in the cave, surrounded by stone, no sight; no sound.
Tag Archives: Mindfulness
Plays No Favorites [Haiku]
sunlight breaks into the forest -- not favoring the tranquil yogi.
Leaf Enlightened [Common Meter]
I stared, and stared, into a leaf until my vision changed. And I could see the whole, wide world so artfully arranged. The leaf, it mapped my universe from atom to the sprawl. Compressed, layer-on-layer, there was one and, at once, all. But before I could grasp all that this vision truly meant, a gust of wind did catch that leaf, and fluttering it went.
Meditation Chamber [Common Meter]
He sat and stilled his weary mind, and his thoughts slowed their flow. Until he was a ceaseless void with nowhere left to go.
BOOK REVIEW: Breathe! You are Alive [i.e. Anapanasati Sutta] Trans. & Commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One evening at the end of a rainy season in Shravasti (present-day Uttar Pradesh near the Nepali border,) the Buddha taught a practice using awareness of breath to quiet the mind. This is a translation with commentary by the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh [RIP, FYI – he passed away on January 22nd.] (To clarify: Annabel Laity translated the book from Vietnamese to English, Thich Nhat Hanh translated versions of the sutra from Pali and Chinese.) The teaching is called the Anapanasati Sutta (i.e. “Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing.”) It consists of sixteen variations on the theme of “Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
The sutra itself is only a few pages long, leaving commentaries and appendices to stretch the book to its barely one-hundred-pages. This isn’t a criticism; the commentary is beneficial because the sutra is bare bones. Even being somewhat aware of basic Buddhist concepts (e.g. impermanence, emptiness, liberation, etc.) I still found that the commentary offered some valuable insight about how to understand these ideas as well as how they relate to the practice. The Appendices consist of a variation on the practice and a translation of Chinese version of the sutra. The latter is a bit redundant, but one can also see little differences in translation that may be informative for some.
Besides presenting the practice, the book explains how it relates to (and is built around the principles from) the “Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.” This book outlines the Four Establishments clearly enough to see how the Anapanasati practice is shaped by them. However, it’s worth noting that Thich Nhat Hanh also produced a translation and commentary on the Four Establishments that is entitled “Transformation & Healing.”
As someone who has found breath practices to be among the most effective tools for improving the mind, I benefited from this book tremendously. Besides its discussion of the practice and variations, I learned a lot from the philosophical elaborations that were made. I’d highly recommend this book.
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Calming Chaos [Haiku]
water swirls around smooth, wet rocks, entrancing me
Snake Country [Haiku]
wading through tall grass in snake country each step is now
BOOK REVIEW: Pain: Considering Complementary Approaches by NCCIH
Pain: Considering Complementary Approaches by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has put out a new edition (dated 2019) of its pamphlet (about 50 pages) about how useful various complementary practices are in helping patients reduce, or cope with, pain. The NCCIH is a center in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that serves as a clearinghouse for information about how alternative and complementary practices perform in treatment of various ailments. While alternative (instead of mainstream medicine) and complementary (in conjunction with mainstream medicine) are quite different, in almost all cases this work herein is reporting on the latter basis. The complementary practices in question include: yoga, taiji, meditation and mindfulness, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, relaxation methods, and others.
Complementary approaches to treatment of pain is a particularly salient topic these days as the mainstream medical approach (giving patients pills to gobble down) has resulted in what many have called a “crisis” of opiate addiction. So, if it’s possible to reduce the grip of pain with practices that at best have numerous other health benefits and at worst do no harm, than that’s a pretty good outcome.
Chapters three through eleven form the pamphlet’s core, and all but the last of those look at one complementary practice each, including (in order): acupuncture, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques, spinal manipulation, taiji (a.k.a. tai chi, or tai chi chuan), yoga, and dietary supplements and herbs. Chapter 11 discusses a few additional (less popular) practices. These chapters follow a three-prong approach: 1.) is it safe? 2.) does it help mitigate pain? and 3.) where can I find more information? [Spoiler alert: In almost all cases the answer to #1 is roughly “Yes, for most people, but possibly not for you. Check with your doctor,” and to #2 is usually something like: “there is some preliminary evidence that in certain cases certain people may have benefited.”] The chapters before (ch. 1 & 2) and after (ch. 12 to 14) provide background context and additional information.
