Humanity

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What Mindfulness Is and Isn’t
by Stephen McKenzie
Mindfulness isn’t what we think it is. Mindfulness isn’t anything that we think; it’s what
we don’t think. Mindfulness isn’t something that other people do; it’s something that we all
do. If the only mindful people were the ones doing courses in it or reading books about it or
writing books about it, or all three, then humanity wouldn’t last very long. We all need to be
at least a little bit mindful to go through our days without being hit by the first bus that we
mindlessly wander out in front of or getting hit by the first other totally mindlessly person
whose toes we mindlessly step on. On a more refined survival level, being continuously
rather than just occasionally mindful can help us get through a day – or even longer –
without getting upset by life.
Simply defined, mindfulness is an ancient life-enriching and healing technique that can
help us to remember our natural state of happiness and health, even if we think we are too
modern and too busy to recognize what’s really important – being fully alive and fully alive
to our full life potential.
Mindfulness can be explained as something which contains just two active ingredients:
awareness and acceptance. These two basic elements of mindfulness can be seen as two
wings of a single bird that can fly us higher than we could have thought possible as long as
we recognize and use both our wings together. When we are aware and when we accept what
we are aware of – what’s actually happening to us here and now – we are not slaves to our
minds, not at war with our lives, and our life circumstances tend to improve.
Mindfulness can be divided into two types, formal and informal. Formal mindfulness is
the regular practice of a formal mindfulness exercise, which can be described as “meditation”
if you’re comfortable with that term. If you’re not comfortable with the word “meditation,”
think of it as “the systematic focusing of attention on a particular piece of sensory reality.”
Informal mindfulness just means giving our complete attention to what we are doing and
observing our thoughts about it, no matter how much our mind resists it. A valuable practice
of informal mindfulness is simply being fully aware of an activity that our minds habitually
don’t accept, such as washing the dishes or the dog, and just doing it without allowing
ourselves the potential mental and physical destructiveness of resisting doing it.
In spite of what some of us might think about mindfulness, it isn’t strange or impractical
or something that we need to take on faith or practice in a dark room or only practice within
a religious or philosophical tradition. Perfectly sensible, respectable and ordinary people
formally and informally practice mindfulness (as well as some possibly not quite so sensible,
respectable or ordinary people), and it can help all of us.
Unlike some techniques that people sometimes mistake mindfulness for, mindfulness
doesn’t involve attempting to change how we think. Mindfulness actually helps us get
beyond our thinking, especially the thinking that goes around in circles and worries us.
It does this by enabling us to focus on and accept what’s taking place in our bodies and
minds without trying to stop or improve what’s happening. Paradoxically, this process often
does improve our bodies and minds, but this is a side benefit rather than a deliberate goal.
The purpose of mindfulness is to make us more aware of and accepting of our life responses,
and to help us observe rather than be controlled by our thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and
feelings are a natural and positive part of our human lives, but thoughts and feelings that
consume and upset us aren’t, and mindfulness helps us to notice the difference and choose
what is useful and beneficial.
Mindfulness isn’t a life- and wellness-enriching experience that we have to accept on faith
or even on the basis of our own experience. There’s a growing body of scientific evidence
that mindfulness can help to treat or manage a wide variety of psychological and physical
conditions – such as anxiety, depression, pain, and even cancer – as well as make well people
more well. Mindfulness is even being introduced into medical courses in Australia, New
Zealand, and at Harvard University in the United States. There is considerable evidence
that mindfulness can reduce our chances of developing unwanted psychological or physical
manifestations of mindlessness, such as insomnia and unhappiness.
Mindfulness is an effective and harmless way of helping us to live our ordinary lives by
helping us to learn, make decisions and communicate optimally. And success in each of
these aspects of our lives often results in success in others. Acceptance of the benefits of
mindfulness doesn’t require us to believe in anything other than our own experience. To
be mindful, we simply need to have an open mind and heart.
Source: Mindfulness at Work: How to Avoid Stress, Achieve More and Enjoy Life!
by Stephen McKenzie (Wollombi, N.S.W., Australia, Exisle Pubnlishing,
2013)

 

INTRODUCTION
MAKING PEACE WITH TIME
from Buddha Standard Time
by Lama Surya Das
To be able to be unhurried when hurried;
To be able not to slack off when relaxed;
To be able not to be frightened
And at a loss for what to do,
When frightened and at a loss;
This is the learning that returns us
To our natural state and transforms our lives.
– Liu Wenmin, early sixteenth-century poet
For eons people have been grasping with the concept of time.
From Sophocles to Ben Franklin to Einstein to Mick Jagger, the
wisdom has been passed down to us. Time is the stuff life is made
of. Time is money. Time is of the essence. Time flies. Time is
relative. Time is on my side. Time is a cruel thief.
We measure time. We lose time. We kill time. We are strapped
for time. These days, that last sentiment is what I hear most
often from people. With varying degrees of vexation, agitation,
or despair, they are constantly telling me, “I don’t have enough
time!”
It’s not surprising that many of us feel this way. The pace of
life today is far more frenetic than it was a generation ago, and
unimaginably faster than what it was in the ancient world of
Moses or Confucius. Trying to keep up with today’s tempo can
take a huge toll. The stress shows up in our suppressed immune
systems, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, insomnia,
and digestive ailments. Stress contributes to the inability to
think clearly or make competent decisions, to short tempers, and
to sloppy work. As a result, we have more everyday problems:
arguments at work and home, car accidents as we speed and yak
on our cell phones, and unresolved grief because we don’t have
time to mourn properly. Stress also contributes to fertility
problems, turns hair gray, and wears out bodies before their
time. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving us
more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, weight gain, and
substance abuse.
Making Peace with Time
Page 2
I learned for myself some stark lessons about the daunting
acceleration of life when I came back to the United States in the
late 1980s after spending almost two decades in the East. I had
lived in India and the Himalayas for most of my twenties, in a
slow-paced, natural rhythm, electricity-free zone. I then spent
my early thirties in a traditional Tibetan Dzogchen meditation
retreat at the Nyingma Retreat Center in the thickly forested
Dordogne River valley of southern France. When I finally
returned home I felt like Rip Van Winkle: The complexity of the
world had increased so exponentially that modern American life
was almost unrecognizable to me. I wasn’t used to the rampant
commercialism, the constant clamor of products being hawked.
Even meditation centers and ashrams had become veritable
spiritual supermarkets, with boutiques and cafes selling
imported goods and wares to help support their nonprofit status.
As I began to adjust to a Western lifestyle after so long in
monastic simplicity, what struck me more than anything else was
the new aversion to the mundane tasks of daily life. Thus the
ubiquitous time-saving tools – instant coffee, fast food, ATMs,
microwave ovens, personal computers – as if somehow life would
be better if we could speed our way through it. That message
has only escalated since then. These days, young people tell me
that they don’t even have time for cell-phone conversations or emails. They prefer to text. The instant response that technology
allows has altered our perception of time. And ironically, most of
us seem to feel we have far less as a result.
Many of us feel that the modern efforts to save time have
backfired, bringing onerous new problems of their own. Our
technological advances and constant availability have blurred the
line between leisure time and work. No sooner do we wrap our
minds around a new computer program than it becomes
obsolete. We can end up wasting precious minutes stuck on the
phone with someone on the other side of the world, trying to
figure out how to reset the computer brain in our dryer, or stove,
or espresso machine. It takes time to learn how to do online
banking, connect with friends on Facebook, master the
complexities of smartphone and GPS units, and download a best
seller to our e-readers. When Excel crashes and the work is lost
after we’ve spent an hour entering data for a deadline, our blood
pressure skyrockets. There’s even technology to fix the stress
created by technology. I recently learned of an experimental
Google feature called Email Addict that shuts you out of your
inbox, forcing compulsive e-mail checkers to give it a break.
Making Peace with Time
Page 3
Don’t get me wrong. I think we’re living in an amazing age,
as miraculous and futuristic as anything out of the Star Trek and
Jetsons episodes of my youth. I love being able to talk on my
laptop face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world
or to download a book or piece of music in a minute. The
problem for a lot of us is figuring out how to disconnect from all
this intensity for some peace and quiet. And how much of the
time-related stress in our lives comes from trying to
accommodate every single person who wants a piece of our day?
Do you suffer from the “disease to please,” striving to satisfy all
those who make a claim on your time? Many of us are torn
between the desire to be generous with our time and the need to
conserve our own energy. It takes only a few seconds to read a
140-character Twitter message, but the cost of the total
distraction lasts far longer. The thinner we spread ourselves, the
more we skitter over the surfaces of our lives, never going deep.
And since we can be tracked down about anywhere, anytime, it
seems there is literally no escape.
In the pages that follow, I’ll teach you how to wean yourself
