Last week’s discussion was organized around how stressful contemporary life is, compared to the largely agrarian cultures that characterized the earliest centuries of what is now called Buddhism. The results of culturally induced stress in this consumeristic era were emphasized. This week’s topic was the prevalence of anxiety (18% of Americans were diagnotically anxious in 2007, the latest data found on the internet while preparing this talk; this was before the economic stress of 2008 and beyond!). Peter described the Buddhist perspective on anxiety, again related to the first and second noble truths, that is, stress and how craving and clinging bring about stress. This was followed by quotes from a recent peer reviewed research article, “Neural Correlates Of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief”, published in 2013, which correlated the difference between “state” and “trait” anxiety and the neurological processes that occur.
Suggestions were offered regarding how the regular practice of mindfulness of breathing meditation can reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of anxiety. Peter also described the varieties of clinical anxiety, which are reviewed in this document: ANXIETY FROM A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE
Next week’s discussion will focus on depression from a Buddhist perspective.
The Buddhist First Noble Truth, the reality of dukkha, was described in contemporary terms. The traditional translation of dukkha is “suffering”; modern commentators prefer words such as “stress”, “insufficiency”, and “dissatisfaction”, among others, to describe current cultural experience. Peter talked of the increasingly stressful characteristic of modern cultures, with the imposed stressors of consumerism and media indoctrination, and the impact stress has on the human body/mind process. This was related to the Five Hindrances, with emphasis on the hindrance of restlessness/worry.
The ways and means that Buddhism provides relief from contemporary stress was described, followed by lively discussion of what this means to those attending the meeting.
Here are the notes prepared for this presentation: STRESS AND THE DHAMMA The notes provide data on the prevalence and impact on contemporary society as a result of stress, derived from the National Institute for Mental Health, a governmental organization.
Next week’s topic will address the issues associated with anxiety, from a Buddhist perspective as well as various levels of clinical anxiety disorders.
It is customary in this sangha to provide those members who have completed a significant retreat the opportunity to process the experience during a regular meeting. Peter annually experiences a two week self-retreat, this one lasting from December 18 until January 1, 2016. He described the retreat schedule he established and reviewed a book he used to further his insight practices: “The Mind Illuminated-A Complete Meditation Guide”. The book analyzes the Anapanasati Sutta, the discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing, a classic teaching from the Pali Canon, from the perspective of neuroscientific and systems theory research. It describes 10 stages of enhanced mental stability and introspective investigation, leading towards experiences of awakening from what are termed the “three poisons”: greed, aversion and ignorance/self-delusion. Peter described how passages from the book enhanced his vipassana practice. Even though this recording is longer than most, the information has the potential to significantly increase insights into the process of awakening.
During this discussion, Peter related the lojong aphorism, “Work on the stronger disturbing emotions first,” relating it to the second Foundation of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of feelings as feelings, not a self. The integrated operation of the lojong aphorisms was reviewed, emphasizing the importance of regular mindfulness meditation practice to cultivate the emotional self-regulation required to benefit from mindful investigation of feelings, separate from the narrative “selfing story”, which reinforces “buying into” a sense of self that is distressed and confused.
This approach to alleviating suffering is similar to a modern psychotherapeutic intervention, “Exposure Therapy”, which combines progressive relaxation with direct investigation of the distressed emotional tone that a person suffers from. This exposure, over time, reduces reactivity to the distress, provided the person does not align with a narrative associated with the distress.
After the discussion, there was a lively dialogue among the participants regarding concrete experiences that the practice of desensitization can be applied to.
This week’s discussion broached two aphorisms: Don’t speak about others’ defects, and Don’t become preoccupied with the opinions, behaviors and motivations of others. These aphoristic commitments focus on activating Wholesome Speech, Action and Livelihood from the Eightfold Path. Peter emphasized the practical steps for cultivating the mental clarity and constraint necessary to check one’s speech, avoiding anything that may create a sense of separation and diminishment of others, most exemplified by gossip. He also commented on the common human mistake of “mind reading”, that is, the inclination to jump to conclusions about what someone’s intentions are. This was followed by discussions among those present of examples of gossiping and mind reading, along with what benefits regular daily meditation and memorizing the aphorisms can bring to interrupting hurtful and thoughtless behaviors.
This talks reviews the lojong mind training aphorism “In order to take unexpected conditions as the path, immediately join whatever you meet with meditation”. The emphasis of this practice is to train the mind to become quickly, mindfully aware of what is emerging in consciousness, and essential competency to cultivate in vipassana practice. Peter described […]
This talk reviewed the progressive steps from initial establishment of stable focus and internal tranquility through to last week’s exploration of how to work with confusion. The new aphorism involves four applications to further spiritual development: cultivating a more integrated series of self-states motivated by lovingkindness and compassion, maintaining an ongoing investigation of emerging self-states, […]