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Dharma Brats Print
Shambhala Sun | November 1995

Dharma Brats



Emily King was walking down the slate-grey sidewalks of downtown Boston, on her way to the Trident Cafe on Newbury Street. It was a humid day, and the men and women who walked the streets wore shorts and tee-shirts and many, especially the children, had ice-cream cones in hand.


The young journalist who waited for her at the cafe was similar to Emily in many ways: he was 20 years old, a college student in Boston, an aspiring writer, and another "dharma brat," raised in an American family devoted to the practice of an Eastern religion.

Emily's family, he knew, had nearly 300-year-d roots in Boston, and like his own parents, hers had discovered and embraced an Eastern spiritual discipline in the turbulence of the 1960's and early '70's.

He had already interviewed a young man in Santa Fe who had grown up within the confines of Zen Center in Rochester, New York; another who was raised in a family practising Tibetan Buddhism and now works for Chemical Bank in New York City, and a young man who decided to follow his parents and become a Buddhist himself.

Each of their stories was different, each felt their character affected in different ways by their unusual households, and each found their way through childhood, school and the beginnings of adulthood quite differently. But they shared something unique, something rooted in their birth and upbringing that lends them an attitude or view not found in others of their generation.
Emily, Josh, Jason and Noel are children bred of two greater parents: America and an Eastern spiritual discipline. They represent the first complete meeting of West and East, of America and dharma.

"Hi," Emily had said, when she found me at a table near the street-facing windows, in the smoking section.

"Hello!," I said, and stood and smiled, shaking her hand and then waving to the waitress passing in the distance. "Another cup? Thanks."

I received my refill and Emily, a tall, pretty and somewhat pale girl with shoulder-length brown hair, ordered a little pot of tea. The cafe, despite the large windows, was somewhat dark and cool, full of books and paintings, people and smoke.

It was yoga practice that had brought Emily's parents together in the wake of Vietnam, Nixon and the exploration of alternative lifestyles. Dave and Martha King raised Emily in Brookline, an affluent section of Boston, after settling down from, as Dave King puts it, "a life of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll." Dave set to work at a pizza house, while Martha set her sights somewhat higher.

"Too high, I thought," Dave remembers with a smile. "Martha wanted to start an ecological furniture business. I said, 'A what?' And, 'With what money?' and figured my minimum wage job at the pizza joint would be paying the bills for Emily, who was born only a few months later on."
Twenty years later, when Dave and Martha's grown-up girl visits them in Brookline, she comes home to a sprawling mansion and a garage housing two elegant cars. The furniture business has flourished. Martha is, as she puts it, a "rich Liberal, once-hippie, CEO wife-and-mother" and could be considered, at 52 years old, an archetype of the '60's generation grown up.

But some things remain the same for Dave and Martha and other aging, once-rebellious baby-boomers. Martha and Dave still, as for the last 22 years, begin each morning with 30 minutes of yoga practice.

"Well, it really wasn't strange to grow up the way I did," Emily told me. "Dave and Martha made good money; we had a nice house, nice cars, went to the symphony and for picnics at Marblehead beach each summer." Her parents practiced yoga each day, went to lectures by "this teacher or that," had books about yoga, magazines, Eastern pictures on the wall, but "it all blended in. Only when I was older did I begin to assess yoga in a more personal, critical, and objective way."
For most of her teenage years Emily observed a respectful distance from her parent's practice of yoga. Her friends at school took "a light-hearted, curious point of view"-just wanting to know if she "did drugs or voodoothey thought it was a bit trippy, love-and-lighty." Then, a funny thing happened just before Emily left for college at Wellesley in 1992.

"In preparing to say goodbye to my childhood, to living with mom and dad and pooch, I found that leaving also meant a departure from something more subtle, even fundamental in my old life. I decided that before I said goodbye to yoga, I wanted to know if I really knew what it was. And in reading and practicing a little of it, and talking with other children of my parents' yoga friends, I made or discovered a sharp connection to yoga, one that I didn't want to leave, but rather deepen."

Yoga became a personal spiritual path that Emily is committed to even while at school, if only through reading or visiting her parents in Brookline. Her daily effort to "maintain a sense of joy and goodness" is rooted in her yogic practice.

"Yoga is obviously very body-oriented," she said, leaning her tall frame against the cafe table. "Its exercises can help to synchronize one's body with one's spirit. There's lots to it-it is almost silly to try to summarize yoga in a few sentences. But personally it serves as a practice to connect my crazy life with something constructive and spiritual."

Illustrating her belief that yoga is something to be practiced genuinely and thoroughly, and not briefly discussed, she mentions that Jane Fonda and others have done exercise videos for it. "It's somewhat popularized, which is good, but it can be bad, too," she says, "if people approach it frivolously-just wanting 'the goods' without any respect. Then it just becomes more self-help, spiritual fluff."
Yoga is no longer just something that she grew up with, something that her parents did, no longer "just an influence, in the way a hobby or ordinary passion is." Emily now practices nearly every day for one to three hours. If she doesn't have time, "I read, or do a few quick stretches in the morning, whatever will connect me to yoga on that day," she says.

"You see, it's become the essential way for me to communicate with IT." Emily smiles when asked what she means by IT, then shrugs her shoulders. "That's what the whole world has been arguing about for centuries: the definition and rights to IT. It's personal, anyway. My practice of yoga is how I can try to deal with all my problems and stress and grow in a genuine, healthy, confident way. It's just about being a curious, cheerful human.

"I really want to emphasize-and this doesn't make me a very good interviewee-," she grins, "that I don't want to just talk about yoga. I want to say how I really am American too, not in the sense that I'm afraid of being black-listed or something, but that both worlds have continuously affected me in my life. I approach life as an American from a more independent, clear point of view, I think, and I approach yoga practice with all of my very American expectations, desires and problems."

Emily finished her little pot of tea, and I finished my coffee. As she prepared to leave, grabbing her backpack and getting up to look at some magazines, I gathered my previous interviews and, with papers laid out all around me, a cup of coffee and a friend's Powerbook, began working.
Emily, however, had not yet left the cafe and returned to say goodbye.

She saw all the papers. "Are these the other interviews?," she asked.

Emily sat down again on her side of the now cluttered table. "Do you mind if I read one while you write?," she asked. "I have an hour-and-a-half before the Red Sox game at Fenway."

Pleasantly surprised, I handed her a small stack of papers. "This is the one with Josh Schrei," I told her. "He's in Santa Fe, New Mexico now, but he grew up with his parents at the Rochester Zen Center."

Emily ordered another pot of tea and began reading, while I set to typing, smoking, drinking coffee and pacing around the street just outside. It's a tough enough gig to be a "curious, cheerful human," as Emily put it, tougher still when you've got an article to write.

In 1970, when Josh Schrei was born, his parents left their politically active life on the Oberlin campus, leading sit-ins and protests against the war in Vietnam, for an austere life of meditation and study at Philip Kapleau's new Zen Center.

The center was situated like an island in a pond, its acres set in the midst of the industrial city of Rochester, New York. Josh grew up playing hide-and-go-seek with the children of other staff members in the beautiful Japanese gardens and halls of the center's two main houses. He learned about meditation, enlightenment, the Buddha, and the "outside world" from within the sprawling confines of Zen Center. It was as wonderful a childhood as it was disillusioning.

His parents were among the few lay resident staff members at Zen Center. For the first years of the center, Josh told me, the staff was painfully ambivalent regarding the status of the center-whether to be purely monastic or more open, with resident families and visitors. Zen Center was a sort of spiritual New World, a place where students hoped to escape what they considered to be a world full of corruption, suffering and aggression. This attitude, a "dualistic attitude of nirvana versus samsara," was also directed towards the children at Zen Center.

"We epitomized their dilemma, you see," Josh says. "Children weren't there for the same reasons everybody else was. We couldn't meditate because the adults were hit by a stick if they fidgeted," as is the zen tradition, "and of course they didn't want to hit a jumpy kid with the stick." Josh, his best friend Jake, and the other children at the center were also prohibited from eating breakfast or lunch with the adult students, as these meals were taken in formal zen style, kneeling on cushions on the floor, in complete silence except for Buddhist chants.

But Josh also identified with and found enthusiasm for much of the zen way of life. On his seventh birthday a zen student gave him one of the sticks used to hit a restless meditator. Inscribed on the stick was what little Josh considered his first koan: "Be kind to everyone." He also received a zen monastic meditation manual, and in the manner of all "my other games, began training myself to be a buddha." This was his only goal as a child.

Josh's years in public school were "remarkably free of animosity." The only, admittedly minor, exception was when at lunch-time a "zen clique formed," taking over an entire table, because "we were all vegetarian. Growing up, vegetarianism was the most concrete evidence of my being Buddhist. And it was considered strange, weird-we had to justify ourselves on numerous occasions."

When Josh was 13 years old his parents, courtesy of Zen Center, set off on a pilgrimage to see Asia's notable Buddhist historical sites. As Josh was a year ahead in school, he was able to take the year off and join them. The trip was "wonderful, perfect"; they traveled through India and Sri Lanka and saw Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

His parents, now zen teachers in their own right, moved with Josh to Santa Fe, New Mexico to lead a new group there. These were his teenage years, and free from Zen Center, bored in Santa Fe, Josh learned to love and explore the mountains and forests, Native American traditions, and, when he was older, some of the drugs of this southwestern state. "The zen I grew up with was so ethereal," Josh recalls. "I needed something different, something to bring me back to earth."
When he was 16 years old he made an enthusiastic connection to Tibetan Buddhism. "To see a lama laughing and giggling, radiating a sense of joy, struck a chord in me," Josh said. This exploration of Tibetan Buddhism coincided with "a serious falling-out" between his parents and Philip Kapleau, still leader of Zen Center. Josh's father had begun incorporating other forms of Buddhism into his teachings, and that, along with a peer's underhanded competition for a leadership position, resulted in an angry letter from Kapleau. Josh's father, the letter said, would never teach for the center again.

