The Meditation of Life

The Meditation of Life

Without exception, everything that has happened in your life, every choice you have made, has brought you to where you are now. And where are you now? You are reading this blog post. Depending on your frame of mind, you will engage with the words in this post to a greater or lesser extent. This blog post, as well as every other experience and encounter you have ever had, will be a causal factor in terms of bringing you into contact with all of your future experiences. The process of accumulating experiences that each influence who we are and what we do, is called life. Perhaps we can think of life as a big snowball rolling down a hill. The snowball grows and accumulates snow as it rolls, and this accumulation – as well as the gradient and texture of the terrain – keeps causing the snowball’s weight, size, shape, velocity, and direction, to change.

If a person was to stop the snowball and look at it, they might only see a big ball of snow that they want to play with or take photographs of. Alternatively, if they have sufficient insight, they might see the snowball as the product of the journey it has undertaken. In this case, when they look at the snowball, they will see how it has grown, the choices it has made, the terrain and landscape it has passed through, and the different bumps and jumps it encountered along the way. The same applies when we look at ourselves and other people. If we have sufficient skill and insight, when we meet somebody we can glean understanding into the journey they have undertaken. We can see how they have grown, what motivates them, what scars they have accumulated, and whether they live only for themselves or for the betterment of humanity. Furthermore, based on the trajectory of their choices and journey thus far, we might be able to estimate the direction that they will go in next.

The difference between a skilled and mediocre meditator is that when the skilled meditator looks at a person, situation, or object, they see the whole story. They see that a person or object is comprised of its past, present, and future. If we can understand the trajectory that a person is travelling on, it means we are better able to decide what intervention, if any, might be possible to help shift that trajectory into one that will bring them wisdom and happiness.

Another difference between a skilled and mediocre meditator is that the skilled meditator doesn’t actually practise meditation. To practise meditation implies that a person tries to be mindful or regularly sits in meditation in order to cultivate mental tranquillity or clarity. However, the truth is that whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not, we are all partaking in a meditation. This mediation is called life. Life brings us into contact with new experiences each moment of every day. These experiences are pregnant with wisdom. They are our teacher, if we want them to be. This applies to seemingly boring situations just as much as it does to circumstances that appear to be out of the ordinary or that we find challenging.

In other words, we don’t need to strain ourselves in meditation to look for spiritual insights because they are all around us. Everything we do, every sound we hear, every person we meet, are opportunities to grow and encounter spiritual insight. All we have to do is open our eyes, heart, and mind. Don’t you see that you have been meditating since before the moment you were born? As soon as we realise we are partaking in a meditation, we start to wake up and see how each moment of our lives connects to, and influences, the next. Moreover, we encounter the complex web of the universe and begin to see how each moment of our lives connects to each moment of the life of every other living and non-living entity.

Meditation isn’t about sitting with our legs crossed and working ourselves into a state of calm. Rather, it is the art of fully experiencing every aspect of normal daily living and using it as the raw material to foster spiritual awakening. Meditation is both joyful and painful. There is nothing mystical about meditation. It is the process of allowing life to be our teacher. Eating a piece of toast is our teacher. Getting drenched by the rain is our teacher. Missing the bus is our teacher. Being cheated out of money is our teacher. Making love is our teacher. Taking a dump is our teacher. The death of a loved one is our teacher. Winning is our teacher. Losing is our teacher. Getting old is our teacher. Meditation is being awake to what is unfolding in front of us and having the courage to embrace life as the training ground for cultivating our full potential for love and wisdom.

Dr Edo Shonin & Dr William Van Gordon

The Winds of Change

The Winds of Change

Gone, all is gone.

Nothing remains.

Completely alone.

Silence abounds.

 

Nothing to fight for.

No more doing.

No more being.

The path has been discarded.

 

How sublime to abide in nothingness.

Seeing beyond the reach of time and space.

Inexpressible in words.

