A very timely and to the point critique of secularized mindfulness training: Beyond McMindfulness.

A few quotes from the article:

Suddenly mindfulness meditation has become mainstream, making its way into schools, corporations, prisons, and government agencies including the U.S. military. Millions of people are receiving tangible benefits from their mindfulness practice: less stress, better concentration, perhaps a little more empathy. Needless to say, this is an important development to be welcomed — but it has a shadow….

Uncoupling mindfulness from its ethical and religious Buddhist context is understandable as an expedient move to make such training a viable product on the open market. But the rush to secularize and commodify mindfulness into a marketable technique may be leading to an unfortunate denaturing of this ancient practice, which was intended for far more than relieving a headache, reducing blood pressure, or helping executives become better focused and more productive….

Mindfulness training has wide appeal because it has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo, and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals….

Bhikkhu Bodhi, an outspoken western Buddhist monk, has warned: “absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism.” Unfortunately, a more ethical and socially responsible view of mindfulness is now seen by many practitioners as a tangential concern, or as an unnecessary politicizing of one’s personal journey of self-transformation.”

From BPF: Beyond McMindfulness

Road to the green hole

[This is installment 14 in the narrative of my Way-finding. To read the first 13, go to the Pages, which are in chronological order.]

After Koinonia and Habitat, my life seemed to drop into some kind of vortex.

After a few weeks of erratic spinning, the cosmic blender spit me out, and I crawled up onto the western shores of the continent wet, hungry, and disoriented.

On a less-cosmic plane, I managed, through the long-suffering help of my parents and liquidation of the few material things of value I had accumulated, to get an old and cheap ($700) – but seemingly reliable – Datsun station wagon and head out for Oregon where Connie had gone to visit her sister. I had some vague idea that if I was sufficiently abased, apologetic and charming, we could get things back together. At least I could be in the same city with my young son.

With that vague goal and no plan for how to accomplish it, I set out.

The trip was about as successful as you might imagine.

I ran out of gas on I-20 somewhere in Alabama or Mississippi and had to walk miles to find gas. Then I began to imagine that my right front wheel bearings were going bad – there was this insistent roaring sound. After stopping at a parts store and changing out the wheel bearings in the parking lot, the roaring continued. I was consumed with anxiety until I discovered that when I put my hand on the strap holding a few random things on the top of the wagon, the roaring stopped.

The lessons – and the suffering – were coming fast and furious.

Somewhere along the long drive northwest out of Dallas, heading for Amarillo, the temperature began to drop, snow blowing across the road and through the cracks around my windows. When I noticed it piling up in the empty seat, I got worried. I turned on the radio and discovered that a major blizzard was blowing through and would be dumping feet of snow within hours.

I found the wisdom that is the better part of valor and stopped just after noon at a motel in Amarillo. This is an interesting trip, I thought, as I found a booth in the attached coffee shop and sat back to watch the storm unfold. I didn’t know how interesting it was going to get!

Sitting in the booth, I watched and listened to a number of blizzard stories – cowboys talking about cattle frozen in the fields, drivers talking about impossible road conditions, etc. But one group’s conversation caught my ear.

They were young and urban, and they talked about the destination of their interrupted journey: a relative’s funeral in the east somewhere. Their car, which we watched being towed in to the parking lot, refused to run after they pulled over to the side of the road in heavy snow and shut down the engine. Eventually we learned the car had a cracked block – apparently it had no antifreeze, the reason for which I came to understand later. The teenagers were distraught, as they had no money to pay for expensive repairs, even if it could be repaired, and had no idea how they would continue, or even where they would spend the night.

At that point I volunteered to put them up in my room. They seemed nice enough, and certainly in need. They were so grateful and we sat up late together watching TV as the snow fell. As I listened to their talk during the evening, I pieced together the situation: they were from LA, the car was stolen, and they were buying gas with a stolen credit card. The clincher to my conclusion was the presence of an ominous tool, a steel shaft about 18 inches long with little gripper fingers on one end, a stop on the other end, and a weight that slid along the shaft. One of the boys couldn’t stop playing with this instrument. It was a tool for yanking ignition switches out to facilitate hot-wiring.

I started to worry about what might happen. I had gotten into some good conversation with one of the young girls – I think there were two girls and two guys, though it’s always been a little hazy for me – which proved to be my salvation.

At some point late in the night when I was trying to sleep, I heard a heated discussion among the group. They were arguing about whether they should steal my car next. The girl I had made friends with persuaded them to spare me due to my generosity in giving them shelter, and there were plenty of other cars in the parking lot.

I didn’t sleep the rest of the night, and left early for the coffee shop. At that point, my car was covered in several feet of snow. As I sat in the coffee shop, I saw them come out into the parking lot, ignition stripper in hand, choose a large, snow-free car, jump inside and drive off. Gone in 60 seconds. I considered a police report, but I was so relieved to have them gone I wanted no further involvement.

Besides, I kinda liked them.

When the snow melted mid-afternoon, I got a jump start and was off for Arizona.

I stopped in for a visit in Winslow, with Connie’s parents, and then struck out across the Mojave. Exactly half way between Needles and Barstow, the car stopped going.

It spit and sputtered and lurched for a few miles, and then the engine just stopped, and I coasted to a stop somewhere near the 60-mile marker. It was the middle of the day, luckily in late January, so not so hot, but I had no idea what to do next.

Out of ideas, I stood next to my car with thumb up for hours. It got dark, and I began to wave my flashlight as cars zoomed by.

Just about the time I was sure that I would starve to death here in the Mojave, a pickup truck slowed, braked, and pulled to the side of the road. Inside was a young couple who lived on a boat in Monterey.

They were probably the nicest people in America that day. They took me to Barstow where I found a 6X10 room for the night and considered thanking God for saving my life.

The next day I bought every auto part and fluid I could think of that might possibly remedy my poor Datsun’s ills and went to stand on the I-40 on-ramp. My appearance – longish curly hair and beard – was not exactly out of place in California in 1981, but for some reason, no one going East that day gave me a second look. After all day and not even a slow-down, I walked over to a gas station and asked how could I get to my car 60 miles away on I-40.

Just call the Highway Patrol, they’ll come get you, the man said.

He was right. I have forever since loved the California Highway Patrol. In 10 minutes, the officer was there, cheerful, friendly, even great company, and we were at my car in less than an hour.

I installed plugs, points, condenser, inline fuel filter, gas-dry, and a few other items I’ve long forgotten. Something worked. Maybe it just needed to rest, or needed a little TLC. The Datsun started right up and off we went… for a while. In a few miles, the surging began again, so in Barstow I stopped at a repair shop, spent another night, another day, and all my money trying to fix whatever the problem was.

Two mechanics later, nothing worked, but eventually I just gave up and headed for Bakersfield.

Amazingly, I cruised along with only a momentary lurch every few minutes, never sure I would make it to the next town, all the way to Eugene.

I had to stop in Sacramento and pawn a few things, including my beloved typewriter that I’d had since going off to college, but the car just wouldn’t run without gas.

I was very happy to be reunited with my little family after this harrowing trip, and things went well for a while. We talked and we tried to resolve our issues, we tried to be a couple again, but it just wasn’t working.

I thought at the time that I was truly trying to make things work, but the perspective of the years, the experience on the cushion and in life since, have taught me the truth: I was completely consumed by, not just my passion, but by my addiction to self. I think that I must have convinced myself, – and thought I convinced others – using all the deep thinking and fancy words that I had come to rely on, that I was open and kind and compassionate and deeply concerned about deeply important things… and such bullshit on and on as I can hardly even bear to go back and read in my journal!

But the truth is, I was just very self-absorbed and ego-driven, very blind to the truths about myself, very alienated from life and other human beings, extremely ignorant about the causes of my own suffering and the degree to which I was inflicting suffering on all those around me.

In short, I was where most people are before allowing a little light in, but with an extra added dose of over-intellectualized self-righteousness!

I wish I could say that my arrival in Eugene – know locally as The Green Hole – precipitated a sea change in my attitudes and behaviors and I began a serious quest for Enlightenment.

Unfortunately, it took a while longer before light began to dawn in my life.

Tara on Why you want to meditate and don’t…

Tara Mackey, in “My Organic Life,” relates an amazing and wonderful story, and has graciously given me her okay to re-publish it here:

The #1 thing people ask me about after reading my blog is Meditation: they ask about it above my job, above my wellness, above the fact that I am on 0 medications to deal with pain, depression, grief and anxiety.  They ask me about Meditation above the beauty, above the fashion & above the nutrition aspect.  This actually makes me really happy, because absolutely none of the other things would be possible (or were possible) for me without Meditation.

Years and years of pain without mindfulness, of stress without gain, of time spent without tact and of sickness without cure brought me to a place of complete breakdown.  My average workday was spent getting up at 7 a.m., biking to work on an empty stomach, taking 10-12 different kinds of RX pills (none of which were vitamins), begging for 10 mins a half an hour into work to go get a bagel, spending 2 hours at work taking small bites in between other tasks to eat it, and then working on an empty stomach in a dark room with no windows for the next 8-15 hours.  Sometimes I slept there.

My average weekend was spent dragging myself out of bed at 3 in the afternoon, I’d eat one, two, three highly processed meals, take between 11-15 different pills (none of which were vitamins or minerals), go about my day, drink some alcohol at night to fall asleep, wake up the next day and do it over.

The breaking point was a few months after I was off all my meds.  I was sick.  Really, hopelessly, helplessly sick and I’d lay in bed for absolutely hours staring at the ceiling asking Why Me?  Why the hell was I, after all the tragedy and heartache and crap I’d gone through, not getting better when I was trying my damn best to do the right thing?  It occurred to me every once in awhile to just take a Lamictal (some of the worst withdrawals I’ve ever had was coming off this mood stabilizer) to feel better.  Just one wouldn’t hurt me, and then I’d be able to get up and move and speak and function without this terrible weakness, this nausea and headaches and everything looking over saturated.  Just one.

I remember going into the bathroom, opening the cabinet under the sink, and taking out the garbage bag full of Rx bottles that I had thrown together when I decided to come off everything.  It was full not only of pills that did work, but pills I had been prescribed that didn’t work – totaling what added up to almost 90 different bottles.  I kept picking up bottles upon bottles looking for the “Lamotrigine” one.  Valium?  Nope.  Xanax?  Nope.  Fentanyl?  Nope.  Celebrex?  Nope.  Zoloft?  Nope.  Flexeril?  Nope.  I discarded them one by one before I found the Lamictal bottle and emptied two, dust covered pills into my palm.  I filled up a glass of dirty NY tap water and opened my mouth.

And then something truly remarkable happened.

I stopped. 

After about 3 weeks of not taking anything, I realized what I was doing.  That taking “just one” Lamictal wouldn’t be taking just one.  That whenever I REdecided that being a slave to a pill was not what I wanted with my life, I’d be right here again.  Sick, and debating.  In 3 more weeks, or two more months, or 3 more years, this is where I’d be.  Counting the pills in bottles, nauseous as an animal, and hoping I have “the right one” for whatever ailment I was facing that day.  It felt way more helpless and WAY more hopeless than being sick, which I knew was temporary.  Being a slave to a mood stabilizer was LIFE-LONG helplessness.   And I wasn’t ready to accept that in my life.

From here I looked for other ways to cope.  Josh had helped me, truly, through his own meditations.  He’d lay in bed while I was sick and put his hand on my back and concentrate.  Sometimes his energy worked to soothe me, sometimes it didn’t.  Mostly, it didn’t work when I didn’t believe in it.  On the days where I felt impossibly sick, he had absolutely no power to make me feel better.  I designed it this way because I was scared – not only of what would happen if I stayed sick, but the longer I was sick, I started to get scared about what I’d have to do with my life when and if I got better.  This was an especially frightening thought, because I knew that the sort of jobs that I had had in the past had contributed immensely to my illness.


To be honest, I used to think people who Meditated were foolish.  Today, I cannot picture my life without Meditation.  Even though, for me, the practice is very new.  Meditation was not a daily part of my life until the end of 2011, but it has changed me in all of the best ways since.

So why do I find that the people who come to me – even people who come to me earnestly – about wanting to try it, have completely dismissed it a week later?  I’ve compiled some proper excuses that I get:

” I Don’t Have the Time”

This is the most popular excuse that I get, and it’s a fallacy. Saying you don’t have the time to meditate is like saying you don’t have time to fill up your gas tank because you’re too busy driving.  I had to learn, actually, not to get super insulted by this excuse, because the truth is: We all have the same amount of time.  Saying that you don’t have the time implies that do have the time – as in, I must not be busy enough if I can find 30 mins in my day to take care of myself.  The reason that I get anything accomplished with my life is specifically because I take that 30 mins a day to take care of myself.  I’ve had people sit on their computers on Facebook chat for OVER half an hour giving me excuses about why they’re not meditating.  You have the time, you just don’t value it.

” I Don’t Know How “ 

I cannot tell you how many people have come to me and said ” I tried what you said, and it didn’t work.”  or ” I’m no good at silence”  or ” My mind won’t let me” or ” I fall asleep.”  We put a TON of pressure on ourselves to do things the “right way”, and Americans tend to have very linear thinking.  If it doesn’t look like it did in a magazine, if we don’t get immediate results or if it just plain seems too hokey, we don’t give it a real shot.  The most basic, brilliant meditations involve sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing.  I can’t think of anyone I know who cannot do that. :)

” It’s Boring “ 

Well, sure it is.  It’s not an action-packed movie and it’s not Ryan Gosling making googley-eyes at you.  If your mind won’t let you, if you feel like you’re no good or if it didn’t work, or if you fall asleep, you now have all of your reasons to Meditate more.  I bet when you first laid your fingers on a piano, you couldn’t play Beethoven.  I bet when you first learned to read, you weren’t picking up War & Peace.  Meditation, like everything is, is something that gets easier with earnest practice.  We call Meditation a “Practice” for a very good reason – you are practicing it every time you do it.  And it’s certainly not going to give you the same stimulation that TV or Movies do, so don’t expect that.  This is about learning your body.

” You’re a Crazy Hippie and I Won’t Hear Any of Your Stupid Herbal Remedies to My Real Problems”

The majority of people hold themselves back by thinking that Meditation only works for certain people.  That they are not capable of learning themselves, or that it’s not important, or that it’s not worth their time.  They think that their pain, their problems, their situations, are better, more extreme, or different than what the rest of us are going through, and that spending quiet alone time can’t possibly have any positive effects on their life.  Truly, I think this is the most harmful place to be in, but one that I understand quite well.  It’s very easy to get caught up, especially when we have chronic or persistent pain.  I cannot tell you how many hours of my life were spent wishing that I had a knife to cut the pain from my back out.  I would have done ANYTHING, including surgery, to relieve the immense, throbbing, terrible, cutting pain that I experienced every moment that I wasn’t knocked out on some pain med.  And if someone had taken me aside and said “Just sit down and learn yourself, and you’ll be able to control your pain” I would have told them they were goddamn crazy.  But I am here to tell you that it’s true.


Meditation is the most productive thing you can do, and there is nothing in the World stopping you from doing it except for yourself.   Practicing meditation regularly will bring you to a place of immense peace, physical well being, and emotional stability.  It’s the most powerful tool for creating the life you want.

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Visit her site here – Tara

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Meditate Your Life

On the road with the Buddha

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” says an old Zen story.

This is simply the Zen way of saying, in dramatic and obscure form, that whoever you may meet along the way whom you think to be Buddha is really just your own delusion and should be annihilated.

But I have had some real encounters with Buddha, in the form of developing better understanding of my practice, on the road.

Back when I was driving many hours alone to go to Zen meditation retreats, I realized that I could take advantage of those hours to practice at least some rudimentary meditation along the way rather than just waste the hours listening to music or radio shows or my own tortured thoughts. Especially on roads with little traffic, I could (quite safely) focus on the highway lines converging in the distance, the horizon line, even on other vehicles in a way that at least approaches meditation.

In heavy traffic, I could maintain equanimity and calm by approaching it as a meditation. I found I was better able to enter into the sesshin after such a trip than I had been in the past.

Earlier this week, I went on a three day motorcycle trip, spending long hours on the road, and I again noticed certain parallels with meditation practice. I was much better able to maintain concentration on the road ahead, particularly in challenging road conditions, by approaching it with this meditative mindset. I was also able to maintain the upright posture for long hours without tiring, thanks to a number of ten-day Vipassana courses!

On a mostly surface level, I think these experiences show how a good solid meditation practice can assist one in most activities in life. I am a safer, calmer, more focused driver – whether in a car or on a motorcycle – and better at most of the things I have to do in my daily life, due to my meditation practice.

I’m not sure that just any “meditation” experience would be as helpful. Weekly 20-minute sessions probably wouldn’t help much, but multiple experiences of ten hours a day on a cushion for ten days – as in a Vipassana course – makes a six-hour ride seem simple to accomplish.

On a deeper level, though, there’s more to be had here than making the trip easier.

The essence of Vipassana practice is caught up in the Pali term sampajanakari hoti: [to do something with] constant and thorough awareness of impermanence. This is one important reason why we do the meditation practice itself, so that this kind of mindfulness will come to persist in all our activities. This is the true mindfulness taught by the Buddha, and the true genius of Vipassana is in this understanding of mindfulness. Most of what is presented as ‘mindfulness training’ by other authors and teachers is simply coming to be mindful of what one is doing at the present moment. A deep reading of the Sattipathana Sutta makes it clear, however, that what Buddha was talking about in the Four Establishments of Mindfulness includes the essential element of insight,  panna, so that everything one experiences (including the most mundane activities) reminds one of the ultimate truth of impermanence.

Another important term in the teachings is atapi – ardent. The Buddha says that one is to be ardent with this awareness of impermanence.

Well, let me assure you that there’s nothing much like going into a hairpin turn on a fast-moving motorcycle to generate ardent awareness of one’s own impermanence! And when that awareness is undertaken in the context of a long and serious Vipassana practice, the riding becomes an extension of the meditation practice.

Indeed, if we remember to take the practice with us when we leave the cushion, everything in life becomes practice.

When one reaches that point, the old Zen saying is turned on its head – one can embrace anyone met, for then everything one meets on the road is the Buddha.