It’s the Suffering, Stupid

It’s the Suffering, Stupid


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


” If you want to understand suffering you must look into the situation at hand. The teachings say that wherever a problem arises it must be settled right there. Where suffering lies is right where non-suffering will arise, it ceases at the place where it arises. If suffering arises you must contemplate right there, you don’t have to run away. You should settle the issue right there. One who runs away from suffering out of fear is the most foolish person of all. He will simply increase his stupidity endlessly. We don’t meditate to see heaven, but to end suffering.” – Ajahn Chah


When I was first introduced to the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths I was underwhelmed, to say the least. They said first that there’s suffering. Yeah, I thought, that’s obvious, there’s lots of suffering in this world. So, what’s new. Then they said that there are causes for suffering. Again, I thought, of course, there are causes for everything. So, when do we get to the good stuff. Then they said that there’s a way to end suffering. That’s clear and obvious, I thought. Of course, if you know what causes it then there’s always ways to end it. Let’s get to the meat. Lastly, they said that there was a path to the end of suffering. Yeah, yeah, of course, let’s move on and get to how do we attain enlightenment. How do we get to nirvana and eternal bliss?


I don’t believe that my response was unusual as my unscientific discussions with peers has revealed similar responses. I believe that part of the reason that we missed the importance of what was being taught was the word suffering itself. It’s a translation from the Pali word “dukkha” that was the language that was likely used by the Buddha. But, it can equally well be translated as “imperfect”, “unsatisfying”, or “incapable of providing perfect happiness.” I happen to favor unsatisfactory. Using this translation, I began to see what was being taught here. Suffering implied to me an extreme and painful experience, agony, which I saw as relatively rare. But, unsatisfactoriness, now that’s a different story. Most things in life are to one degree or another unsatisfactory. So, the teaching now seems to apply to a much wider range of experiences. This was the beginning of the revelation as to just how seminal this teaching is. It’s when I realized that “It’s the suffering, stupid.”


I should have noted the clear and precise teaching of the Buddha. When asked about how to attain enlightenment the Buddha said “I teach one thing and one thing only: that is suffering and the end of suffering.” This should have been a clear message that the pursuit of enlightenment is actually the pursuit of the end of “dukkha”, the end of unsatisfactoriness. It should have been obvious that the key to enlightenment is unsatisfactoriness, its causes, and how to eliminate them. But somehow, I wanted to jump ahead and missed the most important teaching of all.


Looking carefully at existence from the perspective of unsatisfactoriness, it is clear that unsatisfactoriness is ubiquitous, it’s everywhere.


The alarm goes off in the morning and I think, I want to sleep longer, but I can’t. The day starts off with unsatisfactoriness. I notice a slight ache in my neck and want it to go away, and this is more unsatisfactoriness. Rising out of bed in the morning there’s a need to use the bathroom. My state is unsatisfactory. When picking out some clothes to wear I find the outfit I want to wear is out at the cleaners and I’ll have to wear something less satisfactory. I feel a bit shabby and old fashioned in the clothes. Being late, a breakfast bar is grabbed as I rush out the door, wishing I could sit down and have some scrambled eggs but have to eat an unsatisfactory breakfast. I go outside and feel the cold and wish the day to be warmer. The temperature is unsatisfactory. Driving to work I get caught at a red light and want it to be green, feeling frustrated and unsatisfactory. Traffic is moving slower than I want, so I find driving unsatisfactory. At work my co-worker looks at me with a scowl and I’m unsatisfied because I think that she doesn’t like me. etc., etc., etc. The entire day is filled from one end to the other with unsatisfactoriness.


The more I look at it the more I see that some of the unsatisfactoriness is due to external circumstances, the red light, the outside temperature, and the neck pain that I have little control over. But, I see that the more insidious type of unsatisfactoriness is of my own making. I make myself suffer by my interpretation of how I look in the clothes I’m wearing or how I think about events like my co-worker’s scowl. I assumed it was because she didn’t like me and I want to be liked. But, that was my interpretation. I brought that unsatisfactoriness onto myself. She may have just had a bad morning or been called on the carpet by the boss. I make so many assumptions and interpret a large number of events as suggestive of some personal failure or fault when they probably have nothing to do with me whatsoever.


Once we take this perspective it begins to dawn that life is replete with unsatisfactoriness. There is no end to it. Now I get what the Buddha was talking about. It’s the suffering, stupid. It’s the unsatisfactoriness. I am constantly dissatisfied with virtually everything. What a miserable way to live. Seeing the all pervasiveness of my suffering, it becomes evident that I’m rarely truly happy and even then when it’s over I feel unsatisfied. This reveals another way that unsatisfactoriness arises. One that is produced by the impermanence of all things. Everything is constantly changing and I find it unsatisfactory when good stuff goes away or when bad stuff begins. I want pleasurable experiences never to end and unpleasant ones never to begin. This is perfectly reasonable, but nevertheless a major source of the unsatisfactoriness that fills my day.


So, life is inherently unsatisfactory. How can one ever experience eternal bliss, if unsatisfactoriness is everywhere? I guess that’s what the Buddha was talking about. It has been said that the way to nirvana is through samsara or in plain language we must go through suffering to get to bliss. If this is true, then we must fully experience and understand our unsatisfactoriness in order to make progress on the spiritual path toward enlightenment. The first step is to carefully explore our experiences and see where and what we find unsatisfactory.


