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Gillian Sanger

How can mindfulness help to bridge our perceived divides?

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20 hours ago, David Weiskopf said:

As I read your post, I was both nodding in agreement and at the same time thinking, "No, there is the aspect of harming that sometimes cannot be bridged!" Then I read the interview with Mark Coleman you cited and I was so gratified to see that I did not have to say a word. Mark spoke well to the dilemma often posed by wanting to bridge gaps when people are wedded to actions and views that contribute to great harm. Thanks for the article. I bookmarked it.

Thinking we all were getting close to leaving this topic for awhile, I looked back and had one reflection. Implicit in Gillian's question and so many of the responses was something so important--the intention to bridge the gap, to not cause enmity, harm, and separation through bitterness and stubbornness. This sort of aspiration, intention, and resolve is so important. When we become self-absorbed it is usual to lose sight of those good intentions or to distort them into rationalizations for our self-righteousness.

It was just like me to respond by casting light on the usual impediments to carrying through on our best and noble intentions. I have a tendency to skip over our best qualities and to point out people's hypocrisy. You know what they say about "good intentions?" "The road to hell is paved" with them. But, those good intentions are extremely important. Oftentimes, they simply are not sufficient. Moreover, there is a need for equanimity and keeping balance when the gaps cannot be bridged by even the most skillful efforts on our parts. When intentions are held and conveyed from a place of sincere concern and balance, they have at the very least subtle effects on others. They certainly are beneficial to the holder. So, I thank all who in some way, expressed such good intentions.

@David Weiskopf - I would have quoted your entire passage but I'll focus on this part. I have to say - I love the way you write! It is thoughtful, well worded, and inquisitive and doesn't shy away from the complexities of life. Thank you for your contributions.

I do think, as you've said as well, that intention is so important. And furthermore, that surrendering whatever idea we hold about perfection is crucial. We're human, and so misunderstandings and differences of opinion are bound to arise that we can only do our best to navigate effectively. And the way we navigate our gaps will undoubtedly change as we evolve. Honouring that process without self-criticism I think is important.

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20 hours ago, David Weiskopf said:

Thinking we all were getting close to leaving this topic for awhile, I looked back and had one reflection. Implicit in Gillian's question and so many of the responses was something so important--the intention to bridge the gap, to not cause enmity, harm, and separation through bitterness and stubbornness. This sort of aspiration, intention, and resolve is so important. When we become self-absorbed it is usual to lose sight of those good intentions or to distort them into rationalizations for our self-righteousness.

Hi @David Weiskopf, This is a nice summary of the key message in this thread. I thank you for asking questions which made me think about dilemma of responding to people who cause harm. It really made me think about how to address harm from a place of equanimity. There are two realities in life, in my view, that cannot be ignored. I think it is important to recognize that human beings are complicated and capable of being whole as well as being separated from the whole: causing harm and dysfunction.  If our practice glosses over this fact, our responses are not an accurate reflection of reality. 

Kind Regards,

Gene

 

 

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On 5/15/2020 at 2:24 PM, Gene Williams said:

Hello everyone,

This morning, I started my day with the "Just Like Me" practice https://mindfulnessexercises.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Just-Like-Me.mp3  which is related to building empathy., https://mindfulnessexercises.com/building-empathy/

After the meditation, I started to think about the question about how to find a bridge within political divisions.  I really like Mark Coleman's approach:

"Rather than get caught up in the difference in the ideologies, we actually come back to the fundamental idea: just like me, this person on the opposite political spectrum wants to be happy, wants to be safe, wants to thrive, wants to be healthy, wants to find peace of mind."  https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/ethical-wisdom/201701/make-peace-your-mind-conversation-mark-coleman

 

 

Thanks for sharing this @Gene Williams! This makes me think about the part of metta meditation where we are invited to think about someone who we have difficulties with. It is always so heartwarming to set aside differences of opinion, views, and personality and to simply connect with the humanity we share with that person - that innate yearning to be happy, safe, and at peace.

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15 hours ago, David Weiskopf said:

I relate to the Buddha as having been an extremely accomplished and wise person who left us very practical advice. The Buddha is often compared to a doctor who prescribed a course of medication and practice to cure suffering. No secret formulas, no magic bullets, just very practical and practicable advice. We can follow it or not, as we chose so to speak.

Hello @David Weiskopfand @Paige PIlege, This sums up how I relate to The Buddha and Buddhism quite well. Many thanks to both of you for your insightful responses.

Kind regards,

Gene

Edited by Gene Williams
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Thanks for the compliment, Gillian. My wife says I really have "a way with words...a bad way!" (Argumentative.) I really am looking forward to yours and Paige's reaction to The Body Keeps the Score. It's not about practice but about so many modalities to address trauma and to make us whole. So, it has definite implications for practice. I thought the Buddha's insight was amazing, but there are things in this book that he couldn't have imagined in his day. I don't think they detract from the wisdom of the ancient teachings, except possibly in minor regards. Rather, I think the book complements the ancient teachings nicely.

I want to explain why I refer so much to the ancient teachings attributed to the Buddha and not simply to mindfulness practice. I have a thing about secular mindfulness. I think it rips off the teachings of the Buddha and possibly other ancient traditions (I'm no scholar) without due attribution and credit. Moreover, I believe it tends to overly reduce and simplify things like sati or mindfulness to catchphrases while it tends to neglect other important aspects of practice. If one goes back to Gene's article containing the interview with Mark Coleman one can see how present-moment awareness without judgment is just one aspect of mindfulness practice, a starting point for forming skillful means as described in the interview. At the same time I recognize there are good reasons for making mindfulness teachings secular, for example to make them more appealing to people regardless of denomination for one and to make them readily subject to scientific scrutiny and validation for another. I'm saying this to explain why I continually tend to refer to the ancient teachings attributed to the Buddha instead of to "mindfulness." It's not to say Buddha Is Better or that it's not real mindfulness unless it's ancient-Buddhist. I am just as pleased with approaches of people like Paige who bring to their understanding of mindfulness an entire context of Chinese and holistic medicine and other influences. I guess I'm saying that in my perspective secular mindfulness begs for much needed context. I got in trouble for asking my MBSR teacher why she suggested we look for what "triggers" us and what that instruction had to do with nonjudgmental awareness of present-moment experience? I just as easily could have asked why was the teacher introducing instructions to bring to mind images for lovingkindness practices, or even inviting us to bring attention to a particular sensory object like the sensations of breathing or sounds? The sad thing was the teacher couldn't provide an answer, so to me that teacher's version of secular mindfulness did not sufficiently promote discernment and empowerment. It's funny I am not nearly so convinced that all people are basically good as I am that they all have some innate capability for at least some wisdom. Being "Awake" to present-moment experience, while it might be invigorating and restorative, doesn't do all that much for us if it doesn't also serve to better inform our intentions and actions, does it? In fact, it brings to my mind images of Mindfulness  Zombies, staggering happily and aimlessly with eyes bulging. I don't mean this to be argumentative, but you probably appreciate now why my wife sometimes thinks I am so. I don't want to end this without admiringly saying that Sean does bring into play so much more than the simple operative definition of mindfulness, but I still balk at it. Night of the Lifeless Awake!!!

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Hi @David Weiskopf

4 hours ago, David Weiskopf said:

I want to explain why I refer so much to the ancient teachings attributed to the Buddha and not simply to mindfulness practice. I have a thing about secular mindfulness. I think it rips off the teachings of the Buddha and possibly other ancient traditions (I'm no scholar) without due attribution and credit.

What you say here really resonated with me because I started a journey of exploring non-dualistic thinking when I encountered Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now".  Then I began to take a deep dive into reading various Buddhist texts from a variety of Buddhist schools and lineages.  After a while, I started circling back to Mindfulness and read John Kabat Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are. I began to realize that the Mindfulness Movement really does incorporate the idea of nowness awareness without explicitly referencing the core Buddhist teachings. 

I recall being in a discussion forum that focused on the Theravada school and mentioning how much I appreciated Eckhart Tolle's perspectives. The response from the moderator was one of cynicism. My sense was that this person objected to what they perceived as the commercialization of nowness/awareness and that Eckhart was disingenuous. My thought was that I was grateful, that my encounter with Eckhart Tolle, non-dualistic thinking, and mindfulness concepts had prompted me to discover that there were Four Noble Truths and an Eightfold Path. One book that really helped me to understand and experience the idea of suffering and the root causes of suffering was Phillip Moffit's Dancing With Life. 