On the positive side, it’s great that this information has been gathered together and packaged into a readable format with pictures and easy to read text.
On the down side, this was clearly a document put together by a committee of bureaucrats in consultation with lawyers. It is so laden with qualifiers and spongy speak that it’s impossible to discern how strong the evidence is for the various practices or how one compares to another. I felt that they could have given the same information in a three-column table in which the first column is the practice, the second column is “can’t hurt to try*” [*provided your physician concurs,] and the third column would be “nah, this stuff is fake.” [Spoiler alert: almost everything besides homeopathy would have the first column checked, but the consensus seems to be that homeopathy is pseudo-scientific quackery designed to sell water at medicinal prices.]
This booklet is available on the web for free, so if you’re interested, check it out. But don’t expect to come away with any profound insights. It’s not that kind of booklet.
POEM: Confessions of Mindfulness Pimp
It’s disconcerting, discovering one is a pimp.
Don’t get me wrong;
-I’ve never slapped a ho’
-I’ve never even called anyone a ho’
-To the best of my recollection,
I’ve not even thought anyone a ho’
I’m empathetic to honest work reviled.
But I’ve known the hard-handed hustle of a product that’s felt about in much different terms than it’s talked about — felt an act of masochism but called “working late.”
-a product the customer wishes — with every fiber of his being — he didn’t need.
-a product around which distractions grow like weeds through the cracks of a post-apocalyptic sidewalk.
-a product the customer wishes he could fast-forward to the end-bliss, escaping the awkward preliminaries.
-a skill that the customer tells himself he’s good at, knowing if he had skills, monetary transactions wouldn’t be necessary.
I’ve dealt virtue like it was a vice.
“Psst, Buddy, want some clarity?
“I won’t tell a soul you’re out here looking.”
I’ve pimped mindfulness and wellness — unrepentantly.
BOOK REVIEW: Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids by Eline Snel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anyone who’s ever taught children mindfulness, concentration, or relaxation knows that one can’t use the same tried and tired approach one does with adults. One must recognize the strengths and weaknesses that children’s level of cognitive development brings. [That said, I’ve found myself in front of a room full of kids who sat with the unflinching stillness of bronze Buddha statues, but that’s because regular practice was part of their school experience.] This is the twin premise of Snel’s book: that one needs to tailor one’s approach to teaching children to be mindful, and that their practice needs to be integrated into their life on the whole.
It should be pointed out that the book isn’t just a collection of exercise for children. It’s also a book for parents to help them align their approach to parenting to the mindfulness that the child is developing. It’s also a book of application. That is, it’s not about practicing mindfulness meditation in the abstract; it’s about using the understanding that arises from that practice to improve behavior and emotional coping.
Chapter 1 introduces the topic of mindfulness and sets up the book’s approach as well as explaining the use of the audio exercise that go along with the book. The second chapter explains a mindful approach to parenting by which parents can adopt a calmer and less emotionally charged approach to interacting with their child. Chapter 3 explains how and why breath is used as the basic anchor point to life in the here and now. Chapter 4 suggests how attention can be improved, and mindful eating is used as a tool to advance this objective. The next chapter explores how mindfulness can be practiced using the body as a means to anchor one’s awareness while simultaneously being more aware of what’s going on with one physically. There is discussion of mindful walking, but most of the chapter is about teaching children to be more cognizant of what they feel as a precursor to being more emotionally aware.
The next several chapters cover emotional awareness and how to improve response to emotional situations (both for the child and for the parent.) Chapter 6 uses the analogy of a weather report as a means for children to evaluate their emotional state. Chapter 7 expands on the topic by considering how one can manage one’s response to emotions. The crucial topic of witnessing the changing nature of emotional states is the subject of Chapter 8.
The last two chapters examine how to cultivated desirable character traits in children. The penultimate chapter describes how kindness can be fostered as a skill in children. The last chapter is entitled “Patience, Trust, and Letting Go” and that probably adequately describes the gist of the topics covered. The concept of an “inner movie theater” is discussed as a tool to facilitate building the desired characteristics.
There’s a single page bibliography and a table of audio exercises at the end. As far as graphics are concerned, they are mostly whimsical drawings of frogs.
I found this book to be concise, informative, and designed to appeal to the child’s need for concrete–as opposed to abstract—conceptualization of this, otherwise cerebral, topic.
I’d recommend this book for parents, teachers, and others who interact with children.