So, begin with the suffering, stupid.


“On top of the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death, we encounter the pains of facing the unpleasant, separating from the pleasant, and not finding what we want. The basic problem lies with the type of mind and body that we have. Our mind-body complex serves as a basis for present sufferings in the form of aging, sickness, and death, and promotes future suffering through our usual responses to painful situations.” – Dalai Lama


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Mindfulness Decreases the Impact of Abusive Supervision at Work

Mindfulness Decreases the Impact of Abusive Supervision at Work


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness has stopped many workplace snafus from happening in the first place. Once the mind is calm, a resolution can be reached.”Diane Dye Hansen


Work is very important for our health and well-being. We spend approximately 25% of our adult lives at work. How we spend that time is immensely important for our psychological and physical health. Indeed, the work environment has even become an important part of our social lives, with friendships and leisure time activities often attached to the work environment. But, more than half of employees in the U.S. and nearly 2/3 worldwide are unhappy at work. This is partially due to work-related stress which is epidemic in the western workplace. Almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. This stress can result in impaired health and can result in burnout; producing fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy.


To help overcome unhappiness, stress, and burnoutmindfulness practices have been implemented in the workplace. Indeed, mindfulness practices have been shown to markedly reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. As a result, it has become very trendy for business to incorporate meditation into the workday to help improve employee well-being, health, and productivity. For example, Google offers “Search Inside Yourself” classes to teach mindfulness at work. But, although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of meditation improving well-being and work performance, there is actually very little systematic research on mindfulness’ effectiveness at work. In addition, there is no information on the effectiveness of mindfulness to help overcome the effects of a hostile work environment.


In today’s Research News article “The Buffering Effect of Mindfulness on Abusive Supervision and Creative Performance: A Social Cognitive Framework.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Zheng and Liu recruited employees and managers from an electronics manufacturer. They had them complete measures of abusive supervision, mindfulness, self-efficacy. The supervisors also rated them for their levels of creative performance at work.


They found, as expected, that the higher the level of abusive supervision, the lower the level of self-efficacy and creativity and the higher the level of self-efficacy the greater the level of creativity. Further, they found that employees who were low in mindfulness were severely impacted by abusive supervision by showing significantly lower levels of creativity and self-efficacy when they were subjected to high levels of abusive supervision. On the other hand, when mindfulness was high abusive supervision had no significant effect on either creativity or self-efficacy. Hence, mindfulness appeared to buffer the employees from the negative impact of abusive supervision.


This is a correlational study, so causation cannot be conclusively concluded. But, the relationships are clear. Mindfulness is associated with an improved ability to function effectively regardless of the supervisory methods used. This may result from the ability of mindfulness to improve the individual’s physical and psychological responses to stress. In this way, mindful individuals do not react to the stress imposed by an abusive manager and thereby their performance is unaffected. It is also possible that the ability of mindfulness to increase the individual’s ability to respond to and regulate their emotions. As a result, they are able to cope with the negative emotions produced by abusive supervision and can be productive nonetheless.


So, decreases the impact of abusive supervision at work with mindfulness.


“Blunting the harm of a workplace stressor like abusive supervision may unwittingly promote acceptance of mistreatment, potentially interfering with adaptive responses, such as proactively addressing supervisor conflicts and behavior, filing a grievance, or changing jobs. So while mindfulness may leave individuals less affected by negative work events, an open question is whether it coincides with passivity, allowing unhealthy patterns to continue unchecked.” – Darren Good


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Zheng X and Liu X (2017) The Buffering Effect of Mindfulness on Abusive Supervision and Creative Performance: A Social Cognitive Framework. Front. Psychol. 8:1588. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01588


Our research draws upon social cognitive theory and incorporates a regulatory approach to investigate whyand when abusive supervision influences employee creative performance. The analyses of data from multiple time points and multiple sources reveal that abusive supervision hampers employee self-efficacy at work, which in turn impairs employee creative performance. Further, employee mindfulness buffers the negative effects of abusive supervision on employee self-efficacy at work as well as the indirect effects of abusive supervision on employee creative performance. Our findings have implications for both theory and practice. Limitations and directions for future research are also discussed.

Reduce Obesity with Yoga

Reduce Obesity with Yoga

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

“You get to thinking that yoga and its health benefits, such as stress reduction and improved fitness, are best for thin people, and not so much for the 36 percent of U.S. adults who are obese. Not true. Yoga is for all types of shapes and sizes if you just know how to start.” – Laura McMullen

Obesity is a serious health problem. In the U.S. the incidence of obesity has more than doubled over the last 35 years to currently around 35% of the population. Obesity has been found to shorten life expectancy by eight years and extreme obesity by 14 years. This occurs because obesity is associated with cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease and hypertension, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and others.

Obviously, there is a need for effective treatments to prevent or treat obesity. But, despite copious research and a myriad of dietary and exercise programs, there still is no safe and effective treatment. Mindfulness is known to be associated with lower risk for obesity, alter eating behavior and improve health in obesity. This suggests that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for overeating and obesity alone or in combination with other therapies. Yoga practice has been shown to have a myriad of physical and psychological benefits. These include significant loss in weight and body mass index (BMI), resting metabolism, and body fat in obese women with Type 2 diabetes and improve health in the obese. Hence, it would seem reasonable to investigate the benefits of yoga therapy on the weight and body composition of the obese.

