August 30, 2012

Coming to Your Screen Soon...

Here's my latest poster:

Soon to be seen here:

during my month-long online retreat 

Meanwhile, enjoy this video conversation between me and Polly Young-Eisendrath.

August 24, 2012

Ikkyū and the Hell Courtesan

I find the story of Jigoku Dayū ("Hell Courtesan") and her enlightenment under Zen Master Ikkyū inspiring and compelling.

A modern story related to this theme is Shoko Tendo's life. She was born into the Yakuza. A turning point in her life was getting this full-body tattoo of the "Hell Courtesan." She talks about it here.

This blog post is dedicated to Shelly Young.

August 16, 2012

Working Smart

People often complain that they’re able to get in deep states during formal practice but are not able to maintain those states in daily life. There’s a lot to be said about this but one suggestion I have is to work smart by creating for yourself “challenge sequences.”

The idea is simple. 

Take any meditation technique you relate to and attempt to maintain it through a sequence of progressively more challenging activities. Stay with each stage for however long it takes you to get as deep as you were in the previous stage.

Here’s an example.
1. Lying down
2. Seated eyes closed
3. Seated eyes open
4. Standing
5. Slow walking
6. Faster walking
7. Walking in a sensorily impactful environment
8. Simple exercise
9. More complicated exercise
10. Washing dishes
11. Cooking a simple meal
12. Cooking a more complicated meal
13. Carrying on a vacuous conversation
14. Watching low-impact tv
15. Watching high impact tv
16. Carrying on a substantive conversation
17. Carrying on an emotionally charged substantive conversation

Your goal is to maintain the deepest state you can experience in #1 while in #17. It's like weight training, you build it up gradually. It may seem like an awful big homework assignment but you have the rest of your life to turn it in!

August 14, 2012

Sacred Native American Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Still courtesy of Har-Prakash Khalsa / Expand-Contract
In September, I'll be leading a retreat through TCMC at a scenic ranch in the Sonoran desert in Arizona. One of the cool features is that retreatants have an opportunity to do a traditional native sweat lodge.

Native people call their path the "Red Road" (here "red" is not a racial term but rather the sacred color of the North). I've given some talks about the relationship between the Native American Red Road and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and what to expect from the sweat lodge ceremony:
Here's a document from TCMC on what to expect from the sweat lodge ceremony and how to prepare(Note that there are also opportunities for sweats following some of my Canadian retreats each year.) 

As of this blogpost, plenty of openings remain for Shinzen’s upcoming residential retreat in Arizona:

Residential Retreat with Shinzen Young
September 10-16, 2012
Oracle, Arizona
Hosted by TCMC

Email/Contact: Pam Ballingham,
P.O. Box 43204, Tucson, AZ  85733

Special thanks to Har-Prakash Khalsa and Stephanie Nash for the videos.

August 6, 2012

A Stroke of Insight?

In April, I posted a blog about a medical condition I’m interested in. The condition is sometimes referred to as “athymhormic syndrome” and sometimes as PAP (French: perte d'auto-activation psychique, i.e., loss of subjective autoactivation).
In the following post, you see a sequence of emails between myself and Ron Serrano. Ron is a jhana adept who has studied extensively with Leigh Brasington and consults on meditation research with Dr. Jud Brewer of Yale Medical School.
The exchange raises some interesting and fundamental issues regarding the possibility of a neuronal basis for enlightenment.

On Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 5:58 PM, Ron Serrano wrote:

…Regarding PAP; is this really a pathological version of arhatship? I read the associated article and this condition sounds more like "indifference" rather than "no self". At first blush, indifference seems like being without hatred and without greed and therefore without ego. On closer inspection, however, indifference is really a separation from the world, where as "no self" is a union. Also, I'm sure you're aware of a great deal of fMRI study which has been done on construction of the self in the brain (including Jud Brewer's work). A number of brain areas, including the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) have been repeatedly highlighted in these studies, but to my knowledge the anterior caudate has never come up. I know that you are well versed in this area, so I am probably missing something here.…

On Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 5:34 PM, Shinzen Young wrote:

    Hi Ron,
…Okay, I'm willing to admit that referring to Athymhormic Syndrome (aka PAP) as a “pathological version of arhatship” may be a little over the top  : ) .
But here’s why I’m interested in it.
  1. It has some intersection with at least four themes that are central to the Buddhist endeavor.
  2. Its effects in those areas are really dramatic.
  3. Its physical basis can be easily characterized.
The four areas of intersection with Buddhist experience are:
  • Dukkha Reduction. PAP victims report experiencing physical pain with normal poignancy but little suffering. (It would be interesting to know if they have the same relationship to emotional pain.)
  • Lobha-dosa Reduction. PAP victims seem to have little craving or aversion.
  • Samatha. PAP victims apparently experience long periods of time conscious yet without thought.
  • Anatta. Personality does not arise unless booted from the outside.
As you imply, the real question here is what’s the relationship between symptoms of PAP victims and the attainments of Buddhist adepts? There’s some relationship. Even if the relationship is “they’re vastly different,” I think it would be useful to know in a fine-grained way exactly how different and why.
I would divide this question into four sub-questions.
  1. First Person Question - Part One: Do any PAP victims spontaneously experience any of the “good stuff” we associate with advanced meditation?
  2. First Person Question - Part Two: Could PAP victims be trained to find good stuff in their symptoms?
  3. Third Person Question - Part One: Does the neuronal basis of PAP intersect in any way with the neural correlates of meditation states/traits?
  4. Third Person Question - Part Two: Even if the answer to Question #3 is no, it would still be interesting to know if inducing PAP-like states through “reversible lesions” (based on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or Transcranial Ultrasonic Neural Modulation, etc.) is in any way useful. Specifically, could it help accelerate a person’s meditation progress? (Metaphor: the mechanical principles underlying the flight of airplanes and those underlying the flight of birds and bees are quite different. Relative to birds and bees, airplanes fly “artificially”, but they still fly!)
I think these questions are worth looking into because:
I think the first step in answering these questions would be “Organoleptic.” I would interview PAP victims to determine if I could smell or taste anything about their conditions that either:
  • is liberation like.   OR
  • could become liberation like through training....
    All the best,

On Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 11:47 AM, Ron Serrano w

…Regarding the organoleptic interview, you might focus on two aspects: Do PAP victims exhibit either some high level aspect of well being or selflessness (generosity, compassion, etc.)? If so, there could be something of great interest here. Otherwise, it looks more like clinical indifference, which is an altogether different path from enlightenment….

On Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 12:28 PM, Shinzen Young

    Hi Ron,
…I'm not sure I'll ever have the opportunity to pursue research on athymhormia, but I just wanted to get the idea "out there" just in case someone someday decides to look into it.  So, thanks for permission to post our interactions.  By the way, that goes both ways.  Feel free to use anything I send you in any way you wish….
    All the best,

August 2, 2012

Mindful Leadership, a new book by Myoshin Gonzalez

Myoshin Maria Gonzalez is one of my senior facilitators and a long-time student. She is making quite a splash, creating a lot of interest in Mindfulness-based investment and leadership both in her native Canada and around the world. 
Recently, her newest book, "Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others," has been getting a lot of wonderful coverage. Check some of it out here: