Two good reasons to stop beating yourself up: a Buddhist perspective

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Many readers of this blog may not have to travel far to meet their harshest and most unyielding critic.  A few steps to the nearest mirror will probably do the trick.  There you can look into the eyes of the person who talks to you in a way that they would never dream of talking to their friends.   The person who cuts you far less slack than they do even their vaguest acquaintances. The fault-finder so relentlessly carping that any triumphs you experience can be savoured only briefly, any failures must be constantly remembered, and who seems to believe that you will never amount to much.

When the Dalai Lama first encountered the self-loathing and low self-esteem felt by so many of us in the West, he not only found it hard to fathom.  He was actually moved to tears.  Why is it that we feel so compelled to treat ourselves this way?  Where did the habit come from? What is the point of beating ourselves up?

There are good reasons to place a high value on self-examination and humility, especially in an era of unfettered narcissism.  But the self-criticism I’m referring to here is not one of constructive reflection so much as the kind that robs us of any sense of wellbeing, and condemns us to a bleak emotional existence entirely of our own making.

From a Buddhist perspective, there are two very compelling reasons why it’s time to quit the habit of self-loathing.

  1. Self-compassion is necessary to empower our own inner journey

Buddhism defines compassion as ‘the wish to free others from suffering.’ Self-compassion is therefore the wish to free ourselves from suffering.

This is a very different attitude from one of relentless self-criticism. In practising self-compassion, we let go of seeing the self from the perspective of conventional reality as a loser, a failure, a being who constantly falls short of expectations.  Instead we see them from the perspective of ultimate reality as one who has achieved a precious, but all-too-brief, human life, who has the rare opportunity to purify negative karma and create virtue, and whose worldly accomplishments are, frankly, neither here nor there compared to the far more panoramic purpose of inner growth (See: http://davidmichie.com/blog/2016/07/28/too-busy-to-be-happy-a-buddhist-perspective/).

In using a different yardstick by which to evaluate our situation, we dramatically shift the way we see ourselves and what we do in the world. We are less hung up on concerns that are of only temporary, extrinsic value, as we focus more on those which offer more enduring, intrinsic purpose.  Perhaps for the first time, we may begin to experience what it means to feel a sense of wellbeing, contentment and inner peace.

  1. Self-compassion is necessary if we wish to help others

If we give ourselves hell, it’s highly likely that our feelings will overflow to affect our family, friends, work colleagues and even perhaps long-suffering pets.  How can we possibly be available to others if we are caught up in a storm of self-reproach and self-recrimination?  We may be at the other end of the spectrum from the egotist or narcissist but, like them, if we are so caught up with ourselves, we may find we have little room in our hearts for others.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: ‘There is something about the dynamics of self-absorption, or worrying about ourselves too much, which tends to magnify our suffering.  Conversely, when we come to see it in relation to others’ suffering, we begin to recognise that, relatively speaking, it is not all that unbearable.  This enables us to maintain our peace of mind much more easily than if we concentrate on our problems to the exclusion of all else’.

Beating ourselves up may be a pattern of behaviour that began from the noble wish to be the best that we can be, to fulfil our potential, to make the most of our life – perhaps fostered or encouraged by parents who wanted the best for us too.  But when it becomes a compulsion, it’s a habit that can transform into the most awful form of self-sabotage.

So lighten up already!  Don’t take yourself so seriously!  Recognise the horrible double standards you so cruelly apply to that poor soul in the mirror and cut him or her a bit of slack.  Self-compassion offers a far more effective – and very much happier – way for you to be of benefit both to yourself as well as to others.

Please ‘Share’ this blog if you know others who may find it helpful.

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(Image of woman looking into mirror courtesy of: http://img1.liveinternet.ru/images/attach/c/2/74/318/74318997_womanlookinginmirror.jpg)

My introductory book to Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism for Busy People, can be ordered from your local bookstore or bought online.  It has different covers in different countries, but the content is the same:

BBP - Oz coverBBP US cover

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Buddhism-Busy-People-Happiness-Uncertain/dp/1559392983/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405216&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhism+for+busy+people

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Buddhism-Busy-People-Happiness-Uncertain/dp/1559392983/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405353&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhism+for+busy+people

Australia

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/buddhism-for-busy-people-by-david-michie-9781741752137/#.VxtHk49OK1s

Enlightenment to Go, an introduction to Shantiva’s famous work ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ is for readers who’d like to explore Tibetan Buddhism a little more deeply.  Again, different covers in different countries:

ETG - Australian coverETG US cover

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Enlightenment-Go-Shantideva-Compassion-Transform/dp/0861717570/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405307&sr=1-1&keywords=enlightenment+to+go

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Enlightenment-Go-Power-Compassion-Transform/dp/0861717570/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461405442&sr=8-1&keywords=enlightenment+to+go

Australia

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/enlightenment-to-go-by-david-michie-9781742372228/#.VxtH8I9OK1s

OR If you prefer to digest things in a fictional format:

DLC cover pic

The Dalai Lama’s Cat: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401940587/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d2_i3?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0T83FJJTV5TNMR5TDRA6&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2253014322&pf_rd_i=desktop

US art of purring

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Cat-Purring/dp/1401943276/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=41RbJ11U9BL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR102%2C160_&refRID=1AWKQCF80MTYC75Y90B4

Meow US cover

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Power of Meow: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Power-Meow/dp/1401946240/ref=pd_sim_14_1?ie=UTF8&dpID=51hqtNkmV4L&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR104%2C160_&refRID=0ZE2FWJW6FNWKECTBFRK

(NB Different countries sometimes have different covers, but the content is the same).