In today’s Research News article “Sleep quality and body composition variations in obese male adults after 14 weeks of yoga intervention: A randomized controlled trial.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:;year=2017;volume=10;issue=3;spage=128;epage=137;aulast=Rshikesan, Rshikesan and colleagues recruited obese adult male participants and randomly assigned them to receive either no treatment or integrated yoga therapy for 1½ h for 5 days in a week, for 14 weeks. Yoga therapy includes relaxation, postures, breathing practice, and meditation. They were measured before and after treatment for body composition and sleep quality.

They found that the yoga therapy group had statistically significant reductions in obesity, including body weight, body mass index, and mineral content and increases in sleep quality and efficiency. In addition, there were no adverse events produced by the yoga practice. Hence, they found integrated yoga therapy to be a safe and effective treatment for obesity in adult males.

The benefits of yoga practice, though, appear to be small. The yoga group on average only lost about 2 pounds of body weight despite intensive treatment over 14 weeks. So, it doesn’t appear from this study that integrated yoga therapy is a cost-effective treatment. But, yoga practice is known to produce many improvements in the physiology that were not measured in the present study. These include improvements in cardiovascular symptoms, joint problems, and diabetes. These benefits would tend to counteract the negative health consequences of obesity.

So, although there are suggestions here that integrated yoga therapy may be useful in the treatment of obesity it’s cost-effectiveness is still questionable.

“Yoga is designed to help practitioner reduce body fat, increase flexibility and increase strength. The benefits of yoga to obese people also include increased blood flow, reduced pain and increased respiratory function.” – Hannah Wahlig

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog
They are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Study Summary

Rshikesan P B, Subramanya P, Singh D. Sleep quality and body composition variations in obese male adults after 14 weeks of yoga intervention: A randomized controlled trial. Int J Yoga 2017;10:128-37

Background: Obesity is a big challenge all over the world. It is associated with many noncommunicable diseases. Yoga known to be add-on treatment may be effective for obesity control. Aim: To assess the effect of integrated approach of yoga therapy (IAYT) for body composition and quality of sleep in adult obese male. Subjects and Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted for 14 weeks on obese male of urban setting. Eighty individuals were randomly divided into two groups, i.e., yoga group (n = 40; age; 40.03 ± 8.74 years, body mass index [BMI] 28.7 ± 2.35 kg/m2) and control group (age; 42.20 ± 12.06 years, BMI 27.70 ± 2.05 kg/m2). The IAYT was imparted to yoga group for 1½ hour for 5 days in a week for 14 weeks. The control group continued their regular activities. The body composition by InBody R20 and sleep quality by Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) were assessed. Statistical analysis was done for within and between groups using SPSS version 21. The correlation analysis was done on the difference in pre-post values. Results: The results showed that weight (P = 0.004), BMI (P = 0.008), bone mass (P = 0.017), obesity degree (P = 0.005), and mineral mass (P = 0.046) were improved in yoga group and no change in control group (P > 0.05). The global score of PSQI improved (P = 0.017) in yoga group alone. Conclusion: The results indicate the beneficial effects of IAYT on body composition and sleep quality in obese males. The yoga practice may reduce obesity with the improvement in quality of life.;year=2017;volume=10;issue=3;spage=128;epage=137;aulast=Rshikesan

Develop Your Eulogy Virtues


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” – David Brooks


The renowned columnist David Brooks likes to contrast two differing sets of virtues that we aspire to. One he terms the resume virtues, the other the eulogy virtues.

For the most part the resume virtues predominate for the majority of our lives. We strive for success and achievement. We work for years to attain an academic degree that we can place on our resume and use as the basis for the next entries on our resume revolving around our career. We measure our success by our titles and the wealth we accumulate.


The resume virtues are important and striving to do well in life and make a comfortable living are good things. They can, of course, become a problem when they are overemphasized and become the predominant focus in our lives. Too great of a stress on the resume virtues can result in the exclusion of the other aspects of life that are the true source of happiness and satisfaction. These are the eulogy virtues.


On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on developing their eulogy virtues. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.


It is clear that to live a full life we have to develop our resumes but it is far more important in the long run that we develop the eulogy virtues. But, how do we do this when the rewards of society and the urgings of our egos all push us towards developing our resumes. The answer may well be contemplative practice. These practices, meditation, yoga, tai chi, contemplative prayer, etc. have been shown to help in developing the exact abilities and experiences longed for by the dying.


Contemplative practice focuses us more on experiencing the present moment and doing so without judging it. This provides a better perspective on our lives, seeing ourselves as we are without judgment. This can lead us to follow our hearts and be true to ourselves rather than being a slave to what we perceive others expect. By appreciating the present moment we can learn to enjoy where our lives actually play out, the present moment. This can lead us to even having greater appreciation and enjoyment throughout our lives, even during the time we spend working.


Contemplative practice helps us to accept our flaws and accept and appreciate others. As a result it improves relationships and social interactions. It helps us to become better listeners and more compassionate toward others. Increased understanding and compassion for others is a motivator to becoming involved in improving our world.


Contemplative practice helps to develop the ability to regulate emotions and improve emotional intelligence. So, we get in better touch with our true feelings and become better able to express them to others.  Importantly, contemplative practice has been shown to increase happiness. We enjoy life and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.


