David Michie reads the Prologue of ‘The Power of Meow’

Meow US cover medium

Feel like a quick taster of The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Power of Meow?

Please click below for my 4 minute reading of the Prologue.

 

If you’d like to make sure you’re among the first to get your paws on the book, I highly recommend that you pre-order from your local bookstore, or through amazon or another online retailer.  Here are some helpful links:

USA: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Power-Meow/dp/1401946240/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_z

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1781804079/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=19EP4G32J7VRPQZQ70ZY&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455333147&pf_rd_i=468294

Australia: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Power-of-Meow-David-Michie/9781781804070

NZ: http://www.fishpond.co.nz/Books/Power-of-Meow-David-Michie/9781781804070

And for a sneak peak of the Prologue and Chapter One, which I’ll be sharing in print form before publication, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now!

Global Launch of The Power of Meow!

 Meow US cover medium

I am thrilled to let you know about the global launch of The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Power of Meow!

This is the third book by the Dalai Lama’s Cat.  Official publication date is 15th June, which means the books will start shipping from online retailers, and appear on bookstore shelves, in late May.

So what is The Power of Meow all about?

In future weeks I will be blogging more.  But for now I thought I’d share the back cover description with you:

“If you ever doubted that your feline companion has her own inner life, just watch what happens when she falls asleep, and loses conscious control of her physical being … a twitching of limbs, a quivering of the jaw, sometimes, perhaps, a snuffling noise or a meow.

… Cats may indeed be capable of great mindfulness, but we are thinking beings too.  In my own case, unfortunately, a being who thinks rather too much.”

In the latest installment of the Dalai Lama’s Cat series, His Holiness’s Cat (“HHC”) is on a mission: to think less, to experience more, to live in the moment. She soon learns the proper phrase for this, being mindful, or, a concept better known to her as the power of meow. What ensues is a journey to discover her own true nature, to gain a deeper understanding of her mind, and to experience life’s greatest joy, the here and now.

Throughout, there are encounters with familiar inhabitants of Dharamsala, as well as a whole new cast of characters: a senior exec from one of Silicon Valley’s most famous social media companies (hint: the name rhymes with “litter”), the Pope’s beloved dog (who shares a shockingly similar title: HHD, His Holiness’s Dog), and a public health inspector who threatens to have our poor narrator banned from the Himalaya Book Café.

In this follow-up to the Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring, readers escape to the enchanting and exotic world of the Dalai Lama’s monastery in the Himalayas, and take a peek inside the mind of a delightfully imperfect creature on the path to enlightenment. By accompanying HHC on her journey, you will learn new ways to relate to your own mind: slowing down, finding peace, and abiding in the boundless radiance and benevolence that is your own true nature.

If you’d like to make sure you’re among the first to get your paws on the book, I highly recommend that you pre-order from your local bookstore, or through amazon or another online retailer.  Here are some helpful links:

USA: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Power-Meow/dp/1401946240/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_z

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1781804079/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=19EP4G32J7VRPQZQ70ZY&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455333147&pf_rd_i=468294

Australia: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Power-of-Meow-David-Michie/9781781804070

NZ: http://www.fishpond.co.nz/Books/Power-of-Meow-David-Michie/9781781804070

Next week I will be posting a video of me reading the Prologue of The Power of Meow.

And for a sneak peak of the Prologue and Chapter One, which I’ll be sharing in print form before publication, please click the ‘Follow’ button on my blog MEOW!

 

How pets offer the gift of mindfulness

cat comforting human - arm

My office desk overlooks a street on which people in the neighbourhood walk their dogs every day.  In the past ten years I’ve noticed a trend that saddens me.  Instead of taking their dogs for a walk as they used to, these days many people are more likely to be hunched over their phones while holding the dog’s lead.

Sure they are going through the motions of taking the dog for a walk.  But it is Dog Walk Lite.  The dog is no longer the focus of their attention.  Sometimes the poor animal seems to be an irritating distraction.  One teenage girl, forever engrossed in her screen, was always tugging her ageing Border Collie’s leash whenever he wanted to stop and sniff at something he no doubt found as arresting as whatever had her glued to her screen.

As a society, I wonder if we are forgetting how to be present with our pets?  How to honour the fact that they are sentient beings too?  How, just like us, they may seek happiness, excitement, new things, novelty.  How, unlike us, much of the time their freedom of movement is constrained – for a dog, going for a walk may be his or her only opportunity to engage with the broader world that day.

In our homes, screens of one sort or another also distract us as never before.  We are allowing virtual interactions to rob us of real interactions with sentient beings whose world is wholly dependent on ours.  Beings with all too brief lifespans.

That teenage girl I mentioned has been walking the collies since she was quite young.  My wife and I know her family.  One of the collies died a few years ago.  Last month, having not seen her out for a while, I bumped into her father who said that the remaining dog had died.  I felt so sorry for the dog and the missed opportunities especially of those final, precious walks on earth.  I felt sorry for the girl, and what she’d missed out on too.

For if we let them, our pets can be the most delightful reminders to be present in this moment.  Here and now.  To let go of whatever thoughts are preoccupying us.  To focus our attention on our animal companion and, to whatever extent we are able, experience the world through them.  It’s hard not to smile when watching a dog bounding across an open space of parkland with self-evident joy.  Or to be touched by a sleepy cat purring appreciatively while being stroked.  The image at the top of this blog was posted by someone online after a relationship break-up: it felt to them like their cat had picked up on their mood and was offering comfort.  Why not be open to the love and compassion we can discover in each moment, whatever our species?