 

Too busy to be happy? A Buddhist perspective.

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In our era of unprecedented busy-ness, constant communication and relentless deadlines, it’s easy to feel that we have no time for an inner life. When so many of us feel burdened by the imperative for immediate, round-the-clock responsiveness, and the constant need to do more with less, it’s understandable that as we reach the end of each day, it’s all we can do to crumple into an exhausted heap on the sofa.  To take the edge off our frazzled state with a glass or two of wine. To turn on the TV for some undemanding pap.

Deep down inside, a small voice may be telling us that we’re missing out on something.  Potentially something quite important.  But it’s easy to silence that voice with the conviction that we simply have no choice.  Not for the moment, at least.  Perhaps when things get quieter at work, or when the kids have grown up, or when we retire, then we’ll have time to do the things we know are important for our ultimate wellbeing.

Buddhism offers a very different perspective on reality.  One that dramatically challenges our priorities.

Our life, right now, is extraordinary.  To be born as a human being in a relatively affluent country, with a level of intelligence, education and available time – that means you, dear reader! – is spectacularly unlikely.  Just look at the other seven billion humans on planet earth.  The countless billions of sentient animals.  So extraordinary is your good fortune that, to use Buddha’s own analogy, it’s like a blind, crippled turtle that surfaces from the ocean every hundred years just happening to stick his head through a wooden yoke floating on the water.

This rare opportunity is definitely going to end – perhaps sooner than you think.  Death is certain, the time of death is uncertain and the only thing of value when you die is the state of your mind.  You are going to leave behind your home, family, pets, toys, status, wealth and everything that makes up your sense of conventional reality.

If you are a materialist – that is, someone who believes that matter is all that exists – contemplating death may help you treasure each day all the more.  Time is finite.  Experiences are precious.  Nothing can be taken for granted.

If, on the other hand, you are open to the idea that your mind – that formless continuum of clarity and cognition – moves from this lifetime into a new reality, then what we do with our mind in this lifetime is the only thing that endures.  The imprints we create, the conditioning we generate, the karmic causes for future effects – however you wish to describe it, these are what matter.  These we take with us. (See: Can you be a Buddhist if you don’t believe in karma and reincarnation? http://davidmichie.com/blog/2016/04/26/can-you-be-a-buddhist-if-you-dont-believe-in-karma-and-reincarnation/).

Your inner life is where you cultivate happiness – now and in the future. If it’s true that mind endures, that the causes we create in this lifetime will ripen into effects in the future, then doesn’t it make sense to focus on long-term planning?  In the conventional world, retirement planning is the longest-term most people ever think.  Buddhists have a much wider time horizon!  If you are a Buddhist financial planner, you practice generosity in this lifetime, as the cause of wealth in the future.  Patience, to ensure you are drop-dead gorgeous!  Respect, if it is status you seek.

But better yet, bodhichitta, or the mind of enlightenment, to transcend conventional reality altogether and, while remaining in a state of abiding bliss, to be of maximum benefit to others who still believe in the world as it appears to them.

What if Buddhists have it wrong, and there is no life after this one?  What if consciousness really is nothing more than brain activity (See: Where does consciousness come from? http://davidmichie.com/blog/2016/01/28/where-does-consciousness-come-from/). The wonderful truth is that cultivating generosity, ethics and patience, and a mind of loving kindness is still the best thing you can possibly do, because these are the true cause of inner peace, here and now.

Despite our fixation, as a society, on re-arranging the externals of our lives, the truth as many psychologists attest, is that it is how we interpret reality that makes us happy or unhappy.  It’s not what’s going on out there, but how we think about it that makes us feel one thing or another.  Change our interpretation, and we change the feelings.  What’s more, as a growing bank of research studies show, it is when we practice generosity, benevolence and connection with others that we experience eudemonia, our most profound states of wellbeing.

We have no way of doing any of this unless we have some awareness of what’s going on in our minds.  So we’re back to our old friend mindfulness, and the need to cultivate it through meditation.  Our inner life is where we cultivate contentment, for this lifetime and the future. If we have no contentment within, it doesn’t matter what our external circumstances are, we cannot be happy.

This is why saying you are too busy for an inner life is a bit like saying you are too busy to be happy.

Life is short.  This opportunity is precious.  As the Dalai Lama reminds people, don’t leave this island of jewels empty handed.

(Photograph courtesy of: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02580/stressed_2580348b.jpg)

Please ‘Share’ this blog if you know others who may find it helpful.