Finally, contemplative practice has been shown to help to develop acceptance of ourselves. Many people do not like themselves. Contemplative practice is an antidote for self-loathing, tending instead to improve self-love. It can help us accept and like ourselves more. It is difficult to truly love others if you don’t love yourself. So, the self-love developed in contemplative practice is a requirement for loving others. It leads inevitably to caring more for others and be willing to express that love.


So, engage in contemplative practice and develop your eulogy virtues.


“What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.” – David Rubenstein


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

It’s a Wonderful World

Image result for double rainbow

It’s a Wonderful World


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


(What a) Wonderful World – Bob Thiele and George David Weiss

 I see trees of green, red roses, too,
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,
Are also on the faces of people going by.
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’, “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’, “I love you.”

I hear babies cryin’. I watch them grow.
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

This is such a beautiful song that was sung by Louis Armstrong and has become a standard. It is what I consider a ballad of mindfulness. Its optimism and positive view of the world is exactly what is experienced when we are truly mindful, when we are centered in the present moment, when you take the time and open up to it without judging it.


If you look mindfully, carefully, with an open mind at everyday thing like “trees of green” and “red roses, too” you can witness the incredible beauty in a single leaf or the bloom of a flower. They’re a testament to the miracle of nature in which we are immersed. As eloquently stated by Georgia O’Keeffe “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” To truly appreciate it you have to mindfully spend some time with it. But, if you do, you will be immensely rewarded. The flower that we so take for granted will suddenly become a thing of incredible beauty and complexity. You will see in this simple thing more than you could ever imagine. It will make you happy just to be alive and think what a wonderful world.


If you look up mindfully, carefully, with an open mind at the “skies of blue, and clouds of white” the “colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky” you will witness the power and glory of nature right in front of your eyes. If you take the time you will experience its’ ever changing nature with every moment a unique vista that has never happened before and will never happen again. You will see all movement of the air and moisture that our so essential to not only our lives but to every living thing on earth. As Joni Mitchell sung in “Both Sides Now”, Bows and flows of angel hair, And ice cream castles in the air, And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.” The simplest everyday things are a treasure if you invest the time to experience them deeply. It too will make you happy just to be alive and think what a wonderful world.


If you look mindfully, carefully, with an open mind at the “the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,” you can witness the daily cycle that is so fundamental to the planet and so influential to our entire being. Impermanence is on display. Everything about us changes from moment to moment over the day and night. These are called diurnal rhythms that encompass our activity cycles, our hormone levels, our mood, and even our cognitive abilities. Watch them carefully and you’ll see that you are never the same. Each moment, you and your world are different than they’ve ever been before or will ever be again. Treasure each and every moment throughout the day and night as they never will be repeated. The wonder of them too will make you happy just to be alive and think what a wonderful world.


If you look mindfully, carefully, with an open mind at “the faces of people going by” you can witness the extraordinary uniqueness of each and every one. Look deep into their being and see the struggles and burdens they bear and send loving kindness wishes their way. Recognize that

beneath the masks, below their insecurities, they are just like you. Recognize that their smile is “really sayin’, “I love you.” Looking deeply in yourself you will also find a sincere love for each and every one of them. Breaking through our judgments, our stereotypes, our assumptions and just seeing them as they are will open up an appreciation and wonder at every human life. The experience of this love that surrounds you and is in you will make you happy just to be alive and think what a wonderful world.


If you look mindfully, carefully, with an open mind at “babies cryin” and you “watch them grow” you’ll witness the wonder of a human life developing and thriving. Everyone loves a baby and your heart will glow with love and wonder if you just take the time to witness the good feelings in yourself. Don’t rush as the baby will never ever be the same again. It’s growing and changing moment to moment and you’ll be amazed to watch it acquiring more and more ability as it explores and test its’ world. Let yourself savor the love that the infant sends back to you. Simply allow yourself the time and focus to truly experience it. This too will make you happy just to be alive and think what a wonderful world.


The message of the song and this essay is to look carefully and mindfully at everything in your day to day experience. There is so much wonder, beauty, and love that you’ll experience a genuine happiness that comes from within. The simplest most common things are a source of joy if you take the time and open up to let them. It truly is a wonderful world.


“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” ~ Henry Miller


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Mindful Fatherhood

Image result for fatherhood

Mindful Fatherhood


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindful Fathering is the act of consciously checking into your life as a father. It’s about staying present in your life as a father, observing the dreary, ugly, and painful parts of fathering with acceptance and non-judgement, and honoring those parts with our full attention, just as we honor the wonderful and sublime moments of fatherhood, rather than numbing ourselves out of our lives through substances, technology, or boredom.”MindfulFathering


Fathers’ Day, like Mother’s Day was basically invented and promoted by the greeting card and florist industries. But, even though its origins were crass, the idea took off, because it hit upon a truth; that most of us love our fathers. As a result, Fathers’ Day has become a culturally accepted and encouraged time for the celebration of fatherhood and all that it means. The deep bonds and love that most people feel for their fathers and their fathers for them fuels the celebration of the holiday.


The holiday is also popular as everyone has a father, who in turn, has had a father, who has had a father, etc. Many are, or want to be fathers. It has and always will, play an immensely important role in our individual and societal existence. The effectiveness, or lack thereof, of fathering has a major impact on the children that continues throughout their lives. It is such an important role that it seems reasonable to explore what goes into successful fathering and child rearing and what might be of assistance in improving fathering. There has accumulated a tremendous amount of scientific evidence that mindfulness, (“awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”) can be an important asset for fathers. So, on this day celebrating fatherhood, we’ll explore the role of mindfulness.


Mindfulness has been found to be important to becoming a father in the first place. Mindfulness makes the individual more attractive to the opposite sex, it improves sexual relationships, it helps to relieve infertility, and it improves relationships in general. All of which underscores the importance of mindfulness in improving the likelihood that conception will occur and that the infant will be born into a supportive social context. Mindfulness continues after birth to be of assistance as it improves caregiving and parenting, even in the case where the child has developmental disabilities. Mindfulness not only helps the parents deal with the stresses of childrearing, but developing mindfulness in the child can be of great assistance to helping the kids develop emotionally and cognitively, develop high level thinking, develop healthy self-concepts, develop socially, deal with stress, and cope with trauma and childhood depression. It even improves the child’s psychosocial development and academic performance and grades in school. In addition, it seems to be able to assist children through the troubled times of adolescence.


Fathering does not occur in a vacuum. It’s been said that “It takes a village” to rear a child. Indeed, fatherhood is embedded in a community. There are many people who are either directly or indirectly involved, from the mother, to the extended family, the community, the medical profession, teachers, clergy, social workers, childcare workers, and even the government. So relationships become an essential part of fathering from conception, to birth, and family and social life. Mindfulness is important to the father in developing and promoting these social connections that are so important for the child’s development. Mindful people generally connect better and are better liked by others, making them socially much more effective.


Why would mindfulness be such an important component of fatherhood? There are a number of reasons that mindfulness helps. It reduces the psychological and physical effects of stress on the father and let’s face it, raising children can be quite stressful. Mindfulness helps the father maintain his health and well-being, and to recover quicker should he become ill. Mindfulness also improves emotion regulation making the father better able to be in touch with his emotions yet react to them adaptively and effectively. This skill is needed as children are capable of learning how to push all the parents buttons and reacting well is essential to dealing successfully with the child.


With the increasing frequency of divorce and single parent households, the first and most important function of a father is simply to be present for their child. This may take the form of a traditional family, but may also be as the primary custodian, or only during delineated visitations, or there may be shared responsibility with separate households, or as a step-parent. The mindful father takes this role and his responsibilities to the child very seriously and regardless of the living arrangements invests time and resources in the child. Regardless of the circumstances being mindfully involved in the child’s life is crucial. But being present doesn’t just mean being physically present hanging around. Probably the most important thing a father can do is to simply be present with the child, devoting singular attention to the child. It means attending to the children emotionally, listening carefully, and being caring and compassionate.


The essential capacity developed in mindfulness training is paying much greater attention to what’s occurring in the present moment. This can be of immense help to the father. It makes him better attuned to his child’s and to his own needs. It reduces rumination and recriminations about past mistakes. It tends to diminish the worry and anxiety about the future. It helps him to focus on what needs to be done now, making him much more effective. And it helps him to experience the joys of fatherhood to their fullest. In general, by focusing on now, he is tuned into the only time that matters for himself or his child, improving his relationship with reality, dealing with its problems and relishing its wonders.


This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness training promotes paying close attention to what is happening in the present moment. So, when interacting with their children a mindful father is truly present for them and not thinking about other things. Mindfulness promotes careful attentive listening. One of the most important things a child wants is to be truly heard. That is the gift of a mindful father. Mindfulness also promotes compassion, being aware of the emotional state of another. This is also important for a child. Childhood can be difficult and being in touch with a child’s moods is an important part of effective fathering. Mindfulness also develops the ability to closely observe without judging the child. This is immensely important for the development of the child’s self-concept and for the flowering of experimentation and creativity. Yes, children need direction, but too much judging can cause harm. So, observing the child with non-judgmental awareness is important for children flourishing.


Hence, mindfulness can make fathering better, both for the father, and the child. So, on this important day of celebration of fathers, let’s adopt mindfulness and make it a part of our relationship with our fathers and our children. Most of us love our fathers but we love mindful fathers even more especially when we ourselves are mindful.


“But mindfulness is really about being the best parent you can be. When we are mindful, we think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.  If we are grounded in principles, it is easier to be more aware of what is happening at the moment and to be more observant.  Connecting with the deep reasons why we chose to be a parent can help us see what is going on in a clearer light.Wayne Parker


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+

Have a Mindful Thanksgiving


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.– Henry David Thoreau


“The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”
Br. David Steindl-Rast


Thanksgiving is a time for gratefulness. Most people, most of the time rue what they want and don’t have. So Thanksgiving is particularly important as a reminder of how lucky we are for all the blessings we have. It is a time to recognize that despite all our negative thoughts we have everything that we really need and probably much, much, more.


At this time of year the fall harvest is in and almost universally there is a celebration of the abundance provided. These crops will sustain us through the cold winter and till new crops can be planted, grow, mature, and are harvested. Hence, thanksgiving is very much a celebration of nature and all that it provides. In a modern world we lose track of all that is entailed in bringing us this food. When we are grateful for the food we need to recognize that we should be also be grateful for the seeds, the sun, the rain, the soil, the insects and birds that pollinate the crops, and even the worms and grubs that prepare the soil. Without any of these the food would not grow. In a sense, if we look carefully, we understand that our gratefulness is not just for the particular food item. It is in fact for the entire universe to which we and the food are intimately connected.