Ah, such profound peace.

 

But all is not as it should be.

A strange wind blows.

A dark shadow encroaches.

Smothering being’s hearts.

 

Gathering the energy of the universe.

I shall turn the Wheel of Truth.

The shadow may encroach no further.

Not on my watch. Not on my watch.

 

Blessed by the wisdom of my forefathers.

I shall defeat all inner and outer obstacles.

Brilliant white light will shine throughout space and time.

Dispelling ignorance and hatred.

 

The harvest will be painfully small.

Most will fall and drown.

But some will inhale the breath of life.

Come now, there is much to do.

 

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & William Van Gordon

 

Letting Go

Letting Go

The following post is from a friend in Thailand. Roughly, the words translate as: ‘If you let go, time will heal’. This is sound advice. However, better still is not to hold on in the first place! This is the path of meditation.

Condivido il seguente post da un’amica in Thailandia. Grossomodo, le parole si traducono come: ‘Se si lascia andare le cose, con il tempo tutte le cose possano guarire’. Questo è un consiglio sano. Tuttavia, Forse è meglio non trattenere delle cose già dall’inizio! Questo è il percorso della meditazione.

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & William Van Gordon

Do You Really Know Yourself?

Do You Really Know Yourself?

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The words ‘know thyself’ appear frequently in the work of the Greek philosopher Plato and have been used by writers and philosophers for thousands of years. But what does it mean to know oneself, why is it important, and how can a person acquire such knowledge?

We suspect that some people would be uncomfortable, or even offended, by the suggestion that they don’t know themselves. We spend 24 hours a day in our own company and while it can sometimes be difficult to interpret other people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, we can’t use this excuse when it comes to ourselves. We have direct access to our inner psychological world and in theory, we are in an ideal position to cultivate an in-depth understanding of who we are.

However, the truth is that many people are not aware of the events unfolding in their mind. At any one moment, a vast number of psychological processes are happening inside them, but at best, they are only partially aware of a small number of these. Consequently, their behaviours are the automated product of a complex – and sometimes competing – assortment of impulses, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and memories. Rather than consciously allowing these psychological processes to influence their choices, they are effectively ‘processed’ by them. Instead of collaborating with the mind and using it as a tool, they find themselves ‘lived’ by the mind.

Changing this habit is easier said than done but there are some remits of human endeavour that may be able to assist us. In particular, we can look to modern science in order to gain insight into how we can develop a better understanding of ourselves. In order to acquire knowledge about a given phenomenon, scientists engage in the process of observation. This observation takes on many forms. It can involve observing phenomena in their natural state or it can involve observing how phenomena behave under a given set of experimental conditions. However, either way, careful observation is a crucial part of scientific enquiry and if we adopt the same principle in order to gain insight into ourselves, it is likely that our journey of ‘inner scientific enquiry’ will bear fruit.

By stepping back and observing our inner psychological world, a number of ‘truths’ about ourselves become apparent. Firstly, given that it is possible – particularly when using meditation – to observe our thoughts, feelings, and impulses, we must conclude that we are something more than these psychological processes. Secondly, we must also conclude that there exists a part of us that can ‘consciously observe’ our own mind. As we continue to engage in the process of inner observation, this ‘conscious observer’ part of us steadily grows, such that it becomes easier to maintain concentration and observe ourselves for longer periods of time.

A third truth that we may come to understand about ourselves is that the closer we observe, the harder it becomes to establish exactly who and what we are. The reason for this is that we don’t exist as standalone or isolated entities. We exist in reliance upon all other phenomena in the universe. We breathe in the out-breath of every other living being. When we drink a glass of water, we are effectively drinking rivers, clouds, and oceans. Our visit to the bathroom produces food for the plants and trees. Being embraced by a loved one can change a bad day into a good one, and a single heartfelt smile can completely change another person’s life.