If you would like to receive blogs from me in the future, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right hand of your screen now!

My introductory book to Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism for Busy People, can be ordered from your local bookstore or bought online.  It has different covers in different countries, but the content is the same:

BBP - Oz coverBBP US cover

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Buddhism-Busy-People-Happiness-Uncertain/dp/1559392983/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405216&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhism+for+busy+people

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Buddhism-Busy-People-Happiness-Uncertain/dp/1559392983/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405353&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhism+for+busy+people

Australia

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/buddhism-for-busy-people-by-david-michie-9781741752137/#.VxtHk49OK1s

Enlightenment to Go, an introduction to Shantiva’s famous work ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ is for readers who’d like to explore Tibetan Buddhism a little more deeply.  Again, different covers in different countries:

ETG - Australian coverETG US cover

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Enlightenment-Go-Shantideva-Compassion-Transform/dp/0861717570/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405307&sr=1-1&keywords=enlightenment+to+go

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Enlightenment-Go-Power-Compassion-Transform/dp/0861717570/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461405442&sr=8-1&keywords=enlightenment+to+go

Australia

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/enlightenment-to-go-by-david-michie-9781742372228/#.VxtH8I9OK1s

OR If you prefer to digest things in a fictional format:

DLC cover pic

The Dalai Lama’s Cat: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401940587/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d2_i3?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0T83FJJTV5TNMR5TDRA6&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2253014322&pf_rd_i=desktop

US art of purring

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Cat-Purring/dp/1401943276/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=41RbJ11U9BL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR102%2C160_&refRID=1AWKQCF80MTYC75Y90B4

Meow US cover

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Power of Meow: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Power-Meow/dp/1401946240/ref=pd_sim_14_1?ie=UTF8&dpID=51hqtNkmV4L&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR104%2C160_&refRID=0ZE2FWJW6FNWKECTBFRK

(NB Different countries sometimes have different covers, but the content is the same).

Finding it hard to let go of past hurts? A mindful perspective.

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clouds and sun2

Every one of us will experience hurt, betrayal and disappointment.  What matters is how we deal with these feelings.  As the Dalai Lama says, ‘Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.’  What he means is that although it’s impossible to avoid upsetting experiences, we do have a say about whether negative events or people continue to affect us.

Interestingly, the word ‘suffer’ comes from a Latin root meaning ‘to carry’.  Do we continue to carry around with us our bitterness or feelings of being wounded?  Or can we let go of these emotions and get on with our lives?

In my time I have been a highly successful sufferer.  For years, in my twenties, I carried with me the hurt and loss of rejection by a girlfriend.  Although I should have known better – having studied psychology – I didn’t know how to let go of what I believed to be my deep feelings for her, or the desolation that she no longer wanted to be part of my life.  My real problem was that I didn’t have the tools to deal with emotional pain.

Many of us don’t.  We may find it hard to let go of the bitterness of betrayal.  We may feel aggrieved by flagrant injustice.   Barely beneath the surface, we seethe with resentment against the person, people or system that has done this to us.

So how do we let go?  The practice of mindfulness offers several helpful perspectives.

  1. It is in our own best interests to let go

We may find it easier to let go – and, where necessary, forgive – when we recognise how much suffering we are causing ourselves by not doing so.  On some level we may know that our unhappy thoughts and feelings do not serve us well.   They rob us of the capacity to find pleasure in everyday life.  They steal our sleep, perhaps even pervade our dreams.  On a biological level, negative emotion stimulates all manner of changes to our production of hormones and neurotransmitters – none of them conducive to physical flourishing.

Meantime, the other person, people or system is unaffected by our anger or unhappiness.  Chances are, they are getting on with their own life, completely oblivious to our thoughts or feelings.

What’s more, our preoccupation is using up the only commodity that is finite – time – preventing us from focusing on more positive, useful and enjoyable activities.

We are causing only ourselves psychological and physical harm with our ongoing obsession.  It is in our own best interests to let go of what happened and move on.  This isn’t about winning or losing, or about who was right or wrong.  It’s about taking care of our own well-being.

  1. We are in charge of our own feelings

It is understandable to feel victimised when we are the one who was ruled against, violated, insulted, dumped or had some other bad thing done to us.  But it’s important to also recognise that we are the one running our own mind – not the other person.  They did what they did.  But that was then and this is now.  They are not forcing us to keep thinking about it, dwelling on it or obsessing over it.  That is our choice.

Stories constantly appear in the media about people who have been offended by slurs against the race, religion or sexual orientation with which they identify.  The chorus of outrage and condemnation that follows may be well intentioned, but it seems to me that a subject vital to our wellbeing is often completely ignored – the ownership that the offended person has of their own feelings of offence.

The reaction of two people to exactly the same abuse may be quite different.  Much will depend on the thoughts they have about the event, or how they frame it.  This will then determine how they feel.  We have a choice on how we think about what happened to us – or if we even think about it at all.  Cognitive behaviour therapy focuses on the interpretations we give to events, offering more positive, happiness-creating alternatives to the ones that cause us unhappiness.