These interconnections extend into society and technology. The steel to build the plow, the engines that move the plow, the trains and trucks that transport the food, the farmers, drivers, and engineers, the fuel for the engine, the oil wells and refineries that produce the fuel, the engineers who designed and built the machinery and factories, the men and women who educated the scientists, engineers, and farmers. I’m sure by now that you’ve got the picture. A little reflection soon reveals the vast network of interconnections, even stretching back in time.


Thanksgiving is also a time to celebrate the people we are closest to, our friends and especially our family. They are our origin and our support through development. They are our connections to the past and future. They are the emotional fuel that sustains us. They give us hope and purpose. Yes, there is dysfunction. That goes with all forms of human interactions. But, should we lose any of them we will quickly realize how important they are to our flourishing and happiness.  Remember, that on the deathbed, one of the biggest regrets is not having spent more time with family and friends. Thanksgiving is a time to recognize these interconnections, to be grateful for these people and their importance to our existence.


Certainly one of the most taken for granted amazing blessings that we have is our own awareness. We’ve always been aware. We’ve never, not been aware. So, it is so easy for it to go unrecognized and unappreciated. But, reflect for a moment what a miracle it is. There is an essence to us that is forever present and unchanging. What we are aware of is constantly changing, but that which is aware is not. Without our awareness we are nothing but biological automatons, robots. With it we are suddenly human and spiritual. We would not be able to be grateful or enjoy Thanksgiving without it. So, do not forget on Thanksgiving to be grateful for this wonder that forms the essence of what we are.


There is a very subtle kind of gratefulness that we should also adopt. It’s what the great sage Thich Nhat Hahn calls our “non-toothache.” He points out that if we had a toothache we would be thinking how grateful we’d be if it ended. But once it does we take it for granted. We need to be thankful not only for what we have but also for many things that we don’t. The health of our bodies is taken for granted, but we should be intensely grateful for our non-disease. We may not be happy in our job, but if we didn’t have one we’d think how grateful we’d be to find one. We may be unhappy for the police officer who gave us a speeding ticket. But, we don’t recognize that our safety on the roads depends upon enforcement of the laws. We should be thankful for our non-accident. We are so fortunate in so many ways that we take for granted like our “non-toothache”. But, at Thanksgiving it is good to reflect upon all of these unnoticed blessings.


Finally, it is illuminating to reflect on whether you’re a source of thanksgiving for others. Specifically, what have you done that would make someone grateful to you. In other words, what have you given. This is important as it is not always what we have or what we get that’s important but what we share, what we do for others, and what we give. This is often the source of genuine happiness. The things that we have are never satisfying in a lasting way, but the things that we give forever bring joy. So, ask yourself on Thanksgiving, have you truly and sincerely given to others without expecting something in return?


It is very useful to reflect upon all of these things at Thanksgiving. The modern world, with its emphasis on self-sufficiency and individuality, produces feelings of independence and isolation. But these thanksgiving reflections soon reveal that this is an illusion. We are inextricably connected to the entire fabric of the universe, the tapestry of our physical, social, and spiritual existence. There is so much to be grateful for that upon reflection we can see that our sufferings are silly and small by comparison. We should revel in the vast interconnected blessings that make up everything about our world and ourselves. We should celebrate the miracle of life and our awareness of it.


So, eat, drink, and be merry on Thanksgiving, enjoy the wonderful celebration, but also invest a few moments in reflecting upon all that we have to be thankful for.


He who thanks but with the lips
Thanks but in part;
The full, the true Thanksgiving
Comes from the heart.

~J.A. Shedd

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CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Red Means Relax


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


 “City life is stressful. Everybody is running around like crazy, stuck in traffic jams trying to make meetings, trying to make ends meet, trying to meet deadlines, trying to get kids to and from activities. There aren’t enough hours in the day for all this business.” – Rebecca Pidgeon
Modern life is stressful and busy. We move through the day from task to task. A successful day is defined as one where the day’s to-do list has been virtually completed. This busyness usually occurs mindlessly. That’s not to say that the mind isn’t engaged. In fact, it’s fully engaged in thoughts and plans, and memories and ruminations. But often when engaged in one task the mind is occupied with thoughts of completing it so that we can move on to the next one. In the process we do not fully appreciate what we’re doing at the moment. This strategy is effective in accomplishing an agenda. But, it produces a very big problem, we’re so busy doing we neglect being.


Although much is accomplished, we never really enjoy the accomplishing, only the accomplishment. We have ignored the most important thing in life; awareness of the present moment. We can only fully experience life in the present moment. We can only revel in the wonder of our existence in the present moment. We can only be truly happy in the present moment. It’s impossible to negotiate the modern world without being lost in thought frequently. The problem is that we spend the entire day in that state.


Thus the modern world occupies us totally. Only occasionally do we have a quiet moment to reflect on what’s really happening. We’re moving from to-do list to to-do list and our lives are passing by without really living. That realization should be a jolt. We’ve somehow lost perspective and gotten so caught up in the minutia that we now see it as important instead of the trivialities that they are. To truly experience and enjoy our lives and be happy we must find ways to interrupt the mindless thinking and intersperse periods of mindfulness, where we are fully engaged in what is happening in the moment. There are so many signals in the environment to distract us and create endless thinking but there are none to signal mindfulness. In order to promote mindfulness, we need to identify signals in the environment that we can use as triggers for mindfulness.


While driving it is important for our safety to pay attention. But, there are occasional signals that are useful as signals for mindfulness. One I particularly like is the red traffic light. I used to encounter a red light and respond with frustration and sometimes anger that I was being delayed. My mind would be full of thoughts about what I might have done to avoid the light or about anger with the other drivers who kept me from making the light or searching for indications that the light was about to change and my torment would soon end. But, in fact there is nothing you can do. So the best strategy is to actually do nothing. I repeat to myself the simple phrase “red means relax.” Don’t do, just relax and do nothing.


The red light is in fact a wonderful opportunity to relax, take a deep breath, and allow the accumulated stress of driving to dissipate. It is also a wonderful time just to be mindful and appreciate the present moment. Look around and see the beautiful sky and appreciate the intense blueness and the ever changing landscape of clouds. See the other cars and drivers and marvel at the orderliness of movement produced by traffic control. Note how wonderful red lights actually are in keeping us safe and traffic moving. Look at the light itself and marvel at the color of red, how it registers in our eyes and is viewed in our awareness. Feel the sensations from our bodies, feel the energy, appreciate the health, and marvel at the miracle of life. There is so much waiting for us at red lights, it’s such a shame that we’ve been wasting it for so long.


A wonderful part of relaxing to red is that we return to driving with an entirely new attitude. I start viewing other drivers as fellow travelers, not annoyances or competitors. I start appreciating the sensations of driving, something that has been long ignored while we cruise along on “auto-pilot.” You’ll be amazed at the effect of this simple small rest, that cost you nothing, yet earned you so much.


The next task is to find other stimuli or events that can be used to trigger mindfulness within the stream of daily life. Meals can be helpful, provided you eat quietly, without media or reading, or looking at Facebook posts on our smartphones. I admit that I’m not very good with this one, but my wife is and it’s transformed her appreciation of food, eating, and the understanding of the interconnectedness of it all.


Look for times in your own daily activit1es when it really isn’t necessary that you be focused on a task. Turn off your phones, take a deep breath, relax, and be mindful. An evening walk could become a source of joy and happiness, a coffee break at work could refresh you much more deeply than effectively still working in your head, a shopping trip could be a sensory extravaganza, even an interaction with loved ones could be occasions for deeply listening and just being present for them, transforming your relationships. There are many possibilities. Find one and try it out. If you find that it produces greater joy and happiness in your life, keep doing it, and look for another to add. Keep it up, expanding your times of mindfulness and feel your reintegration into your life.


So, stop at red lights and remember “red means relax.”


“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” – William S. Burroughs
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Simplify to Break Through


As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” – Henry David Thoreau


Science has been a tremendous success. It has produced the knowledge and understandings that have allowed us to control our environment, prevent and cure diseases, communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time, feed billions of people, and understand our universe. The accelerating rate of development can be directly traced to the practice of science. How did science achieve so much? What allowed us to unravel the mysteries of our universe and existence? What is the essence of such a successful practice? In a word, it’s simplify! Science simplified phenomena in order to break through to understanding.


Science studies phenomena by simplifying them. In a good scientific experiment only one thing is studied at a time and everything else is either removed or held constant. To study gravity it must be done in a vacuum, removing the resistance to movement provided by air molecules. Other objects have to be removed so that only two objects are interacting, and all other forces have to be removed or controlled. Once, this is accomplished gravity can be studied in as pure a form as possible. This simplification is the essence of the scientific method. It successfully investigates phenomena by isolating them from the surrounding complexities.


Similarly, the essence of contemplative practices is to simplify. This allows us to investigate what resides at the core of our being by removing complexities or holding them as constant as possible. To achieve spiritual breakthroughs, contemplative practices, like science does to produce breakthroughs in the physical realm, removes as many distractions as possible to allow for the study of our essence in its purest form possible.


This is particularly clear with meditation practices. The beginner is taught to remove themselves to a quiet environment, to sit as comfortably as possible while still maintaining alertness, to quiet the mental chatter, and to concentrate on a single simple thing such as the breath or a mantra. In a body scan meditation, the concentration is on the feelings emanating solely from particular areas of the body. It is difficult to do hold the concentration required, especially for a beginner. It is the challenge of meditation. But, once achieved, even for brief periods of time, the practitioner becomes in essence a scientist of awareness. S/he becomes an explorer of the essential nature of their being. If the meditation is contemplative prayer, then the individual becomes an explorer of the nature of the Deity.


Similarly, mindful movement practices such as qigong or tai chi simplify by concentrating the mind on specific movements and the energetics (chi) revealed in their execution. The practitioner becomes an explorer of chi, the energy of existence. Yoga practice combines a number of these components with meditation at its core, but using body postures, asanas, as sometimes the point of concentration, sometimes the breathing, and sometimes just pure meditation. But, in essence, yoga simplifies the mind so that the core of being becomes exposed.


If we are successful in the practice and have simplified our mental landscape what is revealed? Once we pare away the distractions from the environment, from the thoughts, plans, and memories, from the internal speech, and from the body, what is left?  First we realize that try as we may we can never really quiet our minds. The internal chatter continues. We can quiet it for brief periods, but, not for long. This is uncomfortable for the beginning meditator who sees it as a failure. But, reflection can result in the first breakthrough; the understanding that we do not and cannot control our minds. If we can’t control it, then what is it? Is it the mind that defines us or is it simply something no different than the wind blowing, something outside of our essence that is simply there? It’s just another stimulus, just a thought arising and falling away, that only has power if we believe it comes from our essence. Only by simplifying are we able to have this breakthrough.


