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 Post subject: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:44 pm 
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As I noted recently in the Lasto thread on cultural appropriation, I was moved to a start a new thread here in Tol Eressëa in response to the discussion going on there, particularly elengil's post about meditation and yoga. [Note: I wrote this back on March 31, when it truly was "recently". Then "life" got in the way. But I always intended to come back to this.]

Like, elengil, I have been studying and practicing some yoga and mediation techniques for a little while. As often happens in my Faithful life, I have largely been following Beth's lead, just as was the case with our interest in African percussion and cultural, though again she is more deeply involved than I am. I do a weekly basic yoga class and some additional stretching, but she does more intense yoga several times a week. And while we both meditate together daily and we both have done some work with Deepak Chopra and others, she had delved much more deeply into various mindfulness trainings.

One thing that elengil said that got my attention was this statement: "I find meditation to have tangible mental benefits, and yoga to have tangible physical benefits." While I certainly agree with that statement, I find that meditation also has tangible physical benefits, and yoga has tangible mental benefits and that there is a less of a distinction between the mind and the body than is commonly thought (Deepak himself often refers to them together as the "mind-body").

Elengil then went on to say, " I am not attempting to make them into some kind of spiritual experiences nor do I believe that those cultures found some key to humanity that everyone else missed." Again, while I mostly would say the same, recent experiences have edged into a bit of a grey area.

In the course of her studies, Beth started reading and listening to the Vietnamese monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh. The first experience that I had encountering him and his teachings was a movie a watched with Beth about a retreat he held for American Vietnam War veterans that I found extremely moving. Some may recall that Martin Luther King nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the Nobel Peace Award, and he was the one that urged King to publicly come out strongly against the Vietnam War, shortly before King was assassinated. Thích Nhất Hạnh, or Thầy, as he is called by his followers, later established a monastary in France called Plum Village, which has satellites all over the world based on certain mindfulness trainings (which are expressed both as Five Mindfulness Trainings, and more expansively, Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, which are are a modern distillation of the traditional Bodhisattva precepts of Mahayana Buddhism, and were created by Thầy in Saigon in 1966.

Early this year, Beth noticed an ad in the weekly newspaper for a weekly meditation group that turns out to be in Thầy's tradition. The mediation consists of 20 minutes of sitting mediation, followed by 20 minutes of walking mediation, then 20 more minutes of sitting meditation. There is then 45 minutes of Dharma sharing, in which one of the long time members leads the group, usually with a deep dive into the mindfulness trainings or other teachings, followed by an open discussion in which members share their thoughts in confidence, and practice loving speech and deep listening. We have been attending regularly ever since (with only a few weeks when we had other plans), and I have found it very interesting and mostly very satisfying. I should note that I have never attended any kind of regular religious service; growing up I was a completely agnostic Jew and only got had a Bar Mitsvah when I was 16 (not 13 as usual) by phonetically memorizing the Hebrew words that I needed to recite (without performing any true Mitsvah service). However, we have long been looking for a group in which we can share in a spiritual practice, and this seems to be working out nicely, at least for now.

Most of the people who attend this "Heart Sanga" are very, very serious about it, and many of studied directly with Thầy, some for 20 years or more. Earlier this year there was a ceremony in which some people committed or recommitted to the Mindfulness Trainings, which neither Beth nor I participated in, though generally speaking they are all precepts that I do strive to live my life by, though more by coincidence than specific intention. I can't say that I consider myself a Buddhist, but I can't exactly say that I don't. I actually asked Beth that question last night, and she thought about it for a moment and answered that she did consider herself a Buddhist, though I don't imagine that she will be likely to go through the Mindfulness Trainings ceremony, which strikes me as in very many ways quite similar to a marriage ceremony that she has avoided even more strongly than I have (she has, however, become fully vegan, while I have only been vegetarian, but am still consuming some animal products like cheese and occasionally eggs). And Thầy has long maintained (though in contrast to many other Buddhist monks) that Buddhism is a practice, not a religion, and that one can be a Buddhist and Christian, or Jew, or Muslim, etc. at the same time. Indeed, he encourages people to go back to their original roots (to which I commented, for me, that would simply mean going back to being nothing. And while I don't see myself going the same route as some of the people deeply involved in the Sanga, I have great admiration for them, and in no way do I think that they are engaging in any kind of cultural appropriation or more colloquially, as Elengil put it, "being a dick about it." They are all, in their own way, trying to address suffering, both their own and that of others, and raise consciousness, again both their own and others. And, again to quote elengil, "sometimes that may be the best you can do."

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 1:19 pm 
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So I do want to clarify a few of my comments as when I wrote them it was in a very specific context of appropriation:

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I have begun to study and practice meditation techniques. I have done and do enjoy doing yoga. But I am not interested in becoming a practitioner of the religions that we largely associate with these two activities.

I find meditation to have tangible mental benefits, and yoga to have tangible physical benefits. I am not attempting to make them into some kind of spiritual experiences nor do I believe that those cultures found some key to humanity that everyone else missed.

So I don't know. I am trying to do things that help me without being a dick about it. Sometimes that may be the best you can do.


Meditation is not universal, but it is also not limited to a few Eastern beliefs, either. Many cultures had or have meditation, whether they call it that or not. Even Europe/Christianity has certain connections to meditation in some form. Walking a labyrinth, for example, or even a rosary can be considered meditation.

But it is true that many people associate meditation with very specific cultures and beliefs, which can complicate the appropriation conversation.

I agree absolutely that meditation and yoga both offer mental and physical benefits - I wasn't really thinking about that at the time, but you are absolutely right about that. I think there is great benefit in these practices, but I also know that other practices from many other cultures can offer similar benefits.

I also agree that many people find spiritual experiences within these practices. I was not attempting to dismiss that, only saying that it was not my experience. I was more attempting to show an approach to these practices that doesn't fetishize them or the cultures associated with them. I don't practice these particular techniques because I am unaware of other similar practices, more that I am most familiar with these and they are easy to find information on.

I admit to being quite ignorant on a lot of Buddhist teachings, and I think once I slipped out of my own religious beliefs I wasn't interested in just finding something to 'replace' them with, even though I do often feel that bit of emptiness in my life from their lack.

Anyway, that's mostly it - I wasn't attempting to write a dissertation (no, I don't think you were taking it as such, either) on my views on meditation or yoga, I was just commenting in the particular context of appropriation and how I honestly could not answer the question of whether my practices strayed into that realm or not.

But I am absolutely happy to continue any kind of discussion on mindfulness here :)

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 3:11 pm 
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Yes, I understand that your comments were made in the particular context of that thread on cultural appropriation, but they resonated with me in a way that I felt was worth discussing here, rather than here. I apologize if it seemed that I was being critical, because that was not my intention.

Honestly, I have always associated both yoga and meditation with Hinduism a tradition that I know little about (though I have read parts of the Bhagavad Gita) and which I can't say I feel attracted to, any more than I have ever felt attracted to practicing the religion of my forebears (this is a completely different subject not relevant to this thread, but that lack of interest in practicing Judaism in no way lessens the connection that I feel to my Jewish roots). But I've long felt a sympathetic connection to the idea of Buddhism, dating to when I first read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha when I was in college. But in Hesse's book (as I remember it at least), Siddhartha rejects the Buddha and finds his own path to enlightenment. I think it is time for me to reread that book and see how much it still resonates with me.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 3:42 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
I apologize if it seemed that I was being critical, because that was not my intention.


No, not at all, I really just wanted to clarify right up front for the benefit of further discussion.

In fact, I mentioned labyrinths - one thing that I do very much enjoy doing is tracing the medieval labyrinth form. I carved one into a stone (about the size of my palm) and follow it with a small stylus, from beginning to center and back out again. http://sprightlyinnovations.com/leafandleisure/2013/05/10/meditations-on-a-medieval-labyrinth/

I have a future vision of having a walking-sized labyrinth in my garden some day.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 7:57 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
But in Hesse's book (as I remember it at least), Siddhartha rejects the Buddha and finds his own path to enlightenment. I think it is time for me to reread that book and see how much it still resonates with me.

Siddharta is the Buddha. Hesse‘s book is a basically a biographic novel. I loath this book (and Hesse in general) , so if you reread it, I would be interested in your reaction.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:16 pm 
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Somewhat OT but I'm impressed with V and Nin for getting through Hesse. I gave up on Glasperlenspiel a quarter of the way through.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:47 pm 
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Nin wrote:
Siddharta is the Buddha. Hesse‘s book is a basically a biographic novel.


It has been almost 40 years since I have read it, but to the best of my memory, that is not quite right. While it is true that the historical (or semi-historical) Buddha was known as Gotama Siddhartha, the main character in Hesse's book was not Gotama Siddhartha (who does appear in the book as a separate character) but instead a completely fictional character who instead of following the Gotama Buddha finds his own path to enlightenment (which is consistent with the Buddhist conception that we all have a Buddha in us). Hesse book (as I understand it) was not at all meant to be a biographical novel about the historical Buddha.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 9:42 pm 
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Frelga wrote:
Somewhat OT but I'm impressed with V and Nin for getting through Hesse. I gave up on Glasperlenspiel a quarter of the way through.


I would have loved to give up on Hesse, however some of my colleagues read him and some students choose his book (mainly Siddharta) as graduation lecture, so I have to read it.... as said I loath Hesse.

Voronwë, it is quite possible that Hesse pretends that his novel is more than a biography and a fictional character of his own creation. He was after all quite a pretentious fellow. IMHO this is just a way to hide his lack of own ideas. Maybe it wasn’t meant as biographical novel, but that’s what it is.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Thu Jun 13, 2019 3:07 am 
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Nin, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, even though I thoroughly disagree with you (and, of course, Hesse is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century so quite a few others also disagree). As for Siddhartha itself, it really is more about Hesse's own search for enlightenment than about the Buddha, and Hesse himself acknowledged that his understanding of Buddhism was superficial at best. Interestingly, Thầy himself has commented about Jesse's naivety about the precepts of Buddhism in one of his books, The Miracle of Mindfulness:

Quote:
I've spoken about the contemplation on interdependence. Of course all the methods in the search for truth should be looked on as means rather than as ends in themselves or as absolute truth. The meditation on interdependence is intended to remove the false barriers of discrimination so that one can enter into the universal harmony of life. It is not intended to produce a philosophical system, a philosophy of interdependence. Herman Hesse, in his novel Siddartha, did not yet see this and so his Siddhartha speaks about the philosophy of interdependence in words which strike us as somewhat naive. The author offers us a picture of interdependence in which everything is interrelated, a system in which no fault can be found: everything must fit into the foolproof system of mutual dependence, a system in which one cannot consider the problem of liberation in this world.

According to an insight of our tradition, reality has three natures: imagination, interdependence, and the nature of ultimate perfection. One first considers interdependence. Because of forgetfulness and prejudices, we generally cloak reality with a veil of false views and opinions. This is seeing reality through imagination. Imagination is an illusion of reality which conceives of reality as an assembly of small pieces of separate entities and selves. In order to break through, the practitioner meditates on the nature of interdependence or the interrelatedness of phenomena in the processes of creation and destruction. The consideration is a way of contemplation, not the basis of a philosophic doctrine. If one clings merely to a system of concepts, one only becomes stuck. The meditation on interdependence is to help one penetrate reality in order to be one with it, not to become caught up in philosophical opinion or meditation methods. The raft is used to cross the river. It isn't to be carried around on your shoulders. The finger which points at the moon isn't the moon itself.


More later.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 6:36 am 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
(and, of course, Hesse is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century so quite a few others also disagree).

Apparently in the US, where he is also widely read from what I have gathered. Among German literature specialists Hesse is usually considered provincial and kitsch, self-centered with a horrible style.

This article reflects quite well my thoughts about Hesse, but it is of course in German: https://www.welt.de/kultur/literarische ... -sexy.html

ETA: this is a thread about mindfulness and Buddhism ( in which I am not interested) not about Hermann Hesse. So probably, we should stop that discussion... sorry for interfering.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:41 pm 
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All things happen for a reason. Again, I thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2019 9:17 pm 
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Here's something to discuss perhaps - what exactly does 'mindfulness' mean? What does it really mean to meditate? What does it mean to have 'awareness'?

Feel free to either answer with your own thoughts or to share from experts.

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2019 9:44 pm 
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Those are some BIG questions!

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 Post subject: Re: Mindfullness
PostPosted: Thu Jun 20, 2019 6:15 pm 
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As for what mindfulness is, on a basic, fundamental level it is simply being fully present. What that actually means, however, is what makes it more difficult to comprehend.

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