What’s important is to recognise that we can help the way we feel – in fact, we are the only ones who can.  The meaning, importance and impact that any external event has on us is our decision.  We are in charge of our own feelings.  The last person to whom we should abdicate responsibility for our emotions is the person who inflicted the pain.

  1. Mindfulness is key to managing our feelings. 

You may be thinking “These suggestions are all very well but I have no control over what happens in my mind.  Thoughts just come and go without any involvement from me.”

So it may seem.  But when we practice mindfulness of mind (you can download both an explanation of this practice as well as a guided meditation free by signing up on the front page of this website) we begin to recognise that what goes on in our mind is not as random as may appear.  Thoughts only remain and recur because we energize them with our attention.  Our minds are as untainted by the thoughts that pass through them as the sky is by passing clouds.  Every thought we’ve ever had is temporary.  No matter how obsessed you may have been by a thought, it is not in your mind at this very moment.

The truth is that we can take control of our own mind.  Step by step, we can let go of negative cognition and bring our suffering to an end.

Learning to let go of past hurts may be difficult.  But not nearly as difficult as not learning to.

Please ‘Share’ this blog with any friends you feel may benefit from it!

Click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right of your screen now to receive future blogs from me.

You can join me on Linked In here: www.linkedin.com/in/davidmichie

You’ll find much more about the power of mindfulness of mind in my book, Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate.  Different covers in different countries, but same content

(Clouds and sun image courtesy of: http://www.lovethesepics.com/2013/02/38-great-hearts-in-nature-to-you/

USA and Canada:

US cover

http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-Better-Than-Chocolate-Distractions/dp/1615192581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461727997&sr=1-1&keywords=mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate

UK

Chocolate front cover

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Mindfulness-Better-Than-Chocolate/dp/1743319134/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461728061&sr=8-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than

Australia

Chocolate front cover

http://www.booktopia.com.au/why-mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate-david-michie/prod9781743319130.html

Spain

Chocolate - Spain cover

https://www.amazon.es/Mindfulness-Chocolate-AGUILAR-OPERACIONES-EDITOR/dp/8403014988/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461728215&sr=8-1&keywords=david+michie

Audio

I had fun narrating this:

chocolate - audio cover

http://www.booktopia.com.au/audio-books/why-mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate-david-michie/prod9781486245291.html

7 Reasons to Practice Mindfulness in Nature

ClaudiaSchnellSafaris-Lions_014

Never have humans been so dislocated from nature as we are today.  For most of our existence, whether as hunter gatherers or farmers, our lives have depended on the natural world.  Understanding the subtle signals of other animals, the cycle of the seasons and the growth of crops were an assumed part of human survival.

Compare this to what passes for a completely normal day today: 8 hours in an office, shop or industrial park, an hour or two commuting by car or train, more hours spent on TV/social media/gaming.  In a matter of just a few hundred years – the blinking of an eye in evolutionary terms – most of us have moved from creatures engrained in the very fabric of nature, to beings so profoundly disengaged that we mostly have no idea about the origins of the food we eat, clothes we wear or homes we live in.

Of course the industrial and information revolutions have delivered massive benefits.  But our rapid, collective alienation from nature and shift to our current way of life has come at a price.  A yearning to recapture elements of our more natural past are implicit in many green initiatives with their emphasis on organic, raw and whole foods, local produce, natural fibres and so on.  A wish to find balance for our hyper-agitated lifestyles is helping propel the growing interest in mindfulness and meditation.

I believe that combining mindfulness with immersion in nature offers a powerful counterbalance to the challenges of contemporary, urban living.  When we practise mindfulness in nature:

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  1. We come back to our senses – what neuroscientists call ‘direct’ mode, as opposed to the ‘narrative’ mode when we are focused on our own inner narrative. In familiar environments like our home, office, car or public transport, we are much likelier to be focused on our thoughts, slipping onto autopilot to perform routine tasks.  But moving into a natural setting we are much more likely to be tuned into what we can see, hear, smell and feel.  Sure we may get caught up in our thoughts again, but something will happen – a gust of wind, a spray of sea – and we are returned to the here and now.
  2. We are powerfully reminded of our connection to nature. Abiding in nature, the restrictive, separate self we often assume ourselves to be in everyday life, falls away from our focus.  The truth is that we are part of nature, as it is of us – only most of the time we are so distracted we don’t recognise the basic reality of our inter-connectedness.
  3. Focusing on what is happening around us, we are put back in touch with the rhythm of the natural world. Instead of the schedule, deadlines and imperatives of our 8 – 5 life, we observe the birds, animals, insects and plants operating according to the timeless principles of our own primordial past.
  4. When this happens, we find it easier simply to let go and be in the present. All else in the natural world is operating in this moment, here and now.  The observable, natural world isn’t based on ideas like ‘I’ll be happy when …’ or ‘I wish it was Friday!’  There is only this moment, now, whatever it may be.  When we are in nature, it’s easier to feel a part of the ever-changing present.
  5. It’s also easier to feel more alive. If we’re not dulled by the conflicting demands and imperatives of our work and families, or caught up in thought about the future and the past, when we can focus vividly on what is here and now, we quite naturally come to recognise the extraordinary world in which we live.  Things may not have changed, but we see them through new eyes.  There is a vitality and freshness to our subjective experience.
  6. Our awareness of the fragility of so many life forms, how their very survival hangs, moment by moment, in the balance, quite naturally awakens our compassion. Instead of focusing on the problems we personally may be facing, we cannot but become aware of the far greater existential challenges faced by other beings with whom we share the world.
  7. In so doing, we come to recognise our own extremely good fortune. With a very much broadened perspective, we return to our own lives with a fresh appreciation and feeling of gratitude for the great many things we take for granted.

