Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book: Living the Mindful Life by Charles T. Tart

The author of this book isn't quite on the same plane as me when it comes to mindfulness - he's a few more notches toward the New Age spectrum. Nevertheless, there is lots of good stuff to take away from this book. In particular, Tart provides particularly useful explanations on the value of mindfulness, which can be difficult to capture in words. The author also reminds us that doing the practice (being mindful and practicing meditation) is not the hard bit. Doing it is simple. The hardest bit is remembering to remember to be mindful, particularly in our daily lives.



- What then is it that mindfulness brings? It allows all the warring and fragmented aspects of ourselves to settle and become friends ... Nyoshyul Khen Rinpoche calls mindfulness 'the fortress of the mind' and 'the friend of wisdom', for in its magical simplicity come a presence and a peace which are sane and grounded, clear, joyful, and awake, and full of compassion and wisdom.

- When I first began to teach in the West, I found to my surprise that many spiritual practitioners today lack the knowledge of how to integrate their meditation practice with daily life. It cannot be said too strongly or too often: to integrate meditation in action is the whole ground and purpose of meditation.

- We do not need the slightest bit of mindfulness to get through everyday life; we can run totally on automatic.

- Mindfulness practice, in its purest sense, is simply this: be aware of what is, what is here in this moment. In formal mindfulness meditation practice, such as vipassna meditation, you do not attempt to change or improve what is, you try to refrain from judging it.

- Many situations in our lives require more depth, but unless we've developed the capacity to be more present, more mindful, we won't recognise these situations.

- One way it (meditation) can be understood psychologically, is as trying to practice disidentification. When you are doing vipassna meditation, for example, you are told to just watch whatever comes up - sensations, thoughts and emotions-with equanimity, without following after them, without analysing them, without craving some and rejecting others. You are practicing disidentification.

- In our ordinary state of mind, multitudes of things come up, and things we are conditioned to identify with automatically grab all or most of our attention and energy....

- The other side of formal meditation practice ... that is that as you discover your own essence and begin to bring it out there is a basic security that develops. There is a basic liking of yourself that slowly grows, a basic, essential confidence.

I almost said self-confidence, but I deliberately did not. It is not a confidence in your ordinary self so much but rather a confidence in something much greater than your ordinary self.  All these elements we have spoken of far - disidentification, greater ability to focus, self-remembering - can combine to put you on a much more secure footing, so that you do not have to desperately get approval from people. Then you can be genuinely nice to people - or firm when it's needed- without getting caught up in the need for approval.

- De Ropp said that we can imagine our minds to be like a medieval walled city, and access to the town is controlled through one main gate. Like any town, there are different sections. There are art galleries, museums, and theaters on one part, markets in another, a manufacturing district, universities in another part, and there are also slums.

The things that happen to us in life are like travelers coming to the open gate of the town. Ordinarily, travelers wonder in and out as they will. Life happens to some of us. Some of those travelers will come in and give a useful lecture at a university, and we are richer for it. Some bring supplies we need to exist. Some of them are, so to speak, emotional provocateurs who come in and agitate.

Doing this sensing, looking, and listening is analogous to having a watcher at the gate, who sees travelers coming and makes some discriminating judgements about them. For certain travelers he opens the gates wide, but for other travelers he closes them. In order to intelligently select which 'travelers' are allowed to enter, you have to be present. These people can come up to the gate very suddenly, and if you are looking away for even a second, they may slip inside.

- Learning to be more present, more mindful, more attentive, can lead to a lot of moments of vividness, of beauty, of satisfaction, and of insight...Gradually you develop a wider psychological space to live in...

- Don't Be Too Hard On Yourself: You are going to do it, and you are going to do it "wrong". You are going to do it again, and again you will do it wrong. I must emphasise this, We are people. If we could do things perfectly, we would not be here learning about mindfulness. So you are going to do to the practice and you are going to do it wrong. And you are going to do it again and you are going to do it wrong, over and over and over, but you gradually learn something.

- I have been trying to cultivate mindfulness, especially the self-remembering kind, for a number of years, with varying degrees of success. One of the most interesting observations I and others doing the practice have made about it is that it is not all difficult to be mindful in most circumstances. A tiny effort, a small shift of attention is all it takes. What is difficult is to remember to remember.

- The qualities that make the retreat situation so good for initially learning mindfulness are, unfortunately, poor ones in terms of generalising the practice of mindfulness to everyday life. ..We have not practiced mindfulness in phone calls, during decision making, while reading mail, and so on, so it is not surprising that these situations do not make it easy for us to be mindful.

- One response to he deadness of ordinary life, to the shallowness of living in samsara, in a consensus trance, is to seek out danger. ...In certain dangerous sports, for example, like skiing to the limit or auto racing, you must be present to the physical world. ..You are forced to be present.

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