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Gillian Sanger

What is bringing you joy these days?

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Here in Sweden, the weather is really turning. Days are around 10 degrees Celsius and the skies are soft grey. Daylight hours are on the decline, too.

Not all of us but many of us are heading towards darker days. I am aware of how less sunlight piled on to all the other challenges of our times can lead to feelings of grief, sadness, and depression in the coming months.

For my own wellbeing, I am trying to be mindful of how I am bringing joy and lightness into my life. I was watching Schitt's Creek for a while for some light laughs, but now that I am back in Sweden (after visiting family in Canada), I cannot seem to get access to it. I am trying to move my body more - to dance and to stretch - and to make an effort to meet up with friends. 

What is everyone in the community doing to bring about feelings of lightness, joy, and laughter?

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The colour of the autumn leaves. I sat gazing out the window yesterday, just noticing how many shades and colours I could identify. It was raining, but if anything, that caused the colours to appear brighter and even more colourful against a grey sky. I was so relaxed it nearly seemed like a form of meditation. I hope you are all well and find something to enjoy daily.

Edited by Mary Sweeney
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Thank you for sharing @Mary Sweeney! Today I am finding joy by cultivating gratitude for my cozy and safe home and for slow Sundays. I am going to clean up this afternoon, which normally I am a bit resistant too but today I feel inspired. I'll probably play some music and dance my way through it.

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[ some thoughts about ‘mindfulness’ and feelings ... noting that I described myself as a conservative but unconventional Dharma practitioner in my profile ]

From the linked Nature dot com article: 

*****

“In conclusion our model shows that a catastrophic collapse in human population, due to resource consumption, is the most likely scenario of the dynamical evolution based on current parameters. 

Adopting a combined deterministic and stochastic model we conclude from a statistical point of view that the probability that our civilisation survives itself is less than 10% in the most optimistic scenario. 

Calculations show that, maintaining the actual rate of population growth and resource consumption, in particular forest consumption, we have a few decades left before an irreversible collapse of our civilisation.

Making the situation even worse, we stress once again that it is unrealistic to think that the decline of the population in a situation of strong environmental degradation would be a non-chaotic and well-ordered decline.”

*****

So, when factoring in that global temps are projected to increase 3-5 C degrees with an exponential increase in catastrophic weather events / mass extinction within just 30 years ... noting that at around a 2 C increase we’ll experience widespread global famine (and war) due to failed seed viability and heat-exhausted soil ... and also noting that at around a 4 C increase, a phenomenon known as “hothouse climate” (an extremely rapid heating in the 8-20 C degree range), is considered likely,

... and 

70-90% of all terrestrial lifeforms are projected to extinct by the end of this century (that is, within the next 80 years),

... and 

civilization is projected to collapse by mid-century (that is, within the next 30 years),

... then it becomes crystal clear that the human species (including each of us), right now, is in serious existential crisis, and that this crisis is rapidly expanding, and that the remainder of this century is going to make 2020 look like a lovely summer picnic in the park with kittens, rainbows, lime sherbet, endless giggles and ‘likes’. 

Personally, I would find the idea of practicing ‘mindfulness’, as an attempt to change the quality of my perception during this horrific cataclysm to lightness and joy and peace and laughter, to be unseemly, evidence of habitual unconscious privilege, insensitive, self-absorbed, dissociative, strikingly incongruent with the harsh actualities of this age of runaway climate chaos / runaway mass extinction / runaway social breakdown ... and at great odds with the original (narrow) intent of mindfulness practice which was to attentively cultivate an acute > preference-free < clarity of just what actually is and how just what actually is actually works, internally and externally (which are literally one space). 

Mindfulness practice isn’t about masking  the harshness of life here in this tiny vulnerable mote of dust, water, fire and air that is whizzing around a colossal volatile flaming sphere in an infinite ocean of churning, electromagnetically unstable, hazardous space. 

It isn’t even about feeling good (though that MAY sometimes happen in a committed consistent practice, it is not the intent). 

It isn’t a tool to protect us from our uncomfortable / confused / painful feelings as everything collapses around us (and, just around the bend of time, even within us). It is a tool we can safely use to amplify, attune to, listen to, and learn from them, no matter how much we don’t love experiencing them. This is actual medicine. 