Neuro-scientists refer to ‘direct’ mode when we pay attention directly to our senses, as opposed to ‘narrative’ mode when we’re caught up in our own inner narrative or thoughts.  Unsurprisingly, there is a powerful and positive correlation between being in direct mode and being happy.

You might say that our pets not only provide us with opportunities to be mindful.  In so doing, they also offer us the gift of happiness.  The only question is, how open are we to receiving it?

Some tips for practising mindfulness with pets:

  1. When you take the dog for a walk, leave the phone at home – or if you have the discipline, in your pocket.
  2. Set aside at least two or three ten minute sessions each day as dedicated pet time, to spend stroking the tummies, scratching the necks or otherwise enjoying the company of whatever animals you share your life with.
  3. When preparing food for your pet, don’t do it on autopilot. Think ‘By this practice of generosity, may I be creating the direct cause for (NAME OF PET) to be well-nourished, healthy and happy and to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings’).
  4. Similarly, when cleaning up any pet mess, transform it into a positive experience through mindfulness. Think ‘By this practice of purification, may I be creating the direct cause for (NAME OF PET) to be healthy, happy and to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings’).
  5. Never take your pet’s presence for granted. His or her life is short.  Death may strike at any moment.  Show your pet love and appreciation each and every day.

 david talking to zuma after feeding feb 14

 (Talking to Zuma, the baby Kangaroo at http://www.pentlandalpacafarm.com.au/about_farm.html)

(Image of comfort cat from: http://www.reddit.com/r/aww/comments/1a314e/cat_trying_to_comfort_me_after_a_break_upat_least/)

I’ll be blogging more about mindfulness and Buddhist insights into our relationships with animals.  To receive future blogs, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right side of the screen now!

Please ‘Share’ this blog with anyone you feel may benefit from it.

For more on mindfulness:

Australia, UK and Kindle edition:

Chocolate front cover

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-ebook/dp/B00J4ZNOHI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416540553&sr=1-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate 

USA edition:

 

US cover

http://theexperimentpublishing.com/catalogs/spring-2015/mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate/

Read the first chapter of ‘Buddhism for Busy People’ here!

 

 

cat on balcony city cropped

 

The first book I wrote about Buddhism was called Buddhism for Busy People. That was over ten years ago, when there weren’t many books providing an introduction to the key concepts in Tibetan Buddhism.  Buddhism for Busy People is also a very personal account, relating my own encounter with Buddha’s teachings (the Dharma), why they resonated and how they began to change my life.

I’m delighted to say that over ten years later the book is still in print and widely available, and I still get wonderful emails from readers who have discovered that the Dharma resonates with them too.  I thought it was about time I shared the first chapter here on my blog.  Enjoy!

 

Chapter One: What does it take to be happy?

What does it take to be happy?  Of every question in the world, this is the most universal.  It is also the great leveler because all of us – comfortably off or financially struggling, single or in a relationship, awkwardly overweight or elegantly slim – are equal in our desire to achieve true happiness.  Not the happiness we’ve all experienced which comes and goes depending on circumstance, but a happiness which endures, regardless of change.  A happiness we feel deep down inside.

By any objective standard, our efforts to attain this simple goal have met with decidedly mixed results.  As a society we now enjoy a level of affluence that would have left our grandparents breathless – but our medicine cabinets have never been so replete with sedatives, tranquillizers and antidepressants to cocoon us from our new, ‘improved’ reality.  We have at our disposal an unprecedented range of labour-saving technology – but nor have we ever had to work such long hours.  We are succeeding in the cosy notion of creating a global village – but never have we felt so under siege from international terrorism, volatile stock markets, viral infections and other threats.  And so the list of paradoxes continues.

On an individual basis our striving for happy, purposeful lives often doesn’t fare much better.  Money, relationships and fulfilment in work are the core ingredients of most people’s recipes of happiness, but if we were to send in the Happiness Auditors to check up on their effectiveness, could they really withstand close scrutiny?

Successive studies of lottery winners, for example, show that within months of multi-million dollar wins, happiness levels return pretty much to where they were before.  Amazingly adaptable creatures that we are, we adjust to new conditions so quickly that what was once fabulous, soon becomes the norm, and we’re back where we started in search of fresh excitement.  Even when we do achieve that much sought-after promotion, that big-ticket deal, that amazing breakthrough, all too often we are mystified to discover that we fail to experience the wonderful feelings we’d always thought we would.  ‘Is this all?’ we find ourselves wondering.

As for relationships we don’t have to look very far to recognize just how swiftly that first, giddying rush of romantic intensity matures into something very much more complicated.

Yet somehow we manage to convince ourselves that it’s not the recipe that’s at fault – it’s the ingredients we’re working with.  If only we were to land this particular job or contract, the difference would be life-changing.  That man or woman is just so right that life with them would transport us to a state of great bliss.  The fact that we once entertained similar thoughts about our now very-ex partner is not a subject we like to think about.  Or if we do we have an outstanding ability to convince ourselves that this time it will all be completely different!