For me, mindfulness  made some of the Buddhist teachings more accessible.  I say this by acknowledging that I am in no way any kind of expert or an experienced practitioner. And when I follow Sean's approach to mindfulness in his daily exercises, I am realizing just how much of the material really speaks to the Four Noble Truths without explicitly naming them.  Appreciating the secular and ancient teachings has somehow deepened my practice. However, I also think that there are unethical actors within the mindfulness movement that seek to profit from people's stress without acknowledging or addressing the social and societal root causes. 

David, I really appreciate your critical thinking. It helps to bring some discernment to our mindfulness practice which I think is healthy!

Kind Regards,

Gene

 

Edited by Gene Williams
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Thank you for these incredibly thoughtful and inquisitive sharings @David Weiskopf and @Gene Williams. I very much agree that mindfulness 'catchphrases' and 'seeking to profit without acknowledging or addressing the social and societal root causes' are challenges in this field. But also as you shared Gene, sometimes there can be an assumption or judgment that secular teachers or offerings are disingenuous. How and who can ever really know? I think all we can do as individuals is to go with our gut and explore what works for us - not what sounds or looks good, but what actually works for each of us.

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"This all is to say that it can be hugely helpful to have a strong personal grounding in the Buddhadharma and its teachings, as suggested in the earlier sections. In fact, it is virtually essential and indispensible for teachers of MBSR and other mindfulness-based interventions. Yet little or none of it can be brought into the classroom except in essence. And if the essence is absent, then whatever one is doing or thinks one is doing, it is certainly not mindfulness-based in the way we understand the term." Jon Kabat-Zinn, https://www.umassmed.edu/contentassets/abf4d773534442238acf329476591dde/jkz_paper_contemporary_buddhism_2011.pdf

Gene, I find your openness and open-mindedness very refreshing. I don't like wading into the waters of evaluating Jon Kabat Zinn, because he has become such an icon, so I let his words speak for themselves. Unfortunately, I do not think one can evaluate MBSR on the basis of his words because so many of them are an unspoken subtext. Moreover, most people's exposure to MBSR is to their local teacher, many of whom are vastly less experienced than Kabat-Zinn. My teacher begrudgingly and angrily resisted any acknowledgement that MBSR has origins in Buddhist teachings except to reverently invoke Kabat-Zinn as MBSR's source and repeat that he insists MBSR is not "Buddhist." Well, of course not! Buddha was not Buddhist. So much for her personal grounding in the Buddhadharma and its teachings. I still go to weekly sittings for graduates but pretty much keep my mouth shut. She does a great job presenting the basic MBSR curriculum and being a guru for me in revealing my tendencies to prefer she do more and to judge her.

As for Eckhart Tolle, I too was very much inspired by his books. Much like Jon Kabat-Zinn, I think Eckhart Tolle did a lot to make mindfulness and interest in spirituality mainstream. Whatever their downsides, if there be any, I believe we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Gene, how do you mean "non-dual"? Do you mean it simply as penetrating the delusion of perceiving and believing oneself to be separate from others, or do you mean it in the cosmic sense of everything being interconnected, changeable, and subject to universal laws, or what? The term appeals to me, but I have found it to be controversial sometimes. Similarly, I tend to bull right into the whole "self," "not-self," or "no-self" controversy with strong opinions only to realize it is a very, very touchy subject about which people can have definite preconceptions that resist detailed examination. To my way of thinking if mindfulness is not opening exploration of these issues, it ain't mindfulness. It does not mean there is only one right view or that one has to be articulate in addressing these issues. It more has to do with personal growth and maturity. Still, I really enjoy listening to people who are articulate about these issues. It helps stretch my presupposed boundaries and limitations, loosen my "uptightedness."

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14 hours ago, David Weiskopf said:

Gene, how do you mean "non-dual"? Do you mean it simply as penetrating the delusion of perceiving and believing oneself to be separate from others, or do you mean it in the cosmic sense of everything being interconnected, changeable, and subject to universal laws, or what? The term appeals to me, but I have found it to be controversial sometimes. Similarly, I tend to bull right into the whole "self," "not-self," or "no-self" controversy with strong opinions only to realize it is a very, very touchy subject about which people can have definite preconceptions that resist detailed examination

Hi David,

Wow! I have to give this some thought. I began exploring the delusion of perceiving "me" as separate self after I read The Power of Now. This is where I began to think about non-dualistic thinking and experience. Then I began to explore and question all the fundamental believes I had about the self and what "identity" really means. I am still on a journey to understand what no self, true self, and emptiness or the absence of emptiness really means, and I have read various Buddhist texts that speak to this issue. I am aware of the "self," "not-self," or "no-self" controversy and still trying to make sense of qualitative distinctions within various schools of Buddhism.

My major is Sociology and the framework I brought to my thinking is that our world view and reality is socially constructed. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Construction_of_Reality

I am still not sure what is real and what is true, but my gut feeling is that the concepts of self, not-self and no-self force us to step outside of our socially constructed universe. This shakes up our socially constructed concepts of reality and it feels like groundlessness. What we thought was real, was not real. What we thought was solid ground is not solid ground. The paradox in this thinking is that we must find grounding in the immediacy of our relative life experience if we hope to comprehend what lies beyond our limited view of reality. This really led me on a spiritual journey. This short Tricycle article sums up where I am at today with these concepts. "Spiritual practice inevitably brings us face to face with the profound mystery of our own identity" 

https://tricycle.org/magazine/no-self-or-true-self/

 

34 minutes ago, David Weiskopf said:

To my way of thinking if mindfulness is not opening exploration of these issues, it ain't mindfulness.

 

I also agree that mindfulness should naturally lead to an exploration of of self, not-self and no-self. The new framework I am trying to adopt is approaching mindfulness within the context of following what Tricycle explains is "the mindfulness of the Buddha". 

https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/the-mindfulness-of-the-buddha/

The article explains that, "[r]egardless of the circumstances under which... [mindfulness] is taught...mindfulness is wholesome when it comes from an ethical base and helps people to be more present, have less stress, and experience fewer negative thoughts".  The article goes on to say that it is also important that an ethical mindfulness practice needs to focus on the "Buddha's teachings on the nature of the mind and skillful means, and the aspiration to choose non-suffering rather than suffering".  For me, this suggests that there are universal laws in life that, if ignored, cause ignorance cause suffering. I have come to believe that the Noble Eight Fold Path is a means and a way to end suffering. 

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html

Many thanks for your insight(s) David.

Regards,

Gene

Edited by Gillian Sanger
As requested
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Thanks, Gene. I enjoyed your thoughtful response and your references. I hope no one goes to Bhikkhu Bodhi's article hoping for a quick reference! O.K., you and I obviously are kindred souls and have adopted a Buddhist framework for our growth and development, but I don't think that is necessary for everyone and anyone. I think other traditions can be effective and there are other secular movements for personal development and spiritual growth, although my familiarity with this area is very limited. I have been tremendously impressed, however, with the writings of Kathleen Dowling Singh representing transpersonal psychology. I think she wrote a lovely book organized around the Buddha's teachings on dependent origination, called Unbinding, which you can guess was my introduction to her. It suggests why we explore things like mindfulness or "who am I?" or "what is the basis for all this self-identification?" We do it disentangle from what ties us up in knots, what trips us up, what snares us, what bogs us down. Right? We do it to find what she terms "Grace." Beautiful stuff.

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12 hours ago, Gene Williams said:

I realized that my previous post has all kinds of spelling mistakes and I can't go back to manually edit. I have asked for Gillian's help to post the corrected version.

See above and let me know if this is correct now 🙂 @Gene Williams

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13 hours ago, Gene Williams said:

This is where I began to think about non-dualistic thinking and experience. Then I began to explore and question all the fundamental believes I had about the self and what "identity" really means. I am still on a journey to understand what no self, true self, and emptiness or the absence of emptiness really means, and I have read various Buddhist texts that speak to this issue. I am aware of the "self," "not-self," or "no-self" controversy and still trying to make sense of qualitative distinctions within various schools of Buddhism.

Speaking of non-duality, I was actually going to share this video by Rupert Spira the other day because I think it clears up a misbelief that to be mindful, aware, and 'as our true nature' means we don't take action in the human world. This is just one of many videos by Rupert that I've connected with. If you haven't explored his teachings, he's a wonderful, down-to-earth teacher of non-duality, or the Advaita Vedanta tradition from Hinduism. 

 

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