If you’re interesting in joining me on Mindful Safari this year, and sitting at dawn in the rondavel pictured at the top of my blog, we have just one room left!  Go to: http://www.davidmichie.com/safari.html

David with Claudia Robin and Barb

Please ‘Share’ this blog with any friends you feel may benefit from it!

Click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right of your screen now to receive future blogs from me.

Sincere thanks for the gorgeous lion image to Claudia Schnell, who will be our host again on this year’s Mindful Safari!

You’ll find much more about the power of mindfulness of mind in my book, Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate.  Different covers in different countries, but same content

USA and Canada:

US cover

http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-Better-Than-Chocolate-Distractions/dp/1615192581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461727997&sr=1-1&keywords=mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate

UK

Chocolate front cover

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Mindfulness-Better-Than-Chocolate/dp/1743319134/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461728061&sr=8-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than

Australia

Chocolate front cover

http://www.booktopia.com.au/why-mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate-david-michie/prod9781743319130.html

Spain

Chocolate - Spain cover

https://www.amazon.es/Mindfulness-Chocolate-AGUILAR-OPERACIONES-EDITOR/dp/8403014988/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461728215&sr=8-1&keywords=david+michie

Audio

Read by me:

chocolate - audio cover

http://www.booktopia.com.au/audio-books/why-mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate-david-michie/prod9781486245291.html

 

 

The Joy of Winefulness

 Sommelier-Jane-Lopes

I practice and teach meditation.  I also enjoy wine.  White in summer, red in winter is what floats my particular boat.  I drink in moderation and only rarely over-indulge.

I have no doubt at all that mindfulness makes drinking wine very much more enjoyable.

When we are being mindful – ‘paying attention to the present moment deliberately and non-judgementally’ – we are able to extract the full intensity of any given experience.  We focus with our undivided attention.  We don’t allow ourselves to be side-tracked by cognitive chatter.  As a result, the experience is a much more vivid and all-absorbing one than if we allow ourselves to be distracted.  Neuro-scientists call it being in ‘direct’ mode when we attend directly to what we are seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and touching, as opposed to ‘narrative’ mode, when we are caught up in our thoughts.

Significantly, there is a small and elite group of people in the West who have been serious practitioners of mindfulness for well over a hundred and fifty years: sommeliers.   Their mindfulness may have been developed in relation to a specific range of objects, but it has evolved with a rigour that would impress even the strictest Eastern master.

A sommelier is expected to recognise three different elements of appearance, three of nose, and five different aspects of taste, sweetness, acidity, tannin, body, flavours (e.g. fruits, flowers, spices) and finish.  A specific wine lexicon of over 120 terms has been developed and increasingly it is the case that sommeliers must pass blindfold tests where they should differentiate, for example, between the tastes of a black current, black berry and black cherry. 

The ability to give forensic attention to something, and discern subtly-different aspects of it is the very heart of mindfulness.  And watching it in action can seem close to magic.  I was so impressed when I poured out a splash of red for a sommelier friend and, after a swirl of the glass and meditative sip he told me it was a Barossa Valley Shiraz.  I would do this a lot more often but my wife tells me off for treating him like a performing monkey.  The truth is, I am in complete awe of his skill!

While most of us will never be sommelier-level wine tasters, we can all benefit from being more mindful when drinking wine.  We appreciate each sip all the more when we really give it our full attention.  When we are aware of all the subtly-different characteristics it may have, ours is a richer, more multi-layered, and appreciative experience.

You’ll find a link here to an online document provided by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust which details different characteristics you may try to look out for when mindfully tasting wine.  It also has a very helpful list of different words in the sommelier’s lexicon:   

https://www.wsetglobal.com/media/2491/level-2-wines-sat-english-2014.pdf

Here’s a suggestion: next time you have wine-quaffing friends round for a meal, get in a couple of alternative options of the same varietal, print out the tasting notes from the bottle for them to read, and offer the options to your friends in glasses with different coloured ribbons on the stems (one of you will have to know which ribbon represents which wine).  A blind taste-test is a wonderful way to experience the joy of winefulness and a great start to the evening!

Please ‘Share’ this blog with any friends you feel may enjoy it!

Click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right of your screen now to receive future blogs from me.

