The primary purpose of the writing in this blog is to contribute to the on-going development in the West of a process-oriented understanding of experience. The inspiration for the project came when I asked: “What does the transformative power of mindfulness and meditation tell us about being human? Another way of asking that would be: ‘What kind of event am I, such that meditation and mindfulness work?” (To benefit from these pages, it’s not a pre-requisite that you be convinced that these practices do indeed transform human beings in healthy ways. It’s only required that you be a little bit serious about the possibility that we can change our way of relating to life, the universe, and everything.)
The exploration here is mainly centred on mindfulness and meditation as it was presented in the earliest Buddhist schools, But my core interest is in how humans function, such that kindness and optimal intelligence guide our relations. I put being human before being of this or that religious or philosophical persuasion.
I have studied and practiced Buddhist meditation for five decades, in the schools of Zen, Dzogchen, and early Buddhism (Theravada); and for the last twenty years, I have studied and practiced the Western ways of psychotherapy and of phenomenology. (Yes, there are ways of ‘meditatively practicing’ phenomenology.)
However, my training is definitely limited. Specifically the approach here expresses an integrated understanding of the following areas of inner exploration: Early Buddhist mindfulness (Satipatthana) and insight meditation; Gendlin’s Focusing; and also: Dogen in Zen, Longchenpa in Dzogchen, Douglas Harding, and phenomenology from the West, particularly Gendlin’s ‘Philosophy of the Implicit.’ It is with intense gratitude that I honour the wisdom of these readings of the human situation. I wish I had more, but it’s a short life.
(If you are a specialist in Early Buddhism, for you I need to stipulate that my approach to Early Buddhism is non-Buddhaghosan. I confine my attention to the Nikayas. Despite the lineage of my teaching appointment, I may not be strictly Theravadan.)
When I started meditating, I wanted to know what the mind was, and to establish peace ‘in my own mind. Then, a chuckling Indian guru said, in a talk which I attended in my home town: “A field of grass is green because individual blades of grass are green.” At the time, my country was involved in an immoral war in Vietnam; and also, I had become acutely aware of how perilously destructive our wrong understanding is, of our place in the natural world.
So, I began my contemplative path inspired by the thought that the transformation of our psyche is the most essential and enduring contribution we can make to the welfare of all. Five decades later, this understanding has only strengthened.
My focus intially – one could say, my obsession – was ‘mind.’ However, after a few decades, I realised that the body’s inherent knowing is primary in human happiness. The whole body is mindful. At that point, the peace I had sought began to emerge with solidity. This led to a radical re-visioning of my Buddhist thinking. Hence, the wisdom of the body – of nature in us – is the organising principle in these pages. Inspired by the Early Buddhist teachings in the five Nikayas, I think of this as ‘whole body mindfulness.’
“Practitioners, one hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up the deathless who hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up mindfulness of the body. One has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up the deathless who has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up mindfulness of the body.” – The Buddha (in the Anguttara Nikaya).
I’ve named the disciplines which will be the main cultural supports which I call on, in these pages; but there’ll be a ‘science’ thread, too. I have not been formally trained in science – not even high school science – but I have been, like the majority of Westerners, marinated in the dominant scientific outlook. I love science, and I wish this project to also be consistent with good science. I check my science with a qualified adviser.
I take the opportunity to thank my teachers, my friends in the inquiry, and my family. And, I hope you, Reader, find something here which contributes to your understanding.
The Planetary Situation
We are dangerously out of touch with our nature as humans, and this is as a result of a disconnect between language and experiencing. Our greatest strength – imagination – is now our achilles heel, and may mean the end of our species.
It is tragic really, the trance which is going on, right here in these our human bodies; tragic that we don’t encourage deep inquiry into experiencing. This is one reason why we don’t get our relationship with the rest of nature – and with each other – in a healthy perspective; why we are destroying our home – the planetary ecology that originally gave rise to us – this disconnect from our bodies.
Our way forward is always right at hand, even if we don’t see it. It’s as close as eating, walking, running, laughing, sleeping, spewing, crying, feeling sad or happy, lying down, or turning-somersaults. The way forward is in the heart of our life – in its actual processes of seeing, thinking, smelling, tasting, touching and feeling. When these ordinary aspects of experiencing are entered into with precision, their true nature becomes evident, and an inconceivable dimension is found, which upends our usual ways of perceiving.
At Sāvatthī in Ancient India, the Buddha spoke about this to his students:
“Practitioners, dwell with your heart well-established in the four placements of mindfulness. Do not miss the Deathless.
“What are the four? Here, a practitioner dwells contemplating the body in the body… feeling-tones in feeling-tones… psyche in psyche… and the dynamics of phenomena in the dynamics of phenomena – ardent, comprehending clearly, present, having removed hankering and distaste with regard to the world. Dwell, Practitioners, with your hearts well-established in these four placements of mindfulness. Do not miss the Deathless.”
– The Deathless (Amata Sutta: SN V.41) Translated by Christopher Ash
‘The Deathless,’ here, refers to a precise experience, which is known when you become thoroughly familiar with experiencing, and when experiencing can know, without reactivity, its natural limit. The content of this site, with the sites it can lead you to, is intended to support an emerging Western understanding of human experiencing which doesn’t depend on materialism and reductionism, but which also doesn’t fall into superstition or mere belief.
These new insights – especially in phenomenology – can ground a non-theistic sacred approach to nature. This word ‘nature,’ when I use it without qualifying phrases, I use to point to ‘This’ that we are experiencing, now – wherever you are, whoever you are, and whatever you are doing. It is inclusive of all our distinctions, including those that point to humans, trees, mountains, birds, animals of all kind. ‘Nature,’ when I say it without indicating a more restricted use, also points (often astonishingly) to whatever ‘This’ is primordially, in its profoundly ‘bigger-than-all-that-is-perceptible’ nature. The biggest ‘nature’ is the all-encompassing, and ‘impossible-to-think’ This. It is our very activity.
There will be a way forward, and in whatever form or form the next step in our species development comes, it must necessarily address this: our ignorance of our nature in nature.