Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Many, especially those in Twelve-Step Programs, will be familiar with what is known as The Serenity Prayer. The prayer was written by the famous 20th century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

The short form of the prayer (see above) is usually employed but there is also an extended version as well, the wording of which can be found on the link above to The Serenity Prayer. Here is the form of the prayer that is most widely known and used:

Some people have trouble with the word "God". I always say to such people, "As Krishnamurti used to say, 'The word is not the thing'." The word "God" means "God as you understand [God]", and I have come to understand the word as referring not so much to a supposed "Higher Power"---for I dislike that expression as it tends to suggest that there are supposedly "higher" and "lower" levels or orders of reality (which I believe is not the case, on both philosophical and scientific grounds) - but a "power-not-oneself".

I am very grateful, as are many others, to the late Rev. Dr Dilworth Lupton (1883-1972) [pictured above] (for more on him, see here as well as here), sometime minister of the First Unitarian Church (Universalist-Unitarian) in Cleveland, Ohio, and later of Waltham, Massachusetts, who used, and perhaps coined, the phrase "a power-not-ourselves". (I am, of course, aware of Matthew Arnold's oft-quoted "definition" of God as "the enduring power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness".) See Lupton's sermon "Mr X and Alcoholics Anonymous" delivered on 26 November 1939 when AA was in its very early years. (For those interested, see also my address "Unitarianism and Alcoholics Anonymous".) 
In any event, Step 2 (“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”) of The Twelve Steps refers to a "Power greater [NOTE: not necessarily "higher"] than ourselves". Also, there are only 2 places (on pp 43 and 100, respectively) in the 4th edition of the "Big Book" of AA---entitled Alcoholics Anonymous---where the actual expression "Higher Power" is used, but there are numerous other places in the book where other expressions are used to refer to the need to find a "power" or simply "Power" (to overcome the problem of "lack of power") and to the "God" of one's own understanding.

I have no difficulty in believing in a "power-not-myself" or a "power greater than myself". Why? Because there is no such thing as "self". Now, I know that is a hard concept for many to grasp, but I firmly believe it to be true.
Dr John Hughlings Jackson (pictured immediately below), who was the founder of the (then known) British School of Neurology, wrote that there is something intrinsically wrong with our notion of the "self". Jackson demonstrated - yes, demonstrated - that consciousness is neither a fixed quantity or quality nor of fixed duration, but simply "something" quite intermittent in nature that undergoes change
moment by moment.

The idea that there is no actual "self" at the centre of our conscious (or even unconscious) awareness comes as a great shock to many (except to Buddhists, who rightly assert not a doctrine of "no-self" but the fact of "not-self", and to various metaphysicians), but it is the view held by most, but not all, neuropsychiatrists, neuroscientists and other like professionals.

The truth is our consciousness goes through continuous fluctuations from moment to moment. As such, there is nothing to constitute, let alone sustain, a separate, transcendent "I" structure or entity. True, we have a sense of continuity of "self", but it is really an illusion. It has no "substance" in psychological reality. It is simply a mental construct composed of a continuous ever-changing process or confluence of impermanent components ("I-moments") which are cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own.
The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote that we tend to believe that the "self" is real and one because of what we perceive to be the "felt smoothness of the transition which imagination effects between point and point", but all that we are dealing with, he said (as have many others over the years such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell), is a bundle of experiences which have the illusion of continuity about them. The truth is that the "self" is not an independent "thing" separate from the various aggregates of which we are composed as persons. Indeed, every attempt to postulate or assert the existence of a "self" is self-defeating (hmmm) as it inevitably involves an element of self-identification. (According to Buddhism, there are 5 such aggregates: form or matter, feeling or sensation, cognition or perception, volition or impulses, and consciousness or discernment.)
So what gives us this sense of mental continuity? How does it arise? Russell and others have written that our mental continuity is simply the result of habit and memory. Each one of us is a person in our own right - I am not denying that. However, the person which each one of us is recognizes that there was, yesterday, and even before then, a person whose thoughts, feelings and sensations we can remember today ... and THAT person each one of us regards as ourself of yesterday, and so on. Nevertheless, this "myself" of yesterday consists of nothing more than certain mental occurrences which are later - say,  today - recognized, interpreted and regarded, and, more importantly, remembered, as part of the person - which each one of us is - who recollects those mental occurrences.
Now, let's get back to this supposed "I" (and "me"). Actually, within each one of us there are literally thousands of "I's" and "me's" ... the "I" who wants to go to work today and the "I" who doesn't, the "I" who likes "me" and the "I" who doesn't like "me", the "I" who wants to give up smoking and the "I" who doesn't, and so forth. In his book Esoteric Mind Power Vernon Howard writes about what he calls the "self-divided man" who "consists of dozens of ‘selves’ which fight each other in taking him over for a few minutes at a time." Howard writes:

"Living in a state of psychic riot, he is thrilled one minute and dejected the next. One part of him is a danger to another part. So what can be trusted? Nothing. The self-knowing man has cleared his mental streets of these rioters, leaving him with a whole and healthy mind, which can be trusted completely."

Think about it for a moment ... how can the "self" change the "self", if self is non-existent? It can't. End of story. I love what William Temple (pictured immediately below) had to say about the matter. He said, "For the trouble is that we are self-centred, and no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour." Therefore, let us free ourselves from all forms and notions of self-identification, self-absorption, self-obsession and self-centredness.

Are you familiar with the Zen koan about the goose in the bottle? The goose grew and grew until it couldn't get out of the bottle. The man didn't want to break the bottle or hurt the goose, but he did want to get the goose out of the bottle. So what did he do? Ponder on that one for a day or two ... but please do not email me for the supposed "answer"! Here's a simpler piece of Zen. A disciple asks,"Master, what is my 'self'?" The master replies, "What would you want with a self?" Indeed.

Now, if we want change - especially positive change - in our lives, we have to rely upon a "power-not-oneself" ... that is, the power of "not-self". Your such power may well be different from mine. That doesn't matter at all ... as long as we realize that the so-called "I", as Krishnamurti used to point out, is simply a habit and a series of words, memories and knowledge ... which is the past. Note that - the past. The "I" and "me" of us - and even the belief (actually, misbelief) "I am I" - are simply brought about by thought ... and thought is always a thing of the past as well.

The Serenity Prayer recognizes the importance of Mindfulness. Let me explain.
The prayer begins with the words, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change". What are those things? Without attempting to give an exhaustive list, here are some of the biggies ... there is no "self" which can change "me" ... I have no power to change myself (my "self") nor other people ... I cannot change the past, and that includes my past actions and my past intentions, as well as the accumulated results (karma, if you like) of those things ... although there is something that can be done about the latter. Thank goodness Mindfulness is all about the present.
The prayer continues with these words ... "courage to change the things I can". What are those things? Again, without attempting to give an exhaustive list, here is perhaps the most important thing of all ... my present and, as a consequence, my future. How? (I know we should never ask "how", but, be that as it may ... .) By being mindful in the present moment ... moment by moment ... and by mindfully making choices in the present ... I can, and will, gain insight and understanding into the person which I am, as well as other persons to the extent that it is possible to truly understand (that is, "get into the mind" of) others. (By the way, insight means seeing the way things really are. Understanding is "learning", which Krishnamurti described as being "movement from moment to moment".)
The short form of the prayer concludes with these words ... "and [the] wisdom to know the difference"? How do we gain that wisdom? (There's that word "how" again!) Well, by means of the regular practice of Mindfulness we gain, as already mentioned, insight and understanding into the person which each one of us is. That insight and understanding brings us wisdom ... NOT book knowledge, but true spiritual (that is, non-material) wisdom.
We are then able to know the difference between, to use some expressions commonly used in Buddhism, what is "wholesome" and "skilful", and what is "unwholesome" and "unskilful", for each of us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Mindfulness is simply the presence of a calm, alert, open, curious, steady but flexible, and deliberate but choiceless (that is, accepting, non-judgmental and imperturbable) awareness of, and bare attention to, the action of the present moment ... one’s body, body functions and sensations, the content of one’s consciousness (thoughts, feelings, images, memories, etc) and consciousness itself.

Mindfulness is psychological training in self-culture, self-improvement and self-help.

The ideogram (also known as an ideograph) opposite is a beautiful piece of calligraphy created by the esteemed Japanese-born calligrapher and writer Kazuaki Tanahashi (to whom acknowledgment is made and gratitude expressed).

The calligraphy represents the ideogram for Mindfulness.

Notice the top element of the ideogram. It has the shape of a roof, particularly a roof with an Eastern (in particular, a Chinese or Japanese) shape.

A roof provides shelter and the very shape of the roof depicted in the ideogram above suggests that. I am reminded of the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet, "Bet" (see opposite), which also presents the number "2" (cf. conscious and unconscious, mindful and mind-less, positive and negative, wholesome and unwholesome, etc), and which once always took the shape of a house:

The element also symbolises the "now" of the present moment, noting, once again, that Mindfulness is the presence of the awareness of and attention to the action of the present moment ... moment by moment. The element also symbolises the all-inclusiveness of both Mindfulness and all things.

In that regard, I am reminded of the words "Shinnyo-en" (which is the name of a Japanese but worldwide inter-ethnic and cross-cultural Buddhist order of which I am a grateful member). Shinnyo (Sanskrit, Tathata) refers to unchanging truth, or the true form or real state of things. The Japanese word en means a garden without borders ... something all-inclusive. In combination we get the idea of a borderless garden of truth. What could be a better or more accurate description of the present moment, mindfully perceived? 

What is depicted underneath the roof element - the lower element - represents the heart or mind. (The heart and the mind are basically the same thing, contextually, in both Eastern and so-called Western sacred writings, including the Bible.)

Anyway, it is not hard to see that the shape of this lower element is heart-like ... with, if you care to look closely, three chambers ... albeit highly stylized.

The Mindfulness ideogram, when taken as a whole, can be interpreted to mean "being full-hearted right now", that is, the attention of one's mind is fully grounded in and focused upon the action of the present moment. Other possible translations include the following: "to keep on remembering" (the word Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word sati which literally means "memory”, that is,  remembering what is present, remembering to stay present in the present moment, and remembering in the present moment what was already happened), "to have something at heart", to chant, and to pray. Included are other notions such as thought, wish, sense and concern.

Mindfulness, when practised with the right intention (namely, the purpose of insight and investigation), and with bare attention (that is, with the eye focused on a definite "object" but also with an awareness of a wider range of experience of "neighbouring objects"), allows us to return to, and take refuge in (cf The Triple Gem of Buddhsim), a place of safe dwelling ... namely, the ever-present, but forever-becoming-the-past, and therefore elusive, present moment.

When we take "refuge" in the present, we are at-home. In other words, we find ourselves, and we free ourselves from the chains of the past and the fears of the future. By holding onto the present - with so-called "effortless effort" (NOT like holding on for grim death!) - we come to understand ourselves and others. We come to rely on the understanding, insight and purity of mind gained from being grounded in the present moment ... having returned from what can only be described as a previously deluded state of mind, rooted in the past and the so-called future, and caused by erroneous views of the nature of reality, ourselves and others.

So, come alive ... and come home!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


“Eight volunteers. Three experts. Eight weeks. One vision.”
Last night I watched the first episode Making Australia Happy on ABC-1 ... and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here’s the link to the first episode.
For the first time ever, in Making Australia Happy the latest and most fascinating research from the science of happiness has been compiled, consolidated and taken for a test drive on the suburban streets of Sydney. Three of Australia’s leading experts have agreed to “take” eight people from what is said to be "Australia's unhappiest area" - Marrickville, in the Sydney metropolitan area - and “give” them the necessary living tools to empower them to become happier.

As Dr Norman Vincent Peale used to say, we are all in the "manufacturing" business ... each of us, each day, manufactures our own happiness or unhappiness as the case may be. This TV program, along with other writings, talks about the "science of happiness". To me, it's all about "altered attitudes" and "choices" ... no matter what happens to us. Easier said than done, of course.
The eight volunteers, from all different walks of life, all live within the Marrickville area but were unknown to each other prior to being selected for the program. Individually and collectively, these eight people represent a range of ages, backgrounds and life circumstances. What they share in common was the desire to get happy. After screening for clinical depression and mental health issues, the producers selected eight individuals who were "relatively unhappy but ready for change".

Heading up the “team of experts” is Dr Tony Grant, who is an academic and a practitioner and international pioneer in the fields of coaching psychology and positive psychology. he makes the interesting point that an "attitude of gratitude" - familiar to those involved in Twelve Step programs - has been shown to have lasting psychophysiological effects for up to 6 months. Amazing! So, be grateful ... again, no matter what happens.

Then there’s Dr Russ Harris, a Mindfulness expert and the author of the international bestseller The Happiness Trap.

Finally, there is physiotherapist and mind-body specialist Anna-Louise Bouvier. She’s there to attend to the bio-physical needs of the volunteers.

After explaining what Mindfulness is - “paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility” was the description given - Dr Russ Harris engaged the eight volunteers in two Mindfulness exercises. The first was “the sultana bit” ... sounds, at first, like the old burlesque routine known as “the lemon bit”, but it's altogether different. You take just one a sultana and look, smell, touch, feel, fondle, listen (!), taste, etc, the sultana for 5 minutes, before ultimately swallowing the sultana.

For those familiar with the writings of the celebrated Zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh, he, long ago, recommended that you put just one raisin in your mouth and, without doing anything, let it dissolve. Sultana, raisin, orange ... it doesn’t matter.

The sultana exercise was followed by an exercise in Mindful Listening in which volunteers, in pairs, faced each other, taking turns to listen mindfully ... without interruption or commentary ... to each other tell the other person about a happy incident and then a most unhappy incident in their life. All very moving.

I was greatly impressed by the way the volunteers responded to the use of Mindfulness “techniques” (I know I shouldn’t use that word). Mindfulness made a big impact on the way they started to feel about themselves, assisting them to develop empathy and understanding for others as well as learning to stay focused in, and curious about, the present moment.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Mindfulness is simply the presence of a calm, alert, steady, open, deliberate, "curious" but choiceless (that is, accepting, non-judgmental and imperturbable) awareness of, and bare attention to, the action of the present moment ... one’s body, body functions and sensations, the content of one’s consciousness (thoughts, feelings, images, memories, etc) and consciousness itself. Mindfulness is training in self-culture, self-improvement and self-help.
Although most, if not all, Mindfulness instructors and practitioners advocate some individual, personalised tuition and guidance in the beginning ... for very good (and not self-serving) reasons ... what follows is a very simple or basic form of Mindfulness Meditation for use at home, in the office ... or anywhere for that matter.
Please be aware that what follows is offered for general information purposes only, and is not, and is not intended to be, professional healthcare advice to be relied upon as a basis for action on the part of any individual in respect of any matter in relation to which there could be loss or damage nor is it a replacement or substitute for any such advice:

* Sit up in a chair (alternatively, sit on the floor Burmese style [see photo below], cross-legged, or in a half-lotus or full lotus position) … straight back … feet flat on the floor (if seated on a chair).

* Gently hold your hands in your lap or lay your palms up (or down) on your thighs. Feel, without any resistance, the weight of your body on the chair or floor.

* Close your eyes lightly, and take several deep cleansing breaths. Turn your mind "inwardly" and silently.

* Start breathing in an even pattern, and continue this pattern throughout the period of your meditation. Let your breath go slow and deep … into the centre of your being. Let your awareness gradually fill your body. Notice where your breath is most vivid.

* Be mindful of and follow the rise/expansion and fall/contraction of your lower abdomen. Alternatively, you may wish to be mindful of your breathing. I find that works best for me - a mouth breather - is to fix my attention on the upper lip as the "point of touch" against which the breathing air strikes. Many others fix their attention on the nostril tip as the relevant "point of touch". Whatever you do, it is strongly suggested that you do not follow the breath - the so-called "breath-body" - on its way down the body and back again, nor count the "entrances" and "exits", nor take note of the "area of touch" of the breath. Your awareness should only be of the sensation of touch of breath at the relevant "point of touch".

* Whatever is your "point of touch", that is your “anchor” or “primary object of meditation”. Your anchor helps you to remain fixed and focused in, and to be mindful of, the moment. We need an anchor because we can’t focus our mind on every changing moment without a certain degree of concentration to keep pace with the moment. Please keep in mind that this is not a breathing meditation per se. The breath as an object of meditation arises naturally in the mind. We are talking about mindfulness with breathing as opposed to mindfulness of breathing. Buddhists refer to this as "right mindfulness".

* Keep your mindfulness at its post of observation even if, as will ordinarily be the case, you are aware (mindful) of the breath's passage through the body. Just give the latter bare attention at most. That means you should never anticipate sensation nor reflect upon it.

* Be with the moment. Be and remain embodied in the moment. Whenever a body sensation, sense perception, thought, feeling, emotion, image, plan, memory, reflection or commentary arises, do not resist it or try to expel, drive it away or change it. Simply be mindful of the sensation, etc, in the immediacy of its arising or vanishing ... that is, in the now. (Remember and practise the “law of non-resistance”: “Whatever you resist, persists”.) Don’t try to actively bring thoughts or feelings up. 

* Simply observe and notice, with passive detachment, and without attitude, comment or judgment, what your body (including your mind) is experiencing - label it if you wish - and immediately return to your anchor ... that is, return to following either your abdominal movement or your breath (as per above). Wait and see what comes up next. Let your mind penetrate whatever sensation, etc, arises ... or whatever be your predominant experience ... in the moment ... from moment to moment.

* Rest in choiceless awareness ... moment by moment ... that is, keep your mind at the level of bare attention, without judgment, evaluation, self-criticism or condemnation. Let it be. (You must first "let be" before you can successfully "let go" all over.) Observe directly and objectively ... with "effortless effort". Let your mind be peaceful ... undisturbed ... not restless. Maintain a "soft" acceptance of whatever is.

* Avoid "noting" or "labelling". Although some Mindfulness instructors and practitioners teach and advocate "noting" and "labelling", my own view - which is not an original one of mine - is that making a mental note of, or labelling, what is occurring tends to result in the formation and arising of thoughts, ideas, concepts and images ... that is, mental phenomena ... which prevent you from having an immediate and direct access to reality, that is, to what is occurring in the moment from one moment to the next. How? Because the consciousness which tends to arise from the act of noting or labelling is one of an event in the past, which has gone, but which is nevertheless re-experienced as an after-thought or a memory. Please remember this fundamental principle: your mindfulness should be simultaneous with the occurrence of touch or sensation. Dwell in the sensation of the moment. Watch that sensation ... without thinking any tought connected with the sensation ... that is, without judgment, evaluation, self-criticism or condemnation. (Having said that, I do not altogether eschew "noting" and "labelling". At times, noting or labelling can assist where a sensation is particularly persistent or troublesome, but it is not, in my view, something to be done routinely. Indeed, it should, in my view, be done very rarely, if at all.)

* Continue as above throughout the period of meditation. Remain poised and relaxed at all times. A deeply relaxed person breathes about 5-8 times a minute ... at the very most. Don’t rush off immediately at the end of the meditation session. Evaluate the experience.

* Practise meditation gently ... but steadily ... and regularly. Meditate, mindfully, preferably twice daily … for about 15 minutes on each occasion. As with all things, practice makes perfect ... and meditation practice is just that - practice.
Mindfulness Meditation is not about stopping the mind or stopping thoughts. Mindfulness Meditation is about allowing thoughts to be present but not letting them run you.

One final, most important, matter. Mindfulness Meditation needs to be brought into every aspect of one's daily life. In the words of Lama Yeshe, "Whether you are walking, talking, working, eating ... whatever you do, be conscious of the actions of your body, speech and mind."




Saturday, November 13, 2010


Much of what follows is faily obvious, and I wish I had learned these truths many years ago, but I didn't. Maybe something set out below will avoid some suffering on your part:
1.  Enlightenment, or salvation, is not a "thing" at all. You might say it is "no-thing." It can be found, but never searched for. If you seek it, you will miss it. Truth---that is, life, reality, things-as-they-really-are---is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever (J. Krishnamurti). Anywhow, why would we need a path, when we are always in direct and immediate contact with truth/reality at all times? You must be your own "saviour and lord," that is, your own teacher and pupil. Enlightenment occurs when we---wake up!

2.  How can "I" change "me"? Both have no reality in themselves. Both are brought about through thought (J. Krishnamurti). What you are is a person-among-persons. You are not the humdreds and thousands of "I's" and 'me's" that have no separate, independent, permanent reality in and of themselves. They are not who you really are. Indeed, almost all of our problems and difficulties arise because we mistakenly believe that those "I's" and "me's" are us, the person each of us is.

3.  What you resist persists--for what we give our attention to, grows. No wonder Jesus said, "Resist not evil."

4.  Five Wizard Words: "Get your mind off yourself" (Dr Norman Vincent Peale). We need to be set free from ourselves, to be taken out of ourselves, to detach mentally from ourselves (Peale). Most of our problems and difficulties occur because we are self-absorbed, self-centred, and self-obsessed. Know this---there is no 'self,' but there is a 'Self' that is the real you. Know the difference---and live!

5.  Dependence upon others keeps us sick. "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself" (Euclid). So, "Look within" (Marcus Aurelius). No god, saviour, messiah, teacher, or guru has any power to deliver you from yourself or even provide you with anything of any lasting value.

6.  There are no victims, just volunteers. It's a choice. No one can hurt us without our consent. Although we can't always determine what happens to us, we still can choose our reaction, or rather response, to what happens.

7.  "On the acknowledgement of what is there is the cessation of all conflict" (J. Krishnamurti). Accept yourself no matter who dislikes you or what you do or have done badly (Dr Albert Ellis). Acceptance is the answer to all our problems.

8.  Positive thinking (which is not something other than realistic thinking) is much better than negative thinking---much better. "Like attracts like."

9.  "God is the expression of the intelligent universe" (Kahlil Gibran). God is not a person. God is Life and Being Itself---the very Self-livingness of life and Ground of All-Being---in which we all live and move and have our being, and of which we are emanations. The One becomes the many, but the many are still one. Omnipresence, some call it.

10. "Take charge of your thoughts; you can do what you will with them" (Plato). "The mind is everything; what you think you become" (Gautama Buddha).

11. You don't need to recover or get "closure." What a stupid word that is! You need only to move on. Make peace with your suffering (Dr Leland M. Heller). Draw a line in the sand, and let the past stay in the past. Yes, it can be for you as if it never happened at all. Again, it's a choice.

12. "Things do not change; we change" (Henry David Thoreau). "Things go wrong because we are wrong" (Dr Norman Vincent Peale). Whenever something has gone wrong in my life, I have been "there."

13. We live and die many times in a human liftetime, and we must know when to move on (cf The Little Prince). Heaven and hell are not 'places' we go to after death; they are states of consciousness that we create for ourselves whilst on earth.

14. "Reality is a question of realizing how real the world is already" (Allen Ginsberg). Beliefs of all kinds are an impenetrable barrier to truth. We are in direct and immediate contact with truth but beliefs are like a brick wall between us and things-as-they-really are. Eschew beliefs. Bugger beliefs. You don't need them. See things-as-they-really-are. "If you want to know and understand, don't believe" (Gautama Buddha). If anyone tells you that you need to believe "this" or "that" in order to be saved, tell them where to go. People who think in terms of the supposed superiority of one belief-system over another or all others are sick and deluded---and a public nuisance. They think they know truth, but they do not. I repeat, if you want to know and understand, don't believe!

15. Life has no intrinsic, built-in purpose or meaning, and is far from fair. So, don't be surprised or shocked by anything. Others will react to you as they will. They need not like you or even acknowledge your existence. Always remain calm. Let nothing disturb you.

16. Be on the level and you won't go downhill. Honesty means being at-one with the facts, that is, the truth, or what is.

17. Love (which begins with loving yourself) means letting go of all expectations. However, before we can let go, we must let be. The latter is an act of acceptance---and a choice.

18. If you judge, you have no time to love. No wonder Jesus said, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." The latter necesstates that we see things-as-they-really are.

19. If you are reluctant to forgive, remember the things that you wish you had been forgiven for. To forgive means to "give-for," that is, to give something positive for something negative by changing your state of mind.

20. "Never, never, never give up" (Sir Winston Churchill).