By simplifying in mindfulness practice we are able to see things as they really are, not as we think they should be, or as ideas of labels, but simply as ever changing experiences. One of the next breakthroughs is the realization of impermanence. Once simplified it is easy to see that everything is changing, increasing or decreasing, arising, or falling away, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, but never constant or stationary. Our minds and our sensory systems are programmed to produce constancy and only when we can eliminate these processes can we clearly see the impermanence of all things. These include our sensations, feelings, our physical body, and even thoughts. This reveals the fleeting nature of our experiences and even our lives and brings us to the realization that reality exists only in the present moment, that the past is simply a faulty memory and the future is a fanciful speculation. Only by simplifying are we able to have this breakthrough.


Once we have these breakthroughs and we have simplified our view of experience we are open to the next breakthrough, the realization that the only thing that is not changing, that is constant is our awareness. What is aware of impermanent reality is always aware and has always been aware, never changing, always present. Once we see that this is the only constant we can begin to understand that this is our essence, that awareness is what we are. We are not fleeting experience or a constructed sense of self, but rather that which is viewing these things, awareness. Only by simplifying are we able to have this breakthrough.


There are other breakthroughs that await when the process of simplification is complete. These we call awakening or enlightenment or as a teacher of mine likes to say, a moment of clarity. These like the other breakthroughs depend upon our simplifying everything so that the truth of existence can shine through.


So, simplify to break through!


The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. – Hans Hofmann


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“It’s hard for me to put into words why I like the beach so much. Everything about it is renewing for me, almost like therapy…Beach Therapy.” – Amy Dykens


“At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.” – Anonymous
What is the great attraction of going to the beach. On the surface it appears to be actually an uncomfortable activity as reflected by Erma Bombeck “On vacations: We hit the sunny beaches where we occupy ourselves keeping the sun off our skin, the saltwater off our bodies, and the sand out of our belongings.” But, nevertheless it’s still amazingly popular with 23% of Americans going to the beach each year and 33% indicating that they would select the beach if they had only one place to go on vacation.

Why are beaches such a hugely popular destination? Obviously, the opportunity for recreation such as swimming, snorkeling, sailing, surfing, etc. adds to its popularity. But, let’s take a look from a different perspective. In analyzing the nature of beaches we can see that they are an interface of between the three states of matter; solid, liquid, and gaseous, with rocks and sand, water, and air meeting. At the beach all of these states of matter interact and are interdependent. The wind blowing over the water creates the waves while the structure of the solids creates surfaces to initiate and absorb the waves breaking. All of this is driven by the sun’s energy and the moon’s gravitational pull. So at a beach we are immersed with the interconnected interplay of matter and energy. The wind and water pulse at levels that are dependent on the intensity of the forces at work. In addition, we can become part of that interaction and play in the surf where the power of these vast forces is on display but at manageable levels.


But why is there such an attraction to the beach? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that human beings also display the three states of matter in interdependence and interaction. The liquid surges with the heartbeat, the air pumps in and out in rhythm, both driven by the solids of heart and lung which are in turn powered by the suns energy in the form of food, combining solids, liquids, and gases. So, the human physically is to some extent a replica of a beach. Hence, we feel a kinship and attraction to the beach. We sense that the beach is alive like ourselves and we are attracted to that aliveness, to that pulsating replica of our physical nature.


The human, however, is more than just solid, liquid, and gas. The human also has an awareness, an experiencing entity, a watcher, that registers components of the internal and external environments. But, even though only the ever changing sensations of the present moment are being registered the mind attempts to hold onto everything. It does so by labelling and classifying, placing it into memory and comparing to prior experiences. It creates a sense of permanence that defies reality. Our perceptual systems in the brain are designed to produce an experience of constancy even though the actual sensory information is changing. Hence, our experience of that world as presented in the mind appears relatively permanent and unchanging.


But, this is not what is really going on. Our minds have produced an illusion. The truth is that everything is impermanent and constantly changing, arising, and falling away. Buddhism teaches that denying impermanence and attempting to hold onto things inevitably leads to suffering. To relieve that suffering we must accept the impermanence of everything, we must let all experiences be as they are, we must not grasp or attempt to hold onto them. As a result our grasping at permanence produces a deep feeling of unsatisfactoriness. We walk through life with this queasy feeling that something is just not right.


What we experience on the beach does not match up well to the relative permanence of things that our mind is producing. On the beach, impermanence is on display with ever changing movement and interplay. On the beach the wind, the waves, and even the sand itself is in perpetual motion, rising up and falling away. So, the beach is a far better match to what is true and what our awareness experiences and not the minds created illusions. We love the beach because of its synchrony with actual aware experience, unveiling the true nature of existence.


We can feel the beach’s authenticity and synchrony with our true nature. We are one with existence at the beach. As a result unsatisfactoriness and suffering melt away as we immerse in an honest replica of the reality of our existence. It is no wonder that a visit to the beach is so desired and so satisfying. This all happens unconsciously, of course, for most. We don’t actually see or understand this. Rather we intuitively feel it, and it feels very, very good.


So, visit the beach and experience the truth of existence.


“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” – Rainer Maria
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+