Let’s be Honest! 4 – Communications

In previous posts we explored the need for honesty in quieting the mind, in understanding our mental contents, and our reactions to others. Another facet that can be explored in contemplative practice is communicating with others.

We need to look very honestly and carefully at what is occurring in the process of our communicating with others. It is first imperative to take an honest look at what exactly we are trying to accomplish in the communication. On the surface it may seem obvious, but a very deep honest contemplative investigation may reveal that there are much deeper objectives.

We may think that in our communications that we’re simply responding to another’s statements or providing information that is of interest or use to another. But, ask yourself precisely why you’re transmitting this particular information or responding in this particular way. Could it be that underlying this is a desire to be liked or admired by the other, to look intelligent or wise, or perhaps a need to be agreed with, or the desire to convince the other that you are correct, or even a need to feel superior to the other person? In other words is the communication serving for you a psychological function?

If it is, don’t feel bad, this is normal and human. It’s perfectly OK. But realizing the underlying agenda will not only help us to understand our own psychology, but also perhaps change our communications, making them more honest and sincere.

Once we have identified our real objectives in the communication, we can then look at the objectives of the other person. What is it that they really want from us? The underlying needs may be similar to our own or quite different. That doesn’t matter. What makes a difference is to know what the objective is and craft our response to what it is that they are trying to accomplish.

If the other person’s objective is to be agreed with or convince you that they are correct, we can tailor our answer by recognizing and communicating what we do agree with within the communication, while holding off disagreeing with the parts we don’t. Immediately disagreeing with the other person will not result in a satisfying communication. Rather it is likely to harden the others opinion and elicit emotions that can make it even more difficult to communicate.

It is not necessary to be dishonest or manipulative. It is only necessary to understand the underlying agenda and work with it rather than causing friction by working against it. This is true both with yourself and the other person. Contemplate deeply and honestly regarding what is actually transpiring in the communication and have a much more satisfying interpersonal interaction.

Let’s be honest and look at our communications with others deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest! 3 – Understanding Others

In previous posts we explored the need for honesty in quieting the mind and in understanding our mental contents. These are, however, just two facets of what can be accomplished in contemplative practice. Another facet is understanding others.

During contemplative practice ours minds frequently turn to others and their relationships with us. Our minds review, interpret, and judge our interactions with others often seeing their words or behavior as reflecting something about us. This person doesn’t like me or is angry with me. That person is rude or is not listening to me. This other person is trying to manipulate me or get something from me. Our interactions with someone else from the distant past could have been different if we had acted differently, etc.

In our contemplative practice we have an opportunity to explore these thoughts and we can learn from them if we are scrupulously honest with ourselves. We should ask ourselves simply do we know these things for sure. What is the evidence we’re using and does it unambiguously prove that our conclusions are true. Most of the time we’ll find out that we’re leaping to conclusions that are not so much tied to facts as to our interpretations and judgments about those facts.

If we pursue this it will begin to dawn on us that perhaps the other person actually likes us or is not at all angry with us, or is not ignoring or manipulating us but acting out of their own issues. We can see that no matter how much we try we cannot change the past, it’s gone, and will never be repeated. An honest look at the evidence can help us to see that our interpretations reflect more our internal issues than the actual feelings or beliefs of others.

It takes honesty with ourselves but we can come to understand that others are not upsetting us, we’re upsetting ourselves, others are not hurting us we’re hurting ourselves, others can’t manipulate us unless we let them, and events in the past can’t effect us if we let them go. We are the ones in control, not others.

This can be a revolutionary insight. Once we realize that we’re in control then we understand that we can be the masters of our emotions and lives. We can then take charge.

Let’s be honest and look at our responses to others deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest! 2 – Investigating the Mind

In a previous post we explored the need for honesty in quieting the mind and attaining deeper states in meditation. This is, however, just one side of the coin. The other side is what we can learn about our mind and our psychology from observing the contents of our mental processes during meditation. Again though, in order to be successful, ruthless honesty is a prerequisite.

While meditating the mind frequently jumps in and usurps attention. We can try to ignore it and that is very useful, but we can also take a different tack and investigate its content. This can be revelatory. It can provide great insights into the nature of our mental processes and what is most important to us. But, we have to do it with honesty and sincerity.

When we become aware that our mind has been wandering, rather than returning to quieting the mind look at the mental content that came up during mind wandering. Investigate how you got to this particular content. Trace the train of thought that brought you to this point. What initiated the mind wandering in the first place and what were the series of associations and leaps.

Now ask yourself why was this content elicited. Why was this somehow important to the mind that it brought this particular content into awareness. Often it is simple and mundane such as an environmental sound attracting attention away from focus and the train of thought that follows is fairly linear and straightforward. But often it is not so obvious. That is where investigation can be quite revealing. Ask yourself, why did this particular content come up and why is this somehow important to the mind.

