Mapping my mind: a summer doing contemplative science
Last summer, I was lucky enough to spend almost 2 months as a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Visiting Scholar house in Amherst, Massachusetts. In this house, scientists…
How should we conduct research on contemplative science? News from the first European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute
I attended the first European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute. These institutes are designed to bring together researchers, philosophers, practitioners, and clinicians to talk about how to engage in…
Creating a compassionate organization
The second day of the Meditation & Human Values in the Workplace conference moved from the individual to the organizational level. We started out by hearing from Federico Daini-Jôkô Procopio,…
How to practically embody a strong personal ethics in the workplace
On the last day of the conference, Monique de Knop shared her experience in being a top manager in the Belgian government. She dissected what wisdom in the workplace really…
Meditation and Human Values at the Workplace?
With economic crises and various corporate scandals under our belt you may wonder whether meditation and human values actually exist in the workplace. Right now a group of people is…
Who Meditates at Work?
Do you start your work meetings with a couple of minutes of meditation? This morning, I talked with a teacher who has just introduced meditation into her classroom. "The great…
The Great and Curious Truth: Cultivating Compassion, The Contemplative Approach
Patrick Gaffney is one of the leading authorities on the contemplation and practice of compassion in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and I was lucky enough to hear him speak at…
Read This Book!: The Compassionate Mind Approach to Reducing Stress by Maureen Cooper
For the last month or so I have been reading Maureen Cooper’s fabulous new book, The Compassionate Mind Approach to Reducing Stress Reducing Stress. Combining an authentically Buddhist approach with…
Taking a bite of mindfulness
Eating is a very touchy topic in our society (see also this recent article on WMRI). There are enormous social problems associated with addiction to food (listen for a discussion…
Non-silent interaction meditation
If you are anything like me, you spend a good deal of time interacting with other people. Is it possible to integrate meditation in your interaction with others, and if…
Imaginary Limits: Grasping at Illusory I
From the perspective of science, there is no inherent reason for the human mind to have an underlying owner or "self." The brain, the physical structure that creates consciousness and…
To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. If you want to attain perfect calmness in your zazen [meditation], you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control.
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Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel has studied and practiced the Buddhadharma for twenty-seven years under the guidance of her teacher and husband Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. She is the retreat master of Samten Ling in Crestone, Colorado and has spent over six years in retreat. She holds a degree in anthropology and an M.A. in Buddhist Studies. She teaches throughout the U.S. and Europe. She is the author of, The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom.
Elizabeth is known for her willingness to question the entire path in order to reach a place of genuine practice and awakening. She asks audience to engage in the practice of open questioning with her while she takes a fresh look at all the assumptions and beliefs we have about spirituality. Audiences repeatedly comment on how this approach has reinvigorated their meditation practice and how they relate to their lives as a whole.
I am addressing you with my concerns about animal euthanasia since I know you to be a lover and owner of horses. My dear, 16-year-old dog is ill and dying, and I watch her physical suffering as she gets closer and closer to her end. The tumors in her nose are bleeding and her breathing is labored. The weight loss is dramatic, though she still can eat little bits and walk with some difficulty and assistance.
Question: It sometimes seems to me that fear has become an unacceptable emotion on the spiritual path. There are so many teachings that talk about how unhelpful fear is, and how it gets in the way of growth. Yet for me, I am increasingly recognizing how dominated by fear my whole life has been, and the more I practice, the more this fear feels like it is dominating my life. I feel it vibrating through my body, making it difficult to breathe, and I often get very little sleep at night as fear and panic surface just as I am "dropping off". It seems to be too terrifying to let go of control enough to fall asleep. I am trying to welcome this fear as a friend who I can learn from. But I find it very, very difficult when I hear teachings that don't seem to have anything positive to say about working with fear - but just name it as an obstacle on the path. I hope that you can help me with this.
This is the last part and our favorite part of a skype video between Erric and Elizabeth. In Mahayana Buddhism it is said that the best way to practice meditation is with the attitude of truly wanting to benefit others—the vast attitude of Bodhicitta.
Student’s question: I understand the fundamental problem of the dualistic mind (i hope). The idea that as long as something is "good" in our mind, that means something is "bad" as well, which causes us to have a misconception that is damaging to our mind. We can see with our own investigation that this is damaging to our experience of the present and reality. So what about good actions and bad action? Wise speech\unwise speech? Good intention\bad intention? Truth\ dishonesty? I struggle because those are dualistic concepts that are fundamental to the Buddha’s teaching. Are there some dualistic mind states that are helpful? I am most certain that I am confused! I would love some insight.
In this 2 minute skype video, Elizabeth explains to Erric how we can understand reality just by wrestling with basic questions that we all have: "What is the basis of suffering? What causes happiness?"
This five minute video is the first part of a fascinating skype conversation between Elizabeth Namgyel and Erric. Elizabeth describes compassion as a radical expansion of self. Then she gives some tips about how we can begin to cultivate this expanded sense of self.
Jealousy is a painful emotion, in part, because when we get jealous we lose our self-respect. It is deeply embarrassing to watch ourselves feel displeasure at the happiness and good fortune of others, whether it be their wealth, physical attributes, money...whatever.
I suppose, if we look at it in one way, it is good news that we feel disturbed when we feel jealous. This shows that we have a conscience – that in truth we really do want others to be happy and don’t want to feel uncomfortable about their good fortune. And yet we experience this inner-conflict.
Jealousy comes from feeling impoverished in our own minds. We wish we possessed the attributes that belong to someone else…therefore we feel we “lack” something in some way. So jealousy comes from being totally self-focused. Herein lies the problem.
Question to Elizabeth: We hear the term “nakedness” a lot in the dharma. They often say: “Rest in the naked state.” In my life, I have found it extremely difficult to be naked, to be exposed both physically and emotionally. I tend to enjoy quite a bit of privacy. When I am exposed, I feel very uncomfortable, quite agitated and it's times when I feel extremely agitated that I do not want to sit on my cushion. In fact, if I get to such a point of agitation, I don't sit on my cushion but do things to numb it out. Is there a way that I could methodically work with this type of situation so that I can systematically learn to gently unveil myself? I really think these periods of agitation from exposure need to be worked with consciously and methodically to keep me engaged and on my cushion, but I don't know what to do. When I am on my cushion during such emotional upheaval, I feel like I need some way to walk myself through the practice step by step so that I can allow myself to look deeper into what this agitation really is. Can you offer me any suggestions?
How does emptiness help us? How do we apply an understanding of emptiness to our lives?
Sometimes emptiness seems foreign to us. But in truth, we live and move about in emptiness because things, by nature, are not static or “objectifiable.” I often speak of resting in emptiness as an open question. An open question is a question we ask without expecting to find a final answer. When we ask an open question we have not yet reached a conclusion and yet the mind is focused and engaged with life.
(Editor's note: We are very pleased to have Buddhist teacher and author Elizabeth Namgyal as our newest whatmeditationreally.com blogger. You can read her biography and find links to her web site by clicking here. To get things rolling I posed a couple of questions to her. This is part one of her response.)
Q: In Buddhism, we often hear about the word emptiness. What exactly is emptiness? How do we apply the understanding of emptiness to our lives?
The teachings on emptiness are at the heart of the Buddha’s path.
And yet people often have misunderstandings about them. I suspect this is partly because some of the teachings on emptiness can be a bit cryptic and require years of study with a learned teacher. The other reason is that people often struggle with the word “emptiness” itself. What does it mean to rest in emptiness? We associate emptiness with “empty nest,” “a glass half empty” or an “empty feeling in our chest”…there is a sense of negation we associate with this word. But there is a twist. When we start to really understand emptiness as an experience we see that it leads us to an experience of fullness. This is what I want to talk about here.