How we frame meditation retreats has an effect on our experience

I wonder if there’s a placebo effect on meditation retreats that helps the mind gather and calm. Equally, if you approach a silent retreat thinking, “Argh, I can’t talk or have fun for days” maybe you’ll have a bumpier start. To be clear, I think the placebo effect is something real that we should take advantage of. I don’t use that word to mean “sham” or “ineffectual.” I think the influential meditation teacher Rob Burbea would probably talk of the placebo effect as an example of how we fabricate experience. Our beliefs and expectations shape what we get. My point is that, if part of our ability to access greater collectedness and mindfulness on retreat is simply due to a placebo-like belief that “I’m on retreat so this is possible now” then we can cultivate the belief this is also possible in daily life and experience the same benefits.Continue reading...

The Dharma of Dragonball Z

Dragonball Z: Resurrection F © Toei Animation.

At a certain age, every weeknight my friends and I would huddle around the TV to watch a 20-minute episode of Dragonball Z on Cartoon Network. The show follows Goku and his friends as they train to become better martial artists and save the Earth from myriad alien and android threats. I don’t want to stretch this too far but I think there are definitely traces of Buddhist values to be found in the show’s themes. This would make sense when you consider that Buddhism reached Japan, the home of Dragonball Z, 1,000 years ago and has influenced its culture and martial arts. Like Star Wars, watching DBZ might have been a small factor that made the dharma seem familiar when I encountered it in my own life.… Continue reading...

Mindfulness of ruined worlds

Contemplating the beauty and serenity of Sable’s ruined world gave me some comfort. On one level, if and when Earth is finally desolate it might at least be peaceful, mysterious, and interesting to its surviving scavenger tribes. There’s something awe-inspiring about thinking on that timescale.

Would the denizens of a post-apocalyptic world be awake to the strange beauty of their situation? Probably no more than we are here and now. But if we could relate to our environment as we do such Ozymandian science fiction, with curiosity and fascination, accepting the world on its own terms, we’d probably be a lot happier.

This might be one of the things mindfulness can do for us. We take notice at the level of simple sensory experience—seeing a crumbling building, hearing a seagull, feeling a cool breeze—all without bending these perceptions into a story about me.… Continue reading...

Insurgent Heart

“Sati is not heavy, not harsh, not rigid. It is supple, light, invisible. It has not flavor of its own. It is uncontracted, unmanipulative attention that allows phenomena to arise and pass according to their own nature without the tethers of reactivity and control.”

—Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey, Insurgent Heart

There’s a fascinating dharma book available on Kindle called Insurgent Heart: A Vipassana Manual for the Guerrilla Yogi. Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey is a student of Michele McDonald, who invented the RAIN acronym. Jesse teaches vipassana in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw.

The book is unique in that it reclaims the martial metaphors of the Buddhist canon with a surprisingly apt twist: he uses asymmetrical guerrilla warfare as an analogy for Buddhist meditation in lay life.… Continue reading...

Urgency to live

How should we live, considering that human history–as we’ve known it so far–may be coming to an end? If the ice caps melt, if the Amazon burns, if the world becomes a hot and desperate place we will lose the narrative of progress and security upon which our choices and values are based. What is the point of our commercial and cultural endeavours when this civilisation is so far out of balance?

Impermanence is nothing new, of course, but previously it was easier to turn a blind eye to the precariousness of life. We could believe the world would always be there, much as ever it was. There have always been parents, governments, schools, employers, and advertisers who are all too ready to give us a game to play to keep us busy.… Continue reading...