This can lead to understanding deep inner needs, unresolved issues and conflicts, and unrealized emotions. The mind is seeking them out and that is an important clue. Pursue it deeply and honestly. It can reveal much about yourself, some of which you may not like, but understanding that whatever it is, it is somehow important to you. Open to it and learn.

Most of our practice should be focused on calming the mind. But, occasionally investigating what arises even though were trying to stay quiet, can lead to greater understanding and can actually lead to a better ability to calm the mind in the future.

Let’s be honest and look at ourselves deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest!

Contemplative practice requires total honesty, not with others, but with ourselves. Our minds can invent all kinds of bogus reasons for anything. It takes insight and the willingness to be brutally honest to take maximum advantage of the fruits of contemplative practice.

The first honest admission is that we cannot control our minds. This is a radical idea for most as we believe that we have complete control. So we try and try and try to control it without success. A little reflection will unveil the truth. It’s not under our control. So, rather than go to war against the mind, successful contemplative practice demands that we be are completely honest with ourselves and admit, that we can’t control it.

That admission, by itself, can lead to a much more relaxed approach to our practice. In fact, the only effective way to actually quiet the mind is to stop trying to control it. Just watch it do its thing. If you do, you’ll be amazed at how thoughts just appear, seemingly from nowhere, and fade away into nothingness.

The second honest admission is that we cannot understand what it is that’s observing our mind during our practice. It’s a clear and present experience, but the mind cannot grasp it. We need to honestly admit that we just don’t know. We can then relax into the mystery that is our awareness, without constant mental chatter in a vain attempt to categorize it, explain it, theorize about it, or even clearly view it.

The third honest admission is that the past and the future are irrelevant to contemplative practice. The only thing that matters is present moment experience. If we honestly admit that everything but the now is unnecessary we can begin to stop trying to achieve something in the future or to reinstate or recover a previous experience. We can simply concentrate solely on what is our immediate experience. We can watch them arising out of nothing and falling away, into the same void. We can become enamored with the wonder of it and simply enjoy the miracle of being.

So, let’s be honest. It doesn’t hurt, but it can reveal truths beyond the mental delusions.


Really, you’re making progress!

Most people expect that when they engage in a regular contemplative practice that they will make consistent progress over time, that their practice will get better and better day-by-day, maybe slowly, but consistent gains will be apparent. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way. Rather than slow and steady progress the individual is confronted with a roller coaster ride.

One day practice is deep and satisfying, the next it is tortuous, and the next the mind is overwhelmingly busy. This can be very discouraging, as practice doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. At this point many people give up and stop practicing or become sporadic in their practice. But, this is a mistake.

This is a classic example from signal detection theory. The signal, progress, cannot be detected because its magnitude is small relative to the noise of the day-to-day variations in practice. It is thus difficult to detect the real progress that is being made.

Only over long periods of time does it begin to dawn on us that we’re actually progressing. It’s just hard to tell amid the wild fluctuations. But we begin to recognize that we’re on average, deeper, calmer, and more on task than we used to be. The wild ride continues but now it is recognized that it is going on at a higher level than before.

So, stick with it. Really, you’re making progress! It’s just hard to detect. But, if you do persevere, you will get to a deeper, calmer, more blissful practice. It just take patience.



Contemplative Practice should be a High Priority Scheduled Activity

I’ve been told by many, many contemplative practitioners that they want to practice on a regular basis practice, but they have trouble maintaining it. When asked what the problem is they most frequently respond that they don’t seem to be able to find the time in their day. That unveils the problem. They’re practicing when there is free time available. Our lives appear to abhor a vacuum and will fill in whatever time is available with some seemingly important activity, leaving no time for practice.

A wise friend of mine once said that you can tell what a person truly values not by what they say but by what they do. From this perspective the on-again-off-again practitioners are clearly demonstrating that they value every other activity in their lives more than practicing. They’re giving it a very low priority.

If we truly want to practice regularly we must give it a very high priority. If we don’t care that much about practicing that is fine. Continue doing what you’re doing as that’s what is important to you. Just correct the statement that you really want to have a regular practice. To a statement that you would like to practice if nothing else is available to occupy you.

If practicing regularly is really important to you then I find that it must be given a particular time slot every day that is not infringed upon except when absolutely necessary, which is very seldom.  I schedule it daily first thing in the morning after I have my morning coffee. If there isn’t time then I plan to get up earlier to make sure that there is time. I also practice before dinner in the evening, but this is not as high a priority and often is replaced with another activity. But, I make sure that the morning practice is sacrosanct.

What exact time you schedule your practice should be determined by your life’s demands and what works best for you attending to your practice. But, whatever time you schedule, give it your highest priority. Don’t let life’s business intrude. Treat it as a treasured time for nourishing yourself that is as important as eating and sleeping. Give it that priority and you’ll be able to fulfill your aspiration to practice regularly and in fact, that will make the rest of your day markedly better and more productive.

Effortless effort.