Mindfulness practice is about nakedly acknowledging the harshness and dissatisfactoriness of existing as a broken, pathologically alienated and deeply confused animal, in a wild body of dynamic flesh, bones, air and water, in a sick society, here in this tumultuous terrestrial sphere where life eats life to survive, in this great dying time, as each of us, individually, are also dying, because the experience / trajectory of all biological lifeforms (including human) is birth, aging, sickness, dying and death, with no exception.

Simultaneously, it is about clearly acknowledging our actual (sensory) feelings as we work to wake up to an unvarnished unembellished perception of what we are (exceedingly fragile, vulnerable, dependent, short-lived elements of the human biome), where we are (see the bits above about “tiny mote of dust” and “wild body”), what is happening where we are (endless churning interactive change), and what is inevitably going to happen (collapse and death). 

This doesn’t mean that lightness and joy and happiness and peace can’t happen during this age of uncertainty. They certainly can. It does mean that chasing after lovely and light, without acknowledging and developing an ongoing open receptive depth relationship with muck and thorns and dark and shit, will result in more muck and thorns and dark and shit. No shit, no flowers ... 

If we’re feeling the need to ‘joy up’, then the chances are good that we’re not giving clear enough attention to something that we prefer would go away. Ego prefers candy. Mindfulness practice, like everything else, can be subverted and exploited by ego for more candy. As mindfulness teachers, it is our job to guide students toward giving equal attention and value to what they habitually ignore / deny / push away / bury / fear. If we can’t do this for ourselves, then we’re not ready to teach mindfulness and will, in fact, cause harm if we do. 

Research here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63657-6

Article here: 

https://www.vice.com/en/article/akzn5a/theoretical-physicists-say-90-chance-of-societal-collapse-within-several-decades?fbclid=IwAR3N0tKgXFbHr0__Vml1tl1TYrusY3UWhzKfcGofk9TuJGUuAO15ODIKj1Q

 

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Hi Jeff,

Thank you for your comments and perspective here. I agree with you that chasing light and love while ignoring, suppressing, or denying pain and suffering is not what mindfulness is all about. However, speaking for myself and what I see others going through right now, there is a lot of fear and anxiety that is making it very difficult for us to be kind, compassionate, and caring towards ourselves, others, and the planet. Being present to the pain and suffering of ourselves, others, and the world at large is one thing (a beautiful, poignant, touching thing), but becoming all consumed by it is not (from my own perspective and experience) nourishing for ourselves or anyone else. 

We are each guided by our own inner compass, and for myself right now that means being aware of all that is happening while also taking care of myself and remembering what uplifts me. Sometimes that means practicing gratitude, sometimes it means going for a run, sometimes it means having a glass of wine, sometimes it means watching a light TV show. I disagree that this is insensitive or self-absorbed behaviour because I know that I am only able to be most helpful in this world if I am practicing compassion and taking care of myself in the best way I know how.

I am curious to hear other people's thoughts on the matter.

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I also just came across this clip from the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training Program. This is from a workshop with Dr. Rick Hanson and one thing I really like here is how he explains that dealing with challenges is not 'either/or'. He says we can deal with the challenges, the pain, and the suffering while also turning towards the good and seeing what is still working.

 

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Hi Gillian, 

Thanks for taking time to thoughtfully comment on my comment, and I just want to clarify that my comment wasn’t a reply to you personally or to your personal reflections in the first three paragraphs of the OP. 

It was only a commentary on this OP contextualizing question which I mistakenly thought was another mindfulness-related  ‘question of the week’ type of post by you-the-moderator:

***

On 10/22/2020 at 6:37 AM, Gillian Sanger said:

What is everyone in the community doing to bring about feelings of lightness, joy, and laughter?

***

... that appeared to me to conflate ‘mindfulness practice’ (the context of this forum) with a pursuit of happiness, lightness and laughter. If I had noticed this was posted in the ‘Water Cooler’ room (where typically more personal and off topic stuff is posted) and not in one of the general mindfulness rooms, I wouldn’t have commented as I did or likely even at all. Oops.