A Practical Alternative

Having spent my adult life in corporate public relations, my own search for happiness has been a busy one.  On the career treadmill working crazy hours, juggling a dozen balls, experiencing the full spectrum of emotions from the pumping adrenalin of triumph to the desperate wish that the world would stop, I am all too familiar with the relentless striving to succeed.  The wearying knowledge that no matter how far you go, there is always so much further.

But it has also been my enormous good fortune to have encountered Tibetan Buddhism.  To have discovered a practical alternative.  This book explains how profound and lasting happiness can be achieved according to this ancient tradition.  It is also an unashamedly personal account of how Buddhist teachings have helped me infuse my day-to-day life with greater meaning and how they are transforming my understanding about what really counts.

Personal though this particular account may be, it is written with the certain knowledge that there is nothing at all unique about my experience.  Scratch out corporate public relations and replace it with any other form of busy-ness and the story for most of us is a variation on the same theme: too much to do, too little time to do it in, and an underlying recognition that despite our best endeavours, we don’t appear to be living life to our full potential.

It is also true that by integrating various practices into my life, I have benefited from results which are by no means unique either.  And still do, every single day.

If, like me, you have a tendency to take yourself altogether too seriously, beating yourself up when things don’t go according to plan;  if you feel your chances of happiness are undermined by circumstances beyond your control; if you would like to be a kinder, more generous person, but your heart has been cauterised by hurt and fear; if you would, quite simply, like to experience a sense of meaning beyond ‘another day, another dollar,’ you may well find in Buddhism, practices which are truly transforming.

Re-arranging not the externals, but the internals

What, you might ask, can a tradition developed in a remote oriental fiefdom two and a half thousand years ago possibly teach Western man in the twenty first century about happiness?

As it happens, one of the most amazing paradoxes of all is that the Tibetan Buddhist approach could have been developed with busy Westerners specifically in mind.  In the finest empirical form, it represents an approach to the human condition based on an unflinching analysis of the facts. It provides tried and tested practices set out in clearly defined steps to lead us from our current mental state to greater happiness and, ultimately, enlightenment.

As far as Buddhism is concerned, our attempts to re-arrange the externals of our lives – money, relationships, careers – can only ever result in temporary satisfaction.  The reason being that all such attempts don’t take into account the only constant in life: change.  Even if we do get things the way we want them, inevitably something will come along to upset our plans.

This doesn’t mean we should give up on happiness.  Instead, we should adopt a more effective strategy.  Such a strategy was eloquently stated by the Buddhist sage Shantideva:

 Where would I possibly find enough leather

With which to cover the surface of the earth?

But wearing leather just on the soles of my shoes

Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.

Instead of the impossible task of trying to control our whole environment, the Buddhist philosophy is to take control of the way we experience that environment – in our mind.  Our objective is to re-arrange not the externals, but the internals.  To identify our habitual, negative patterns of thinking, and replace them with more positive alternatives.  To change not the world, but the way we experience it.

‘Which is all very well,’ you may be thinking, ‘but if you had to live/work/sleep with the children/boss/husband I do, no amount of mental gymnastics is going to change things.’

So it may seem.  But even in the most difficult circumstances, change is possible.  It is for this very reason that one of the best recognised symbols of Buddhism is the lotus, a plant which, though rooted in the filth of the swamps, rises to the surface as a flower of the most extraordinary beauty.

A practice-based psychology

How is such transcendence achieved?  Not through hoping, or wishing, but by engaging in well-established practices which, for thousands of years, have been shown to deliver successful results.

‘What do Buddhists believe?’ is a question often asked.  Because belief lies at the heart of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the assumption is that Buddhism too is founded on belief and that Shakyamuni Buddha is the Buddhist equivalent of Jesus or Mohammed.

In fact, Buddhism works according to a completely different model.  Buddhists do not worship Buddha, but regard him instead as an example of what we can all achieve if we quite literally put our minds to it.  Buddhism suggests no ultimate divinity who will make things better, but instead provides us with the mental software we need to make things better for ourselves – and, of course, others.

The sub-title of this book ‘Finding happiness in an uncertain world’ refers to a deliberate process.  If we wish to learn the piano or improve our golf game, we know it isn’t good enough simply to own the right equipment.  We have to learn how to use it, step by step, practicing relevant techniques until we achieve a level of mastery.  So it is with our minds, where the effects of Buddhist practices are observable, repeatable and measurable.

 A Path of Happiness

Where does one begin finding out about this path which is both ancient and advanced, practical and transcendent, radical and profoundly reassuring?  Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have given 84,000 teachings during his lifetime, but it is our very good fortune that the essence of these were distilled by Atisha, one of the most important teachers who took Buddhism from India to Tibet.  Atisha’s instructions are known as Lam Rim, which translates approximately as ‘the Path to Enlightenment.’  Within Tibetan Buddhism there are a number of different schools, each with their own particular emphasis and terminology.  While some attach greater importance to Lam Rim as a text than others, the teachings contained within it are precious to them all.

This book provides an introduction to these core teachings.  It does not pretend to be a comprehensive explanation, which is already available in a number of different books, including the superlative volume by my own teacher, Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden.  At this point it’s also important to say that, as the author, I am in no way claiming to be a ‘professional’ – that is, a teacher, lama or monk.  It is for that very reason that I hope this book may be useful to the busy people it is aimed at – because I am a busy person too.

