trajectory of my vehicle along the surface of the roadway and the ways in which my sense perceptions and fine motor movements alter the speed, direction and position of the automobile. Goldstein makes the point that mindfulness may be applied to all human activity, thereby bringing greater awareness to even the most seemingly inconsequential acts (i.e., common mindfulness exercises center on raisin tasting and dish-washing). As one gains greater skill in achieving states of mindfulness, the knee-jerk, conditioned reactivity of one’s mind becomes readily apparent. For example, my initial efforts toward mindfulness soon revealed to me just how quickly I react with frustration and impatience to a long bank teller line. This awareness of the here-and-now, and the identification of the automatic ways in which the mind resists actually “being in the moment,” is a crucial component of the meditation process. 6. How long should I mediate for? There are numerous schools of thought on this question. Some argue that the construct of “time” is antithetical to the notion of mediation. It is suggested that, unlike time, which is a linear construct, meditation operates on planes of circularity, infinity and complex notions of emptiness and space. Notwithstanding these considerations, I suggest that a beginner meditate for a fixed period of time (10 minutes, for example), and then gradually increase the duration of a meditation session to an hour, say, with the gradual introduction of even longer periods of time in the contexts of retreats and other community-based activities. Ultimately, however, time will not be an important variable of consideration. The reason for setting an allotted amount of time early in your meditation practice is that it will essentially force you to be with yourself. The contact with your own mind in the here-and-now will be unusual, tense, and uncomfortable, and you will likely want to withdraw from it. Challenging yourself with a fixed amount of time eliminates an easy escape hatch. 7. What kind of meditation do you practice? I am formally trained in Vipassanā insight meditation, which is linked to the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. This school of meditation centers on applying mindfulness techniques to one’s own thoughts, feelings and physiological states in order to ascertain internal and external reality. Some have described this form of meditation as “active passivity.” The goal is to follow the sequences and associations of one’s mind (“mind moments”) without censorship or judgment. This developing capacity of restraint gradually makes it possible for more realistic contact with experience – thus creating “space” in the mind that serves as a resource to accommodate the truth of existence. Without this space, the mind is constricted by the vicissitudes of attachments, and “what is” can never predominate over “what should be.” Although comparisons between Vipassanā meditation and Freudian psychoanalysis are controversial with little consensus among experts, for me these perspectives share the important assumption of the mind’s need to thwart or disavow the reality of one’s inner life, interpersonal relations, and negotiation of universal truths. In an effort to metabolize unexplainable and/or undesirable life experiences, the mind creates narrative structures consisting of faulty rationales and erroneous belief systems. Along these cognitive-emotional trenches the mind propels itself across the lifespan, all the while disconnected from reality to a greater or lesser degree. Psychoanalysts describe the inevitable disarming of psychological defenses as treatment progresses that have been routinely utilized since childhood to suppress or repress what cannot be tolerated. Relatedly, meditation inspires the gradual rise of a conflict never before experienced – habitual patterns of feeling and perception are newly confronted with the emergence of choice. As meditation practice proceeds, sooner or later the well-honed pathways for moderating experience previously forged and tirelessly defended lose their status and appeal. At this inflexion point, one begins to unhinge from previously endorsed mental structures and function anew, without allegiances to them. 8. What is the benefit of doing this type of meditation? Beyond what I have described in response to question #7 above, I would say that the benefits include self-awareness, self-acceptance, and emotional and psychological freedom. 9. Do I need a teacher to teach me meditation? I would say “yes.” Like any other activity or discipline a novice seeks to learn, you need access to a mentor who has been in your position before and understands its many challenges. Having said that, in the final analysis mediation is a uniquely personal psychological and spiritual process. Yet throughout this highly personalized journey, one can always learn from different theoretical approaches, perspective, and teachers. For beginners, I always recommend the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California as a good place to start learning. 10. Is meditation used today by other psychologists or any psychiatrists you know? As I alluded to previously, the application of meditation techniques to psychiatric health, broadly, and to the practice of psychotherapy, specifically, is controversial. Some believe that meditation and psychiatry/clinical psychology constitute entirely different domains and should not be bridged. To a large extent, this view is based on the belief that spirituality and psychiatry/psychology are ultimately irreconcilable. Nevertheless, the popularity of mindfulness and its proliferation in the mental health professions strongly oppose this supposition. Personally I have found the burgeoning literature on the intersection of Eastern spiritual approaches, Buddhist psychology, and Western perspectives of psychotherapy and mental health fascinating. Jack Kornfield, a well-known Buddhist meditation teacher and psychologist, has written extensively on the compatibility between Eastern and Western psychology and the value of incorporating meditation techniques in psychotherapy, and vice versa, to combat human struggle and distress. Other experts in this area whose work I admire include Christopher Germer and Ronald Siegel (“Mindfulness and Psychotherapy”), Mark Epstein (“Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective”; “Going to Pieces without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness”), Steven Alper (“Mindfulness Meditation in Psychotherapy: An Integrated Model for Clinicians”), Susan Pollak and Thomas Pedulla (“Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy”), and Joseph Goldstein (“One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism”). 11. What advice can you give those just starting or thinking about practicing meditation? My advice would be to jettison notions of “relaxation” or “calmness” as the end-game of meditation and avoid the temptation to make meditation, like most other human activities, goal-based. It is indeed quite unfortunate that meditation in Western culture today has become yet another goal-oriented activity, yet another thing to do and do quickly in order to reap the benefits from. True meditation has little to do neither with attainment nor progression. Rather, it is a process of self-confrontation with no beginning and no end. Despite all that I have said in this interview, paradoxically mediation is not concerned with change. Mostly, to meditate is to observe who you are, what you perceive, and how you feel within a framework of recognizing patterns of self-deception. But alas – this subjective process defies objective evaluation! And so it goes. For me, even more than love, what is most pleasurable when I meditate is the opportunity to enter an array of dialectical tensions that are, in the end, irresolvable.