What about this moment is not enough?

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A number of years ago I made an unconventional decision: taking a sabbatical from a job as a management consultant to explore the emerging phenomenon of “mindfulness”.

To kick-start this exploration I signed up for a conference titled ‘Creating a Mindful Society’ held in New York.  The name seemed fitting enough and the conference featured some super-stars in the field of mindfulness. The keynote speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and widely considered one of the most influential people in bringing mindfulness into mainstream western life. I had recently read his first book, Full Catastrophe Living, and I resonated deeply with how he articulated mindfulness and its potential for healing our world. Through my own first-hand experience I had seen the transformative beauty of mindfulness, and I was stoked to learn there was a whole “movement” dedicated to the cause.

When I arrived at the conference I was disappointed to see only about 300 people. It seemed crystal clear to me that mindfulness was the answer to so much personal and societal suffering; why weren’t more people catching on?

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Effectiveness as a Teacher

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Your effectiveness as a teacher has a direct correlation with the depth of your own personal practice -Jeremy Hunter

Many years ago I was sitting on a mountain in South Africa. It was a warm summer day in Cape Town and I was soaking in the sun on a perch overlooking the magnificent Camps Bay. I was nearing the end of a consulting project in the region and had been mulling over my next steps of a while. I resolved that day I was going to decide what I wanted to do next with my life. No small resolution, but it was time.

I asked myself three questions: “What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at? What makes a difference in the world?” In response to all three questions one word emerged: “teaching”.  I received fulfillment from helping others learn, perceived I was pretty good at, and felt a quality teacher could make a tremendous difference. Plus, both my parents were teachers so I had some ancestral momentum.

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Day in the life: Plum Village 2/2

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Continued from Part 1

1:30pm: I grab my table tennis paddle from the residence and make my way to the open field. On my arrival a look of amusement appears on my friend’s face: “Oh you brought your own paddle…you must be really good huh?” I feel some pride swell up, the game begins. We have some good volleys, although I am winning most of the points. Pride creeps in again as I am feeling superior, and then I remember some of semi-pros I’ve played who wiped the table with me. I loosen up and continue having fun. Near the end I can tell the opponent is frustrated, and he starts missing serves. I make a suggestion to take a breath, and that ‘each point is a new game’; he smiles and serve again. There is one monk at a nearby hamlet who is recognized as the best player in Plum Village. When I first met him he said “I heard you’re good, I want to learn from you.” I was struck by such an attitude; the top guy saying that he wanted to learn! I then recognized the obvious truth that such an attitude is the only way he’s going to get better. Pride can be dangerous if you don’t know how to transform it. My friend and I finish our game and he thanks me, mentioning how growing up with brothers everything was a competition, and that he’s working on this competitive habit. Here we have space to examine those influential relationships, most often springing from the roots of our parents and siblings. I smile. Continue reading Day in the life: Plum Village 2/2

The Art of Conscious Living

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This poem is from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s first book Full Catastrophe Living. The book serves as a detailed introduction to mindfulness, and is placed in the context of healthcare and healing. Published in 1990, it helped lay the groundwork for mindfulness in the US, particularly from a scientific end. I’d like to share one quote from the book that resonated deeply, on the art of conscious living:

“You can’t sail straight into the wind, and if you only know how to sail with the wind at your back, you will only go where the wind blows you. But if you know how to use the wind’s energy and are patient, you can sometimes get where you want to go. You can still be in control.

If you hope to make use of the force of your own problems to propel you in this way, you will have to be tuned in, just as the sailor is tuned in to feel the boat, the water, the wind, and his or her course. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind blowing exactly the way you want it to.

We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest.

Training, practice, and a lot of firsthand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various ‘weather conditions’ in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living.”