That said, I’ll add a few more thoughts (again, directed to the entire room, not just you) ...

- - - 

The very modern conflation of the theory / experience of ‘mindfulness’ with an also very modern pandemic of uninterrogated obsessive desire for (and addiction to) ‘light’, happiness and pleasure, that has driven the human species and all life here in Earth to the edge of a crumbling cliff in just a couple hundred years, is now common as dirt in the field, to humanity’s great detriment.

This happened because the ancient concept of ‘sati’ (‘smrti’ in Sanskrit), which traditionally means ‘remembering’ (not ‘attention’) was introduced to the Western mind by Westerners (after a name change because Westerners typically have an infantile aversion to non-white concepts), who, after deciding that the concept of ‘non-self’, upon which a clear understanding / experience of mindfulness utterly depends, was inconsistent with modern society (and anticipated profit streams).

Without a clear understanding of ‘non-self’, which was foundational in most premodern / ancient cultures (in various forms) prior to the modern era, mindfulness has become ‘all about me’, to all of life’s great detriment.

This isn’t surprising given that modern humans are relentlessly conditioned from birth to death to invest heavily in a pathologically alienated fiction of ‘self’, to endlessly groom this fiction to stay on trend and in a necessarily fleeting comfort zone, and to endlessly medicate the destructive effects of this madness by endlessly feeding and rationalizing desire / craving. 

This is the exact opposite of how ‘mindfulness’ was understood by premodern / ancient cultures who experienced effective contentment and sustainable organic happiness as predictable effects of sacrificing the painful and confusing hallucination of a solid separate ‘self’ in order to cultivate a deep and broad clarity of existing as a set of biological processes innately embedded in myriad processes that are vastly larger than us ... with the understanding that mental output and reflexive emotionality are recurring biological excretions, just as urine, feces, tears, vomit, used air, semen, and menstrual blood are ... that are innate to the larger set of terrestrial / celestial processes that produce, enable and regulate all life, including this personal existence that we mistakenly think is separate from everything else.

The human body and mind, which are one phenomenon, are animated, regulated and periodically / randomly deregulated by every single (and combined) substance ingested, by the pharmaceuticals our parents ingested even way before we were conceived (by way of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance), by weather, by qualities of light, by qualities of noise, by odor, by the literally trillions of microscopic organisms that call the human body (both surface and interior) “home”, by cultural conditioning, by media consumption, by the sun and moon, by exposure to electromagnetic fields, by the hours of the day, and even by ongoing and random terrestrial and exoterrestrial patterns, processes and events (all 100% verified by science). 

A classical image of this is the marionette puppet, with every movement driven by external forces. The patterns and processes of the human biological organism, including perception, cognition and emotion, are nearly entirely animated by non-human forces that originate ‘outside’ / ‘beyond’ the modern hallucination of autonomous self-existence. For example, cardiac rhythms are regulated by the shifting phases of the moon. The very modern concept of ‘free will’ is a much cherished, very Western, very modern (more commonly male) illusion / meme that has been turned into another destructive religion in modern society.

- - -

Comments on Gillian’s latest comment above (noting that I’m still writing to the room, not just to Gillian):

“there is a lot of fear and anxiety that is making it very difficult for us to be kind, compassionate, and caring towards ourselves, others, and the planet.”

I acknowledge you expressing that your fear and anxiety are making it difficult for you to be compassionate and caring, but we see this differently. IMO and experience, this fear and anxiety, now widespread and growing, regarding the fast moving cataclysm that is upon us, is the direct result of the defended fiction of ‘self’ that is sensing its own pending collapse as a result of the cataclysm.

Modern people tend to unconsciously fear / be anxious about the collapse of this cherished illusion of ‘self’ more than the pending collapse of society because if the hallucination of a ‘self’ collapses, then who and what are they??? Modern people have no idea what they are or where they are and few really want to know.

Attempting to practice mindfulness (clearly remembering what we are, where we are and how we and where we are actually operate) without acknowledging and abandoning the story of an autonomous ‘self’ is like walking on a treadmill and wondering why we aren’t going anywhere. This confusion leads to frustration, exacerbates craving, and undermines practice commitment. Next thing we know, mindfulness is just another short lived useless fad on the mountain of countless other perceived-as-useless ‘self’-help fads and we’re off looking for the next fix.

“Being present to the pain and suffering of ourselves, others, and the world at large is one thing (a beautiful, poignant, touching thing), but becoming all consumed by it is not (from my own perspective and experience) nourishing for ourselves or anyone else.”

I acknowledge you clearly expressing concern that you might be “all consumed” by fear and anxiety if you are ‘over’ exposed to the actuality of pain and suffering here in Earth unless you medicate with happiness, lightness, and laughter.

(Sorry, but this strikes me as a clear example of privilege. How will you survive when the shit very soon really starts to hit the fan? Switzerland is a very lovely place, for now, but I hope you get a chance to travel / live in rural SouthEast Asia or central Africa or Siberia or central South America so you can get a fuller and more realistic comprehension of anxiety and fear in the face of the cataclysm).

The best way I know how to be compassionate and to take care of this personal existence, as a dependent functional element of the whole of existence, is to clearly recognize that “I” am literally all beings (because an autonomy of ‘self’-existence is literally impossible), to recognize that biological life without suffering doesn’t exist here in Earth (never has, and never will), and to ritually commit this personal existence and the many rich fruits of suffering to the care of all living beings.

Authentic and sustainable happiness, lightness and laughter are our birthright, but modern people tend to grasp at these in all the wrong places. These qualities are the effect of an absence of grasping at them, which tends to baffle and frustrate modern people, but in a proper (meaning effective) ‘smrti’ practice there is no grasping at these qualities. They cannot be securely grasped. Grasping at them is just more suffering. 

In modern society, medicine is symptom management. We’ve all been conditioned since childhood to reflexively consume something to make pain go away or at least mask it. In premodern / ancient cultures, medicine was fundamentally  preventative. The practices of mindfulness / remembering and of dissolving the hallucination of ‘self’ wasn’t conceived or articulated as symptom management. It was a highly sophisticated practice of medicinally treating the causes of pain. 

When we crave symptom management medicine for our chronic dissatisfactoriness, we aren’t treating the root cause. The root cause isn’t out there somewhere (corona virus, catastrophic climate change, extinction) and it isn’t the symptoms that we habitually react to. The root cause is a blinding perceptual confusion (I has a ‘self’!!) and a pushing away of whatever interferes with the long running movie in the head about an ideal ‘self’ that somehow doesn’t include suffering. 

“I disagree that this is insensitive or self-absorbed behaviour because I know that I am only able to be most helpful in this world if I am practicing compassion and taking care of myself in the best way I know how.”

I think it is both. Literally trillions of animals, insects, fish, birds, and microorganisms have, and are right now, dying horrendously (take an extended moment to really imagine being burned to death). It is projected that literally billions of humans will be displaced this century, within 80 years (take a moment to really imagine this for yourself). The cause of these horrors, and countless other related horrors, is the human species. Full stop. All adults have copious amounts of blood and death on their hands, to one degree or another.

Some humans are in the trenches trying to save lives. Some are gobbling beauty, hunting laughs and ‘likes’, indulging in sensuality, and drugging themselves with entertainment, personal achievement and accumulation. The former are nearly always happier than the latter, as are a whole lot of people who are dying or assisting in hospices. 

What nourishes and restores me when I give thought to the multifaceted very fast moving cataclysm is helping other beings. IMO, this is a very natural and human response.  Not a hit of temporary feel-good (again, please note that I’m writing to the room, not Gillian). 

This doesn’t mean I don’t take care of body and mind. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy and value life. It doesn’t mean I don’t laugh. It just means that all of life means vastly more to me than a few laughs, an inane television program, or yet another snort of beauty. Compassion is generous action. The effects of the action of helping those who are suffering isn’t restricted to those we are helping because there is no separation between us and them. When we help others, we are literally helping ourselves in a very effective uplifting way that can result in a long lasting quiet joy that far exceeds any shallow pleasure we consume.