from the addictions that sap time and energy, to clear out all the
debris and distraction – in much the same way that a snow globe
becomes calm and clear when you stop shaking it and allow the
flakes to settle. You’ll see, for example, that we can stay at our
desks or in a traffic jam and, however momentarily, genuinely
give our attention to the present moment as a way of finding
inner peace.
I want to show you how to coexist peacefully with the
inevitable, inexorable march of time. As a Buddhist, I’ve long
studied the question of how to live authentically and joyfully in
the present moment and how to remain mindful, centered, and
harmonious no matter what challenges come my way.
In a way, Buddhism is a profound study in time and time
management, because the better you manage your mind and
spirit, the less hold time has on you. Every moment can be lived
fully, free and unconditioned, and every moment holds infinite
possibilities and opportunities for a fresh start. Every moment of
heightened consciousness is precious beyond price, for
awareness is the primary currency of the human condition.
Buddhism for me is a study to live fully and authentically, not
only in our earthly time zone, but in what I call Buddha Standard
Time – the dimension of timeless time, wholly now.
* * * * *
Making Peace with Time
Page 4
One of the main obstacles to making peace with time is that
we tend to experience it linearly: we keep moving forward, doing
and accomplishing things, rather than just being. We are human
beings, after all, not human doings. It costs us dearly to live only
on the linear axis of time. We lose connection with our deeper
and most authentic selves, too often mistaking mere movement
for purpose and meaning. We adapt to a faster and faster tempo
that keeps us feeling busy, but rarely with a sense of
accomplishment. Staggering forward on a treadmill of events,
we gather momentum until we lose any sense of how to stop. We
are expert adapters, but the complexity and speed of the world
require something other than simply adapting to its pace.
If we cultivate clarity, detachment, and equanimity, we can
learn to remain still and calm amid the torrent of commitments,
no longer allowing our overstretched lives to rob us of the time
we need to recalibrate and connect to the natural world,
ourselves, and each other. For time moves on whether we are
hurtling through life or savoring it. The big transformations can
take place outside our daily awareness, until a stark reminder
catches us up: hearing the new crack in the voice of a teenage
son, perhaps, or seeing the unwelcome surprise of a gray hair, or
wondering how it “suddenly” became winter.
We’ve also lost so much of our connection with the natural
world that it doesn’t seem to matter to many of us whether it’s
day or night, hot or cold, summer or winter. We control the
climate at home, in the car, at the office, in the mall. We watch
ballgames at night under powerful lights. We eat food with little
regard for season or source. These artificial means keep the
rhythms and cycles of nature from us, further removing us from
indicators of time passing. As we use up our limited natural
resources, watch the ozone layer thin and glaciers melt, and hear
about the extinction of species after species, it seems that the
earth itself is gravely impermanent, a victim of time and change
as surely as we all are.
* * * * *
Right now you may still be struggling within the limited
perspective of experiencing time linearly. “I can’t do two things
at once,” you may find yourself saying. “There are only twentyfour hours in a day!” Even spiritual seekers wonder how they
can possibly find enough time to meditate, study, chant, and
pray. Our lives are crammed. Our calendars are full. It seems
that something’s got to give to allow time for the spiritual
development that would allow us to break out of the lineal lock.
Making Peace with Time
Page 5
But that’s not how it works. We don’t need to find that
impossible extra pocket of time in the day; rather, we can
incorporate the spacious outlook of our spirituality into every
minute of our life by reimagining and reframing the expanse of
time we have.
* * * * *
“Let go the past,” the Buddha said, “let go the future, and let
go what is in between, transcending the things of time. With
your mind free in every direction, you will not return to birth and
aging.” When we are in touch with being only in the present
moment, only with what is, instead of what we regret, fear, or
anticipate, our sense of limits in time will no longer have
negative power over our lives. This is ancient, timeless wisdom.
People have been writing about living in the present moment as
far back as the Pharaoh Akhenaton, who in the fourteenth
century BCE wrote: “He who neglects the present moment
throws away all he has.”
This is something we all need to remember every day. We
can’t afford to wait to learn that lesson. “It’s now or never, as
always,” I like to say. Be present in this moment as if it’s the
only moment. This breath, as if it’s the only breath. That is how
we meditate, lead mindful and centered lives, and stay in the
now. And that is how we begin to make peace with time and
with ourselves.
In Buddha Standard Time there are no small-minded
contortions over a mentally constructed world. It is a place of
being, not doing, a much vaster dimension than the one most of
us habitually inhabit. I will show you how to get out of your
frenzied time zone and into that timeless dimension, no matter
where you are or what you are doing. There you will feel
balanced, clear, joyful, and able to function at your best.
* * * * *
Source: Das, S. (2011). Buddha standard time. New York, NY:
HarperOne.

 

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