In telling my own story as a very typical busy person, outlining the Lam Rim teachings and how they help me, it is my heartfelt wish that you will find in this book something you can relate to, something of value.  Perhaps some concepts or techniques will strike you as useful, while others may seem less so.  And that’s fine.  Buddhism is very much more ‘À La Carte’ than ‘Set Menu’.  Take those practices which work for you as an individual, where you are now, and leave the others to one side.

Because this is a personal account, it involves real people.  For that reason, in order not to compromise their privacy, I have changed some names.  But rest assured I have taken no fictional license with the Lam Rim.

Explaining Buddhist teachings, or the Dharma as they are collectively known, is rather like trying to describe a richly embroidered tapestry in terms of the separate threads from which it is woven.  The inter-relations are such that it’s difficult to unravel one thread without referring to others.  My hope is that whether you are completely new to Buddhism, or are already familiar with Lam Rim, you may find in the teachings I quote fresh sources of illumination.

Enlightenment can seem a far way off – most of us can only guess at what it means.  But Lam Rim is also the path to happiness, and that’s something we can understand better.  Not the short-lived, worldly happiness we have all felt, and lost, so many times throughout our lives, but an enduring and heart-felt serenity.  A sense of meaning which goes beyond narrow self-interest to encompass the well-being of all those around us.  An experience of our ultimate nature as pristine, boundless and beyond death.

For it is Buddha’s promise that, like the lotus, our destiny is a future radiance beyond anything we might presently conceive, as we rise above the swamp to achieve the supreme bliss of transcendence.

If you’d like to receive future blogs, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now.

Please ‘Share’ this blog with anyone you think may find it helpful.

(Source of the cat finding balance on a city balcony rail: http://www.hdwallpaperpc.com/show-wallpaper/cat_at_night_Night_balcony_window_city_light_photography_awesome_125748.html)

 

Buddhism for Busy People is available from most online retailers in print, electronic and audio formats.  These include from the following:

In Australia:

http://www.booktopia.com.au/buddhism-for-busy-people-david-michie/prod9781741752137.html

BBP - Oz cover

BBP audible

In USA and UK:

http://www.amazon.com/Buddhism-For-Busy-People-Happiness/dp/1559392983/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1ZH427SPWG9CET8WNXYJ

 

 

 

BBP audibleBBP US cover

The amazing thing most people never discover about themselves

Beautiful-Ocean2

I am often struck by what I think is one of life’s greatest paradoxes:  even though our entire experience of reality depends on our mind, most people have no idea what mind actually is.

Everything we perceive, think and feel arises only with mind’s participation.  That being the case, wouldn’t it be useful to have a good working knowledge of our minds?

There are reasons why some people may feel they can’t answer this question.  Those with religious convictions may believe that probing too deeply into the nature of mind is trespassing onto church ground.  ‘What is mind?’ becomes a matter of faith, rather than something to which there is a definitive answer.

Other people may think this question is the preserve of professionals.  Unless you have the right postgraduate degree in psychiatry or neuroscience, you can’t possibly answer it.

In the West, where our cultural focus has traditionally been on the objective nature of matter, it was not until the very recent past that mind was considered a valid subject of scientific enquiry.  In particular, only in the last 20 years have we developed technology sophisticated enough to measure changes in neural activity, and a broader quantum model that helps account for the nature of consciousness.

In the East, where the cultural focus was traditionally on the subjective nature of consciousness, the smartest minds were engaged in a rigorous process involving hundreds of thousands of hours of disciplined observation, analysis, and testing of hypotheses.  One of the great joys of being alive in the early twenty first century is witnessing the convergence of east and west, ancient and contemporary, outer and inner, in moving towards a holistic understanding of mind.

Can a definition of mind be usefully outlined in a short blog?  Of course not.  But it doesn’t have to be!  The truth is that conceptual explanations are of very limited value.  If I was to tell you that chocolate is sweet, that it comes in a variety of flavours, and that initially hard, it melts in your mouth, my description would be accurate enough.  But it wouldn’t even begin to convey the deliciousness of chocolate.  The best way to find out what chocolate is like is by experiencing it.

Ditto the mind.  The practices developed by meditation experts over millennia guide us to discover the true nature of mind, not as concept or idea, but as a non-conceptual reality.  This is the ultimate purpose of meditation.  Empowered to experience our own consciousness directly, many people find, in those first glimpses of the pure nature of mind, an extraordinary truth. We discover for ourselves that our mind is innately tranquil and radiant.  That it is infinite, with no beginning and no end. That far from being some existential void, it is imbued with the most profound, happiness-giving qualities.

We observe that the thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves and others, which pervade our mind for so much of the day, are mere cognitive activity – weather passing across the sky of mind.  It can be hugely liberating to experience the reality that we are not our thoughts and feelings.  Our ultimate nature goes way above and beyond them.

What’s more, we experience the paradox that even though we set out to explore our mind, the result is as much a feeling as it is a perception. An experience beyond concept and for which words are therefore wholly inadequate, but that may be hinted at using such terms as ‘oceanic,’ ‘peaceful’ and ‘benevolent.’  This isn’t some religious experience or ecstatic emotional high.  It’s described by meditators from all backgrounds, secular and religious.

So often meditation is sold as a tool for stress-busting, pain management, healing, an alternative to anti-depressants … so the list goes on.  Yes, it does all of these things.  In spades!  The reason it does is because it gently brings our body-mind continuum into a state of coherence.  In that state, the primordial nature of our own mind becomes apparent.

