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Snippets about: Mindfulness

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Meditation Strengthens Wholesome Mind States

While Buddhist teachings emphasize uprooting unwholesome tendencies like greed, hatred and delusion, meditation is not just about eliminating the negative. It also nurtures and strengthens positive mind states. For example:

  • Compassion - the heartfelt wish for others' well-being and freedom from suffering
  • Loving-kindness (metta) - a radiant friendliness and care extended to all beings
  • Sympathetic joy (mudita) - taking joy in the happiness and success of others
  • Equanimity (upekkha) - an even-minded, accepting presence amidst life's ups and downs

These qualities, known as the Four Immeasurables or Brahmaviharas (Divine Abodes), can be cultivated through specific practices. For instance, metta meditation involves mentally offering phrases of goodwill to oneself and others, while compassion meditation visualizes relieving beings of suffering. With repetition, the associated emotions and attitudes become more natural and spontaneous.

Section: 1, Chapter: 14

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Emotions As Evolution's Way To Control Us

From an evolutionary perspective, emotions evolved as a way to motivate animals, including humans, to approach things that helped them survive and reproduce (food, mates) and avoid things that threatened survival (predators, toxins). Good and bad feelings are nature's carrot and stick to control behavior.

However, in modern environments, these once-adaptive emotional propensities can lead us astray. For example:

  • Our natural desire for sugar and fat, adaptive in ancestral environments, now leads to obesity and health issues
  • Anger, useful for deterring rivals and cheaters in small hunter-gatherer bands, is counterproductive in modern anonymous societies
  • Anxiety, which helped keep us alert to threats, now often arises in situations where it serves no productive purpose

Buddhism argues that mindfulness can help us step back from unhelpful, conditioned emotional patterns and see them with more clarity and choice in whether to act on them.

Section: 1, Chapter: 3

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Mindfulness Meditation Reveals The Modular Mind

Struggling to focus on the breath during meditation, only to have the mind repeatedly pulled away by thoughts, provides direct insight into the modular mind. You may notice:

  • Planning thoughts related to getting needs met (mating, status, affiliation, safety, etc.)
  • Rehashing social interactions to analyze your performance and others' opinions
  • Fantasizing about pleasant experiences or worrying about unpleasant ones
  • Self-referential thoughts evaluating your qualities and self-worth

With practice, you can start to see these arising not as "your" thoughts, but as the output of mental modules evolved to grapple with particular adaptive problems. Rather than getting caught up in their content, you can notice them as "events" in the mind and let them pass without identifying with them.

Section: 1, Chapter: 8

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

The Essentialist Creates Space To Escape And Explore

In our hyperconnected world, we rarely take time to deliberately disconnect and put space on the calendar to think and strategize. Essentialists create space in their schedules to escape and explore life. They use this space to discern what is truly essential, to connect with their purpose, and to determine what they want to go big on. They don't let the noise of the world drown out their inner voice. Examples of creating space include taking a walk in nature, meditating, turning off your phone for a set period each day, scheduling "blank space" on your calendar, and taking time to journal.

Section: 2, Chapter: 5

Book: Essentialism

Author: Greg McKeown

"In Meditation, It Is Not The Extraordinary Visions That Matter Most"

"You are not your feelings, you are not your thoughts, you are not your body. These all change constantly, develop and disintegrate, while your inner essence remains. Yet that inner essence isn't an eternal soul, and it certainly isn't your eternal soul, because you don't have one. Your true inner essence has no self. It is selfless. Realizing that is the ultimate aim of meditation."

Section: 5, Chapter: 21

Book: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

Emotions Assign "Essence" To Perceptions

The Buddhist idea of emptiness (shunyata) points to the way we implicitly assign "essences" to perceived objects, as if they had inherent characteristics independent of our minds. For example, we may experience a particular person as annoying, as if "annoying-ness" was an objective attribute of the person.

Cognitive science suggests these essences are actually constructed by the mind by unconscious affective judgments. These emotional valences then get projected onto the thing itself, so it seems to be inherently pleasant, unpleasant, desirable, repulsive, etc.

Mindfulness practice may lead to experiencing things as "empty" of essence by weakening this automatic affective labeling. As fleeting feelings of attraction and aversion get noticed as such and disentangled from perceptions, the world seems more neutral and fluid, less full of fixed, independent things to react to.

Section: 1, Chapter: 11

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

From Meditative Bliss To Everyday Enchantment

While intensely pleasurable meditative states known as jhanas can sometimes arise with concentration meditation, mindfulness meditation aims more for a clear seeing of reality that can permeate daily life off the cushion. This may involve:

  • Greater presence and sensory vividness. Colors seem brighter, sounds more vivid, food more flavorful. There is a childlike freshness to perceptions.
  • Reduced attachment and aversion. With a less self-referential perspective, there is less of a feeling of "what's in it for me" or "what does this mean about me" in response to experiences. Things can be appreciated for what they are.
  • More openness to both pleasant and unpleasant feeling tones without getting caught up in narrative thoughts about them. Difficult emotions pass through more fluidly.
  • Insights into the constructed, dreamlike nature of experience that create a sense of spaciousness and choice in how to respond.

While peak experiences on retreat may come and go, a more continuous "quiet joy" and intimacy with life can suffuse everyday experience with disciplined practice.

Section: 1, Chapter: 4

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Emptiness And Connection

Some Buddhists object to descriptions of meditative insight as revealing that "all is one," arguing this contradicts the core doctrine of emptiness (shunyata). If there are no truly existing, independent things, how can they be one?

But the author suggests this distinction may be more semantic than substantive. Emptiness points to the thorough interdependence (pratitya-samutpada) of all phenomena - how everything arises in dependence on everything else, lacking "inherent existence." And this radical interconnectedness could also be described as a deep unity or oneness.

Experientially, those who describe "becoming one with everything" in meditation seem to be pointing to the same basic insight - a falling away of the usual sense of separation between self and world, revealing a more intimate, less differentiated field of experience. The same basic realization may just be expressed through different metaphysical frameworks and vocabularies.

Section: 1, Chapter: 13

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Observing Overcaffeination Objectively

The author describes a breakthrough experience on meditation retreat when he drank too much coffee and felt an unpleasant tension in his jaw. Observing the sensation mindfully, it suddenly seemed like something outside himself that he was watching with detachment. The unpleasantness dissolved, leaving the physical sensation but without the emotional overlay of discomfort. This illustrates the Buddhist idea that much of our suffering comes from over-identifying with passing mental and physical states. Stepping back and observing them breaks their grip over us.

Section: 1, Chapter: 3

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Is Enlightenment Morally Enlightened?

Some worry that realizing emptiness could lead to emotional detachment and apathy. If no one is truly good or bad, if it's all illusion, why bother caring about others' welfare?

Traditionally though, Buddhist liberation is said to yield spontaneous, impartial compassion. Seeing the ephemeral, dreamlike nature of self and other alike, we instinctively wish for all beings to be free from confusion and suffering, just as we wish to be free.

To cultivate this ethos, try relating to others beyond just the labels and stories you habitually impose on them. Notice the vulnerable, wanting, struggling being behind the surface, behind the role of "friend" or "authority figure" or "stranger." Relax the borders between self and other and allow a natural empathy and care to arise.

Section: 1, Chapter: 12

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Practicing Objectivity by Describing Events Without Embellishment

Develop the skill of describing events objectively, without exaggeration or embellishment. Stick to the facts of what happened, without ascribing meaning or making judgements. See things for what they are, not how you wish or fear them to be. By separating perception from reality, you can assess situations more accurately and avoid unproductive emotions.

Section: 1, Chapter: 4

Book: The Obstacle Is the Way

Author: Ryan Holiday

Nirvana - The End Of Reactivity

"When we have that basis of wisdom about the nature of thought, then we have more power to choose, okay, which thoughts are healthy . . . which thoughts are not so healthy—those we can let go." - Joseph Goldstein, on the fruits of deepening insight through meditation

Section: 1, Chapter: 14

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Take The Ache Out Of Toothache

The author recounts a time on meditation retreat when he had a painful toothache. Sitting down to meditate, he tried viewing the pain mindfully and objectively rather than with aversion. The throbbing became awesome in its intensity, more captivating than unpleasant. Stepping back and observing the pain rather than identifying with it reduced the suffering. This illustrates the Buddhist idea that our sense of an all-important self is an illusion that causes suffering. Experiencing pain as just pain, rather than "my pain", reduces its sting.

Section: 1, Chapter: 2

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Breaking The Spell Of Emotional Enchantment

The author recounts an experience on retreat where he was caught up in feelings of ill will towards another practitioner who was snoring loudly during a meditation session. At first he indulged the feelings, silently judging the person and feeding his aversion.

But then, mindfully observing the feelings, he experienced a sudden disenchantment and release. The feelings of anger and annoyance were still present, but he was no longer fused with them or compelled by them. They appeared as simply passing phenomena in the mind, rather than as defining his relationship to the snoring yogi.

This illustrates the power of mindful, equanimous attention to break the spell of difficult emotions, so we can respond to situations more clearly and less reactively.

Section: 1, Chapter: 14

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

The Fake Snake And The Real Anxiety

Evolution has primed our minds to see threats, even where none exist. 99 times out of 100, rustling in the bushes is just the wind - but running away each time kept our ancestors alive the one time it really was a predator. Similar "false positives" occur with social threats - we may lie awake worrying how people will react to an upcoming presentation, even though it will likely go fine.

Mindfulness meditation allows us to step back and see the false alarms generated by anxious thoughts without getting caught up in them. Over time, this weakens the tendency to generate needless anxiety in the first place. The evolutionary default is to treat all threats as real, but we can train the mind to be more discerning.

Section: 1, Chapter: 3

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

The Sound Is Just The Sound

"Ajahn Chah, a twentieth-century Thai monk who did much to spread awareness of Vipassana meditation in the West...once recounted a time when he was trying to meditate and kept getting interrupted by sounds from a festival in a nearby village. Then, as he recalls it, he had a realization: 'The sound is just the sound. It's me who is going out to annoy it. If I leave the sound alone, it won't annoy me.'"

Section: 1, Chapter: 5

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Eastern Paths To Mastering The Mind

Yoga and the martial arts offer two time-tested systems for achieving mind-body integration and flow.

Hatha Yoga aims to join individual consciousness with universal consciousness through physical postures, ethical behavior, breath control and mental concentration. Over years of disciplined practice, yogis are able to master their body, senses, thoughts and feelings.

The martial arts like Aikido and Karate also use physical training as a vehicle for mental development. Through cultivating a warrior mindset, students learn to overcome fear, live in the present, and maintain grace under pressure. The goal is to act with effortless spontaneity in any situation.

While their specific techniques differ, both traditions point to a common truth - that we can achieve an inner state of harmony by regulating attention through the body.

Section: 1, Chapter: 5

Book: Flow

Author: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Meditation Gave Ray Dalio Calm Equanimity

When Ray Dalio started practicing Transcendental Meditation in college, little did he realize the profound impact it would have on his life and success. He credits his daily meditation practice for providing him "equanimity" and the ability to think clearly even in the most chaotic situations.

As he puts it: "I'm sure Transcendental Meditation, which I have been practicing regularly for nearly half a century, helped provide me with the equanimity I needed to approach my challenges this way." For Dalio, meditation became a transformative habit that enabled him to embrace reality, reflect deeply, and respond effectively rather than emotionally to anything life threw at him.

Section: 1, Chapter: 1

Book: Principles

Author: Ray Dalio

Why Meditation Matters For The Modern World

Meditation has often been seen as an esoteric practice for ascetics and hermits unconcerned with the affairs of the world. However, in an age of accelerating change, volatility and anxiety, meditative practices may be more relevant than ever before for people from all walks of life. By observing sensations, thoughts and emotions with equanimity, one can find an island of calm within the storm.

More importantly, meditation can help us avoid being swept away unthinkingly by the stories we tell ourselves and develop the insight to view our own minds with more clarity. As technological disruptions make the future more unpredictable and our old certainties crumble, knowing our own minds and maintaining mental balance will become a crucial skill. While not a panacea, regular contemplative practice can help us stay grounded, present and compassionate in an age of bewildering transformations. Even a little more awareness of our inner lives can make a big difference in how we engage with the world.

Section: 5, Chapter: 21

Book: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

Disowning Feelings And Thoughts Bit By Bit

Even if one doesn't attain the complete experience of not-self, it can be useful to practice disowning feelings and thoughts a little bit at a time. When a strong emotion like anxiety or craving arises, see if you can observe it objectively for a few moments and experience it as "just a feeling" rather than something integral to your being. Notice how this creates some space around it and reduces its grip on you.

Similarly, when a repetitive thought pattern arises, like self-judgment after making a mistake, imagine it's just a voice in your head rather than the core truth about you. Viewing passing mental contents as "not-self" bit by bit chips away at the solidity of the self over time and can lighten the weight of suffering.

Section: 1, Chapter: 5

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Meditate Productively

Take a period where you're physically occupied but not mentally, like walking or driving, and focus your attention on a professional problem. Keep bringing your attention back to the problem when your mind wanders or stalls. Be wary of looping on what you already know - push yourself to generate new ideas. When stuck, define the specific next-step question you need to answer. Two key benefits of productive meditation: (1) Strengthen your distraction-resisting muscles, (2) Leverage your mind's disdain for boredom to naturally generate new insights.

Section: 2, Chapter: 2

Book: Deep Work

Author: Cal Newport

Vipassana Meditation - Seeing Reality Clearly

Vipassana meditation, also known as insight meditation, aims to give the meditator insight into the true nature of reality, defined in Buddhism as the "three marks of existence":

  1. Dukkha (suffering/unsatisfactoriness)
  2. Anicca (impermanence)
  3. Anatta (not-self)

By observing the contents of the mind with clarity, the meditator comes to see the pervasiveness of these three marks. In particular, anatta, the realization that there is no fixed, permanent self, is considered crucial for liberation from suffering but is very difficult to grasp intellectually without meditation practice.

Section: 1, Chapter: 2

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

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