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Contemplative practice can be challenging. It asks us to engage in an activity while quieting the mind. But, the attempt to quiet the mind is itself an effort that disturbs the peace and absorption that we seek.  When unsuccessful which we will inevitably be, we further upset the quiet with recriminations and feelings of failure.

It seems a complete contradiction that we must somehow try without trying. We must exert effortless effort. We are told that this is essential to our progress, but our minds do not have a clue as to how to accomplish this deceptively simply requirement. But, this last statement actually presents a vital clue, our minds simply can’t do it.

So we can’t figure it out, we cannot find and follow instructions, and we can’t rely of logic and reason. Then what is left? The key resides in that which is not mind. We can call it awareness, we can call it the watcher, or we can call it spirit. Regardless of the label it’s the ever present registerer of experience.

Effortless effort is relaxing into just being present, just being aware. It’s that simple, really! It’s always there so we don’t have to try to call it into action. In fact, it doesn’t require any mental activity whatsoever. It doesn’t take effort to be what is already there, to do what we’re already doing.

Even our thoughts and attempts to control experience are experienced and if we don’t react or respond to them then they are just another thing happening in awareness. Reacting takes effort, not reacting does not. Just relax and watch them like clouds passing by, viewing with effortless effort.

The mind will fight this, but if we simply ignore it, it will slowly quiet allowing effortless effort to define our experience.



Healthy Balance through Yoga


The body’s immune system fights off potentially damaging agents by producing an inflammatory response. This response attacks and destroys the culprits and thus maintains the integrity of the body.

This inflammatory response, however, must be restrained the rest of the time. Too much inflammation, particularly on a chronic basis can be as harmful as a lack of inflammation to infection. Balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory mechanisms is required for health.

When the system is out of balance such that the inflammatory response is dominant on a continuous (chronic) basis it tends to promote the development of cancer, diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, when the anti-inflammatory response is dominant on a continuous basis it leaves the individual vulnerable to infection. Hence, promoting the balance in the immune system is crucial for long-term health.

Yoga appears to do just that. Today’s Research News article, “Effect of Yoga Module on Pro-Inflammatory and Anti-Inflammatory Cytokines in Industrial Workers of Lonavla: A Randomized Controlled Trial” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378732/

provides empirical evidence that yoga promotes immune balance.


This might be one explanation why yoga practitioners tend to be healthier and live longer.


Mindfulness has to be lived.

Mindfulness is not just something we do when were performing contemplative practice rather it is a way of life. To be useful it must be integrated into everything that we do. It needs to become part of work, relating to others, relaxation, and even driving a car.

Mindfulness is not just a passive state rather it needs to be actively expressed in what we are and what we do. We shouldn’t just sit back and absorb and feel and think that that is being mindful. We must work at actively engaging in our everyday life mindfully. If we’re grocery shopping, experience the sights, sounds and smells of the store and be aware of our movements, how we’re interacting with other shoppers, and even how we’re making choices on what to buy.

This should be done nonjudgmentaly. A particular odor is not good or bad, pleasant of unpleasant. It’s just an experienced odor. Another shopper is not rude for blocking the aisle, but just a human being shopping. Corn flakes is just a breakfast cereal with a certain texture and taste, neither good nor bad.

Mindfulness is actively looking and marveling at the wonder and miracle of our existence. It’s finding joy in the simplest of things, like marveling at a tiny ant carrying a piece of grass, five times its weight, seeing the beauty of sunlight through the trees, or enjoying seeing a smile on another’s face. What can sustain mindfulness more than any amount of effort is finding the happiness that is everywhere around us in in everything we do.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t sometimes use our minds to process information, label and even judge. This is a very important function of mind that helps negotiate life. It is rather to suggest a middle way. Being immersed in thought when appropriate, but being mindful whenever thought is really not needed, which by the way is most of the time.

Loving Kindness Meditation and the Disease of the West


A startling aspect of modern western culture is that people are generally unhappy and don’t like themselves. This is incredible that the most affluent society that has ever existed should be populated with people are not happy and have low self-worth. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given what it has taken to become so affluent.

The perpetual striving for more and more creates what psychologists call the hedonic treadmill. Obtaining a desired object (new car etc.) often brings a happiness that is very transitory. It fades rapidly. So, the person is only happy for a brief time. But the individual interprets this that obtaining things is the key to happiness. So, the individual now strives to obtain another thing. Upon obtaining it, brief happiness ensues but fades, prompting seeking another object.

This perpetual cycle entraps the individual only satisfying occasionally but enslaving him/her to effort and striving. This produces unhappy, but very productive people, who make work their primary focus. In the process, they devote only a modicum of time to relaxation, contemplation, family, friends, and community.  In other words they withdraw from the most important and satisfying components in life. They have effectively chosen thing that don’t make them happy over things that do.

Loving Kindness Meditation can help to overcome this western disease. It causes the individual to focus on others and themselves, wishing them happiness, ease of well-being, peacefulness etc. It shifts focus from things to people, from effort to experiencing. This may be a medicine for the disease. The research certainly supports its effectiveness.