Even the briefest experience of mind is life-changing, because when we can free ourselves from the agitation or dullness that pervades our consciousness and encounter our own true nature, if only momentarily, we can never go back to believing ourselves to be nothing more than a bag of bones. We have experienced a dimension of being that transcends all our usual ideas of self.  We have come home.

To read future blogs about this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now!

Please ‘Share’ if you find this blog helpful.

If you’d like to explore this further, you’ll find free guided downloads when you ‘Sign Up’ on the home page of this website: I recommend you listen to the introduction to mind watching mind meditation, then try out the guided meditation itself.

Enjoy!

I have written much more on this subject in my latest book, Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate:

Australia, UK and Kindle edition:

Chocolate front cover

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-ebook/dp/B00J4ZNOHI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416540553&sr=1-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate 

USA edition:

 

US cover

http://theexperimentpublishing.com/catalogs/spring-2015/mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate/

(Photo source: http://www.toppicturespost.com/2014/11/25/beautiful-ocean-pictures/)

 

 

 

Who was your pet in a previous lifetime? Tibetan Buddhist wisdom

 Cat Queen

Like most people who spend time around cats, the superior attitude of some of my feline friends has often made me wonder who they were in a previous lifetime.  Princess Wussik, the inspiration for The Dalai Lama’s Cat, frequently reminded us where we stood in the overall scheme of things.  Delighted to find a new flavour of food that met with Her Majesty’s approval, we’d no sooner have stocked up with half a dozen cans of it, than she would sniff at a newly-presented plate of the stuff and stalk away, ears pressed firmly back and tail slashing the message ‘You expect me to eat that?!’

Lying on the runner, as I walked past, taking care not to disturb her, she’d reach out and clip me about the ankle – as if I’d somehow neglected to pay her the homage which was her due.  And even though she had wonky legs – just like His Holiness’s Cat – she wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a courtyard full of people with the confident expectation that guests would make way for her, and someone would obligingly pick her up to offer a morsel of whatever food was on offer.  I made it my business to ensure that our Princess’s expectations were fully satisfied.

Little Wussik was equally capable of the utmost cuteness.  There were many moments when I had no doubt at all we had a very special bond.  It’s the kind of bond which most people with pets sense in an innate and heartfelt way.  The kind of bond which makes us wonder how on earth this little creature came into our life.  Was it just a chance event that saw us bring this particular cat, dog, parrot or other being home?  Or was there some other reason?

There are three models to describe reality.  One is that your subjective experience of reality is essentially random.  The second is that you experience things because a divine power makes or allows you to experience them.  The third is that your experience of reality is determined by cause and effect.  This third model accords with the Buddhist view of karma.  The implications, when it comes to the pets in your life, is that you do not share your life with theirs by chance.

From a Buddhist perspective, we all possess subtle consciousness, and this consciousness has been with us since the beginning of time.  (You’ll find blogs describing how subtle consciousness survives death at http://davidmichie.com/blog/2014/12/23/life-after-death-the-tibetan-buddhist-view/).  To quote the Dalai Lama: ‘Over the billions of lifetimes that we have experienced since beginningless time, we have known all the living beings again and again.  Sometimes they have been parents to us, sometimes friends or mates, sometimes enemies.  Without exception, each of them has been even a mother to us again and again, performing the kindnesses of a mother.  How can we be indifferent to them?’ (The Dalai Lama, Path to Enlightenment, Snow Lion, page137).

This perspective challenges the usual way we view other beings – human and animal – as mostly strangers, with much smaller circles we regards as friends, acquaintances, and those we find difficult or dislike.  Seeing all beings as our mother from a previous lifetime provides the basis of a more compassionate, open-hearted attitude.

Why are some beings closer to us than others?  Because our karmic link with them is stronger.  Perhaps they were our mother, brother or daughter in our very last lifetime.  Or even this lifetime. Far more interesting than the amusing possibility that your cat may have been Marie Antoinette or Queen Elizabeth I, what if she was your partner, husband or best friend?

If you accept the notion of karma, one thing is for sure: the fact that a particular pet is in your life is not by chance.  And now that you’re in a position of power, the way you handle it will determine the future nature of your relationships.  With compassion and wisdom, you can use this power to the very best effect, benefiting not only the well-being of your animal companions but, in so doing, determining the quality of your own close relationships in the future.

I will be blogging more about the nature of consciousness – human and other – in future weeks.  To get these blogs, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now!

The gorgeous image of Queen Elizabeth 1st as a cat comes courtesy of: http://www.christinahess.com/index.html

For a cats-eye view of core Buddhist concepts, you make like to read The Dalai Lama’s Cathttp://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-David-Michie/dp/1401940587/ref=pd_sim_b_1

Please ‘Share’ this blog with anyone you feel may benefit from it.

DLC cover pic

How to be with your pet during the death process: Tibetan Buddhist practices

cat at sunset cropped

As animal lovers, the loss of our pet is something we dread.  My wife and I have gone through this very recently, with the death of our much-loved cat, Mambo.  Tibetan Buddhist insights and practices can do a lot, however, to transform the way we experience this event – and, far more importantly, how our pet experiences it.

A major shift occurs when we view what is happening from the perspective of our pet’s spiritual journey, rather than from our own understandable wish to cling to our beloved friend forever.  As animal lovers it is a joy, as well as our responsibility, to help our pets onto a happy mental trajectory in life.  And, given the importance of death as a time of transition, one of the greatest blessings we can give them is a peaceful and positive death.

BEFORE DEATH

When our pets are in good health, the best thing we can do for them is to help them avoid creating negative karma.  It is difficult to give generic advice about how, for example, to curb a cat’s instinctive predatory behaviour except by making sure the cat is well fed, content and, if necessary, entertained.  It is up to us to get to know our animal companions as well as we’re able and help however we can.

If you have a leaning towards Buddhism, it’s also very useful to create a positive association in your pet’s mind between Buddhist images/statues/mantras and a state of well-being.  Murmuring mantras to your purring cat as you stroke her is an example of this – Om mani padme hum is one such mantra.  Or if you are inclined to Tara practice – Om tare tuttare ture soha.

If you meditate regularly, there’s a good chance that your pet will want to join you.  Let them.  There’s plenty of research showing that animals’ perceptive abilities are, in certain respects, far more sensitive than humans’.  If they are able to associate the practice of meditation with a positive state of being, so much the better.

From a Buddhist perspective, whether we are human or animal, we are constantly creating the causes for future effects, positive or negative.  The more we are able to help our pet create imprints for a disposition towards enlightened actions, the better.

THE DEATH PROCESS

When we are losing someone we love, whether human or animal, it is important to ‘get over ourselves’ and focus on the wellbeing of the one who is dying.  If we really love them, we should be trying to put aside our own feelings of grief and loss and do all we can to help them have a painless, peaceful and even positive death experience.

Pain management – This is a priority.  Whatever palliative care we’re able to provide via the vet or otherwise, we should try to keep our pet out of as much physical discomfort as possible.

No wailing – We may be heartbroken about losing our close companions, but it’s important not to upset them.  Animals also know what is happening to them.  Dogs break away from the pack.  Cats go off to hide under the house.  There is nothing positive from their perspective if the people on whom they are completely dependent start behaving unpredictably.  It’s much better to focus on what’s best for our pet, not on our own feelings of attachment.

I have heard animal communicators say that it’s important to communicate from your heart that, sad as you are, your friend is free to move on and you will be alright.  This is not a Buddhist teaching, but it certainly supports the view that the needs of our dying companion should be uppermost at this difficult time.

Peaceful and positive – If we are able to provide those last few cuddles, whisper those last few mantras, sit for those last meditations, this is what we can do to help give our pet a peaceful death.  Provide positive imprints.  Help prepare them in the best possible way for the inevitable.

Euthanasia – In a short blog it’s not possible to debate all the considerations of euthanasia.  I doubt that readers of this blog are among the group of people who would choose to euthanize a pet that can still enjoy a good quality of life.  We don’t want our pet to suffer, but nor should we be in a hurry to short-cut the process.  Dying is natural.  It has its time and place.  We need to give our pet time to come to terms with what is happening to him/her.  Some Buddhists take the view that euthanasia may only postpone the suffering which a being has the karma to experience.  My personal opinion is that we should only look to euthanasia when all other options have been exhausted, when there is only one outcome to which our friend is heading, when all our goodbyes have been said and when, if we were to change places, we would seek this for ourselves.

AFTER DEATH

The Buddhist view is that subtle consciousness can remain in a bardo or intermediary state, between death and rebirth, for a period lasting from moments until up to seven weeks.

After the death of loved one, we are encouraged to continue focusing on the well-being of that loved one in the bardo state, rather than on our own sense of loss.  You don’t need to be a therapist to see how attending to the well-being of others supports much greater equanimity than by focusing on our own bereavement.  There are also a few very practical things we can do.

Make offerings – While it is not possible for karma or virtue to be removed or donated by a third party, it is possible to influence those with whom we have a strong karmic connection.  Like our beloved pet.  By making an offering of any kind, such as feeding birds, giving to charity, or donating blood, and self-consciously offering the merit of such actions to the benefit of our recently-deceased pet, our actions can have a positive impact on their experience of the bardo realms.

For example, we may repeat the affirmation in our mind:

By this act of generosity/love/compassion/kindness

May NAME OF PET enjoy positive conditions,

High rebirth, happiness and peace,

May he/she meet the perfect teacher,

And quickly attain perfect enlightenment

For the benefit of all living beings without exception.

We can continue to make offerings throughout the seven week period, in particular on every weekly anniversary of their death, when the greatest shifts in the bardo state occur.

Dharma practice – For Buddhists, the greatest of offerings are not material, but Dharma practice.  We can also dedicate our meditation, sadhanas or whatever spiritual practice we engage in, as a direct cause for our pet to enjoy positive conditions and ultimate enlightenment.

Not forgetting – In the bardo realms, free of physical constraint, it is said that our subtle consciousness/energy is capable of moving anywhere very rapidly and perceiving anything – a form of clairvoyance.  This includes the ability to return to where we lived.  For this reason, for seven weeks after the death of a loved one, it is considered helpful to show that they are not forgotten.  In the case of our cat, Mambo, we have left out his dry biscuits and water bowl, his favourite brush, and his litter tray.  It is no inconvenience to us, and on the off-chance he should make a visit, he will see everything the way he was used to.

After seven weeks, all bardo beings have moved onto their next experience of reality.  From a practical point of view, this means we can clear away our pet’s things.  From an emotional point of view, it brings to an end a natural period of mourning.  Our pet has moved on, and so must we.

Summary

Tibetan Buddhism gives us practical tools to help us manage the death of a loved one, whether human or animal.  Much of the unhappiness surrounding death arises from our quite natural sense of loss.  But we do have a choice.  By focusing on our loved one’s consciousness as it moves from one realm of experience to the next, we are able to cope with the death of our pet with greater compassion, wisdom, purpose and equanimity.

I will be writing more about animal consciousness and connecting with our pets, from a Buddhist perspective, in future months.  If you’d like to receive these blogs, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now!

You will find other insights, including those about the death process in:

US art of purring

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401943276/ref=s9_psimh_gw_p14_d5_i4?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=1D34DGHENE4JM3YM154W&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=1970559082&pf_rd_i=desktop

The beautiful photo above of a silhouetted cat at sunset courtesy of: http://n-scapephotography.deviantart.com/art/Sunset-Cat-Silhouette-293810999

Photo below: Mambo in one of his favourite spots: Pappa’s office wingchair!

Please ‘Share’ this blog via the social media buttons if you know people – and their pets – who would benefit from it.

 

By sharing the Dharma in this blog

May Mambo enjoy positive conditions,

High rebirth, happiness and peace,

May he meet the perfect teacher,

And quickly attain perfect enlightenment

For the benefit of all living beings without exception.

Mambo on wingchair 440

Does meditating slow ageing? What science says.

monk reading text with cat - Le Chat

Many factors that affect the ageing process.  But a growing body of scientific research shows how the very gentle practice of meditation can have a powerful impact.

A few highlights:

Biological age 12 years less than chronological age

One of the earliest studies was conducted by Dr Robert Keith Wallace, whose findings were published in the International Journal of Neuroscience in 1982.   Dr Wallace explored the impact of Transcendental Meditation practice on a number of biological markers of ageing.  These included measuring DHEA levels in people’s blood.  DHEA is the only hormone known to decrease directly with age.  It helps protect us from heart disease, helps fight bacteria and viruses and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties – critical in the prevention of many illnesses including arthritis, osteoporosis and certain cancers.

Dr Wallace found that people who had been practising meditation for more than 5 years, had  biological markers 12 years younger than their chronological age.  In other words, a 55 year old meditator had DHEA levels and other markers of a 43 year old.

Separate studies conducted by Dr Vincent Giampapa also show how meditation can dramatically increase levels of melatonin, serotonin and DHEA when people start to meditate, at the same time as reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (http://www.project-meditation.org/community/learn-how-you-can-benefit-project-meditation/26-longevity-beneficial-hormones-released-during-meditation.html)

Telomerase activity 33% higher

A research team led by Dr Clifford Saron of the University of California Davis Centre for Mind and Brain explored the multiple impacts of meditation during a three month retreat in 2007 guided by meditation teacher and author B Alan Wallace.  This was called the Shamatha Project.  Among the many intriguing findings was the impact of meditation on telomerase.

Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres, the sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that tend to get shorter every time a cell divides. When telomeres drop below a critical length, the cell can no longer divide properly and eventually dies, so telomere length is an indicator of cell longevity.

The Shamatha Project showed that telomerase activity was about 33% higher in the white blood cells of the meditators who took part in the retreat than in control groups.  As Dr Saron observed: ‘Meditation may improve a person’s psychological well-being and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells.  Activities that increase a person’s sense of well-being may have a profound effect on the most fundamental aspects of their physiology.’ (http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/labs/Saron/lab-news/The%20Shamatha%20Project.pdf)

 

Meditation slows genetic ageing and enhances genetic repair

Separate work undertaken by a team led by Australian Nobel Prize-winning researcher Elizabeth Blackburn has shown that meditation may slow genetic ageing and enhance genetic repair.  A summary of this work published in 2011 says that ‘some forms of meditation may have salutary effects of telomere length by reducing cognitive stress and stress arousal and increasing positive states of mind and hormonal factors that may promote telomere maintenance.’ (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057175/)

Summary

Meditation is not only psychologically beneficial.  Beneath the threshold of our awareness it creates profound and highly beneficial changes in our physical functioning.  These changes include the hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes our bodies produce.  While research in this field is still relatively new, and scientists can’t yet make  any definitive statements, the evidence so far shows a variety of inter-related ways in which meditation reduces stress, slows ageing and promotes a longer – and more contented – life.

If you’d like to receive more blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right hand of your screen now!

You’ll find a lot more about the multiple impacts of meditation on body and mind in my latest book:

Australia, UK and Kindle edition:

Chocolate front cover

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-ebook/dp/B00J4ZNOHI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416540553&sr=1-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate 

USA and Canada:

 

US cover

http://theexperimentpublishing.com/catalogs/spring-2015/mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate/

 

The wonderful photo used to illustrate this story is from: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Le-Chat-Photographe/144937935616553?fref=ts

Create more space in your life without changing what you do

 

One of the most stress-inducing ideas, when we’re crazy busy, is the one that we just don’t have time to relax.  We’d love to push back for a while.  In fact, we’re desperate for it.  But we put the idea out of our mind because we’ve still got a pile of work to get through, and there just isn’t any opportunity for downtime.

Except that there is.

The good news is that to create a sense of space in your life you don’t always have to change what you do.  What you can change is how you do it.

The true cause of stress is to be found within the self-talk or rumination that runs through our mind.  Neuro-scientists call this ‘narrative’ mode.  It includes all those heart-pounding, stomach-churning thoughts about deadlines, demands, and problems involving such things as relationship, financial, health, legal or other matters.

There is another mode called ‘direct,’ which is when we pay direct attention to what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching.  We are in direct mode when we are, for example, listening very attentively to music, or completely focused on the person we’re with.

When we spend time in direct mode, we are, by necessity, not in narrative mode.  And the more time we spend in direct mode, the less play-time available for negative cognition.  This has the effect of diminishing the impact of unhappy thoughts, as well as providing our minds with the raw material for more positive cognition.  In short, whatever is stressing us out seems less overwhelming.  We achieve a more balanced perspective.

There are very real benefits from learning to spend more time in direct mode, and less absorbed in negative self-talk.  But how can you create as many direct mode opportunities in your day without changing your schedule?  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Showering/bathing – Instead of a whole lot of random rumination, achieving nothing except a feeling of stress, try to shower or bath mindfully.  The sensation of water on the skin and scalp, the scent of soap, the warm feeling on your body from the hot water – practice focusing on these instead of slipping into negative cognition.

Commuting/driving – You may have to spend part of your commute attending to work messages.  But do you really need to check social media updates, play online games or listen to the radio?  Try some quiet time instead.  If you commute, get a free guided meditation download by signing up on the Home page of my website and spend 10 minutes focusing on your breath.  If you drive, try to focus simply on driving and breathing.  Even a two minute period on public transport can be an opportunity for a two minute meditate.  (My CDs, Cool Calm and Commuted and Mindfulness for Manic Motorists are designed for precisely these occasions).

Drinking coffee – Perhaps you regularly buy a barista-made coffee?  If so, how about drinking it mindfully?  Really savour every mouthful of the coffee, the mixture of tastes – nuttiness, creaminess, richness, toastiness.  Take a forensic interest.

Washing dishes/ironing clothes/routine chores – Most of us have to do a whole pile of routine chores, which we usually conduct on autopilot while spending our time thinking about something else.  How about focusing on the task in hand?  Treating what we do as a meditative experience – an opportunity to focus on the detail of this moment, here and now?

These are just a few ideas.  But you get the picture.  By reframing everyday activities – even toilet breaks – as opportunities for mindfulness, we can significantly alter the balance of narrative vs direct mode.  Without changing what we do, by changing the way we do it, we have the capacity to change the soundtrack in our minds and to create the subjective experience of greater space, peace and well-being.

If you’d like to receive more blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right hand of your screen now!

I have written a lot more about the nature of mind in my latest book:

Australia, UK and Kindle edition:

Chocolate front cover

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-ebook/dp/B00J4ZNOHI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416540553&sr=1-1&keywords=why+mindfulness+is+better+than+chocolate 

USA and Canada:

 

US cover

http://theexperimentpublishing.com/catalogs/spring-2015/mindfulness-is-better-than-chocolate/

Are Buddhists non-theists or atheists – and what’s the difference?

HHDL in St Stephen's Cathedral

Buddhism is a non-theistic tradition, meaning that it does not involve a belief in God.  The focus of Buddhism is on the nature of mind.  What concerns Buddhists is an understanding of how consciousness works, not only in theory but more importantly in practise.  Our goal is to take charge of our own mental continuum, both for our own benefit as well as for the benefit of those around us.  We are offered not only a comprehensive tool box of techniques to help achieve this, but also a living tradition of more advanced meditators who provide living evidence that we all possess the innate potential of subtle consciousness, the nature of which is a boundlessness and radiance beyond anything that most people ever suspect.

Buddhists don’t invoke God in any of this.  Does that make us atheists?  In my view – and I should stress that this blog is necessarily personal – the answer to that question depends on two things.  The first is your definition of atheism.

If you define atheism as the absence of a belief that God exists, then you might say that such a definition equates to the non-theism of Buddhism.

But atheism can go way beyond the absence of a belief.  Some atheists don’t merely lack a belief in God.  They have a strong, emotional investment in the belief that God does not exist.  To me, these atheists seem every bit as intolerant of alternative views as religious fundamentalists – not to mention as evangelical in their determination to convert others to their own point of view.  It is not good enough for them to believe that God does not exist.  They want to impose their beliefs on everyone else.  Buddhism is definitely not on the same page as this version of atheism.

The second, much more interesting matter, is how you define God.  If you have, as your starting point, a notion of God as the uncle in the attic, then there is little common ground.  If, on the other hand, your starting point is that there can be only one ultimate reality, that the nature of this reality is beyond concept, that, over the past few thousand years different cultures have pointed to this non-conceptual reality in a variety of ways, and that ultimately we are all on the same journey, as Albert Einstein put it, ‘to attain liberation from the self’, then this is somewhere that different traditions can perhaps find some common ground.

Which perhaps goes some way to explaining how one of the first members of the Tibetan Buddhist group I belong to, was a Christian monk!

I’ve chosen as an image to accompany this post, a photo of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, in 2012.  The Dalai Lama has always urged people to stay with the tradition of their own culture, and to use Buddhism, not to become Buddhists, but to become better Christians, Muslims, atheists or whoever-they-are.

If you’d like to receive my weekly blog, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right hand of your screen now!

 

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: