Body-centered vs Mindfulness practices – An interview on attention, awareness & Free Mind

One of my American students, Michael Fogleman, who has trained in Buddhist meditation practices, conducted an interview for his site, Mind-Body-Attention. In this interview, we discussed about body-centered practices and mindfulness. I responded to some of Michael’s precise questions on the practices that cultivate attention versus those that train us in awareness.

Although it’s a rather long interview but for those of who like to reflect on the deeper approaches to mindfulness practices from the non-dual or Buddhist perspective, it might be an interesting read. Do share your thoughts and views about this interview.

Interview with C G Mayya by Michael Fogleman

Is your meditation practice helping you or worsening your negative patterns?

Each kind of meditation has a different effect on the brain. Research studies on the effect of meditation on brain is proving that just “meditating” is not the solution to all our problems. In fact certain meditation practices can actually be worsening our harmful psychological  tendencies even though they may feel good (Not all that glitters is gold) Thus finding the right form of meditation for our present condition and purpose, is the key.

In ancient times, the right meditation teacher or Guru was attuned to the students’ state of mind and needs. In modern times however, finding a Guru who is really committed to leading you toward unconditional freedom is a rarity. Enter the world of softwares and gadgets that converge tracking signals from body and brain into customized systems.

Recently, I have been involved with Med Lab at Pyramid Valley, Bangalore, a retreat and meditation center. Based on my previous involvement at Universities in Boston where tests were conducted on my brain, in meditation and non- meditation modes, I am in awe of these approaches. Furthermore, as a Mindfulness Instructor and Coach, I see the value of harnessing technology in helping people find the right forms of practices that bring about change and personal transformation.

In one of the demos that I was asked to participate in, I started the test of my pulse right after a talk and registered a Heart Rate Variability (HRV ) of low coherence, indicating an excited state of mind. But as I began to meditate, HRV changed significantly toward High level coherence just within 2 mins, thus indicating a sharp decrease in stress (as can be seen in this video).

Not every kind of meditation however has the same effect. Infact there are some forms of concentration and focus practices where the brain waves register a stressful and tensed state of mind because the meditator is seeking to control the mind into quietude. Similarly, if there is decreased activity in Thalamus region, it has been pointed out that transcendental forms of meditation could potentially worsen that condition in the brain and nervous system.

So how exactly can we use technology to find the right meditation? And can it replace the effectiveness of personal guidance which is subject to the factor of human error.

While its true that technology can help reveal inside our brain in a graphical form than can be understood viscerally, it is also obvious that software alone is not the answer. Interpreting the data from researches, not just scientifically, but also from the perspective of meditation is very important. For example, one of the applications I tried with the sensors in my head pointed out that I was in a meditative state when all I was doing was to rest consciously. It registered the same effect when I lied down with the sensors wrapped around my head.

In summary, I think there is a great potential for use of technology in finding the right meditative methods. However, there need to be more domain experts behind such technology who can interpret the raw data intelligently. Just like how you need a doctor to prescribe the right medication, technology has to work hand in hand with experts for designing and guiding this process for individuals.

Our next step in this research process is to incorporate these tests before, during and after a Mindfulness session spanning few weeks. Comments, suggestions, questions?

Mindful Way to Overcome Depression

At a recent talk given for the WHO Mental Health Day, I gave a talk on rise of Depression in urban cities and how to deal with Depression using Mindfulness (talk given at Ashmayu Yoga, Bengaluru.) It is estimated that about 6 crore of Indian population are suffering from depression. Then there are those who have to live or associate with those who are struggling with depression and who are themselves affected by it.

True Mindfulness

What is true mindfulness? And why do I refer to it as being different from modern mindfulness?

In this audio interview with Jennifer Howd, I began to discuss this, although it was only after the interview that I realized the best word to convey what I was trying to express is True Mindfulness or True nature of Mindfulness! In my book, Discover Your Free Mind, I had emphasized the need to train not just in Attention, as most Western Mindfulness Schools teach, but also to directly train in Awareness. Although many modern mindfulness proponents argue that it is all one and the same, I have seen again and again that a majority of them fail to understand the real nature of Mindfulness and remain content in its outer transformative effect in their lives. But such transformation is not sustainable.

It takes a different set of lenses and a different perspective to understand and train in Awareness as a complement to the training in Attention, or for that matter concentration.

I am however glad that there are a few modern mindfulness champions, such as Jennifer Howd, who are actively interested in exploring this. This interview is thus my attempt to put into words the true transformative nature of Mindfulness through training in Awareness or what I commonly refer to as, discovering the nature of  Free Mind.

Devotion as a Mindful Practice?

It is not a topic that is generally discussed within Secular and Mindful communities. But Michael Fogleman, who practiced under my guidance at Center for Mindful Learning, Vermont, expressed an interested to interview me on this topic. So, over several email exchanges, we explored this from theistic, atheistic and agnostic perspective. My hope was that we could bring a fresh perspective to the topic of Devotion, a heart quality that has so much to its credit, and perhaps also much to its discredit. Nevertheless, I feel Devotion as a Mindful Practice, or rather an attitude of Devotion to all our practices, can transform us and our relationship to our practices.

Here’s the full interview in PDF. You can also see it on Michael’s website.

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Do you find yourself getting stuck periodically with anxiety, resentment, and inner conflict?

“Embracing the path to freedom and transformation is the deepest calling within the heart of every individual,” I write in my newly published book, Discover Your Free Mind. But how can we honor our heart’s calling if we are in the grip of certain emotions that are hard to shake off? If you’re like most people who feel pain at an emotional level, then you’re probably aware of what it means to be stuck in a negative state of mind.

I am not referring to the more obvious emotional outbursts such as anger or panic, which all of us must find ways to deal with before it harms others and ourselves. I am referring to those emotions and thinking patterns that seem to inwardly possess you, disturbing you from within. These could manifest themselves as anxiety, resentment, doubt, mental conflict, or as some sort of addiction that you unconsciously yield to.

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To understand this better, consider these two anecdotes:

Ross felt perfectly normal one morning. After all, it was the beginning of summer and the fading spring season had painted the landscape around his office with greenery and colorful flowers. Turning his attention from the trees outside to his smartphone, Ross glanced across a posting on social media by two of his close friends. It was a picture of them having a good time at one of his favorite places. He felt the rush of emotion surge, a sudden twinge in his heart: He’d been left out.

Before he even realized it, his thumbs hammered out a sarcastic comment on their posting (the danger of instant electronic communication). But soon after he had typed out his stinging one-liner, he was beset with feelings of shame. His “critic” had now shifted from his friends onto himself. For the remainder of his day, he was riddled with self-critical thoughts, like a catchy tune that plays on and on in your head without any conscious control.

On the other side of the city, Dorothy, was happily packing a lunch for her husband of 20 years, who was on his way to work. She became aware of a text message beeping on his cell phone, which he had left behind on the dining table as he was getting dressed. As she glanced at the phone she noticed that the message was from his secretary, a lively young woman. It struck a tone that seemed to Dorothy more personal than professional. Instead of risking another argument that would create a rift in their relationship, she saw her husband off that morning with a hidden heartbreak. But all through the day, Dorothy was seized with anxiety, fueled by imagining her husband’s extramarital relationship. No amount of diversion, or gorging of sweets, could shake off the undercurrent of gloom and foreboding she felt over their relationship.

The stories of Ross and Dorothy play out in all our lives, with varying scripts and intensities. While some people seem to effectively engage in repeated acts of anger and conflict with others without ever having to suffer any inner torment, it is not necessarily a sign of mental health. For the human brain to undergo physiological and psychological evolution, it is natural to feel pain, especially when we inflict it on others. The development of empathy in the human heart that brings greater “self-awareness and other-awareness,” as neurologist V. S. Ramachandran points out in his book Tell-Tale Brain, can present another challenge: Awareness of our actions and mental patterns causes many of us to shift the conflicting attention from without to within. Our minds are then “dis-eased” by this inner conflict or possessed by a self-judgmental and raging inner critic. In modern and psychological definitions, these are referred to as stress, anxiety, depression, and other states. These states obscure the heart and mind’s openness.

 

In Discover Your Free Mind, I explore these “dis-eased” states of mind. I point toward the possibility of finding inner freedom not by intensifying the fight within ourselves, but by inquiring into their nature and into our own mental conditioning imposed by our cultural and social environment. Building on the essence of ancient Eastern and Western philosophies and teachings, I present their relevance in the modern context:

  • What is the nature of these emotional states we find ourselves stuck in?
  • Why is it so hard to free ourselves from these states of minds?
  • What are the interior impulses and external influences that bring us toward such dis-eased states of mind?

Many of us have found comfort in different approaches from psychology, spirituality and self-help for dealing with such inner challenges. Through these, we seek a permanent state of mind where we never again have to deal with these mental patterns. If you have faith in such a notion, because of what someone else has said or experienced, then you are likely going to mentally cling to the distant future in the present moment. It is the ground where “having hope” becomes your only hope.

But if the nature of your faith is propelled by your own glimpses of freedom or through your own unfolding realization, then you are probably ready to give up these ideological fantasies of a future state of mental freedom and instead reside in the present state of the mind’s unknowing. You may then be open to seeing that the heart of all our problems lies in the very seeking state of mind (in the present) which looks to the future for a permanent state of freedom and joy. I ask in my book, “Can we learn to look at life unmasked, without attempting to manipulate it, so that we may understand its true nature, without the layers of intellectual concepts and cultural and social beliefs?”

When we can shift our perspective in such a way, we even step out of any spiritual or philosophical concepts that we have subscribed to, and move toward realizing our own solo path. As long as we are committed to this kind of moment-to-moment discovering of inner freedom, we can see for ourselves that Free Mind is not to be found elsewhere, but right where we are and right within the situation we are faced with.Because such a path to freedom is unchained from the “beginning and ending” dimensions of time and space.

The grip on the mind by any emotional state relaxes as we bring the inquiring attitude not just to the difficult situations in life, but also to every comforting thought pattern the mind grasps at. It is only then that we are able to truly find inner freedom, no matter what our life situation may be and no matter what state of mind we find ourselves stuck in.

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Discover Your Free Mind is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.