Big Mind

This Sunday, Rebecca led our Sangha discussion by reading some thoughts on Anatta, and then playing a version of the “Big Mind” guided meditation led by Joseph Goldstein. The guided meditation is available here:


What we pay attention to

This Sunday, Joey led the dharma discussion drawing from a talk by Sally Clough Armstrong, focusing on ways of remembering mindfulness and compassion when a tendency to blame or negative states of mind arise.

Sally brings interesting references to neuroscience and skillful means for addressing our sometimes negative responses to inevitable unpleasant moments.

The talk is available here:

Below are Joey’s notes:

Sally quoting the Buddha: Whatever we think and ponder upon with become the inclination of the mind.

Sally quoting Jill Taylor Bowles from My stroke of insight: Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of mind.

Sally: “…not disowning our negative states of mind but rather “oh, you poor dear, you’ve gotten caught in a stream of negativity.”

Sally: “It takes training”.

Joey’s comments:
Rick Hanlon, neuropsychologist, writes in Hardwiring happiness, that negative thoughts are like Velcro to the mind and positive ones like Teflon because of the inherent negative bias of the mind that developed for our survival.

We needed to be able to make life-saving decisions quickly and efficiently. So our brains evolved with the amygdala performing the quick and dirty assessment of each situation we encounter: does this represent threat or safety?

When we train the mind, this is what we’re needing to move beyond: the reaction and evaluation of threat or safety that is built into our minds because of past conditions rooted in highly charged emotional events.

Imagine a situation in which a little preschooler approaches a teacher who has been safe and kind but who suddenly yells aggressively: “All Preschoolers off the playground right now! It’s time for the older kids to have the playground.” And it feels to the little preschooler that that teacher is yelling directly at her, attacking her. This small moment with a highly emotional charge might combine with other charged moments and conditions that lead to the development of a habit of reacting with fear when needing to approach other people. There may be a belief or thought pattern that develops:” People are unpredictable and scary. I’ll avoid them when I can.” When faced with having to interact with others the mind can get caught in an aversive repetition: “Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? Safety? Danger? Will I join the dance?

We are all susceptible to developing schemas as responses to past experiences that may emerge as beliefs about our selves or others, reactions that may seem too strong for the situation at hand but may simply be the result of triggers of past conditions that felt unsafe, body memories of a seemingly threatening situation held in the right hemisphere of the brain and emerging as an impulsive reaction.

So it does take effort, repeated effort and compassion to train the mind. Recently, I’ve found a skillful means I wanted to share with you. Richard Schwartz has developed a model of working with reactions that arise or thoughts of an obsessive or repetitive nature. He has named the model Internal Family Systems.

When those repetitive categories of thoughts that Sally mentions continue to arise, it’s possible to view them as Parts of ourselves rather than our whole self-identity. So expanding on her suggestion of cultivating an attitude of compassion towards ourselves in the face of a negative stream of thoughts, it’s possible to recognize that the stream is a Part of you that is doing it’s very best to keep you safe.

If we actually turn toward the Part that, for example, tends to be critical of ourselves rather than ignore it, try to push it away, or believe it, we can feel where it is in or around our body and address it as if it is it’s own mini self. We can ask it to give us some space so we can be in relation to it in order for us to alleviate its distress. This has the possibility of providing the pause we often talk about but also provides a way of seeing that in spite of an emotionally gripping and believable critic, this is simply a Part of ourselves arising from past emotionally charged conditions.

Once we’ve established a bit of space from our critic or the emotional reactivity or repetitive thought, we can ask compassionately: “What set you off? What are you worried about?” or simply “What’s happening?”

This acknowledgement of the critical or distressed Part of us is often enough to allow that Part to relax. Instead of seeing the critic or emotional reaction with aversion, we offer a welcome. We cultivate compassion rather than alienation. It can become another skillful means of paying attention.

Feeling Vedana

This Sunday, Payton guided the Sangha discussion. We continued the theme of noticing the space between our experience and our reaction, by trying to become more aware of Vedana, or the Feeling Tone (pleasant, unpleasant, or neither) that happens just as our senses make contact with the world. More specifically, we discussed trying to feel the sensation of being pulled toward or pushed away from those experiences as they occur, and how reacting with that movement can define our whole life.

Payton played a talk by Christina Feldman from a recent retreat at IMS. The talk is not publicly available, but here is a link to the other talks from that retreat:

Here’s Payton’s notes from the discussion.

Vedana” – Feeling tone or Hedonic tone, not emotion, exquisitely simple.

Vedana is mostly not implicitly pleasant or unpleasant, but is generally neutral and is then colored by our context.

Often what we react to is not the experiences that we have, but the thoughts that follow those experiences.

What we feel, we move toward, away from, or we stand confused.

If we are mindful, automatic patterns of behavior become optional.

Vedana begins with contact; generally they arise together; just notice pleasant as pleasant, unpleasant as unpleasant; this is a practice for our daily life.

Neutral Vedana can be invisible; it causes us to go looking for something pleasant, or looking for something unpleasant to fix; “when we don’t pay attention to the neutral, it becomes unpleasant”.

Vedana in this context is the Second Foundation of Mindfulness. The first is the body, and it is essential to notice these experiences happening in the body. The third is our Mind State (“Citta“), which we could describe as our mood. Often the Mind State colors our experience of the Vedana, because pleasant Vedana can become neutral in the environment of unpleasant Citta. Similarly, unpleasant Vedana can be ignored or softened when perceived during pleasant Citta.

Mind states are also created by repeated exposure to Vedana, so lots of unpleasant Feeling tone experiences can lead to unpleasant Mind states, which in turn color our subsequent Feeling tones. This cycle can repeat endlessly.

We hear buzzing around our head and we’re swatting at the mosquito before we even know that we’ve moved our hand. Then when someone asks why we’re swatting the air, we say, “I was annoyed by the mosquito”, but in fact we’ve just made up that story to explain our actions.


This past Sunday, Margaret led our Sangha discussion on the topics of volition (intention),  the underlying motivations for intentions, and how kharma is related to those underlying motivations.

We based this discussion on:

  1. The first 8 and a half minutes of a talk by Joseph Goldstein:
  2. A reading from the section “The factor of volition”, from Joseph Goldstein’s book, “Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 186-187)
  3. The first 11 minutes of a talk by Shaila Catherine: (The rest of this talk is also thought provoking.)

We had a very interesting discussion based on this.

Here are a couple of quotes from the reading from Joseph Goldstein’s book:

“What makes volition … so important in the understanding of our lives … is that it carries the karmic force of the action. What this means is that all intentional, volitional actions, whether of body, speech, or mind, have the power to bring about results both in the present and future.”

“Intention itself is ethically neutral. It is the motivation associated with the intention behind an action that determines the particular karmic fruit of the action, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Although there can be many different motives underlying our actions, they can all be traced back to one of three wholesome or unwholesome roots; the wholesome ones are nongreed, nonhatred, and nondelusion, and the unwholesome ones are greed, hatred and delusion.”

Between stimulus and response

Payton led a very lively discussion this Sunday on what choices we have around the moment between stimulus and response. Specifically, the chain of experiences as described by Christina Feldman:

What we contact, we feel [this is Vedana or Feeling Tone].
What we feel, we perceive.
What we perceive, we think about.
What we think about, we dwell upon.
What we dwell upon becomes the shape of our mind.
The shape of our mind becomes the shape of our world.

Christina suggests an alternate chain of events:

What we contact, we feel [this is Vedana or Feeling Tone].
What we feel, we perceive.
What we perceive, we can reflect upon.
What we reflect upon, we can find an appropriate response to.

The ground for this discussion was a rich talk by Christina Feldman from a recent retreat at IMS. The talk is here:

Right View

This past Sunday Zac led our discussion on the topic of Right (or “Wise”) View.

He played excerpts from two talks:

Lama Surya Das 2012-01-17 32:07
Right View
Insight Meditation South Bay – Silicon Valley: Tuesday Talks—2012

Rob Burbea 2006-12-31 56:58
Views In Practice (…They make all the difference)
Gaia House: New Year’s Retreat

The Fourth Moment

This Sunday, Rebecca led our gathering by reading the transcript of a talk given by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa Rinpoche describes a “Fourth Moment” beyond what we consider the three concepts of relative time: past, present, and future. He describes this moment as “now-ness”, a sense of complete awareness of the ever-changing nature of reality all around us, and one which can be understood though Viapassana practice.

The transcript is available from Lion’s Roar here:

The Five Aggregates and Right View

The theme of today’s Sangha was the five aggregates – with emphasis on their relevance in the context of right view. To aid this discussion, Margaret used excerpts from two talks, listed below.

Joseph Goldstein:

And Ayya Santacitta:

Margaret also referenced an excerpt from John Burdett’s Bangkok Tattoo, which we’ve seen at Sangha before:

Bored with Pisit today, I switch to our public radio channel, where the renowned and deeply reverend Phra Titapika is lecturing on Dependent Origination. Not everyone’s cup of chocolate, I agree (this is not the most popular show in Thailand), but the doctrine is at the heart of Buddhism. You see, dear reader (speaking frankly, without any intention to offend), you are a ramshackle collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging, there is no center at all, everything depends on everything else, your body depends on the environment, your thoughts depend on whatever junk floats in from the media, your emotions are largely from the reptilian end of your DNA, your intellect is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator, and even your best side is a superficial piece of social programming that will fall apart just as soon as your spouse leaves with the kids and the money in the joint account, or the economy starts to fail and you get the sack, or you get conscripted into some idiot’s war, or they give you the news about your brain tumor. To name this amorphous morass of self-pity, vanity, and despair self is not only the height of hubris, it is also proof (if any were needed) that we are above all a delusional species. (We are in a trance from birth to death.) Prick the balloon, and what do you get? Emptiness. It’s not only us-this radical doctrine applies to the whole of the sentient world. In a bumper sticker: The fear of letting go prevents you from letting go of the fear of letting go. Here’s the good Phra in fine fettle today: “Take a snail, for example. Consider what brooding overweening self-centered passion got it into that state. Can you see the rage of a snail? The frustration of a cockroach? The ego of an ant? If you can, then you are close to enlightenment.”

Like I say, not everyone’s cup of miso. Come to think of it, I do believe I prefer Pisit, but the Phra does have a point: take two steps in the divine art of Buddhist meditation, and you will find yourself on a planet you no longer recognize. Those needs and fears you thought were the very bones of your being turn out to be no more than bugs in your software. (Even the certainty of death gets nuanced.) You’ll find no meaning there. So where?

Consequences of Right Speech

Patrick guided our reflections this Sunday on the topic of Right (or Wise) Speech and Wrong (or Unwise) Speech, and insights into the inner and outer effects of each. The discussion was anchored with excerpts from a talk by Shalia Catherine.

From Dharmaseed:

Speech is given particular importance in the Buddhist path because wrong speech can be the cause of tremendous harm, and right speech can be profoundly beneficial. The practice of right speech is given emphasis because it’s a very vivid way that we can bring our practice off the cushion and into our daily life. When our life is conditioned on delusion and greed, our intention usually is to benefit ourselves. While when our life is conditioned on delusion and hatred, our intention is usually to harm others. Even when we choose to lie because it will cause less harm than the truth, we still should be aware of the karmic consequence of our action.

The talk is here:

Emptiness – What is Real?

This Sunday, Sam guided our reflections, continuing with the theme of Emptiness from last week, which lies at the root of so much Buddhist practice.

Excerpts from talks by Sally and Guy Armstrong, as well as a guided meditation led by Guy anchored the presentation.

The talks were from the recent retreat “Emptiness” at IMS. We are currently unable to provide links to the talks which Sam played specifically, but here’s a list of the publicly available talks from that retreat: