Attention is a Heat-Seeking Missile

Releasing our psychological crap through meditation is a never-ending process, but if we are wanting to have a life, when do we stop meditating and go get the groceries and clean the house?  When do we have a family, for that matter?  I was in a catch-22 this morning- I had a lot of yuckiness weighing my heart down and calling out to be meditated through, but at the same time,

Beautiful and Compassionate Marketing like the Buddhists

Byron Brown, teacher and student of the Diamond Approach.   Image from www.soulwithoutshame.com. 

Byron Brown, teacher and student of the Diamond Approach.  Image from www.soulwithoutshame.com. 

A few years ago, I imagine about four or five years ago, the Diamond Heart school that I'm a student of made a decision to start marketing their courses and materials online.  For example, three days ago, I got an e-mail from the Diamond Heart advertising a course called "Soul Without Shame" with a 37-minute Vimeo teaser clip of a teaching on how we developped our sense of who we "ought to" be, our Superego.  It's a compassionate look at the ways we feel restricted as adults, and the judgement and anxiety we feel about whether or not we're living the way we should be.

Based out of California, the Diamond Heart school is, in my opinion, the best place to seek enlightenment while still living in the real world-- having a job, raising kids, growing your retirement fund, and being a member of your community.  If you wanted to leave the world, yes, you could go live in an ashram or become a Buddhist monk or devote yourself to full-time service to the Church, or you could just quit your job, stay home, and live off of social services while meditating all day.  But for those of us who want to participate in life, but at the same time, want to heal from the wounds that were inflicted by our very participation in that life, there is the option of the Diamond Heart.  By way of their teachings, you develop among other things, an understanding of the Buddhist philosophy of non-reaction and a mindfulness practice that are decidedly Eastern in origin, and a practical and profound understanding of your own individual ego structure that is unique to Western philosophy.  The integration of these tools helps you become more present in and to the various low-key and explicit traumas we have all experienced- for example, the trauma of being told in different ways you were not enough, or the trauma on the opposite side of the coin, or being told you were too much.  Or that you were not quite right in a different way.  The "goal" of spiritual work, if there is one, is to unfold into a healthier and less restricted version of the person you were meant to be.

As Buddhism in North America is relatively new-- only about 50 years old-- there are still questions about "how to be in the world".  Should a Buddhist be a political activist in the hate-driven and unpredictable times we now live in?  Buddhist practitioners in the US today are wrestling with whether or not to stand up and resist current trends, or are they changing the world enough by being non-reactive and teaching others how to find inner peace from the ravages of the human experience?  There are studies, after all, that demonstrate that just the act of meditating as a group lowers the crime rate in the city where the meditation is taking place, for the duration of the practice.  Isn't that enough?  I imagine a similar conversation started happening in the Diamond Heart school about four or five years ago as online courses became mainstream.  Should we advertise?  Is advertising spiritual?  From time to time throughout history, Buddhists have organized missionary efforts.  How about those- were they ego-driven?  Or a were they a selfless sacrifice?  Modern-day Enneagram teacher Don Riso famously said, "Nothing to fear, nothing to defend, nothing to promote."  Do we need to promote spiritual work?  Only those who are really ready to start their inner journey, it seems, find their way to the path, so why go looking for people if they're not ready?  If they're ready, don't they just naturally come to us?

I can imagine it wasn't easy to nagivate these conversations; nevertheless, within the last three years, you could tell there was an increased marketing effort and alignging with current online trends.  The DH started being more deliberate about their newsletters, they put together a [beautiful] new website, started paying more attention to their sound and video quality, became more tech-aware, improved the back-end so our user experience of their online portals wasn't so belabored, and most importantly, they started offering online courses to non-members- first for free, then at a cost.  Most recently, they have started offering online inquiry groups of eight-to-ten weeks long for people to do some inner exploration guided by a group leader.

Marketing is such an uncomfortable topic, but I find what they are doing to be very graceful, generous and compassionate.  For example, in the above-mentioned e-mail, Byron Brown's talk on the Superego was such a lift to my day this afternoon, I thought I would share it.  The reason this talk in particular stands out is that the exerpt isn't actually 37 minutes long-- it's 25 minutes and 33 seconds, to be exact.  The rest of the time is a departure from its low-key and inconspicuous metropolitan snobbery that's been embedded in Diamond Heart culture since I've learned about it.  It's not like you'd ever hear them say it-- they probably weren't even really conscious of it-- but there's always been, at least for me, an unspoken judgement underneath the surface that you should be doing this work in community, and if you don't live in a big sexy city where a Diamond Heart group meets, or if you can't afford to travel twice or three times a year to one of these groups, your experience of inquiry is necessarily going to be limited.  

It is true- you do need community- but the lack of attention to those outside the bigger city centers has always bugged me a bit.  However, at the end of this video, it's ten minutes of Byron looking into the camera and doing the inquiry with you in case you didn't have a partner.  I was deeply moved by this acknowledgement: "we can't all be there together".  Sometimes you live in a city where you don't know any other inquiry practitioners, or maybe you do, but you're too busy to meet, and you do have those ten minutes right there, and that's when you want to do the work. 

I'm attaching the link to the video here.  I hope it provides respite to anyone who needs it on this Sunday afternoon.


A GRE Question I Loved

It's rare to find beautifully clear and concise writing on the brain that makes you feel informed about actual brain function, but doesn't get bogged down by technical terms and laborious digressions into background neuroanatomy and physiology.  The following piece on how carnivores and herbivores developped different styles of attention for survival stood out to me for its simplicity and fluidity.  They say that if you want to really get a handle on a difficult topic, try explaining it to a child.  Obviously the audience here is a bit more sophisticated- a university undergrad studying for the GRE- and it's about animals, but it's applicable enough to humans that it helps you envision your own internal process when trying to concentrate or be mindful in the moment.  This exerpt is from the 2017 Official Guide to the GRE.  If you're interested, the four attendant GRE test questions and answers are available here

I love their definition of attention: "that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next".   Image  source .

I love their definition of attention: "that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next".  Image source.

The evolution of intelligence among early large mammals of the grasslands was due in great measure to the interaction between two ecologically synchronized groups of these animals, the hunting carnivores and the herbivores that they hunted. The interaction resulting from the differences between predator and prey led to a general improvement in brain functions; however, certain components of intelligence were improved far more than others.

I actually own the rights to this one comic.  I bought them for 15$ in 2012 I think, and I have a receipt printed on pink paper somewhere in my filing cabinet, but for legality's sake, the source is  Dilbert .  Obviously in the office context, Dilbert and his boss won't be evolving to predator any time soon.

I actually own the rights to this one comic.  I bought them for 15$ in 2012 I think, and I have a receipt printed on pink paper somewhere in my filing cabinet, but for legality's sake, the source is Dilbert.  Obviously in the office context, Dilbert and his boss won't be evolving to predator any time soon.

The kind of intelligence favored by the interplay of increasingly smarter catchers and increasingly keener escapers is defined by attention — that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next. It ranges from a passive, free-floating awareness to a highly focused, active fixation. The range through these states is mediated by the arousal system, a network of tracts converging from sensory systems to integrating centers in the brain stem. From the more relaxed to the more vigorous levels, sensitivity to novelty is increased. The organism is more awake, more vigilant; this increased vigilance results in the apprehension of ever more subtle signals as the organism becomes more sensitive to its surroundings. The processes of arousal and concentration give attention its direction. Arousal is at first general, with a flooding of impulses in the brain stem; then gradually the activation is channeled. Thus begins concentration, the holding of consistent images. One meaning of intelligence is the way in which these images and other alertly searched information are used in the context of previous experience. Consciousness links past attention to the present and permits the integration of details with perceived ends and purposes.

Cock-blocking endocrine system: This guy isn't bad with names so much as his adrenal glands are flooded with adrenaline every time he tries to get her name.  Evolution (and getting laid) turn out to be only for those who can harness the flight or fight response.

The elements of intelligence and consciousness come together marvelously to produce different styles in predator and prey. Herbivores and carnivores develop different kinds of attention related to escaping or chasing. Although in both kinds of animal, arousal stimulates the production of adrenaline and norepinephrine by the adrenal glands, the effect in herbivores is primarily fear, whereas in carnivores the effect is primarily aggression. For both, arousal attunes the animal to what is ahead. Perhaps it does not experience forethought as we know it, but the animal does experience something like it. The predator is searchingly aggressive, inner-directed, tuned by the nervous system and the adrenal hormones, but aware in a sense closer to human consciousness than, say, a hungry lizard’s instinctive snap at a passing beetle. Using past events as a framework, the large mammal predator is working out a relationship between movement and food, sensitive to possibilities in cold trails and distant sounds — and yesterday’s unforgotten lessons. The herbivore prey is of a different mind. Its mood of wariness rather than searching and its attitude of general expectancy instead of anticipating are silk-thin veils of tranquillity over an explosive endocrine system.


A talk every grad should watch- Attention is the new scarcity

At school, we've got our grade 8's "graduating" soon, and high school was let out last week.  University's been out for a while.  But even if you're not graduating, and you're already out in the big bad world, this talk is for you.  It's called the Video of the Week, but I think it's the Talk of the Century. 

I follow this investor named Fred Wilson,

Meditation and Achieving Timelessness

About a decade ago, I read in a magazine that if you want to lose weight, buy a full-length mirror.  Then again, a few years ago, I was at a musicians' workshop, and the guy at the front said, "if you want to improve as a musician, the

Deep Side Part

This girl has a deep side part.

This girl has a deep side part.

I've been rocking a deep side part lately.  It's to cover up a cow lick, and I've been kind of like, "damn, how low can this go?" and lamenting that I'm not like the girls who can have a middle part.  Last week, I was looking for music videos when I saw the girl from Walk Off the Earth rocking one as well.  Her part seems to be getting lower and lower too with the years, and I thought, well if she's cool with hers, then I'm cool with mine.  This last week, I've been super proud of it. 

I noticed when I go to my new gym, they take my key chain and swipe the barcode off the GoodLife Fitness tag, and simultaneously look at a screen very intently.  It's probably to check that I'm not borrowing my friend's gym pass, so I'm assuming there's a description of me.  I hope it says,

Beautiful curvy caucasian woman

Medium Build

Medium Height

Deep Side Part

Not that a deep side part is anything to really be emabarassed about, it was just something about me that I hadn't "owned" yet.  At school, a couple grade 8 girls were bemoaning how high the standards are that they now have to meet in fashion, being adolescents.  "I hate it", said one girl, "when the boys complain about panty lines."  Whoa, I had to give my head a shake and try to imagine how 13-year old boys have a milligram of prerogative taking offence to girls' pantylines, and I was all mother bearish and was like, "If you have a pantyline, you OWN it." 

I mean, first of all, you do want to make sure you don't have a pantyline before you leave the house, but if you're in grade 8 and you're still figuring out the whole thong thing- that takes time to get used to, and there is no rush and people can just BACK OFF.  I mean, in your thirties, you don't give a fuck anymore and you're like, "Hey look!  I have a pantyline!  Where should I go out to dinner with this thing?"  But if you're in grade 8 and you find yourself in public in some skinny tight pants with a panty line, and this is an emergency, here are the steps to owning it.

1.  Notice that people are noticing/pointing/talking

2.  Be all embarassed.  Feel the heat in your face, your hands, notice you're breaking out in a sweat, notice all the physiological reactions.  Feel them.  Breathe.  Keep breathing.

3.  Make sure you're still breathing.  Send the breath all the way down to your toes.  Relax the arches of your feet.  Relax your scalp and everything in between; your breath scanning your body for tenseness.

4.  Check your posture- make sure there is still space between each disc.  If not, send some breath to make some space between each disc.  This is basically you standing tall, but you can't force it- it has to come from awareness of and "being with" your inner shrinking.

5.  Say "Damn right I have a pantyline" or just keep walking tall/doing whatever you were doing.  Now that your breathing is getting back to normal, your face won't be as red, or if it is, you'll "be with" the redness and you won't look as awkward.  You don't want to fake owning it, because that can come off as brash (although in the heat of the moment, if that's what you got, go with that).  The best thing you can do is to be with your body in all its embarassment and have compassion on yourself.  When you come home to yourself when the physiological alarm bells are going off, you stand a much better chance of staying in flow (ie, staying cool) than reacting to the teasing and looking even more awkward.

Waking up Angry

I once heard someone say that Type Eights wake up angry.  I thought since that's a pretty core emotion for the Eight, the other types must wake up to their go-to emotion too, so I decided to see if I, as a Four, woke up melancholic. 

Of course, nobody wakes up immediately feeling a certain emotion.  There's that timeless ethereal white space first thing between sleeping and waking where you're processing your dreams and you just want to stay like that forever, unaware of who and where you are.  And then you remember you have a meeting that day, or something jolts you awake and suddenly, your regular thought patterns shoot back into place.  As your psyche fishes for its ground, it must grab what feels the most familiar. 

My first thoughts aren't always necessarily about melancholic things (?), like let's say my first emotion is anxiety, but I'll settle into a melancholic feeling about the anxiety.  Sometimes I'll just have to take a look at the heavy feeling that's settled over me and say, "Hey!  What happened there?  I was feeling so good before!" and the awareness shooes the clouds away....

The Is-ness of Parents

In the Hindu tradition , there are four stages of life, the final one after being a householder/parent is to become a Wandering Beggar, a different kind of scaling down than we do here in the West.  Basically, it just means you have "the duty to prepare [your] spirit for the stage in which spirit will be all [you have]."

In the Hindu tradition, there are four stages of life, the final one after being a householder/parent is to become a Wandering Beggar, a different kind of scaling down than we do here in the West.  Basically, it just means you have "the duty to prepare [your] spirit for the stage in which spirit will be all [you have]."

I was reminded the other day about this idea of the Holy Perfection of all things, a concept I don't really like that much as it seems a little flaky, spiritually gratuitous, and frankly, unnecessary.  There is good and there is bad in the world.  No need to be trying to squint our eyes a certain way to see the essential "good" underneath someone's evil behavior.  What is the purpose?  Aren't we letting ourselves off the hook of confronting the wrong-doer by trying to see their essential qualities?  Who cares about their essential qualities when they need to be make aware of their wrong-doings?

This topic came up in the context of a conversation about raising a family.  Parents who try to improve their children without doing any inner work on themselves are "bad", I said, in the sense that they're imposing their ego delusions on someone else without stopping to examine them.  So when the kid grows up, they not only have to deal with their own egoic delusions, they have to wade through the ones imposed on them by their parents.  Basically the parent is asking the child to do their own inner work for them.  They're saying, "Here, I don't want to examine my motives or sift through all this psychic material I've inherited.  You do it."  The kid has to separate all the layers in therapy.  I mean, this happens all the time, but for a parent to still hang on to their ego-structure long after the child has left the house?  To never have examined their own lens?  Basically to go through life never having any big existential crisis about your own ego story?  Isn't that bad parenting? 

What I tell parents who want to help their kids is, "The best gift you can give your child is to do your own inner work."  You're definitely going to start out thinking you have all the answers, which is natural, but when you realize your lense on the world is only one of several, and there are other valid points of view out there, you start incorporating them and you get a little humbler and a little humbler until you realize, like the Fool in the tarot card journey, you're back at the beginning of your journey.  What you "knew" throughout your life was your own ego story and when you transcend that a bit, you start doing some digging to see what else you've been missing.  I attend Enneagram workshops, and the median age of the attendees has to be around 45-50, that age when people start seeing a bigger picture beyond their limited worldview that they parented out of. 

The answer given to me in this conversation this past week was no one HAS to do inner work.  It's optional.  There is still an inherent goodness in that parent who constantly feels the need to impose their egoic lens on your worldview.  Goodness, she said, in the sense of the the Type One's holy idea- that of Holy Perfection, not "goodness" in our egoic way of judging one thing against a standard of an ideal.  While we see stubbornness and self-importance and self-delusion, an enlightened person sees someone who is "inherently and implicitly perfect, that [they] are just right as [they] are, that [they] do not need anything added to [them] or subtracted from [them]", says Sandra Maitri.  She goes on.  "From this angle we see that [they] do not need to become better, that [they] do not need to be different, and that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with [them]. 

She quotes A. H. Almaas here,

To see things as they really are, which is to see things objectively, we have to put these [judgements and preferences, likes and dislikes, fears and ideas of how things should be] aside-- in other words, we have to let go of our minds.  Seeing things objectively means that it doesn't matter whether we think what we're looking at is good or bad-- it means just seeing it as it is.

It was "good" to be reminded of this, although I'm going to need a bit more enlightenment in this regard.  :)  This gets into the idea of the child parenting the parent, which surely does happen.   When the child develops the leadership skills that the parent won't develop, or can't... or to use this new phrase from Robert A. Johnson that I love... when the child provides the container for their parents' psychic energy and learns to see their parents' Essential qualities.

Losing Weight, Keeping it off (... and Mindfulness?)

Dina Mercado, 35    Weight Before show, 248 pounds; at finale, 173.5 pounds; now, 205.9 pounds    Metabolic Rate Now burns 437.9 fewer calories per day than would be expected for a woman her size.   Image and caption from New York Times

Dina Mercado, 35

Weight Before show, 248 pounds; at finale, 173.5 pounds; now, 205.9 pounds

Metabolic Rate Now burns 437.9 fewer calories per day than would be expected for a woman her size.

Image and caption from New York Times

I found this article on weight loss and regain fascinating this morning in the New York Times.  A researcher studied the metabolic rates of participants from Season 8 of Biggest Loser for six years after their season ended, and concluded that when we lose weight drastically like on that show, your body goes into overdrive to gain the weight back again.  Not only does drastic weight loss lower your metabolism for the next several years, making it harder to burn even the healthier calories you intake, but your hunger also increases, meaning it's twice as hard to maintain your weight loss.  Which explains so much, and takes the weight off (your shoulders at least) for the guilt you carry after you regain. 

I want to see a study done on mindfulness and how it might help keep weight off.  When I started meditating, I lost a bit of weight, not a significant amount, but does my weight fluctuate based on when and how much I meditate now?  Based on how "present" I am to the stress of not having comfort food?  I think that would be fascinating.  Everything is connected in the body- how our minds respond to stress needs to be taken into account too.  One woman I was talking to the other day quoted the head of New Ventures West coaching school, James Flaherty, about meditation retreats.  He said, "Everyone thinks that when you attend a ten-day meditation retreat, it's all peaceful and you're in this state of bliss the whole time.  It doesn't work like that.  The first three days are like being boiled in hot oil because all your issues are coming to the surface."  I know exactly what he means.  As soon as I take some time out to self-observe, issues of the day (that I dealt with earlier by eating) start coming up and demand to be dealt with and processed.  So it's a fair question, isn't it?  What's the connection between mindfulness and weight loss/maintenance?