"Americans have a strange relationship with teachers in general. It's like-," Josh smiled, "-in the "Life of Brian," the Monty Python film, when Jesus is talking to this crowd. He says, 'Don't look towards me, you're all individuals. You can all think for yourselves!' and the crowd repeats, 'We're all individuals, we can think for ourselves...' People like to put a teacher on a pedestal-'the guru is everything'-and if not, then they blame the guru. There's some sense of projection. We hurl ourselves at teachers-'I finally found the one who's going to change my life'-then when it doesn't happen the guru is suddenly seen as evil."

Josh still appreciates his upbringing. "Zen is so strict and austere, yet at the heart of its teaching is spontaneity. There's a zen koan that says, 'Look-the world is vast and wide; why do you put the monk's robe on at the sound of the bell?,' and to me that is the basic question of zen altogether. If the world is without substance, why decide to live with so many rules and regulations? I wonder about that."

The zen spirit of "constant questioning" can be forgotten, however. All too often, Josh relates, there was "never any middle ground. Zen can be so full of ideals; you have to be so perfect. I was constantly surrounded by ideas of perfection and spiritual enlightenment. I was infused with this idea since birth that I had to be perfect."

Meditation is now a helpful element in Josh's daily life. He tries to practice meditation consistently, in a style that includes elements of martial arts and Tibetan meditations, as well as zen. It is basic, simple and informal: "You observe your thoughts as passing like clouds through the sky," Josh says. "With the world the way it is these days, any time you can take five or twenty minutes to be with yourself and relax, let go and not think about anything is extremely valuable. This world is crazy-we're constantly being bombarded by sensory stimulation, we're always in a hurry...
"Principles of compassion, awareness, loving-kindness, emptiness and impermanence are fundamental Buddhist ways of seeing the world," and have been with Josh "in a visceral, subconscious way" since he was very young.

For the past two years, Josh has been touring a one-man show called "Kathmandu," drawing heavily on his childhood experiences at Zen Center. Zen, he says, is so much "a part of who I am that I don't think I could ever escape it."

Finished reading my hasty transcriptions of the interview with Josh, Emily looks up and says, "Hey, that was really great! I think he's a pretty thoughtful, good guy. Do you have any more interviews with you?"

"Sure," I said, "I've got my interview with Jason, who's in New York City. He's hardly involved with Buddhism actively-his every hour is spent in Chemical Bank."

"I don't need to get to the Red Sox game for an hour."

Jason Kiefer sits in a mostly darkened office-it's nearly 9 p.m.-in one of the countless skyscrapers in Manhattan's concrete-and-steel forest. Dressed in a shirt that three hours ago held a tie, and well-ironed but now rumpled dress pants, he finishes the remnants of a sushi dinner that was delivered more than an hour ago. Jason is somewhat pale; he has spent the last few years, sometimes averaging 12 hours a day, in the office of Chemical Securities market analysis division.
Jason at 24 years has completed two of the earliest, most rigorous stages on Chemical's ladder, and is on his way to one of the top business schools in America, preferably Harvard or Stanford. He is the classic Hollywood picture of "a fine young man plugging away on Wall Street.

Busy as he is, Jason may think little about the American Buddhism of his childhood; nevertheless, his "personal philosophy is still based upon Buddhism. It's what I grew up with." Buddhism-its ideas, practices and personalities-were "all I knew."

But Jason says, "I've always been anti-religious, at least in terms of theistic religions. You could call me anti-spiritual. I don't believe in anything that science can't explain, or acknowledges it can't explain. I remember when I was four years old going up to my mother and asking, 'If God invented the world, who invented God?' She didn't know the answer-and I'd still like to know." In first grade, Jason was "the first in the history of the school to be exempted from religion class." He grins, then asks me to hold on a minute as he takes an incoming call.

Meditation never appealed to Jason. First of all, he says, it was hard, boring work. Second, he has not seen how meditation applies to what he feels he misses most in his life: "Glee. There are too few times in my life that I feel completely, irrationally happy. Meditation is about examining and understanding the mind, and passion, happiness, is best when you don't know, or care, why you're happy."
What his upbringing has given him, Jason says, is an understanding that pain, confusion and depression are rooted in his own mind, and therefore are workable. "I understand that suffering, at least mental suffering, isn't somebody else's fault. So I can drop it, or at least try to."

What Jason is doing now, of course, requires a whole-hearted commitment of time and energy. "This is a world that few Buddhists enter," Jason notes. "I don't know why. All I know is that I have this ambition. I don't know if Buddhism can give you that ambition, create it. It's a source of energy and joy. I like what I do, though I wouldn't do it if there wasn't any money in it."

Jason and I say goodnight and he gathers his things to leave the office. He's been there since 7:30 a.m. and needs to get to bed. Tomorrow is yet another 12-hour day in the office of Chemical Securities Market Analysis Division in New York, New York.

"I like that one," Emily says. "But poor guy, it sounds so boooring."

"But he likes it," I say, glad that she liked it. "Well, do you want to read another?"
"Yes," she replies, "But-of-course. Who is this one of?"

"His name is Noel McLellan. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado and is now Buddhist himself. Hope you like it," I say, and resume the task of transcription, from tape to paper to Macintosh.

Noel McLellan takes a rare hour off from his studies at the University of Colorado and his duties as assistant bookstore manager at a popular cafe downtown. He sits on the red-carpeted stairway that leads from the reception hall to the residents' apartments above at Marpa House, a large Spanish-style villa and for more than twenty years a Buddhist community apartment house.

It was here in Boulder that Tibetan Buddhism as taught by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche first took root, here that his parents met and married, and here that Noel was born.

It was quite a scene in Boulder in those days. Many of Trungpa Rinpoche's students, at his urging, cut their long hair and gave up tie-dye and drugs for suits, jobs and families. As meditation centers sprang up nation-wide, Boulder itself was consumed by the beginnings of The Naropa Institute, a Buddhist-inspired college where, as Trungpa Rinpoche put it, "East and West meet and sparks can fly."

More than 200 people showed up for Naropa's first shoe-string summer, featuring Trungpa Rinpoche and Ram Dass. The Beats also lent a hand-Allen Ginseberg, Gary Snyder, William Burroughs and many other poets and artists came to Naropa, where Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Noel is one of a core group of children whose age reflects the length of Buddhism's stay in America, and so is called a "dharma brat" by some, in off-handed reference to a Kerouac novel. Dharma is a word that refers to the teachings of the Buddha. Brat, of course, refers to the fact that while most students take a circuitous route towards the buddhadharma, these children were born and raised in the community-and could therefore take their rich, peculiar existence for granted.

Asked what he thought was unique about growing up in a Buddhist family, Noel pauses and says, "It's difficult to say because I don't have anything to compare it to. But I think there was always some sense of trust that I don't see so much elsewhere. A kind of faith. But they never pushed Buddhism on me. I did have a general sense of being Buddhist and when, one day, a friend came over and asked if I believed in God, I knew we didn't, so I said 'no.'
"He immediately began telling me I was going to go to hell, and I freaked out. I asked my parents, and they said, 'No, no, don't worry, you aren't going to go to hell.' But basically they really did their thing and left me alone."

And here Noel mentions the "atmosphere" that was present throughout his childhood. "I remember always being very bored" by events at the center in Boulder. "Nothing much happened. It was very quiet. But at the same time, people were often very dressed up, and there was this energy, this richness, this power to it-it was always very charged."

Asked about the primary difference between the Buddhist elementary school he went to and the public junior high school he later attended, Noel replies after a pause.

"Well, a story I always tell," Noel says with a smile, "is when one day I had to bring Mr. Visser, our principal, a note. I think I was in some kind of trouble at the time, which at public school would mean you'd go to the principal's office and be treated like a hassle. Well, Mr. Visser came out of his office and smiled, and bowed to me. I didn't think much about it at the time, but later on I realized it was such a sign of respect, for my potential as a future warrior and good person, good Buddhist."
Now that Noel is an adult, and has chosen to follow the Buddhist path of his own accord, he is confronted with the task of understanding how the buddhadharma could guide his life. "I've been thinking a lot about the whole idea of ambition. Sometimes when I'm at school I'll look around, and I wonder what everyone is doing there. Everyone is there out of some sense of wanting to make it. That's the high ideal of American society, but I don't know if I care whether I make a ton of money..."

Noel is firmly dedicated to the path he has chosen: he practices meditation and studies Buddhism with the same mix of faith and relaxation that his parents showed him as a child. His path is purely a personal one, and so he views his life now and his future in the context of the teachings.

"We're a unique bunch of characters to write about," she says and smiles.

I smile too, appreciating Emily's positive response, and the more salient fact that Emily, Josh, Jason and Noel's experiences do seem unique: not just different, but worthwhile, vital and urgent in this time of change, suffering, progress and upheaval.

But as I sit contemplating that, Emily has asked me a question, which I ask her to repeat. "Want to join me and my friends at the Red Sox game?" Emily has asked.

"Yes!" I say.

It was one of the first games of the season. Fenway packed, the day still sunny, the atmosphere one of baseball at its best. Thoughts of my interviews with Jason, Noel, Josh and Emily floated through my mind (like passing clouds, as Josh had said). I looked around and wondered if indeed zen or Tibetan Buddhism or yoga have anything to contribute to such a crowd as this. I can recognize in the faces of the little children, of the bare-chested, tipsy men, of the mothers and even the ball-players, the humor, thoughtfulness, joy, compassion, boredom that each of my interviewees manifested.

I looked at Emily, thoroughly enjoying herself with her friends, as at home in classic Americana as she is with her spiritual discipline. And so it is with these "dharma brats."

They are clearly a part of Generation X-they watch MTV, snowboard, study and socialize, experiment (perhaps) with drugs, dream of being rich, famous, falling in love. But there is another, once-exotic foreign influence in their lives. Whether yoga, zen or Tibetan Buddhism, their path is not only temporal but spiritual, and so while enjoying "Reality Bites" on video with friends and popcorn, they may see with different eyes and feel with different hearts.

Jason, Emily, Josh, Noel and young people like them unite two distinct influences-for centuries so separate-on a personal, fundamental, thorough level. If East meets West, and the sparks can fly, Noel, Jason, Josh, Emily and the rest of this rare generation are now the embodiment of that spark.

Born in Boulder, Colorado, Waylon Lewis is a journalism student at Boston University and is himself a "dharma brat."
 
Dharma Brats, Waylon Lewis, Shambhala Sun, November 1995.

/catchusers3/2010620/shambhalaback/Archives/Features/1995/Nov95/DharmaBrats.htm

bell hooks talks to John Perry Barlow Print

bell hooks talks to John Perry Barlow

John Perry Barlow: "On paper, you are my polar opposite [bell hooks: iconoclastic feminist, leading African-American intellectual, progressive Buddhist, self-proclaimed homebody], yet I feel none of that in your presence." bell hooks: "I've never met anyone from Wyoming before [John Perry Barlow: cyber philosopher, retired cattle rancher, world traveler, Grateful Dead lyricist, self-proclaimed Republican]. I sought you out. I wanted to hear your story."


Love and Sleep

bell hooks
: I'm talking to John Perry Barlow.

John Perry Barlow: Out on the street.

bell hooks: …out ON THE STREET!

John Perry Barlow: I was walking past a church in Harlem about a month ago and there was a quote on the sermon board from Proust, of all people, saying, "The journey of discovery begins not with new vistas but with having new eyes with which to behold them."

bell hooks: Malcolm X always used to say that we needed new eyes. One of the concepts that most turns me on within engaged Buddhism is the idea of what clarity is and of what it takes to get clear.

John Perry Barlow: It takes waking up. I think one of the reasons that Americans are now attracted to Buddhism is because this is a culture in a stupor. The American stupor, hypnotic, hallucinatory condition, has become so pervasive that the idea that one could wake up from it and have clarity or vivid vision is extremely attractive. Of course, saying it don't make it so.

bell hooks: Well, for me practice makes it so. The practice of mindfulness, the practice of being aware, takes me closer to awakeness. I feel like there is always something trying to pull us back into sleep, that there is this sort of seductive quality in all the hedonistic pleasures that pull on us.

John Perry Barlow: The senses almost exist to dull themselves; it's as though they want to explore the possibility of space until there's nothing novel in it. And then go to sleep.

bell hooks: I think that as much as we are a culture that is asleep, we are a culture that is moving away from love. The capacity to love is so tied to being able to be awake, to being able to move out of yourself and be with someone else in a manner that is not about your desire to possess them, but to be with them, to be in union and communion.

John Perry Barlow: My deceased lover and I used to brag about how we'd overcome our narcissism by becoming narcissistic about our relationship. And it did feel that way. I felt much less self-absorbed.


Categories & Intimacy


bell hooks: In this past year when I went around to so many colleges and universities, I found people deeply and profoundly cynical about love. I spent this week re-reading Martin Luther King's sermon "Strength to Love," and I was somewhat saddened by the idea that what we remember about him revolves so much around fantasy and dreaming and hope for the future, when there was this real concrete message, particularly during the later period of his life, which was all about love and the rigor of love.

Not easy love but that love which really requires of us the willingness to be dissenting voices, the willingness to stand alone, the willingness to be transformed. He's constantly stating, "Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." It seems to me that the process of renewing ourselves is also an act of love.

John Perry Barlow: It seems to me that what we're here to do is to learn about love in the presence of fear.

bell hooks: I have been thinking about the notion of perfect love as being without fear, and what that means for us in a world that's becoming increasingly xenophobic, tortured by fundamentalism and nationalism. Even about meeting you—the idea of being able to let fear go so you can move towards another person who's not like you. I've never met anyone from Wyoming before.

John Perry Barlow: Much less a Republican cattle rancher.

bell hooks: When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.

John Perry Barlow: I was just describing you to someone in terms of the externalities that would end up on your curriculum vitae, and the person said, she sounds like your polar opposite. On paper, you are my polar opposite and yet I feel none of that in your presence.

bell hooks: I actually feel that my heart was calling me to you. The first time we were in the same room for a prolonged period of time together, I sought you out. I wanted to hear your story.

John Perry Barlow: I felt the same way.

bell hooks: And what I see in a lot of young folks is this desire to be only with people like themselves and only to have any trust in reaching out to people like themselves. I think, what kind of magic are they going to miss in life? What kind of renewals of their beings will they never have, if they think you can have some computer printout that says this person has the same gender as you, the same race as you, the same class, and therefore they're safe? I feel that intuition is so crucial to getting beyond race and class and gender, so that we can allow ourselves to feel for and with another person.

John Perry Barlow: I think that among the great errors of the political correctness movement is that it reduces things to their externalities and avoids the essence. I think that there is something about that whole academic, literary, critical culture that spawned a point of view that is anti-intimate.

bell hooks: Part of it is that, no matter how much that culture talks against it, it remains deeply rooted in mind-body-spirit.

John Perry Barlow: Underlying it is the belief that if you say the right words, if your language is appropriate, then your thoughts will necessarily follow, without seeing the great balancing act that goes on between any effort and that which resists it. On the West Coast now I find people to be in a lamentable condition. I honestly think that many of them feel that if they are careful about saying "African-American," then they can be in complete denial about the fact that they are treating people like niggers in their actions and in their unwillingness to open themselves emphatically to the people they encounter on the street. Here in New York, where people are liable to call one another anything, there is an empathic connection between the people on the street.

bell hooks: Partly there is this profound distrust of those things that can take us past race, past gender. I feel like it's important to understand the meaning of those things, even as we are not held captive by them.


Information & Experience

John Perry Barlow: Much of what is critically ill in the American heart of the moment has to do with the confusion of information for experience, and reducing one's map of the world to the informational. We are removed from all of the intuitive realities because we're trying to experience them through this mediating and separating agency of television or the media in general. We're living in highly desocialized conditions in our hermetically-sealed two-level ranch-style suburban homes.

bell hooks: I've been involved with a project called "Digital Diaspora," and a lot of what people fear about computers is that they will simply intensify this privatization and alienation from body and spirit that you're talking about. Do you see that?

John Perry Barlow: We've already been separated by information to an alarming extent. The difference between information and experience is that when you're having an experience, you're in real-time contact with the phenomena around you. You're able to ask questions with every synapse in your body of the surrounding conditions. What I'm hopeful about is that because cyberspace is an interactive medium in a human sense, we'll be able to go through this info-desert and be able to have something like tele-experience. We'll be able to experience one other genuinely, in a truly interactive fashion, at a distance.

bell hooks: One of the things I think about is what it means to be communicating when you're not aware of the specifics of who people are. You can't respond to their looks, which are so central to the mechanisms of domination in our society. We judge on the basis of what somebody looks like, skin color, whether we think they're beautiful or not. That space on the Internet allows you to converse with somebody with none of those things involved.

John Perry Barlow: There's something problematic here, and I go back and forth on it all the time. I want to have a cyberspace that has prana in it. I want to have a cyberspace where there's room for the breath and the spirit.

bell hooks: Well, that's what I haven't found, Barlow.

John Perry Barlow: Well, I haven't either. The central question in my life at the moment is whether or not it's possible to have it there. That's what I'm really trying to figure out. Dialogue is not just language. The text itself is a minimal portion of the overall conversation. The overall conversation includes the color of your skin, and includes the way I smell, and includes the way we feel sitting here on the stoop with our thighs touching.

It's not that there's anything particularly healthy about cyberspace in itself, but the way in which cyberspace breaks down barriers. Cyberspace makes person-to-person interaction much more likely in an already fragmented society. The thing that people need desperately is random encounter. That's what community has.

bell hooks: Seeing your computer, it feels like this lively possibility where anything may flash itself on that screen.

John Perry Barlow: There's a big difference between the computer as a typewriter or a giant adding machine, and the computer as telephone or social space. I check my e-mail four or five times a day and I invariably get something utterly unexpected from a part of the world that I've never heard of before. That alerts me to the general human condition and makes me feel more connected to the entire species.


Garbage & Baggage

John Perry Barlow: I feel like I'm living in a metaphorical condition. I just spent the last hour and a half with an old poet who has spent his whole life in a metaphorical condition, and is about to be truly metaphorical. He said the most important thing was to take proper regard of the little things.

bell hooks: Part of what Buddhism has been for me is paying attention to the little things.

John Perry Barlow: Chop wood. Carry water.

bell hooks: I remember years ago when I first met Gary Snyder. I was really young; I didn't understand that at all.

John Perry Barlow: Without a truly grounded context, words themselves don't mean anything; metaphors don't mean anything. A metaphor has to participate equally in the utterly physical and the truly spiritual. A metaphor is kind of a path between those two realms, and it's a bad bridge that doesn't have two ends.

bell hooks: Yesterday I was thinking about the whole idea of genius and creative people, and the notion that if you create some magical art, somehow that exempts you from having to pay attention to the small things.

John Perry Barlow: A big mistake, I suspect, but a mistake that I make all the time. I find that I make it more easily now that, in addition to being a smear on the geography because of my travels, my mind spends so much of its time in a completely disembodied state, inhabiting a social space where nobody has a body.

bell hooks: People have been telling me that as I become more of a little "star," I should be hiring people to attend to the dailyness of my life. But I think I become something different when I don't attend to the little things.

John Perry Barlow: I have a friend who used to take care of details for a senator from Wyoming. She said she would be happy to be my assistant on a part-time basis. I found myself resisting this, in spite of the fact that I am overwhelmed by things like calls to the travel agent and picking up the aspirin at the drug store, and all those utterly quotidian kinds of concerns.

A couple of years ago, I was coming into Narita Airport and found myself in the customs line behind Morita, the president of SONY, pushing all of his own baggage in a cart. Didn't have some drone pushing his baggage for him. He was pushing his own baggage. And I thought, "There's something. You'd never see an American captain of industry doing this, and there's something about this that is essentially Buddhist."

bell hooks: I feel that especially when it's chores I don't want to do, like taking out the garbage or doing my laundry. It's in the act of having to do things that you don't want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.


Death & Dance

John Perry Barlow: I think an enlightened mind would be able to experience the vividness that novelty brings, even in things that are not novel. Thoreau said he'd travelled widely in the area around Walden Pond. The people who used to work on my ranch had never been outside of the state of Wyoming, but they had gone deeply into it. Whether we were fencing or minding cows, they could obviously perceive a deeper level of detail.

I keep thinking about the modern plague of boredom, which, ironically, is connected to the general social desire to make everything as familiar as possible, to turn everything into McDonald's land or television land. And at the same time people are expressing a feeling of crushing ennui. I remember one of the few truly Buddhist things that my very non-Buddhist Wyoming mother said to me when I was little. I'd complain about being bored and she'd say, "Anyone who's bored isn't paying close enough attention."

bell hooks: Whereas my mother in Kentucky always used to say, "Life is not promised," in the sense that boredom is a luxury in this world. Where life is always fleeting, each moment has to be seized. For us children, that was a lesson in imagination, because she was always urging us to think of the imagination as that which allows you to crack through that space of ennui and get back going.

John Perry Barlow: That was what impressed me most about the old man that I went to see today. He is right on the edge of dying, and he knows that. He's an intensely spiritual guy and every time I talked to him before, all he talked about was his memories of the spirit world from before he was born. Now I asked him if he could see through to the other side, and he said he didn't want to think about the other side right now. It wasn't a matter of denying it; it was wanting to put himself in the context of life as fully as possible. The moments are so precious to him now that he's grabbing every one and savoring it.

bell hooks: I suppose I never think about death as an other side. Life is what's on the other side; life is what we can't get back to, because death is actually what we're experiencing right now. Death is with you all the time; you get deeper in it as you move towards it, but it's not unfamiliar to you. It's always been there, so what becomes unfamiliar to you when you pass away from the moment is really life.

John Perry Barlow: You pass away from the moment into the infinite, where there are no moments and where there's no time. Here in an embodied state, the body, like all physical things, participates in entropy and all the other artifacts of time. There's a thin but nevertheless impermeable membrane between the chronological and the timeless that has become much more real to me since my lover died a year ago. Even though I feel her soul, the absence of her body feels like an enormous barrier. The absence of the spoken word, the absence of the sound of her voice, or the touch of her skin. All the things that only can be done by souls with bodies on them.

bell hooks: I wonder if those experiences are a call for us to feel the spirit more deeply. I think a lot about the phrase, "The sweet communion of the holy spirit," because I think the holy spirit is part of what you found with your lover. And that's part of what you can still have. When you talk about those tangible losses—the smell of another person, the sound of their voice, their movement—what resides, what stays in eternity, is that spirit that the two of you made between you.

John Perry Barlow: But you know the only time that I feel in contact with her, really, is when her spirit temporarily borrows someone else's body to dance. Like the moment that you and I were dancing up in your apartment a few months ago. And suddenly she was in you and I could feel her there. You quit dancing the way you danced and started dancing the way she danced. And it was almost like a practical joke that she was playing in a way.

bell hooks: Well, that's exactly why they call it spirit possession, because you're taken over and you're not yourself, but the other person has the moment of reunion.


Fear & Faith

John Perry Barlow: It's only in the last year that I have been willing to accept on anything other than an intellectual level that the soul and the body are separable; that the spirit could go in and out of time and have new bodies.

bell hooks: Why did you have that resistance?

John Perry Barlow: Because I believed the dominant religion of this culture, which is science. And in science, only hypotheses whose results can be reproduced and observed are credible. Obviously when we talk about the spirit we have to talk about matters of faith, and when we talk about matters of faith, the lack of reproducibility is critical.

bell hooks: One of the guiding issues of my life right now is thinking about the difference between being fear-based and faith-based. When we think about the history of science, so much of it is rooted in this quest to find answers that will silence fear.

John Perry Barlow: And what has happened? We now have a society that is absolutely sick with fear. This is the most fearful place on the planet. It's the place where science is dominant to the exclusion of all other religions. So it hasn't been a very good answer so far. We take very little solace in our science.

bell hooks: What do you make of those people who are drawn to Buddhism because they see it as a more "scientific" religion than say, Islam or Christianity.

John Perry Barlow: And why would they say that?

bell hooks: I think because they see it as rational, reason based—the whole notion of cause and effect and of being able to even shift one's consciousness through breathing. It's more concrete in a lot of people's imaginations, more rational.

John Perry Barlow: But a zen master would tell you, I think, that you're not trying to shift consciousness through breathing; you're trying to breathe and that's all. Maybe this is an American misperception of Buddhism. We're so causal that we take Buddhism and reculturate it in our own terms and inject a kind of causality that I don't think the Buddha felt.

If you spend time among Buddhists, either in Japan or where I've been in northern India, in their own context, they don't understand causality at all. I actually found myself years ago on top of a mountain with a Tibetan lama, just like a New Yorker cartoon. And he was asking me questions all the time about automobile mechanics. It was only afterwards that I realized that the reason he was so fascinated with automobile mechanics is that they're so causal. You know, x causes y causes z. That was the source of his curiosity. I think that in the western cultures, we reinterpret Buddhism to be more causal than it is and we make it purposeful when,if you listen carefully, it seems that what they're saying is that the purpose is its own purpose. The act is sufficient unto itself.

bell hooks: I think that's why I've always been drawn to engaged Buddhism and to Thich Nhat Hanh, because there's so much emphasis on the dailyness of life and doing what you do with a certain quality of mindfulness and stillness. You don't have to have an agenda when you wake up in the morning, because waking up in the morning is what you're doing.

John Perry Barlow: Lately I started to become concerned that in my frantic rushing around the world I was beating back stillness. But on closer examination, I feel like I am the eye of my own hurricane, and the more white noise I gather around myself, the more quiet it is in the center.

bell hooks: Well, I think about the difference between you and I often, because you're such a guy for the road, and I'm such a girl for the living room. I really like to stay in my nest and not move. I travel in my mind, and that that's a rigorous state of journeying for me. My body isn't that interested in moving from place to place, and for me, stillness is always an experience of getting away from my mind. If I can get to sleep without my mind taking me on a journey, I feel happy.


Mothers & Forgiveness

bell hooks: For me the shift is away from the idea of love as a feeling to the sense of love as an action, love as something that I have to do rather than something that I could get by with just feeling. I had to be transformed in my actions towards others and the world. It really changed me.

John Perry Barlow: You don't think that you were always like this?

bell hooks: No, like a lot of kids born into families where people didn't understand them and tried to repress them, I think I was wounded in that space where I would know love. What saved me was that I had this incredible will to know, and the desire to know is central to the practice of love. If I didn't want to know John Perry Barlow, if I hadn't wanted to hear his story, we wouldn't be on this stoop.

That desire to know kept me going and moving into love, despite the fact that as a child I felt sad all the time and there was a kind of competition between grief and love. Alice Miller says that for some children who are in a disturbed home environment, that is a place of magic as much as it can be a place of damage. Magic and damage don't necessarily cancel out one another.

John Perry Barlow: Damage strengthens. I realized recently that I had a lot of reason to be grateful to my mother; my mother is a blame-based person.

bell hooks: Mine too. They must have known each other.

John Perry Barlow: She's ninety years old and her mind is absolutely lucid. She can remember every time that anybody screwed up in her vicinity in the last ninety years. Her guiding belief is that shit is caused…by somebody. One of the things that I am most grateful for is that I'm about the most forgiving person I know. Or the most likely person to find extenuating circumstance in someone else's behavior. She, more than anyone, taught me how to forgive by her own unwillingness to forgive.

bell hooks: It was seeking a path out of blame that led me to Buddhism. I was seeking a way out of that whole notion of wrong-doing, blame and punishment. I wanted something that actually had a promise that one would not have to inhabit the space of blame.

John Perry Barlow: But why didn't you simply turn to your own religious tradition? Why didn't you look at Christian absolution as being sufficient?

bell hooks: I've never given up on the mystical dimensions of Christianity. I always laugh at myself because in the morning I sit zazen, but then I always take time to say my Christian prayers at the same time. It's like those two traditions have walked with me through my life and I haven't been able to just choose one as the right one for me. I still feel like the sweetness of both of them enhances my life.


Journeys

John Perry Barlow: What I've decided is that thoughts and ideas and works of art and all of those apparently immaterial things are really life forms; they're alive. And they have all of the characteristics of life forms. One of the things that you find if you're doing animal husbandry is that there's a lot of vigor in hybridization. If you really want something that has vigor and robustness, the best thing you can do is take two completely different gene sets and put them together. The space between things has energy in it, and I think part of what you and I have going for us is that there is some space between our externalities where the potential for informational life to grow up is highly fecant.

bell hooks: That's the kind of border crossing that in cultural studies we call the hybridity of the future. The future is in moving out of the self into another space, not as a kind of tourism, but as a willingness to bring something to the other situation. This is involved with the whole tradition of gift-giving around the world. I think true hybridization is about your taking whatever you have to give and mingling it with whatever other folks have to give. One path that leads so many people to eastern thought is that longing to find a space where forgiving is sanctioned, and forgiveness can't happen if you're not allowed to believe in the power of giving. I think that the whole realm of capitalism is stifling in us the capacity to experience the gift, and the fundamental gift which we've been talking about is the gift of life, the breath.

John Perry Barlow: The problem with capitalism is that it's based on physics and not biology. It's based on entropy and not the fundamental reality of life, which creates new complexity and new order and higher states of energy all the time. Look how much value comes into the world out of absolutely nothing in the realm of information. The process of evolution is not one of entropy at all, but so much of the economy is about that extropic process. I think that one of the most helpful signs I see is a movement in economic theory toward the biological.

bell hooks: In journeying from place to place I've come to see how little I need to be alive in the world. There are days when I wake up and I feel overwhelmed by that sense of lust for goods and services, and I remind myself of people in the Kalahari desert and of how little it really takes to sustain ourselves.

John Perry Barlow: I travel with what I can easily carry down a jet concourse at high speed under my own power. And I never miss all those books and records and knick-knacks and things that fill my life whenever I'm stationary. I don't find myself saying very often, "Oh, if only I were home then I would have this."

bell hooks: But it's precisely that kind of movement which is a movement into death and dying. A movement that says I'm really going to float free. I'm really going to be shedding each step of the way, so that when I come to that moment when I have to truly shed, I'm ready.

John Perry Barlow: I do feel, as I said in the beginning, like a physically metaphorical being. I feel like I'm an apparition even unto myself and certainly unto everybody who knows me. But at the same time, I feel much more vividly present in the moments that I share with people.

bell hooks: Which is, I think, the deepest way to accept death among us. That enables us to move into that greater clarity, that moment of knowing that this really is the moment. I love the Sutra of Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone where it says, "Life is in the present moment; to lose the present is to lose life."

John Perry Barlow: Well, what else is there?


bell hooks talks to John Perry Barlow
, bell hooks, Shambhala Sun, September 1995.


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In the Zone: The Zen of Sports Print

In the Zone: The Zen of Sports

By

Mystics and poets aren't the only people who experience the transcendent. Andy Cooper on sports beyond conventional mind.


Right away, you could see the streak was over. As he turned and headed back upcourt, Michael Jordan looked over at network announcer Magic Johnson and shrugged, as if to say, "It's beyond me. It's just happening by itself!"

It was the first game of the 1992 NBA finals, the Bulls against Portland. His Airness had just sunk his sixth consecutive three-pointer, and in that moment it appeared as though even he was overwhelmed by the immensity of his gift.

And that was the giveaway. He had become self-conscious, and so he had lost that edge, that intensity of concentration in which limitations are forgotten and the spirit is set free to soar. Even for Michael Jordan, visiting hours on Olympus are limited.

Michael Jordan is no common athlete, and his shooting display was certainly no common feat. But for all its spectacle, his experience-its nature, its inner life-is not that unusual, after all.

Several miles and countless worlds away from Jordan's Chicago home court, a University of Chicago psychology professor, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, had recently gathered the results of twenty-five years of research into a book that sheds more light on Jordan's performance than you are likely to find in any sports column.

In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi identifies a self-surpassing dimension of human experience that is recognized by people the world over, regardless of culture, gender, race, or nationality. Its characteristics include deep concentration, highly efficient performance, emotional buoyancy, a heightened sense of mastery, a lack of self-consciousness, and self-transcendence. Csikszentmihalyi calls the experience "flow"; today's athlete calls it being in "the zone."

The zone. All athletes know it, strive for it, prize its attainment. It is that realm of play in which everything-skill, training and mental discipline-comes together, and players feel themselves lifted to a level of peak performance in which limits seem to fall away.

The zone is the essence and pinnacle of the athletic experience, for it reveals that, at their root, sports are a theater for enacting the drama of self-transcendence. Athletes and fans alike, focused as we so often are on the game of winning and losing, miss the deeper significance that is right before our eyes. But in the zone, the extraordinary capacities that lie within each individual are made manifest. To grasp this hidden dimension is to transform the very meaning of athletic play.

Perhaps because moments in the zone are too compelling, too uncanny, too verging on the mystical, most athletes and sports journalists have been reluctant to address the experience in depth. But while those at the center of sports culture are reticent, a growing number of researchers are investigating the zone for what it can reveal about human motivation, development and potential. Sports psychologists, now fixtures in the high-pressure world of professional sports, draw upon visualization and meditation techniques in order to help athletes cultivate the concentration and calm that are prerequisites of the experience.

Sports psychology demonstrates that consciousness plays an essential role in athletic training. But the zone is about much more than the goal of peak performance. It provides a touchstone for approaching athletics as a spiritual path. Though largely forgotten in contemporary culture, this understanding has been part of sports throughout history, from the Olympic games of ancient Greece to the marathon runners of Native America to the Ways of the martial arts.


The zone. The term is a fairly new development in the lexicon of sports culture, perhaps ten or twelve years old. It denotes a place, as in the dictionary definition, but much more than that. It calls up imagery of the supernatural ("the twilight zone") and carries an implicit connection to altered states of consciousness ("zoned out" or "lost in the ozone"), a connection made explicit by less popular related terms: "He was playing out of his mind." "She went unconscious."

But the zone, with its rich ambiguity and layers of meaning, says it best. It is indeed a place, but a map won't get you there.

While the term is recent, the experience it points to is not. In his autobiography, Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man, Bill Russell evokes the "mystical feeling" that would on occasion lift the action on the hardwood to the level of magic:

At that special level all sorts of odd things happened.... It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. Even before the other team brought the ball in bounds, I could feel it so keenly that I'd want to shout to my teammates, "It's coming there!"-except that I knew everything would change if I did. My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but also all the opposing players, and that they all knew me.

As compelling as these experiences were, Russell says he never spoke about them: "I felt a little weird about it, and quite private." The subject was taboo, and he knew that breaking that taboo would invite the mockery of his peers.

The situation has changed since Russell's playing days, but not all that much. Today, athletes and sportswriters will frequently allude to the zone, but rarely will they pursue its implications. San Francisco sports writer Scott Ostler says he has tried on occasion to pursue the subject with athletes only to be met with blank stares, "like I was weird for asking." Perhaps the weirdest thing about the zone is the reticence that surrounds it.

Former NFL linebacker Dave Meggyesy echoes Russell's view that the sports world is simply not a very hospitable place to talk about something so intensely personal and out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, he says, "the zone is the essence of the athletic experience, and those moments of going beyond yourself are the underlying allure of sport."

Meggyesy is now the West Coast representative of the NFL Players Association. The cramped bookshelves in his San Francisco office attest to the workings of a searching intelligence, whose interests range from contract law to Jungian psychology. Meggyesy regards the term "the zone" as a general one, referring to a spectrum of exceptional experiences-perceptions, states of consciousness and levels of performance-with varying degrees of intensity. Taken together, these experiences exemplify an innate tendency to surpass one's limits. For Meggyesy, sports are, at their heart, a way to unlock the hidden possibilities of self-transcendence.

As a culture, we have come to associate epiphanies, revelations, and the like with poetic revelry, profound introspection, or communion with nature. But it is a fact that profound and extraordinary experiences are extremely common in athletics, perhaps more so than in any other field of endeavor. The passions that athletics arouse, the physical demands they make, and the mental focus they require bring to bear our most exceptional abilities.

Despite our skepticism, athletics provoke us to magic. This is the hidden dimension of sport, its secret culture. The philosopher Michael Novak wrote that, "This is one of the great secrets of sport. There is a certain point of unity within the self, and between the self and its world, a certain complicity and magnetic mating, a certain harmony, that conscious mind and will cannot direct.... The discovery takes one's breath away."



But it is not really that well-kept a secret. Most anyone who has worked hard in some field of play can recall a moment of astonishment, when all of it-body, mind and the skill that runs through both-came together and the boundaries of possibility seemed to open wide before one's eyes. In these moments of pure and effortless intuition, everything you do seems to turn to gold. I still savor a few such long-ago moments-on a basketball court, a soccer field, a ski slope-with the same vivid detail as I recall my first kiss.

One does not have to be a player to sense this. As a writer Larry Shainberg observes, "Our fascination with the zone, and indeed with sport in general, may be due, in part at least, to the possibilities it reveals, the energy and strength and flexibility of the organism when liberated from its ordinary neurological and psychological constraints." As spectators, we are drawn irresistibly by the thrill of witnessing the drama of self-surpassing play. Athletics awaken and invite us to our own exceptional possibilities. We recognize our own surpassing self in the actions of another.


Years ago, Yogi Berra observed, "Ninety percent of hitting is mental, the other half is physical." Today, it appears the rest of the sports world is catching up to the wisdom of the Bronx sage.

For many of today's athletes, psychological preparation has become as necessary a part of training as physical conditioning, perfecting one's skills, and learning strategy. Among the long list of high-profile athletes who have worked with sports psychologists are tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Jim Courier, pitcher John Smoltz, gold medal speed skater Dan Jansen, and boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini.

For many, like figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, the benefits of sports psychology are something to swear by. (And one can't help but wonder what a little time on the couch would have done for Tonya Harding's career.) Others have no use for it, like Olympic champion swimmer Summer Sanders, for whom the therapist's couch was nothing more than a place to catch up on some z's.

While the techniques and insights of sports psychology may not be for everyone, the growing recognition in the athletic world is that they can enhance players' skills and help them work through the obstacles to peak performance. As the chairman of the sports medicine committee for the U.S. Figure Skating Association, Dr. Craig McQueen, says, "Practicing in your mind is as valuable as practicing on ice."

Of course, for coaches and athletes the idea of psychological preparation-getting motivated, getting "psyched"-is not altogether new. But the approach has generally been lurching and intuitive, based on personal idiosyncracy and tradition rather than a testable shared body of knowledge. Coaches use discipline, cajolery, intimidation and inspiration to encourage their players, but their effectiveness is largely hit or miss. Even the best motivational speech has a brief lifespan if it fails to grasp the nature of the person to whom it is addressed. It is not that traditional techniques of motivation are wrong; they are just incomplete.

As any visit to a pre-game locker room will attest, players know instinctively the importance of mental focus, and they employ all manner of methods for getting psyched up. According to Dave Meggyesy, for those athletes playing at the highest levels the ability to put oneself in a state of heightened concentration is as essential as physical ability, technical mastery, and knowledge of the game. Warm-up drills are not just for loosening the body but also for focusing the mind.

This helps explain the often bizarre pre-game rituals of top-level athletes, such as former Stanford basketball star Val Whiting, who before each home game would have a friend stand in the exact same spot in front of her dorm and wish her good luck. Or Meggyesy himself, who would tie and untie his shoelaces twenty or more times prior to kick-off. "If you had asked me why, I'd have said that it just didn't feel right. But this sort of ritual activity is part of the process of mental preparation. It helps induce a state of consciousness." It might also have been a good way of "binding" the anxiety of pre-game jitters.

While psychological preparation is not new, what is new (or at least relatively recent) is the systematic study and development of techniques for doing it more effectively. But the novelty of sports psychology is not just in relation to athletics; it is something of a new twist on psychology as well.

The task for a sports psychologist is clearly defined: to enhance the performance of the athlete. Traditional clinical concerns-individuation, building ego strength, integration of repressed material and the like-are relevant only insofar as they affect performance. Athletes can be as quirky and nutty as ever, provided such traits are not interfering with what they actually do.

Yet the psyche is a whole, not just the sum of discrete parts. And so there is bound to be some overlap, as in the case of Oakland A's slugger Mark McGwire, who says of his decision to work with a sports psychologist, "It's the best decision I've made in my life. There are a lot of people who go a whole lifetime without knowing who they are, what they are, what they want.... It took me twenty-eight years to find out who I am and what I want. So I'm very happy about it."

Like their clinical counterparts, sports psychologists work with their clients on two fronts: working through mental obstructions and building up strengths. Bruce Ogilvie, professor emeritus at San Jose State and widely acknowledged as the dean of the field, speaks of the former as going after "the beast within":

Elite golfers, baseball pitchers, place kickers, they can go into phases where they can't hit the broad side of a barn. In practice, they can nail the sucker, then it's just gone. Their legs go to rubber. It may be because of a relationship off the field or with the coach, or maybe they missed two shots and have lost confidence. Something gets in their mental computer.


Getting the psychic circuitry back on line is only half the story. The other part is developing the kind of concentration and energy characteristic of the zone.

Keith Henschen of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, himself a leader in the field, addresses this part of the equation in a discussion with Larry Shainberg: "No one can reach such levels by snapping their fingers, but the purpose of the exercises I use is to help an athlete get to the zone more frequently."

However, not all sports psychologists agree with Henschen's premise that zone experience can be cultivated. Bob Rotella, who specializes in working with golfers, says, "It happens when it happens," and thinking about it just gets in the way of its occurring at all. And he's got a point. Self-transcendence, an essential characteristic of the zone, cannot be produced by force of will. As any musician, meditator, or martial artist can tell you, if the self tries to go beyond itself, it just creates morewell, more self. No bootstrap principle applies.



We would love to bottle the zone, but it can't be done. Visualization, meditation, counseling, progressive relaxation, and the other techniques of sports psychology can help enhance performance, but they cannot produce the zone.

Mastery of one's craft and intense concentration are necessary, but they are not sufficient. For if there is one defining characteristic of the zone, a sine qua non, it is that it is effortless and unpredictable, a kind of state of grace. You cannot get into the zone through an act of will; you can only prepare the ground for it to happen. To quote a Zen master, "Enlightenment is an accident, but some activities make you accident prone."

The zone is not produced by effort, yet without effort nothing happens. So the question becomes, how does one prepare the ground? What kind of effort leads beyond self-conscious effort? The answer is subtle, at least to the ego, whose habit is to go directly after what it wants. That approach might work for a lot of things, but it won't work in the case of the zone. Readiness for the zone depends on the cultivation of three components: skill, devotion and immersion.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, the flow experience happens "when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits" in pursuit of a worthwhile goal. What makes that stretching possible is the development of the necessary level of skill. Obviously, as in any field, some are more naturally gifted than others in athletic ability. But regardless of one's level of innate ability, without the disciplined cultivation of skill, potential will remain unfulfilled.

With greater skill comes a greater ability both to channel one's energy into the task at hand and to respond fully to the demands for action. In his portrait of Bill Bradley's brilliant basketball career at Princeton, A Sense of Where You Are, John McPhee describes the passion for detail that all top athletes share, and for which Bradley was famous:

"There are five parts to the hook shot," [Bradley] explains to anyone who asks. As he continues, he picks up a ball and stands about eighteen feet from a basket. "Crouch," he says, crouching, and goes on to demonstrate the other moves. "Turn your head to look for the basket, step, kick, follow through with your arms."

Once, as he was explaining this to me, the ball curled around the rim and failed to go in. "What happened then?" I asked him. "I didn't kick high enough," he said. "Do you always know exactly why you've missed a shot?" "Yes," he said, missing another one. "What happened that time?" "I was talking to you. I didn't concentrate. The secret of shooting is concentration."


This anecdote also hints at the second component to be cultivated: devotion to the game. To play with inspiration, one must give oneself over to the craft of one's game. It is no different for athletes than it is for artists. I am reminded of a story about a famous writer who was approached by an eager undergraduate wanting to know the Secret of being a writer herself. After a few moments thought, the answer came: "Well, do you love words?"

Just as words are the basic stuff of a writer's craft, so are the body's rehearsed and ritualized movements the stuff of the athlete's craft. To appreciate and take delight in the ordering of mind and body that the game imposes brings one fully into the activity. You've got to love the game.

Only when the first two conditions are met can the third one be met as well: immersion in the activity. An archer who is worried about missing the target will miss it. A batter who is thinking about whether he will steal second will not make it to first. The name of the game is to set the busyness of the mind aside and fully bring one's attention to bear on the immediate task at hand. Professional archer Tim Strickland told Shainberg:

Your conscious mind always wants to help you, but usually it messes you up. But you can't just set it aside. You've got to get it involved. The thing you have to do is anchor it in technique. Then your unconscious mind, working with your motor memory, will take over the shooting for you.

Or as baseball Hall-of-Famer Tim McCarver says, "The mind's a great thing as long as you don't have to use it." This is the concentration athletes all seek: anchored in technique, rooted in the body, focused on the task at hand, the conscious mind shuts off, deliberate intent is transcended, and the self seems to fall away. The conditions are ripe for the zone.


In the Zone: The Zen of Sports, Andrew Cooper, Shambhala Sun, March 1995.

/catchusers3/2010620/shambhalaback/Archives/Features/1995/Mar95/TheZone.htm

Adam Yauch: Check His head Print

Adam Yauch: Check His Head

Back in the day, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch brought Tibetan music and Buddhist philosophy to music fans everywhere. Originally published in the January 1995 Shambhala Sun magazine, this interview finds Yauch after the release of Ill Communication, candidly talking about about hip-hop, hardcore, helping people, and his relationship to Buddhism's Bodhisattva Vow.

By AMY GREEN.


Amy Green: What was your first experience with Buddhism, the first thing that really caught you? Was it books you read?

Adam Yauch: I was reading a lot about Native American and other religions and checking out different things. Then I was in Kathmandu about two years ago, and I met some people who were Tibetan Studies majors living there. I was just hanging out with them; went to a couple of monasteries and Tibetan people's houses and started getting into Tibetan culture a little bit. And I went and saw the Dalai Lama speak when he was in America for the Arizona teachings. I have studied a lot of different things; Buddhism is fairly new to me.

Jerry Granelli: Buddhism made sense to you?

Adam Yauch: It just seemed like Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, because that's mainly what I've been exposed to, was a real solid organization of teachings to point someone in the right direction. Some real well thought out stuff. But I don't know, like, every last detail about Buddhism. (laughter)

Jerry Granelli: Even the Buddha didn't. Most of the teachings are somebody asking him a question. You know, not just some kind of solo performance or something.

Amy Green: Do you feel like the Dalai Lama is the main Tibetan teacher that you connect with?

Adam Yauch: I think the Dalai Lama is an amazing individual, but I think that Tibetans in general are really centered in the heart, coming from a real warm place. Real compassion. I think that all of the years that Tibet spent focused on Buddhism kind of affected the collective consciousness of Tibet and just kinda stayed in. It's so deeply inlaid in the culture. It's the closest thing that I've seen on the planet, as one culture, that really...the most advanced culture mentally, as opposed to our, uh, physical advancement.

Jerry Granelli: As somebody who has played music all of my life and been a Buddhist now for 24 years, I'm interested in the way you compose. Can you relate that to meditation or to non-aggression, which is the foundation of Buddhism.

Adam Yauch: I guess what I do is visualize the way that the music should feel or what it should represent. In meditation or whatever, just hanging out and listening, I work on visualizations of what that music represents or feels like to me and then when it comes time, it just pretty much comes out, somehow. It just comes through.

So that's the main way that I compose. There's no set way of starting with music and then working on lyrics, or starting with lyrics and then working with music. It is kind of random when it comes together and just playin' around to see what works. But the main part of it is that visualization. Just knowing what the music feels like. Not necessarily what it sounds like.

J. Anthony Granelli: As a musician I find that I'm constantly dealing with my mind, the same kind of stuff that meditation brings up. I was wondering if meditation has affected your own relationship to music? Have they worked together in any way?

Adam Yauch: Not Buddhism exclusively, because, as I said, I've studied different things. But I think that as you start understanding the nature of reality in a different way, it affects everything that you do. Music is one of the main things I do-it totally affects that. But it probably also affects the way I walk down the street or what I'm thinking about while I'm doing my laundry. It just kind of affects your whole perception and thinking process...or non-thinking process.... (laughter) or watching yourself think, or something like that.

Amy Green: Do you practice any formal meditation practice?

Adam Yauch:Yeah. I spend a little time in the morning and at night, just bringing stuff into perspective from the day or setting up what's going to happen the next day. And doing visualizations. Things like that.

Amy Green: Practices that you have received from teachers?

Adam Yauch: My main teacher is not Buddhist. The guy who mostly taught me pretty much picked up whatever he has just through meditation. He lived by himself off in a log cabin somewhere for years and gained a lot of understanding about the nature of reality. He's been my main teacher. So he's not coming from any specific religious background; he's just coming from his own understanding.

To me Buddhism was kind of like an afterthought. I still think it's amazing, but I learned most of what I've been learning, kind of getting me going in a direction, from this friend of mine-his name is Quentin. And then I started reading some Buddhist books and just kind of went, "Oh yeah, this makes sense." It's slightly different wording and different context, but it's real similar to the stuff I've been working with.

So even the bodhisattva vow is something that I had taken to my self, a bunch of years before I had read about it in Buddhism. And then when I started learning about it in Buddhism, I thought, [says in thick New York accent, like a '30's gangster] "Yeah...that makes sense. Look, they got that all figured out there."

J. Anthony Granelli: "Someone wrote it down!"

Adam Yauch: Buddhism just seems like a very logical, organized approach.

Jerry Granelli: I hear spirituality in your music. There's a caring in the music. It's not just about "fuck you." How was your environment in your life growing up? That had to have had an affect.

Adam Yauch: Actually, I was really...I'm an only child. [Jerry: "Yah"... gestures thumbs up] You are, too? I just lucked into a really amazing set of parents. They are really cool and supportive. All the way through. You know, a lot of people you meet wind up with a lot of things that they have to deal with in their life because of stuff their parents have thrown at them. I somehow managed to side-step that one, for the most part.

Jerry Granelli: We were talking earlier about Burroughs. Who were your poets? What did you listen to or read?

Adam Yauch: Lyrically, I was influenced by stuff like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, which were "hardcore" bands that really set a tone for being able to play really loud, powerful music and have the lyrics be really positive. There is this sheer power, but without negativity.

Before that, I had always thought of positive lyrics having to be in this nice little happy music, and hard loud powerful music being about really negative stuff. To this day, the Bad Brains were probably the "hardest" that have ever played music. They took like, whatever, Coltrane, and combined that with punk and the precision of classical or jazz players. It's the most powerful music ever, and the most positive lyrics, really about unity and stuff.



J. Anthony Granelli: Yeah, there is a seriously spiritual message in their thing. I've always found that.

Adam Yauch: Yeah. So that totally affected my music. 'Cause when I was 15-16 years old, I was going to see those bands every night, like Bad Brains and Minor Threat. That's what mainly affected my way of thinking about music. Then I forgot about it for a bunch of years. I went and got drunk and made some stupid music. (laughter) But... nothin' wrong with that! No regrets there. It's not anything "bad." It was "stupid," but it was fun bein' "stupid." Nothin' wrong with bein' "stupid." (laughs)

Amy Green: On the latest album, you stand alone with more solo raps than ever before and say things that are very personal. There is a quality of talking about your own path and the idea of a "path" in general. Saying things that are important to you. Did you make a clear decision to step forward on your own?

Adam Yauch: I've just been building up my confidence in doing that over the last few albums. On Paul's Boutique, there's a song where I am starting to say what I'm feeling spiritually. It's called "A Year and a Day," but the lyrics to that song aren't on the lyric sheet and I'm using a real distorted mic, so it's not really clear. And I got a lot of positive feedback from people. I was kind of taking a big risk for myself doing that, just in terms of my own confidence, but I got a lot of positivity on that. Then there were a lot of positive lyrics on "Check Your Head." That kind of thing goes back and forth: when I hear that people are into it, it makes me feel more confident. So, that's kind of the route it's been going.

Amy Green: It's interesting the way you appear to be opening up in that way, while at the same time, this tremendous tidal wave of commercial success is happening and you are riding on that. You must have all kinds of crazy, different energy, a lot of aggression coming at you. I read that you're going around "incognito" a lot.

Adam Yauch: That's just tryin' to have a good time, you know? Everybody loves a good disguise now an' then! (laughter)

Amy Green: That's just for fun?

Adam Yauch: Yep. (Laughs) Actually, you can learn a huge amount about yourself and other people by being in disguise. It's actually an amazing thing. We were just doing it as a goof, but you put on some outfit and it totally affects the way people perceive you. In turn, by the way that people perceive you and act differently toward you, it makes you act differently towards them. Throw on a cowboy hat and some cowboy boots or some other look and it makes you really understand yourself and the way people act a lot better. We would put on some stupid disguises and go out to a night club and just talk to people and goof around, and you learn so much—how much people have set ideas about you or how much you have set ideas about yourself.

Amy Green: You don't feel like you have to protect yourself or hold back from being out the world? Defend yourself?

Adam Yauch: Sometimes I'm not able to really communicate with a lot of people openly, because it takes so much. Especially when you're doing a gig or something, you have a huge amount of attention focused on you. Everybody is there and they are all excited about it. You go on stage and put out all your energy doing a performance, and then come back and there are fifty or sixty people that just need five minutes of your time. And sometimes, you just gotta' totally shut down, because you don't have that kind of energy to put out. It is an issue that I'm dealing with in myself lately, getting over a kind of guilt factor in my mind of not being able to always give people what they want, specifically.

Amy Green: Oh, that's okay....(laughter) It seems that bodhisattva vow and path have something to do with going beyond the idea of what you think you should do to be a good person, and into doing what is actually appropriate for you to do. That helps others.

Adam Yauch: Yeah. It's just understanding exactly what "bodhisattva" and "path" are, I think. Because, the bottom line, I think, of the bodhisattva path is doing what most benefits the totality of the universe, of all that is. And when you put yourself out there in a way that you aren't really functional, then that is not going to most benefit the universe. You know, it's just trying to get a feel, in your heart, for what's going to most benefit the interconnectedness of all that is.

Amy Green: Well said!

Adam Yauch: [Looks around, looks behind him.] Where did THAT come from? (laughs)

Jerry Granelli: Keep that! Keep that!

Adam Yauch: I do think that's an important issue. It's something that I think about. I think that's what a lot of "wrathful deities" are about; that sometimes, if there's a little kid going to stick his hand in the oven and he is going to get burned, you gotta' scream at him or smack him, or something. But, you're not doing it out of anger. You're doing it out of love. That's the thing to keep track of: the motivation behind what you are putting out. If my motivation is clear, what I'm saying is, "I can't talk to you right now. I don't have time to do that." My motivation isn't to be rude to that person. That's the key.

I do think that is a misconception of what the bodhisattva vow is. Because a lot of people just mess themselves up by feeling like they have to "do" stuff for other people, all of the time, even when that's not working for them personally. They have to include themselves in that overall picture of benefitting everyone. They have to include themselves as "beings", and know that by being in their strongest place, that that is how they can most benefit the universe, most of the time. Being a bodhisattva is about strengthening yourself, so you can go on. Benefit where the benefit is needed. Come from a strong place in yourself and you really help people.

Amy Green: Have you met many people who identified themselves to you as Buddhists, or people who have tuned into that thinking particularly?

Adam Yauch: Especially since we've been writing a lot of more positive lyrics and the music is going in a real positive direction, I wind up meeting a lot of really incredible people. Sometimes I'll meet kids who'll say, "Yeah! My mom is a Buddhist. I was raised as a Buddhist. I was raised in this Tibetan community," or whatever. Some people just say that they like the lyrics, or that the lyrics strike them well. That feels good. That's like the biggest compliment in the world; that just makes me feel like cryin'. Sometimes, when people come up to me and tell me that the lyrics, somehow, helped them or made them feel good, it's just like, "Damn..." [looks down, pauses, obviously moved] What was the question again? (laughs)

Amy Green: Do you see a lot of suffering? There's numbed, white people style suffering, probably around you. Rap came out of a more physical, violent suffering. The ghetto. Very immediate kind of suffering...



Adam Yauch: Not originally, though. Early on, hip-hop music was really positive, most of it. Early on, most of the lyrics were about unity and bringing different cultures together. Then around '86, it became a real powerful vehicle. Chuck D of Public Enemy just brought it into a whole different ballpark when he started using it as a vehicle to let people know about the oppression of blacks. He was using it for a combined thing: a voice directly to black youth culture in America and bringing unity and power into that, which was totally needed.

It just switched around—right then—because it was so powerful what Chuck D was doing with it. I think it's really important that that happened. So many people are unaware of the oppression that still goes on to this day of blacks, all of the time. He brought some whole new perspectives on that for a lot of people. Myself included. Affected my thinking a lot.

Jerry Granelli: Your generation of musicians, same as J. Anthony's, making whatever kind of music you want to call it, is fighting the same battle, in some way.

Adam Yauch: It's kinda cool when you KNOW, when you get a feel for right where that boundary is, to push, then you just, (whistles) "PHEW..." That's definitely fun.


J. Anthony Granelli: How did you guys make the progression from a hardcore style into more rap?

Adam Yauch: I think both those forms of music have the same kind of feeling behind them, but they're coming from different cultures. Hardcore or punk is coming from white, western culture, or whatever. Hip hop is coming from African descent, black American music.

So a lot of hip-hop groups just started coming downtown, and were playing at the clubs, and we were all listening to a lot of hip-hop. We would be hangin' out at the punk clubs and they'd be playing hip-hop records, too. So we just kinda started gettin' into rhyming, because we were really into it. Then we hooked up with Russell Simmons, somehow, who is a manager of a lot of hip-hop groups. We started going and playing to more black audiences, going up and gettin' on at The Fever, The Encore and places like that.

So we crossed-over like that. At first when we started rhyming, we were still rhyming in the downtown, hardcore-type scene. Then we started doing gigs with hip-hop groups, like opening up for Kurtis Blow, and we just disappeared from the hardcore scene for a while. Then later it just kind of came back together and started becoming more like one thing. The hardcore and the rap started coming together.

J. Anthony Granelli: And then you made another shift back into playing more instrumental.

Adam Yauch: When we were working on Paul's Boutique, the second album, we started listening to a lot of funk and jazz stuff, looking for samples. We were trying to find records to sample and just listening to that kind of playing gets you back into the "playing" frame of mind. So right around when we finished Paul's Boutique, we started jamming and playing again. I guess that around '89. We started trying to play funk, and kinda' wound up with somethin' else. But that's what we were trying to do. (laughs)

Amy Green: Has the energy changed? What is the difference in what it takes out of you to be playing in front of 200 people or...I don't know how big it gets...THOUSANDS.

Adam Yauch: Yeah. You get more amped off it, with the huge crowds. But sometimes you're in a little room and everybody is going wild. The energy is ALL in there. I just jumped on and played a song at CBGB's the other night, with this friend of mine's band. The Cro-Mags were playing and they asked me to get up and play. We did a cover of a Bad Brains song, and everyone was just going wild at "CB's." And I was remembering that feeling; it is just this LITTLE room and everybody is bouncing off the walls. So it is different now, I guess it's different. (laughs)

Amy Green: How big is it getting now?

Adam Yauch: Well, we just did the Lollapolooza Tour. That's real big, but that's a bunch of bands drawing the people in. That's not just us. I think the biggest it got would be close to 47,000 people. And that's an AMAZING feeling. That's like, "WHHHHHAAAAA...." just seeing them going ALL that way back. But that's not just us pulling in (laughing) that kind of number. (laughter) That's 15 bands.



See also:

The Tao of the RZA

The Wu-Tang Clan rapper talks about his spirituality and his book The Tao of the Wu in 2010. And in this audio interview on Shambhala SunSpace, he talks about the Heart Sutra and Right Speech.

Shambhala Sun Audio: Born I Music

Born I Music, one half of the now-defunct rap duo Shambhala, talks about music, meditation and the next generation in this Shambhala SunSpace interview.

Death and the Rebirth of Patti Smith

The once-rebellious 1970’s rock star sat down with the Shambhala Sun in 1996 to talk about how a period of sorrow in her life had led to an outpouring of new music.

The View from the Stage

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke talks about why he was drawn to play at the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

A Difference You Can Hear

Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo talks about his spiritual journey—from his childhood on an ashram to his discovery of vipassana meditation as an adult.

Click here for more articles on Art and Buddhism
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How to Meditate Print

How to Meditate 

By Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche


The practice of mindfulness/awareness meditation is common to all Buddhist traditions. Beyond that, it is common to, inherent in, all human beings.

In meditation we are continuously discovering who and what we are. That could be quite frightening or quite boring, but after a while, all that slips away. We get into some kind of natural rhythm and begin to discover our basic mind and heart.

Often we think about meditation as some kind of unusual, holy or spiritual activity. As we practice that is one of the basic beliefs we try to overcome. The point is that meditation is completely normal; it is the mindful quality present in everything we do.

The main thing the Buddha discovered was that he could be himself—one hundred percent, completely. He did not invent meditation; there was nothing particularly to invent. The Buddha, "the awakened one," woke up and realized that he did not have to try to be something other than what he was. So the complete teaching of Buddhism is how to re-discover who we are.

That is a straightforward principle, but we are continuously distracted from coming to our natural state, our natural being. Throughout our day everything pulls us away from natural mindfulness, from being on the spot. We're either too scared or too embarrassed or too proud, or just too crazy, to be who we are.

This is what we call the journey or the path: continuously trying to recognize that we can actually relax and be who we are. So practicing meditation begins by simplifying everything. We sit on the cushion, follow our breath and watch our thoughts. We simplify our whole situation.

Mindfulness/awareness meditation, sitting meditation, is the foundation of this particular journey. Unless we are able to deal with our mind and body in a very simple way, it is impossible to think about doing high-level practices. How the Buddha himself, having done all kinds of practices, became the Buddha, was simply to sit. He sat under a tree and he did not move. He practiced exactly as we are practicing.

What we're doing is taming our mind. We're trying to overcome all sorts of anxieties and agitation, all sorts of habitual thought patterns, so we are able to sit with ourselves. Life is difficult, we may have tremendous responsibilities, but the odd thing, the twisted logic, is that the way we relate to the basic flow of our life is to sit completely still. It might seem more logical to speed up, but here we are reducing everything to a very basic level.

How we tame the mind is by using the technique of mindfulness. Quite simply, mindfulness is compete attention to detail. We are completely absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric of the moment. We realize that our life is made of these moments and that we cannot deal with more than one moment at a time. Even though we have memories of the past and ideas about the future, it is the present situation that we are experiencing.

Thus we are able to experience our life fully. We might feel that thinking about the past or the future makes our life richer, but by not paying attention to the immediate situation we are actually missing our life. There's nothing we can do about the past, we can only go over it again and again, and the future is completely unknown.

So the practice of mindfulness is the practice of being alive. When we talk about the techniques of meditation, we're talking about techniques of life. We're not talking about something that is separate from us. When we're talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice of spontaneity.

It's important to understand that we're not talking about trying to get into some kind of higher level or higher state of mind. We are not saying that our immediate situation is unworthy. What we're saying is that the present situation is completely available and unbiased, and that we can see it that way through the practice of mindfulness.


At this point we can go through the actual form of the practice. First, it is important how we relate with the room and the cushion where we will practice. One should relate with where one is sitting as the center of the world, the center of the universe. It is where we are proclaiming our sanity, and when we sit down the cushion should be like a throne.

When we sit, we sit with some kind of pride and dignity. Our legs are crossed, shoulders relaxed. We have a sense of what is above, a sense that something is pulling us up the same time we have a sense of ground. The arms should rest comfortably on the thighs. Those who cannot sit down on a cushion can sit in a chair. The main point is to be somewhat comfortable.

The chin is tucked slightly in, the gaze is softly focusing downward about four to six feet in front, and the mouth should be open a little. The basic feeling is one of comfort, dignity and confidence. If you feel you need to move, you should just move, just change your posture a little bit. So that is how we relate with the body.

And then the next part—actually the simple part—is relating with the mind. The basic technique is that we begin to notice our breath, we have a sense of our breath. The breath is what we're using as the basis of our mindfulness technique; it brings us back to the moment, back to the present situation. The breath is something that is constant—otherwise it's too late.

We put the emphasis on the outbreath. We don't accentuate or alter the breath at all, just notice it. So we notice our breath going out, and when we breathe in there is just a momentary gap, a space. There are all kinds of meditation techniques and this is actually a more advanced one. We're learning how to focus on our breath, while at the same time giving some kind of space to the technique.

Then we realize that, even though what we're doing is quite simple, we have a tremendous number of ideas, thoughts and concepts—about life and about the practice itself. And the way we deal with all these thoughts is simply by labeling them. We just note to ourselves that we're thinking, and return to following the breath.

So if we wonder what we're going to do for the rest of our life, we simply label it thinking. If we wonder what we're going to have for lunch, simply label it thinking. Anything that comes up, we gently acknowledge it and let it go.

There are no exceptions to this technique; there are no good thoughts and no bad thoughts. If you're thinking how wonderful meditation is, then that is still thinking. How great the Buddha was, that's still thinking. If you feel like killing the person next to you, just label it thinking. No matter what extreme you go to, it's just thinking, and come back to the breath.

In the face of all these thoughts it is difficult to be in the moment and not be swayed. Our life has created a barrage of different storms, elements and emotions that are trying to unseat us, destabilize us. All sorts of things come up, but they are labeled thoughts, and we are not drawn away. That is known as holding our seat, just dealing with ourselves.


The idea of holding our seat continues when we leave the meditation room and go about our lives. We maintain our dignity and humor and the same lightness of touch we use in dealing with our thoughts. Holding our seat doesn't mean we are stiff and trying to become like rocks; the whole idea is learning how to be flexible. The way that we deal with ourselves and our thoughts is the same way that we deal with the world.

When we begin to meditate, the first thing we realize is how wild things are—how wild our mind is, how wild our life is. But once we begin to have the quality of being tamed, when we can sit with ourselves, we realize there's a vast wealth of possibility that lies in front of us. Meditation is looking at our own back yard, you could say, looking at what we really have and discovering the richness that already exists. Discovering that richness is a moment to moment process, and as we continue to practice our awareness becomes sharper and sharper.

This mindfulness actually envelops our whole life. It is the best way to appreciate our world, to appreciate the sacredness of everything. We add mindfulness and all of a sudden the whole situation becomes alive. This practice soaks into everything that we do; there's nothing left out. Mindfulness pervades sound and space. It is a complete experience.




 

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