In order to truly know ourselves, we have to fundamentally change our ideas of who we think we are and of how we think we exist. In effect, in order to find ourselves, we have to let go of ourselves.  When we stop thinking in terms of ‘me’, ‘mine’, and ‘I’, we start to see the world differently. We start to experience that the boundaries between ourselves and other phenomena become blurred. It becomes difficult to determine where the ‘self’ ends and ‘other’ begins. We adopt a much looser definition of ‘self’ yet somewhat paradoxically, we start to understand more about who and what we are.

Letting go of self really means that we are embracing the universe. The universe has existed for billions of years and it contains lots of knowledge. It contains the knowledge of creation, existence, and dissolution. We are an indispensable part of the universe and it relies upon us just as much as we rely upon it. By exploring the inner universe of our mind, we can weaken – or even remove completely – the boundary that we think exists between our inner psychological world and the external physical world. In other words, our practice of inner scientific enquiry and observation can, in time, cause our inner and outer worlds to collide. When this happens, we find ourselves flooded with the knowledge of the universe and the universe becomes flooded with the knowledge of our mind.

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Should Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

Should Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

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Our immediate response to the question of whether Buddhists should celebrate Christmas is: ‘if they feel like it’. However, we suspect that some readers might be looking for a fuller account of our view on this matter. Therefore, here are five reasons why we feel it is appropriate for Buddhists to celebrate Christmas if they feel like doing so:

  1. Christ was an enlightened being: We think there is a lot of synergy between the teachings of Christ and those of the Buddha. For example, one of Christ’s core messages (which don’t necessarily always coincide with the teachings of the Church) was that of unconditional love. Unconditional love and compassion for all beings are also important parts of Buddhist practice. It’s our view that all authentic paths of spiritual practice ultimately extend from, and lead back to, the same source. Therefore, we like to think that just like the Buddha, Christ was an enlightened being. We like to see the Buddha in Christ and Christ in the Buddha. Therefore, why not celebrate the life of Christ?
  2. Christmas is an opportunity to give: Undoubtedly, some individuals see Christmas as nothing more than an opportunity to make money, spend money, party, and/or go on holiday. However, although there are some who only engage with Christmas on a superficial level, this doesn’t mean that we have to follow suit. The idea at Christmas of exchanging gifts and spending quality time with friends and loved ones is wholesome. That said, in our opinion, we don’t need to wait until Christmas to give to others because each day provides an opportunity to be generous. Giving to others is really a means of giving to ourselves. When we give without expecting anything in return, we receive. We receive the psychological and spiritual benefits that arise from caring about others rather than only caring about ourselves. In a sense, giving is a means of letting go of ourselves and when we give with the right intention, it generally makes us feel lighter and happier. It’s good to give on a daily basis but designated periods for giving – such as Christmas – can also be a good idea. Christmas day provides us with an opportunity to practice generosity without the distraction of work and other obligations that are suspended due to the public holiday.
  3. ‘Buddhism’ is just a label: In our view, an individual that is truly in touch with their own path of spiritual practice is completely comfortable with experiencing, and learning from, other spiritual traditions. An important objective of Buddhist practice is arguably to not be attached to labelling oneself as ‘Buddhist’. When we stop labelling ourselves and others, it’s easier to transcend concepts. Labels have their uses but they can limit the mind. As we discussed in our post on ‘Being too Buddhist: A Teacher-Student Dialogue’, in our opinion, true Buddhists are those that have let go of the idea of being a Buddhist. They are people that embrace the practice of being a ‘non-Buddhist Buddhist’!
  4. An opportunity for inter-faith dialogue: We’ve touched on this point already but it is worth specifically highlighting the benefits of inter-faith dialogue. Learning about other faiths helps us to learn about our own faith. Interfaith dialogue broadens our perspective and helps us to understand that although the core tenets and beliefs of the world’s various religions sometimes seem incongruous, there exist individuals within these different religions who appear to be treading the same path. For example, Saint Francis of Assisi was a 12th Century Catholic monk who practiced contemplative living and spent time living in a cave. There are lots of Buddhist saints who have done precisely the same thing. According to the version of Saint Francis’ prayer that appears on Wikipedia, Saint Francis is reported to have said “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy … For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.” Assuming they did not have prior knowledge of who uttered these words, we suspect that many Buddhists would not have difficulty in believing that they are the teachings of a Buddhist saint.
  5. Christmas pudding is scrumptious: We (but especially Ven William who is basically a dessert addict and has a penchant for chocolate and cakes) think that Christmas pudding is delicious. Not partaking in Christmas celebrations is likely to reduce one’s overall intake of Christmas pudding during the festive period. This approach would be unadvisable for somebody who’s taste buds are particularly stimulated by Christmas pudding as well as other popular seasonal deserts (e.g., mince pies)!

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

The Four Types of Psychologist: Ineffective, Satisfactory, Gifted and Gone Beyond

Note: The following post was written with Professor Mark Griffiths and has recently been published on PsychCentral. The full reference is: Van Gordon, W., Shonin., E., & Griffiths, MD. The Four Types of Psychologist: Ineffective, Satisfactory, Gifted, and Gone Beyond. Psych Central. Available at: http://pro.psychcentral.com/the-four-types-of-psychologist-ineffective-satisfactory-gifted-and-gone-beyond/0016491.html 

The Four Types of Psychologist: Ineffective, Satisfactory, Gifted and Gone Beyond

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Most introductory books on psychology inform readers that there are many different types of psychologist such as clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists, developmental psychologists, social psychologists, cognitive psychologist, health psychologists, occupational psychologists, sports psychologists, counselling psychologists, neuropsychologists and research psychologists. Clearly there are many other types of psychologist in addition to the list above, and there are also numerous sub-types of psychologist that specialise in a specific area within one of the aforementioned domains.

In this article, we deviate from the traditional model of categorising psychologists according to work setting and/or study perspective, and suggest a new schema that focusses on the underlying qualities and competencies of the psychologist. Our approach is not intended to supplant the aforementioned traditional categorisations. Rather, it is solely intended as ‘food for thought’ by suggesting a method of categorisation that emphasises the core skills and values that are common to the job description of all psychologists (i.e., irrespective of whether they work in clinical, occupational, or developmental settings, or adhere to a specific psychological perspective, etc.). Consequently, we have based our schema on the assumption that regardless of the particular setting or perspective in which a psychologist specialises, there is an expectation that all psychologists – at least to a small degree –  have an understanding of the scientific workings of the human mind and behaviour that exceeds that of the average lay person. Our method of categorisation is also founded on the assumption that, based on this greater degree of insight into the mind, all psychologists have a duty to guide others toward a better understanding of their own minds and behaviour, and where appropriate, toward improved levels of psychological wellbeing. Our ‘food for thought’ model comprises four categories of psychologist.

1. Ineffective Psychologists: The first class of psychologist are those that actually do more harm than good. There are various reasons why a psychologist might fall into this category, but in general it is due to shortfalls in either their attitude and/or ability. Therefore, it is possible that a psychologist in this category may sincerely wish to help a person, but they happen to be ineffective in this respect (i.e., they have the right attitude but lack the ability). Alternatively, a psychologist belonging to this category might be capable of treating people in a manner that helps them to grow as human beings, but they are uninterested in doing so (i.e., they have the necessary ability but the wrong attitude). One explanation of why a psychologist might have the required ability but inappropriate attitude is because the primary purpose for them performing their role is to accrue wealth or reputation.

2. Satisfactory Psychologists: Unlike the first class of psychologist, the second class of psychologist do more good than harm. However, although they create and spread more positivity than negativity, they are not what one might call ‘natural’ in the manner in which they embody and perform the role of a psychologist. In general, when this category of psychologist takes it upon themselves to better the psychological wellbeing of another human being, they are relying heavily on the various theories, models and practice guidelines that they have studied and trained in. These theories and practice techniques are normally evidence-based, and as such, they are generally of assistance to the other person. However, the fact that this second type of psychologist is heavily reliant upon processes and theories, means that there will always be a degree of disconnect between them and the individual they are interacting with. To a certain extent, this disconnect can be useful because it forms a protective barrier that the psychologist can work behind. However, it can also create an obstacle that prevents the ‘core’ of the psychologist’s being connecting and communicating with the ‘core’ of the other person’s being.

Put simply, it is rare for this type of psychologist that a meaningful ‘human-to-human’ interaction takes place, and as such, the person they are attempting to help invariably feels that they are the subject of a process or service. Consequently, an individual in the hands of this category of psychologist is unlikely to feel truly nourished or renewed. In summary, satisfactory psychologists do not embody and live the practice of psychology, and they are invariably unskilled at drawing upon and integrating their life experience into their work.

3. Gifted Psychologists: Individuals belonging to the third class of psychologist are much more natural at performing their role compared with those in the satisfactory category. In fact, one could probably go as far as to say that an individual belonging to this category of psychologist is ‘gifted’. They have an in-depth knowledge of all of the relevant psychological theories and techniques, but they understand that these models and processes are only tools. In fact, more often than not, this category of psychologist develops their own models and psychological techniques and they use these in their work and interactions with others. However, when they interact with other people, it is not entirely accurate to state that they are applying a theory or model. Rather, they are directly connecting with the individual on the ‘human-to-human’ level and they allow their intuition and instinct to guide how the dialogue and relationship evolves. The way in which they do this is still aligned with proven methods and practices, but they are not constrained by these methods and are spontaneous in the manner in which they help others.

Gifted psychologists have an in-depth understanding of their own mind, and as such, they understand well the mind and behaviours of others. When a patient, client, or another individual meets with a psychologist of this category, they immediately feel reassured due to knowing that they are in capable hands. This type of psychologist is confident, positive and energetic, and they inspire and invigorate people. They take the responsibility of being a psychologist and human being seriously and they are, by all accounts, impressive members of society.

4. Psychologists that have Gone Beyond: The fourth type of psychologist is an individual that has transcended all conventional criteria for evaluating the competency of a psychologist. Consequently, accurately determining whether a psychologist falls into this category requires skill, and it is easy to misinterpret their behaviour as evidence of them meeting the inclusion criteria for one of the three aforementioned outlined classifications. The rules that govern the decisions and strategies employed by ineffectivesatisfactory, and gifted psychologists no longer apply here. Psychologists that have Gone Beyond are individuals that have studied and investigated their own mind and behaviour to such an extent, they are no longer limited by it. They understand fully that, much like a spider’s web that spreads out in multiple directions, they are deeply connected to all other life forms and phenomena in the universe. Their insight and wide-ranging perspective means that they have a much more expansive selection of tools, techniques, and materials at their disposition. Psychologists that have Gone Beyond know and make full use of the fact that each of their thoughts, words and actions will reverberate throughout space and time, and will eventually come to touch all other beings. In this manner, they understand that they are a sculptor, and they use the world and its inhabitants as their raw material.

Psychologists that have Gone Beyond are truly remarkable beings – everyone they meet becomes their ‘client’, but in the majority of instances, individuals are unaware of the fact they are being helped. Irrespective of who a psychologist of this category meets or interacts with (e.g., a supermarket cashier, neighbour, work colleague, partner, or even a person wishing them harm), they provide the individual with exactly what they need in order to help them evolve as a human being. Except for a small number of individuals that also want to become Psychologists that have Gone Beyond (and who are searching for a suitable mentor), the work of psychologists belonging to this category often goes unnoticed. However, they are not in any way demotivated by this and in the majority of instances, maintaining a low profile allows them to perform their role more effectively.

Ven Dr Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon