Ezra Bayda on Mind-Mapping

In the following excerpt from Ezra Bayda’s book, Zen Heart, he explains how to “map the mind.” Mind-mapping is a powerful practice which can be a wonderful complement to the more everyday practice of thought-labeling (a technique I spoke about during last night’s “Intro to Zen” class, and which I’ve talked about a number of times over the past few months). Mind-mapping is a good tool to add to your toolbox of meditative practices… especially handy when you’re trying to cast the healing light of awareness on especially deep-seated beliefs about the self.

Mapping the Mind (from Zen Heart, pp. 117-118)

Mapping the mind has been around for a long time, and many different versions of it exist. The version presented here is quite simple, yet extremely effective in allowing us to see, from a broader perspective, what runs us. Here’s how it works: If you are stuck in an emotional issue, and unclear about what you’re actually thinking or feeling, first think of a short phrase that best describes the issue. Then write that phrase down in the middle of a piece of paper and circle it. For example, it could say, “money issue,” “relationship difficulty,” “depression,” or “anxiety over health.” Then, over the next few hours or days, whenever a thought, emotion, or strong bodily sensation arises around the issue, write it down on the paper. The entries don’t have to be in any order—you can scatter them all over the page.

Basically, you’re creating a map of the mind, letting all of the debris that keeps floating through the mind be objectified on paper. In a way this practice is an extended form of thought labeling; but here, we write the thoughts down rather than silently repeating them, and emotions and sensations, as well as thoughts, are included.

It’s very important in this exercise to refrain from analyzing the issue. Instead of trying to figure out what’s going on, the practice is to objectively observe the thoughts and feelings, then write them down. Don’t think too hard about what to write, just let whatever is there pour, unhindered, onto the page. If you start to analyze, you’re likely to get even more caught in the spinning mental world—the familiar world of Me-stuff. The point of simply writing the items down is to be able to eventually see with real clarity what you are believing and feeling on both conscious and subconscious levels.

Once you have written down most of the thoughts and feelings (this may take place over the course of a few hours or even days), look at the whole page as if you were looking at a map of your mind. Notice any repeating patterns of thoughts, and also notice the relationship between the thoughts and the emotional and physical feelings. At this point, ask yourself the pivotal practice question: “What is the most believed thought?” There’s a good chance the answer will not be apparent immediately, since often the thoughts we write down are superficial or surface thoughts. Repeat this question again, either right away or some time later; if you are intent on knowing what you’re believing, the chances are strong that sooner or later the answer will present itself with clarity.

Once the most believed thought becomes apparent, add it to the map of the mind. At this point, when you look at the overall map, it almost always becomes clear how the surface thoughts and also the emotional feelings rose directly from that initial belief. Deeply held beliefs such as “I’ll never be appreciated,” “I’ll always be alone,” or “Nothing will ever work out” may sound trite, but their devastating power becomes apparent the more we get to know ourselves.

The point of practicing mind mapping is to be able to see ourselves within a wider container of awareness. When we can see ourselves and our difficult situation with more awareness, we are no longer so identified with the small mind—the mind of I-as-me. The ability to be less identified with our thoughts and emotions is pivotal in being able to live from the more spacious and present place of Being Awareness.

Fall 2019 Course: Zen and the Art of American Literature

Pre-registration at Williams for fall courses begins tomorrow (April 22). I wanted to draw the attention of folks (especially students) who attend “Intro to Zen” on Tuesday evenings to a course I’ll be teaching in the fall called “Zen and the Art of American Literature.” It’ll be a hybrid lecture/discussion course which will meet Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7-8:15pm. Click here to see the course description. (I also plan to make room for a few auditors, so if you’re interested in auditing, please email me.)

Some Joko Beck quotations

Was searching the web for a Joko Beck quotation, when I stumbled across this collection of Joko quotes, and I thought I’d share them here. Each is a wonderful nugget of wisdom…

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy – it often doesn’t – but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

Mark Epstein on the formation of the self

Mark Epstein is a psychotherapist as well as a longtime student of Buddhist meditation. Here’s a passage from his book Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective (pp. 19-20) that I feel resonates with the view of practice I’ve been outlining on Tuesday evenings (I’ve bolded the lines that I find particularly resonant):

If aspects of the person remain undigested — cut off, denied, projected, rejected, indulged, or otherwise unassimilated — they become the points around which the core forces of greed, hatred, and delusion attach themselves. They are black holes that absorb fear and create the defensive posture of the isolated self, unable to make satisfying contact with others or with the world. As Wilhelm Reich demonstrated in his groundbreaking work on the formation of character, the personality is built on these points of self-estrangement; the paradox is that what we take to be so real, our selves, is constructed out of a reaction against just what we do not wish to acknowledge. We tense up around that which we are denying, and we experience ourselves through our tensions. One recent patient of mine, for example, realized that he had developed an identity centered on feelings of shame, unworthiness, and anger rooted in a momentary experience of his mother’s emotional unavailability when he was a young child. Sensing her absence, he had become afraid, but this fear was too threatening to his psyche so he instead converted it into feelings of inadequacy, making himself the problem. It was not until many years into his adulthood when his mother lay paralyzed by a stroke and was physically unable to respond to him that he could finally acknowledge his fear. The fabric of self is stitched together out of just these holes in our emotional experience. When those aspects that have been unconsciously refused are returned, when they are made conscious, accepted, tolerated, or integrated, the self can then be at one, the need to maintain the self-conscious edifice disappears, and the force of compassion is automatically unleashed. Only when my patient was finally able to acknowledge his own fear at his mother’s emotional unavailability could he begin to feel sympathy for her emotional predicament. His shame had prevented that beforehand. As the famous Zen master Dogen has said:

To study Buddhism is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be one with others.

Notes on loving-kindness practice (April 16 “Intro to Zen” class)

I’m posting this for those who attended the April 16 “Intro to Zen” class on loving-kindness practice and would like to continue doing the loving-kindness meditation on their own (for those who missed this class, don’t worry; I’ll cover this important practice a number of times in the future):

Two things to keep in mind: (1) during the loving-kindness meditation, remember to breathe into the heartspace (roughly, the area in the center of your chest) and attend closely to the physical sensations of the breath as it moves in and out of the heartspace; (2) keep in mind that the point of loving-kindness practice is not to make yourself feel a particular way — rather, use the lines of the meditation (which are in bold below) to open to your present experience, whatever it may be like (if your heart feels closed or cold or fearful, open to the experience of that, with as much softness and gentleness as you can muster). Loving-kindness practice is not about self-improvement, not about making ourselves “better” people (more loving, more kind, etc.); rather, it’s a practice that invites us to pause our habitual self-aggression. As much as you can, open your own heart with compassion and kindness to whatever your present experience is, even if your present experience is of a heart that feels closed or cold.

Opening lines (repeat — silently to oneself — each line for a few breaths):

  • (As you inhale) Breathing into the heart. (As you exhale) No one to be.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Nothing to do.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Just being.

First round, to oneself. Remember to breathe in and out of the heartspace. Say (silently, to oneself) each phrase as you exhale. Repeat each phrase for a few breaths before moving on to the next line. Take your time. There’s no rush:

  • May I dwell in the open heart.
  • May I attend to whatever clouds the heart.
  • May I be awake in this moment, just as it is.
  • May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.

Middle round, to a loved one. As you inhale, breath the image/presence of the other person into your heartspace. Say each phrase below as you exhale, directing the sentiments to the loved one. And remember, feel free to repeat each phrase for a few breaths before moving on to the next line. No rush at all:

  • May you dwell in the open heart.
  • May you be healed in your difficulties.
  • May you be awake in this moment, just as it is.
  • May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.

Final round, directed at all beings (same process and rhythms as earlier rounds):

  • May all beings dwell in the open heart.
  • May all beings be healed in their difficulties.
  • May all beings be awake in this moment, just as it is.
  • May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.

Closing lines (repeat each line for a few breaths; again, take your time… no rush at all; nowhere to go, nothing to do… just being):

  • (As you inhale) Breathing into the heart. (As you exhale) No one to be.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Nothing to do.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Just being.

And now, continue sitting for as long as you like, continuing to breathe into and out of the heartspace. Remember to be aware of the physical sensations of the breath as it goes in and out of the heartspace.

[These instructions are adapted from the sections on loving-kindness practice in Ezra Bayda’s Being Zen and Zen Heart.]