(Thanks for photo of Jane Lopes, Master Sommelier, to: http://blogs.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play/2015/11/09/sommelier-jane-lopes-dishes-on-tvs-new-uncorked-reality-show/)

You’ll find much more on mindfulness in my book, Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate.  Different covers in different countries, but same content

USA and Canada:

US cover

http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-Better-Than-Chocolate-Distractions/dp/1615192581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461727997&sr=1-1&keywords=mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate

UK

Chocolate front cover

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Mindfulness-Better-Than-Chocolate/dp/1743319134/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461728061&sr=8-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than

Australia

Chocolate front cover

http://www.booktopia.com.au/why-mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate-david-michie/prod9781743319130.html

Spain

Chocolate - Spain cover

https://www.amazon.es/Mindfulness-Chocolate-AGUILAR-OPERACIONES-EDITOR/dp/8403014988/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461728215&sr=8-1&keywords=david+michie

Audio

Read by me:

chocolate - audio cover

http://www.booktopia.com.au/audio-books/why-mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate-david-michie/prod9781486245291.html

Listen to David Michie and 99 others at the Hay House World Summit

376x276-World-Summit_v1

Hi Everyone,

I was honoured to be invited by Hay House, publishers of my Dalai Lama’s Cat series, to take part in the 2016 Hay House World Summit – the largest health and wellness event in the world!

A few key points about the World Summit:

It is an online event, enabling you to access sessions with 100 experts, authors and spiritual teachers covering multiple topics including, physical, mental and emotional health, spirituality, prosperity, relationships and self-empowerment;

The event starts on 7th May, but if you register today you’ll receive 4 free audio lessons to jumpstart your learning adventure;

You can also get inspirational movies to uplift, stimulate and renew your mind, body and spirit.

You can download the Hay House World Summit Welcome Pack to help you follow through in making changes that are important to you.

If you’re struggling in choosing a lesson to listen, be sure to look at the “Choose Your Personal Growth Path” infographic to guide you to the lessons you most need to hear.

Don’t miss out on your 20-day journey to self-discovery, heath and success!

Check out the list of luminaries in the spirituality and wellbeing space via the link below!

To register, just go to: https://www.hayhouseworldsummit.com/?a=5836&c=2069&p=r

Can you be a Buddhist if you don’t believe in karma and reincarnation?

blue buddha face

I am sometimes asked this question, especially at the end of an introductory class on Buddhism.  The person asking me will usually have been struck by one of the life-enhancing insights offered by the Dharma.  Perhaps they have experienced the gentle but powerful impact that meditation has on our state of mind.  Many Buddhist teachings have a strong resonance among busy Westerners for a variety of reasons.

But karma and reincarnation?  Not so much.

It’s not at all surprising that most people struggle with these concepts.  I certainly did. Quite simply, they are not part of our culture.  The Western view, largely shaped by Christianity and materialist science, has it that when we die our souls go to heaven or hell, or alternatively that they go nowhere at all because they never existed in the first place.  The idea that some part of us continues through successive experiences of birth, ageing, death and rebirth, and has done since the beginning of time, is not our way of thinking.

After all the sane and life-enhancing wisdom of Buddhism, it may seem disappointing to drag such outlandish concepts into the picture – especially as most of us can’t remember a single thing about a previous lifetime.

Hence the question: can you be a Buddhist if you don’t believe such things.

My own response to this question is simply to ask: why do you want to be a Buddhist?  It isn’t necessary to give a label to yourself or what you do.  If you find certain things in Buddhism that are useful to you – take them.  If there are others you find weird – leave them.  The objective is not to get people to join some sort of club.  It is to offer tools to be happier.

If the idea that the consciousness of your now-deceased mother in law is currently experiencing reality as a termite in the jungles of Papua New Guinea sets you on edge, then, no problem.  On the other hand, that suggestion may be sparking a renewed interest in this Buddhist rebirth malarkey!

Karma and rebirth are core to Buddhism.  Yes, they were part of the culture in which Siddartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, grew up.  But he didn’t plod along in sheep-like acceptance of convention.  It is said that on the night he became enlightened he reviewed his own previous lives – one imagines, like fast-forwarding through a pre-recorded drama series – clearly noting the law of causality, or karma, playing out from one lifetime, or episode, to the next.

One of our biggest challenges, as Westerners, is letting go of the preconceptions we have about what exactly moves through different lifetimes.  So conditioned by both Christianity and, ironically, materialism, about this entity known as the soul, we have a tendency to think that our acquired personality, together with memories, likes and dislikes, the ego and all its kit and caboodle, are transferred wholesale from one body to the next.

This is not the Buddhist view.

Even we beginner meditators can come to recognise, after a while, that consciousness exists at different levels.  Those aspects of personality and memories, which we may have come to believe is who we truly are, turn out to be conceptual notions which come and go, with no independent existence at all.  Running behind this, all the time, we discover mind to be something more subtle: a formless continuum of clarity and cognition.  It is this very subtle consciousness that Buddhists say moves from one life to the next.

As for karma, all of us ‘believe’ in the law of cause and effect on a material level – we rely on it every time we turn the ignition key in the car, or press a light switch.  We can also observe it at a psychological level, perhaps more easily in others than ourselves, in the way that negative thinking leads to self-harmful behaviour, which in turn reinforces the negative thinking and so on, in a vicious spiral downwards.  Just as the opposite is also true.  Perhaps it is not so outlandish to suggest that causality can occur on a longer term basis, constantly propelling the formless continuum of clarity and cognition through different experiences.

Karma and rebirth are big subjects – certainly too much to deal with adequately in a short blog.  But I hope I have provided a few tools to help any readers who may have been struggling with these concepts.

Coming back to the original question, you don’t have to believe in karma and rebirth to be a regular at Buddhist classes.  But you do have to have an open mind.  My advice would be to put less helpful subjects to one side, and focus on the ones that are most useful to you at this moment in your life.  Often it is the case that as our understanding of one subject deepens, it illuminates others in a quite unexpected way.  Step by step, we discover an elegant coherence to all the teachings.

The last word on this subject goes to Buddha himself:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

(Asvaghosa’s Buddhacarita or Acts of the Buddha.)

Please ‘Share’ this blog if you know others who may find it helpful.

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My introductory book to Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism for Busy People, can be ordered from your local bookstore or bought online.  It has different covers in different countries, but the content is the same:

BBP - Oz coverBBP US cover

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Buddhism-Busy-People-Happiness-Uncertain/dp/1559392983/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405216&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhism+for+busy+people

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Buddhism-Busy-People-Happiness-Uncertain/dp/1559392983/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405353&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhism+for+busy+people

Australia

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/buddhism-for-busy-people-by-david-michie-9781741752137/#.VxtHk49OK1s

Enlightenment to Go, an introduction to Shantiva’s famous work ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ is for readers who’d like to explore Tibetan Buddhism a little more deeply.  Again, different covers in different countries:

ETG - Australian coverETG US cover

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Enlightenment-Go-Shantideva-Compassion-Transform/dp/0861717570/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461405307&sr=1-1&keywords=enlightenment+to+go

UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Enlightenment-Go-Power-Compassion-Transform/dp/0861717570/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461405442&sr=8-1&keywords=enlightenment+to+go

Australia

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/enlightenment-to-go-by-david-michie-9781742372228/#.VxtH8I9OK1s

 

Do you know your pet from a previous lifetime? Call out for stories!

rebirth puppy and kitten

The Buddhist view is that those who come into our lives, aren’t here by chance.  They are with us because of a previously created cause.  Perhaps they are drawn to us, or another family member or even where we live.  Some kind of connection, previously established, has given rise to the current effect of them being with us.

Most of us are oblivious to what that original cause may have been.  It may have been created in the very distant past, during a previous lifetime.  And the kind of relationship we had with the person or pet we currently share our life with may also have been different.  This is part of the reason why we are encouraged to treat animals with all due respect: they may have been our mother, our lover, our best friend, in a previous lifetime. 

The way we are together now is not only a result of a previously created cause.  In the way we interact we are creating the causes for future results.  Another reason to practice love and compassion: we are setting up our own experience of reality in the future.

I’ve heard of people who’ve had a strong sense that their pet is a being with whom they’ve had a previous connection.  A cat, for example, who has come back to the family as a cat once again.  Sometimes this intuition is supported by particular evidence of similarities in behaviour or other quirks.

Humans may also come back as animals.  Animals as humans.  If we allow ourselves an open mind on the permutations, we recognise just how limitless the possibilities are.  And, therefore, how important the close bonds we share with other beings in our lives, at any one moment.

I am currently writing a book about animals and spirituality from a Buddhist perspective.  I look forward to sharing much more with you on this intriguing subject when the book is published next year.

Right now I am actively interested in any personal experiences and anecdotes blog readers may like to offer, in the area of pets and reincarnation, which you’d be happy for me to include in the book.  Interesting stories of animal spirituality and human-pet interactions would also be great!  Feel free to share your story in the Comment box at the bottom of this blog, or email me directly at: david.mosaic@gmail.com

Please feel free to ‘Share’ this blog with anyone you feel may have a story, or an interest.

Click the ‘Follow’ button, at the bottom right hand side of the screen now if you’d like to receive future blogs from me.

 (Adorable picture of puppy and kitten from: http://www.dogbreedslist.info/free-dog-wallpapers/Cute-cat-and-dog-wallpaper.html#.VxBnVI9OK1s)

5 Benefits of Suffering

lotus flower

Most of us will do whatever we can to avoid suffering.  We don’t like the idea of it.  We don’t much like even the word.  Whether it’s trivial inconvenience or major life-changing suffering we want no part of it.  But the reality is that for much of our lives we experience some level of dissatisfaction.   This was Buddha’s first ‘Noble Truth’ – or as The Dalai Lama puts it, his first ‘fact of life.’

Buddhism has many ways of reframing our experience of reality, to find mental outcomes that better serve us.  What is beneficial about suffering?

When we go through a terrible experience – health, financial, legal, relationship or other problems – our empathy for others in the same situation develops quite naturally.  We really know how they feel.  We feel the same.  Because of our suffering, we can relate to them strongly, in a heartfelt way.  Our capacity for empathy deepens.

We also learn humility.  When everything is going our way, it’s easy to become so caught up in our own busy world that we may overlook or diminish the challenges faced by those who are doing it tough.  Some people even become arrogant and judgemental, perhaps believing they are somehow immune to the problems that, in time, we all must face.  When we suffer, we know the truth.  There is no place to be a big deal.  And with humility, we develop gratitude for things we may have overlooked: the kindness of friends and strangers.  The happiness to be found in everyday things.  As Cicero said ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.’

Suffering makes us stronger.  When, eventually, we get through our ordeal, we are wiser, more experienced and capable than before.  Learning from our difficulties, we don’t need to be told to avoid them in the future.  We are more confident in dealing with life’s ups and downs. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

Suffering motivates our spiritual practice.  In Buddhism, turning away from the true causes of our suffering marks the beginning of our journey of inner growth.  This is sometimes symbolised in the form of a lotus, a plant which has its root in the muddiest of swamps, but which rises to the surface of the water to blossom in flowers of the most exquisite beauty.  As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it so succinctly, ‘No mud, not lotus.’  In motivating us to transfer more of our focus from conventional reality to those practices that best serve our experience of ultimate reality, suffering propels us towards the light, and those values which are of enduring benefit to self and others.

Are you sold on suffering?  Feel like experiencing more?!  The head of the Tibetan Buddhist Society, our kind and precious teacher Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden was often visited by people seeking counsel in times of despair.  ‘Do you want my advice on how to deal with suffering?’ he would ask.

‘Oh yes, Geshe-la!’ they would sincerely reply

‘Are you quite sure?’ he used to confirm.  (For those in the know, this is a red alert from a lama: you are about to be told something you may not wish to hear, and this is your last chance to get out).

‘Quite sure, Geshe-la.’

‘Then ask for more suffering!’ he would say, bringing his palms to his heart.  ‘Please, Universe, give me more suffering and pain and misery.  Bring it on!  I want more of it!’

Of course, there is no universal donor of pain and suffering.  Rather this is a classic example of powerful, counter-intuitive, Buddhist psychology.  Transforming ourselves from a weak and enfeebled victim to someone capable of dealing with much more suffering marks a fundamental shift.  And curiously, the more insistent we are that we can take more suffering, the easier our current burden seems to be.

For more posts, click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now!  Please ‘Share’ with any friends you feel may benefit from this blog.

(Image of the lotus flower from: http://newflowerwallpaper.com/?titile=images-of-lotus-flower-and-wallpapers)

 

Do animals use telepathy to communicate? Intriguing video evidence.

nkisi

Many pet lovers have had the experience of a dog, cat, or other being appearing to know about something without having been shown it.  Or inexplicably understanding the significance of something that happened.  In some cases a persistent thought may arise in a pet-lover’s mind which, when they respond to it, seems to have been communicated by the pet himself – especially when the pet, or someone else, is in danger, or need.

The idea that animals communicate using what we call telepathy, is by no means new.  But scientists, who have traditionally dismissed both telepathy as well as animal sentience, have only just begun to investigate this intriguing phenomenon.  Many scientists would unwilling to risk the ridicule of their peers even suggesting this subject is worthy of exploration.  Fortunately for us, Cambridge-educated biologist, Rupert Sheldrake is not one of these.

Sheldrake was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge where he was Director of Studies in cell biology, and was also a Research Fellow of the Royal Society. He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California.  In recent years he has been willing to undertake properly controlled trials investigating phenomenon such as ‘Dogs that Know when their owners are coming home and other unexplained powers of animals’ – which became the title for one of his fascinating books.

More recently, he investigated the telepathic powers of an African Grey parrot called N’kisi who lives in New York City.  The 10 minute video below provides all the context you need, as well as live footage of this extraordinary experiment.  I hope you find it as intriguing as I do!

 

By the way, if you have any stories of pets who have displayed telepathic or other interesting psychic abilities, I’d be delighted to hear from you!  I am actively seeking personal anecdotes for a book I am currently writing.  Simply post your story at the end of this blog.  Or if you prefer, you can email it to me at: david.mosaic@gmail.com

If you are new to my blog and would like to follow it, please click the Yellow ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand side of your screen now!

Please ‘Share’ with anyone you think may find this blog of interest!

 

For the latest Dalai Lama’s Cat book, ‘The Power of Meow‘, go to:

USA

Meow US cover

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401946240/ref=s9_psimh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=03S3WBP1JW55NMYGZBPG&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2079475242&pf_rd_i=desktop

Australia

http://www.booktopia.com.au/search.ep?keywords=the+power+of+meow&productType=917504

Canada

http://www.amazon.ca/Dalai-Lamas-Cat-Power-Meow/dp/1401946240/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434421551&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+meow

UK

Meow - UK

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1781804079/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i3?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0ZCJSY28HG89TXR55W2H&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=577048787&pf_rd_i=desktop