Thoughts, pro and con, are invited and welcome ...

92F7D16C-A26A-4204-979F-CB332DCBAD17.thumb.jpeg.b713ff023b27f8c3fc520b4839f96641.jpeg

Edited by Jeff Miller

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Wow, I have to acknowledge that when I read a couple of Gillian's foregoing entries the first word that entered my mind was "privilege." That said, I think Gillian does a fabulous job of supporting and inspiring participants in this forum. This is not to say I am critical of Jeff, because I don't think he means any disrespect. I very strongly believe it is immensely important to speak truth to power and/or complacency, not just to speak truth but to be present for and supportive of people struggling with it. Jeff can correct me if I am wrong, but his message did not strike me as a condemnation of people in this forum but as a clarion call to attend to immanent and extreme dangers. Unfortunately, the ordinary tendency of people facing overwhelmingly frightening dangers seems to be some form of avoidance and denial. To the extent Jeff is suggesting the leaders of spiritual movements, particularly here in the west, seem to be engaged in some sort of spiritual by-pass I voice my agreement. I don't think that is a projection even though I acknowledge the same tendency in myself. Bourgeois Spiritualism! Well, I really enjoyed reading the discussion, laughingly announcing to myself, "Welcome to the Smackdown featuring Bourgeois Spirituality vs. The Bodhisattva Ideal!" It is not a prize fight however, it is an important dialectic.

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Hi David, 

That said, I think Gillian does a fabulous job of supporting and inspiring participants in this forum.”

I agree.

”Welcome to the Smackdown featuring Bourgeois Spirituality vs. The Bodhisattva Ideal!"

🙂 I call it Bourgie Micky Mouse Dharma.

 

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I am becoming a fount (I should have said "font") of malapropisms. I had at least 2 in my last post: "immanent" in place of "imminent," but best of all was "spiritualism" in place of "spirituality." The interesting thing about that last one is that in the 19th Century seances were very popular social activities as were Ouija boards when I was a kid. It is though many of us long for greater connection--to others and to something larger and more mysterious than ourselves--and we are willing to invest credulity in pseudoscience or the supernatural to fulfill that longing.

Since Gillian introduced the Rick Hanson video into this thread, I want to draw attention to his recent book NeuroDharma that relates Rick's understanding of no-self, from his perspective both as a neuroscientist and as a practitioner of formal Buddhist methods, in chapter 8. The book is the topic of a bookclub on this website, but no one as of yet has really commented on this chapter. In my experience, nothing is harder to discuss with people than this topic even among people who are purported followers of Buddhist teachings in which anatta, variously translated as non-self, not-self, or no-self, is a major tenet. Moving from egocentrism to what Rick terms "allocentrism," goes to the heart of what I think Jeff has been saying. What I have observed is that people interpret this concept in accordance with other broader metaphysical beliefs, which are so varied among people and usually held with such moral conviction that it is hard to have a discussion about this topic. So, I offer Rick's book as at least one vehicle for arousing curiosity in it, investigating it, and maybe loosening a little our unquestioned clinging to our own beliefs. It is hard to get along with others in such a multi-cultural world that technology has made smaller and more accessible if we have to be right but have not sufficiently examined the basis for our beliefs.

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I haven’t read NeuroDharma yet and am looking forward to it. 

My work is  allocentric and “leftist biocentric” (deep ecology with an "anti-industrial and anti-capitalist" perspective) that recognizes terrestrial processes and the exoterrestial processes that drive them, as enabling and driving foundational biological / neurological processes that drive perception and cognition (consistent with contemporary science). 

Within this perspective, modern idiocentrism (radical individuality) is viewed as a conditioned pathological alienation ... a dangerous dissociative amnesia that distorts perception and results in modern humans being unable to accurately comprehend what we are, where we are, and how these actually work.

The human species, ravaged by this collective, very modern pandemic madness (an actual psychosis), has forgotten its organic place in the meta-environments that it is innately embedded in, that it evolved within, that it exists at the effect of, and that it is utterly dependent on for health, wellbeing, sustenance and survival. 

This modern ‘all about me’ pathology, narcissism on steroids, which has driven the human species and the entire fragile thin layer of life here in Earth to the very edge of an unforgiving cliff, is the direct result of a conditioned, received, preferred, strategically-manufactured and defended / enforced hallucination of a separate ‘self’ that the ruling class  effectively exploits in the interest of annual, five, ten, and 20 year profit projections and enormous power. 

‘Smrti’ / mindfulness (remembering), properly comprehended and practiced, brings into acute focus what we are, where we are, and how where we are actually works. It is the antidote and “vaccine” for a learned blinding self-absorption that destabilizes society, erodes physical and mental health, distorts perception, provokes conflict / aggression / violence and that ultimately ends with the collapse of civilization and the ecosystem.

Modern Western culturally-appropriated and deeply distorted ‘mindfulness’ is both a reflection and symptom of this deadly modern madness and a very effective tool of the ruling class. 

Our goal as mindfulness teachers should be to subvert this paradigm and cultivate effective tools that dissolve the hallucination of ‘self’ and that help us accurately remember that the human biological organism / species only thrives when they submit to Earth and Sky ... as all premodern / ancient cultures knew and had a profoundly sophisticated and deeply detailed understanding of ... which modern people arrogantly and inaccurately perceive and categorize as so-called ‘supernatural’ (beyond the laws of nature), ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ (all very modern Eurocentric concepts that date no earlier than 13th century Christian High Scholasticism), exactly as they have been carefully  trained to.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi, Jeff. I'm pretty much with you. I don't give mindfulness such a major billing as you do, believing it is only one component of a Path. Moreover, as you said, the term "mindfulness" has been appropriated and distorted in recent times. In the ancient teachings mindfulness arose from wise attention and was cultivated in combination with other Path factors along a spectrum culminating in a power and an awakening factor (mindfulness is the first of seven). Moreover, it was mentioned as working in tandem with sampajanna or clear comprehension. All of these contribute to liberating insight. At least that is how I understand the Pali Canon which more or less is the map to which I refer frequently. I especially agree with you about the misplaced value placed on individuality and I basically believe powerful sociopathic "individuals" exploited extreme shaming and punishments to impose such value on societies. Enough learned helplessness and forced cravenness can generate a lot of followers who wouldn't recognize freedom if it opened wide in front of them. 

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“I don't give mindfulness such a major billing as you do, believing it is only one component of a Path.“

I teach impermanence, interdependence, cause and effect, emptiness and compassion, in a context of the four foundations, the eightfold path, and the allocentric / biocentric worldview I described above.

only give mindfulness major billing here because this is a ‘mindfulness teacher training’ course. 😉 

 


 

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Though I do not come from a Buddhist background, I agree with the allocentric/egocentric dichotomy put forth here. I haven't read Neurodharma, but what you've shared reminds me of something aligned with ecospirituality (which resonates most deeply with me). In the book 'Nature and the Human Soul' by Bill Plotkin (highly recommended), Plotkin's focus is on highlighting the differences between our largely egocentric culture and one that would be ecocentric. He goes through the different stages of human development and what the gifts and tasks are at each level. Really an incredible read.

Just flipping through it now and peering at things I've underlined, I'll share a quote that seems to be aligned with what you both are speaking to:

Quote

"Soul has been demoted to a new-age spiritual fantasy or a missionary's booty, and nature has been treated, at best, as a postcard or a vacation backdrop or, more commonly, as a hardware store or refuse heap. Too many of us lack intimacy with that natural world and with our souls, and consequently we are doing untold damage to both." - Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, pg. 6

I agree that as mindfulness teachers we can help to shift the paradigm within which people function, yet at the same time, I think we have to meet people where they're at. Something that comes to mind when I say this is what a teacher once said when I was studying holistic nutrition. He said something like, "You're not going to get people who currently eat McDonald's to start sprouting tomorrow." I think there is room for different approaches and different degrees of these teachings that can evolve as the person does.

On a side note, coming back to Buddhism since you both have much knowledge about the subject, I'm sharing a link to a member's question about conditionality from the Buddhist perspective. No one has offered any insight for Leanne yet so if you have some thoughts on this, feel free to share them with her here:

 

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