Posts Tagged ‘budhism’

“Beware of dissipating your powers; strive constantly to concentrate them.”

~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832, German poet, dramatist, novelist)

A Japanese proverb has it that if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both. This is a good description of the problem of distracted pursuit. Do you know people who do this? Have you experienced it yourself?

The worst thing is not when the rabbits get away, but when you actually pursue and catch one that turns out to be the one that you did not want. Meanwhile your real dream has slipped away. If you are in the wrong job or career, you know exactly what this feels like.

The problem actually lies deeper, in the mind which pursues goals in the first place. Truly successful people concentrate and attract the rabbits to them.

“When you fully focus your mind, you make others attracted to you.”

~ Toba Beta, Betelgeuse Incident

Another Japanese proverb has it that perseverance prevails (Ishi no ue ni mo san nen, literally “it takes 3 years to warm up a rock”). Despite the traditional wisdom that it takes time and concentration to achieve something worthwhile, technology seems to be rushing us in the opposite direction.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, a prominent Neuroscientist at Oxford warned that the Internet and Social Media may be rewiring our brains toward hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD).  Three years on a rock has been super compressed to the 3-second rule on the Internet, the time it takes web surfers to make a decision whether to stay or click away. The question to ask is, are we grounding or floundering when we scatter our attention in this way?

The 10,000 hour rule

Research from both Cambridge and Harvard supports the idea that expertise in any field depends more on years of deliberate practice than on inborn talent. The 10,000 hour rule suggests that it takes about 4 hours a day of deep concentrated practice with skilled coaching over a 10 year period to achieve a level of world class expertise or performance.

This fits the traditional view of discipline in the Japanese arts, where 10 years is actually considered a relatively short time to have practiced a traditional martial or performing art. By that standard, the average person today could scarcely qualify as a curious passerby.

Is Attention Deficit a disorder or a myth?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), hyperactivity combined with lack of ability to concentrate, is officially ordained as a psychological disorder. That diagnosis has led to the prescription of the drug Ritalin to now over a million children in the United States. Dr. David Keisey, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of California at Fullerton, and author of the bestselling book on Temperament Please Understand Me, wrote an article exposing this widespread practice, The Evil Practice of Narcotherapy for Attention Deficit. This article seriously raises the question that the phenomenon of ADD may be a grossly misconstrued myth, which has led to the untenable practice of drugging hyperactive children into submission, despite serious long-term side effects that could wound an entire generation.

And yet predisposition to ADD behavior may actually be built into our media and lifestyle, where technology and lifestyle choices encourage us to concentrate very briefly on many things at once. Checking e-mail during a meeting, watching TV while eating dinner, or listening to music while falling asleep may seem like perfectly normal behavior. But increasingly this habit of dividing attention between several things at once is leading to dangerous behavior like distracted driving, that is eating, drinking, reading, texting, talking on a cell phone, or even putting on make up while driving. It comes in 3 forms visual distraction: taking your eyes off of the road, manual distraction: taking your hands off the wheel, and mental distraction: taking your mind off of the task of driving. Even though it is inadvisable, and sometimes illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving, it is not uncommon to see.

What to focus on?

A good rule of thumb is to take your To Do List, all of the musts and shoulds and coulds in your mind, and squeeze it for all it is worth. That is, reduce it to size with the 80/20 Rule, by concentrating on the 20% of activities, ideas, and people that yield 80% of the benefits and results in your life. This is easier said than done. Can you really say no to the 80% of the things and people who compete for your time and attention? Can you attend to the 20% that matter most?

One thing that can help you decide and act appropriately is to shift your attention from What you should do, and focus on Why?, as recommended by Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline.  It is said that if you met Steve Jobs in the elevator at Apple, your answer to his simple question, “Why are you working at Apple?,” determined whether or not you kept your job.

Bringing peace to the monkey mind

According to Wikipedia, the definition of the Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.” It is an ancient concept, suggesting that it is a fundamental part of the human experience. How we deal with this restless inner state is the key to our happiness and productivity. The scatter brain can never sit still long enough to appreciate deeply or perform at a high level.

A key question to ask yourself is, Where does the Monkey Mind reside? Is it inside you, or built into the fabric of society? Wherever you find it, what will you do to bring it under control? Fortunately, there is a far better and more natural solution than Ritalin, and it is found right in our own bodies.

Dr. William Bloom is the author of The Endorphin Effect, a book which led to breakthroughs in healthcare and personal development. This book shows how visualization and awareness can release endorphins in your body, which will heal, energize, and revitalize your life.

Dr Bloom outlines five triggers that release endorphins, and all of them are accessible to us in daily life.

  1. Enjoyable thoughts or activity
  2. Inner smile with whole body
  3. Deep and conscious rest
  4. Connection with natural world
  5. Engage in physical exercise

Endorphins is a natural ambrosia that we can produce with our own bodies, that is highly responsive to our emotional and physical awareness, and which can soothe even the beast that bothers us through the Monkey Mind.

Lastly, as a solution to the problem of goal pursuit in which the divided mind chases after two rabbits and loses them both, the calm mind is able to attract the rabbits by being calm and focused.

“For him who has no concentration, there is no tranquility.”

~Bhagavad Gita (c. BC 400-, Sanskrit poem)

Download a CONCENTRATION MANDALA which summarizes the ideas in this article, and serves as a reminder on how to practically apply the principles.

Flexible Focus #24: The sky is not empty

by William Reed on October 21, 2010

Do you look at the sky?

This is a rhetorical question, intended to make you think, not to produce an answer. Simply answering yes or no kills the question, and ends the internal dialog it was intended to create.

In the Rinzai Zen tradition (see Flexible Focus #19: Path to the Eureka Moment), any answer to the question is likely to be rejected by the Zen Master, who looks into the heart and mind of the student for the flash of true understanding, and has no time for schoolboy cleverness.

In fact there is no answer to the question, only continuous engagement with the question itself, do you look at the sky?

In looking at the sky, what do you see? The easy answer is to list common objects you might see above you, clouds, birds, the sun, the moon, an occasional airplane.

Look further, think more deeply, and you might remember that at night you also see stars, and occasional heavenly phenomena such as a comet or aurora borealis, night lights. Perhaps a UFO?

Stay with the question and you may begin to see with the mind’s eye, through understanding, that in fact you see nothing, and at the same time you see everything. The sky contains it all. It is the canvas on which the entire universe is written.

The principle of (kū)

One of the core concepts of Buddhism is the principle of 空 (kū), which is often translated as emptiness.

However, to anyone familiar with either Buddhism or Japanese culture, this word has far greater significance. The character also has the meaning of sky, space, and of emptiness in the sense of infinite potential. Hence 空 (kū) is used to refer to the universe itself, from which all things emerge and to which all things return.

In English the word emptiness has the meaning of nothingness, or a Void. Hence, in Western painting artists typically fill the entire canvas with color or objects, to fill up the empty space.

Not so in Chinese and Japanese art, where space is an integral part of the painting. The concept of space being real is central to oriental philosophy and aesthetics, and has also influenced Western artists and musicians from Cézanne to Miles Davis.

In fact, the concept of negative space is a core concept in Gestalt perception, and the ability to see space is used by photographers, designers, and artists alike.

I suspect that the first people in the West who encountered Buddhism and introduced it to the West were not only prejudiced by their own Euro-centric cultural viewpoint, but very likely had an agenda based on their belief in the cultural superiority of Christianity over Buddhism. It could be that the limited and negatively nuanced translation of such concepts was due to ignorance and limited knowledge. Don’t underestimate the power of a man on a mission.

(kū) and the Mandala Chart

The Mandala Chart in its most basic form is like a hybrid lens which can scan panoramically both as a telescope and as a microscope. The simpler way of saying this is the art of flexible focus.

Flexible Focus can be used to explore the universe and see patterns in space by imposing the framework of the 8 x 8 or 64 frames of the Mandala Chart. This is a technique used by artists and photographers alike, to frame space, capture interesting details, and highlight textures and relationships.

Moreover, by using Mandala Chart templates, we can achieve even sharper focus on a problem or topic, and this enables the process of engagement (see Flexible Focus #12: The 8 Frames of Life: Business, and the Mandala on Opportunities for Engagement).

The Mandala itself is like a canvas on which you can paint your own vision for engagement, or select the elements from infinite potential with which you wish to engage. Whether you select positive elements or negative elements, it will take you right there. This is why some people see enemies hiding around every corner, and others see the world as a series of synergistic opportunities.

Do you look at the sky? Of course you do. But what you see there, in effect (kū) is up to you. We just need to become more skilled at the art of seeing.

The art of looking at space

Once you recognize that space is not empty, but a real entity that surrounds us like water surrounds fish, then we can begin to find ways to navigate it. The key is to develop an interest in space, to kindle your curiosity about it.

Here are some questions which can help you get started, which are framed on the downloadable PDF Mandala Chart LOOKING AT SPACE.

  • How can we bring negative space into our lives in a positive way?
  • Rather than focusing on hard and fixed objects, develop the ability to look at things on their soft edges.
  • Appreciate art and music for how they give shape and substance to space.
  • Become more aware of relationships and how things are joined together.
  • Get off of your merry-go-round of activity and find some breathing space in your life.
  • Occasionally look at the sky with the eyes of an artist, and notice how it constantly changes.
  • Develop a Taoistic appreciation for space as infinite potential.
  • Empty your cup, and approach things and people with a beginner’s mind.

Think about how your preconceptions and prejudices limit your mind and predetermine your possibilities.

Get to know the Mandala Chart not just as a concept, but as a tool to open the doors of perception and help you master the art of flexible focus in your daily life.

Take a second look. The sky is not empty.