Archives for posts with tag: Buddhism

A couple of months back, my good friend Chris Jones asked me for a reading list related to meditation practice. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why, as Chris is a far more experienced contemplative than me. Nonetheless, I sent him over some notes, adding listening into the reading list; as I’ve pointed out recently, more and more of my information is coming from the world of podcasts, which is going through something of a golden period at the moment, I believe.

So then, as contemplative practice has become something of a cornerstone of my effectiveness practice over the last few years, I thought it might be useful to post here what I said to Chris, with some editing. And before I plunge in, I do want to stress that I’m under no illusions here: I am strictly a novice at this stuff.

I’ve ended up here along a familiar trajectory, I think: mindfulness-based exercises in the MBSR tradition, post-yoga breathing exercises, extended mindfulness of breath sessions, walking meditation and so on. I’ve ended up with zazen partly because I’m drawn to its austerity, partly to keep the distracting peak experiences to a minimum. Mostly, though, I think I like Zen’s straightforwardness, its lack of spaced-out-ness.

So many of the books on the subject – and they’re endless – are about history/philosophy and not about technique. However, all of the books below are to some extent about technique and all have been hugely useful to me.

Some writers:

Jon Kabat-Zinn My gateway drug, the founder of MBSR and a great man, I think. His best writing certainly defies the disparaging “McMindfulness” tag thrown at “secular mindfulness” by some in traditional Buddhist circles. My favourite of his, and certainly the most “Buddhist” is Coming to Our Senses. K-Z is particularly good on technique, as he’s been teaching for three decades – mostly to newcomers and lay people.

Stephen Batchelor Another great man, I think: lapsed monk and author of the controversial Confession of a Buddhist Atheist and Buddhism Without Beliefs. He’s a Brit who tried pretty much every tradition, for decades – Tibetan, Theravadan, Zen – and to some degree settled on the last as a blueprint for a secular but nonetheless rigorous approach to the practice.

Noah Levine Different territory entirely. Levine is a tattoed punk, a former alcoholic and user who has used the practice to overcome some dark stuff. (Interestingly he’s the son of a pretty high profile American Buddhist – Stephen Levine.) He’s resolutely Theravadan, so ultimately not my bag I suspect (“Strictly old school Therevadan”, he notes wryly at one point). But, but – he’s VERY good on technique, and his books all centre on this. Try The Heart of the Revolution – it’s all about compassion and practice and I found it both inspiring and pretty confronting, which may say more than I’m prepared to admit.

Brad Warner Mr “Hardcore Zen” himself. Another punk, and a DEVO fan so already filed under “what’s not to like” – also bass player, Japanese monster film fanatic (he worked for the studio that makes Ultraman for some time) and ordained Zen priest. Coming from the Zen tradition there’s something almost wilfully obtuse about his writing. You get that from title alone of his last book: There is no God and He is Always With You. Sarah and I were lucky enough to see him talk in Glasgow last year. He’s due back in the UK in November so worth keeping an eye out for any talks.

Ben Michaelson I’m including him for a different reason. His book Evolving Dharma is a great introduction to how Buddhism is currently changing in the West – not least in response to communications tech. He’s an erudite writer – he’s written academic texts on, among other things, Kabbalah (he’s a self-confessed JuBu) – but this book is highly accessible. I found it hugely useful in mapping out the range of practice currently out there and how I might relate to it all.

Now that’s a short list, I know, but it’s the stuff that’s been most useful to me. However, as I said, books are only where my research into this stuff have begun. It’s in the world of blogging and podcasting that this has really taken off and so much of my thinking and practice has been informed by these:

  • Hardcore Zen – The blog aforementioned Brad Warner
  • The Secular Buddhist The blog and podcast of the Secular Buddhist Association; the podcast, hosted by Ted Meisner, is excellent.
  • Present Moment  The SB’s sister blog and podcast, also hosted by Meiner, looking at mindfulness from a less explicitly Buddhist perspective
  • Tricycle  Too hardcore for me, I confess, but essential reading – the online magazine of contemporary American Buddhism.
  • Buddhist Geeks – My favourite. Vincent Horn is a great podcaster and his show is almost entirely interviews/dialogues that explore the interface of contemplative practice and technology.
  • The Naked Monk – A fine blog from a British ex-monk turned mindfulness teacher.
  • Dharmaseed – A wonderful, constantly updated, library and repository of Buddhist lectures and talks.

Hopefully that’s enough to go on for any newcomers. I’d welcome any thoughts – including brickbats – from more seasoned practitioners.

Simon

tumblr_md6gxa1gqM1qbl75hLast week I briefly mentioned The Distraction AddictionThe Distraction Addiction, a remarkably engaging, yet thoroughly erudite little book by veteran tech commentator Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that introduces the notion of “contemplative computing”, that is, an approach to our use of tech that is more mindful, directed and conscious. I’m sure I’ll be returning to the book in other contexts, but I thought might be useful to list the “eight steps to contemplative computing” that Pang gives at the end of the book.

Be human  It is in our nature to become “entangled” with the tools we use – we’ve most likely been doing it for 500 millennia or more; but we need to be cautious about losing our humanity when using digital “tools”.

Be calm Be honest with yourself, do you spend more time at a screen in state of agitation than not?

Be mindful Traditional Buddhists warn against the danger of “McMindfulness”; nonetheless there are important lessons about our engagement with tech to be learned from contemplative traditions.

Make conscious choices Don’t let the tech drive you; drive it.

Extend your abilities Use technologies that extend your existing skills and abilities – in a profound way. That may sound obvious, but look at the apps and services you use and ask yourself whether they actually do.

Seek flow “Flow” is the concept – now widely discussed – introduced by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to describe the state entered into by us when thoroughly engaged in a task. Pang argues that we should use tech in a way that maximises our opportunity to enter flow – and this of course means avoiding distraction.

Engage with the world If your use of tech is getting between you and an experience – that is, if your experiences are mediated by technology – then rethink!

Find opportunities that are restorative It is vital to restore our mind’s ability to focus; there are many ways to achieve this, from meditation to finding/creating the right physical environment to the use of “Zenware“.

I’ve personally been trying to live by many of these precepts for some years now – and it’s not always easy – but it’s great to see them gathered and explained so coherently by this fine writer and thinker. I shall redouble my efforts!

Simon

Almost three years ago, after reading a post from the excellent finance blogger Nic Brisbourne, Sarah introduced the thinking of “lifestyle experimenter” Tim Ferris to the household. As it happens, the first book of his we read was The 4-Four Hour Body – a set of strategies for achieving optimal health and physical performance. But it was the book’s predecessor, The 4-Hour Work Week that had the most impact on Turner Hopkins, helping us to think about every aspect of our work and life – and how they fit together.

But Ferriss was just a gateway drug to a whole new world of writers, bloggers and podcasters all thinking about alternative approaches to work that might enrich us is some way: make us more productive, more creative or simply more satisfied with our work.

Much of our research has centred on technology. Digital technology has of course been a huge enabler, and is at the core of our work as consultants – and now as investors. But we’ve come to see it as as much part of the problem as it is part of the solution. Distraction, overwhelm, sedentarism, sleep deprivation: these are among the many downsides of the digital revolution.

We’ve been thinking for some while about how we build the lessons we’ve learned over the last three years (and, for that matter, across our shared half century – sigh – of working) into our work as consultants. We delivered a pilot for a Personal & Professional Effectiveness programme for TRC Media in Glasgow earlier this year, as we discussed – along with a follow up reading list – here. And we’re now developing a highly interactive workshop to take to clients over the next few months.

It feels like a natural corollary to our existing work. And we’ll start to share some of our thoughts on this blog, sharing podcasts and blog posts, reviewing books, or simply reflecting on recent experience.

Here’s one to be going on with. I’m currently reading The Distraction Addiction, a fantastically engaging book written by seasoned tech commentator Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. The book tackles head on the huge impact that “digital distraction” has on our work and on our mental health. Alex’s solution is “contemplative computing”, an approach to using tech that builds on his decades of experience as a very serious meditator.

Drawing on sources as diverse as archeology, anthropology, cybernetics and classical Buddhism, the book strives to be practical as well as illuminating. I’m particularly taken with Jeffrey MacIntyre‘s notion of “Zenware” – software that uses the principle of simplicity to aid concentration and increase effectiveness (as it happens, I am writing this post using the wonderful, take-over-all-screen-real-estate word processing application OmmWriter Dana, a product developed by Barcelona-based creative agency Herraiz Soto).

Anyway, here’s Alex talking to Vincent Horn about contemplative computing on the wonderful Buddhist Geeks podcast. We look forward to bringing you more thoughts from the frontiers of effectiveness over the coming months.

Simon