29 January 2018


Many of us suffer deeply with emotional or psychological pain. While many do not have diagnosable mental illness, even so, these days mental trauma is rife. 

So who to turn to?

The following quote may offer some real clarity, coming as it does from one of the younger, well-loved Tibetan teachers, Mingyur Rinpoche. Here Rinpoche provides a frank (and rare) insight from an actual guru on this matter. But first

             Thought for the day

The absolute truth cannot be realized 
Within the domain of the ordinary mind. 
And the path beyond the ordinary mind, 
All the great wisdom traditions have told us, 
Is through the heart. 
This path of the heart is devotion.

                          Sogyal Rinpoche

Tormented by our own pain, many seek a therapist. Others turn to spiritual teachers or "gurus" for answers. While revered in the East, “guru” is a complicated word in the West. It is a sanskrit word that translates literally as teacher, but commonly means more, often alluding to someone who acts as one's spiritual guide or friend, and who helps one to realise the same qualities, awareness and insights as the guru. Wiki provides a good background.

And while there are ample stories of gurus catalysing a personal renaissance for many individuals, fears of being taken advantage of in one way or another linger. There is often confusion about how the relationship with the guru works best and what devotion really is.

At the same time, some might question whether psychotherapy goes deep enough? Does it offer the insight and transformation that commitment to a genuine spiritual practice might?

Ample food for reflection and contemplation; and here is Mingyur Rinpoche’s contribution, quoted from his book Turning Confusion Into Clarity. 

Because the guru-disciple relationship is so new for Westerners, it will take time before it is understood with any consistency. 

It is understandable that some Westerners expect the guru to function in ways similar to other authority figures in their society, such as parents, bosses, generals, police officers, or psychiatrists. All of these projections can be worked with – if the student is willing to bring the issues into the realm of dharma.

Sometimes people tell me about their childhood, what their mother did to them, what their father said, and about this one sibling, until the story includes the entire family history. Meanwhile I am wondering : “Where is the dharma question? Where is the opening? Where is the opportunity for practice?”

A teacher does not have to be a therapist to see the fixations, the grasping, the anger, or the jealousy. But sometimes when I introduce practices that can help alleviate these problems, I meet resistance. 

Then I might wonder, “Gee, maybe this person wants a therapist, not a dharma friend.“

When students ask about psychological issues, martial problems, family dramas, and so forth, my own general response is to try to turn the conversation to dharma so that I can suggest activities, practices, or prayers that I hope can help. 

Generally, with non-dharma questions, I try to turn people`s minds toward their own wisdom, their own inclinations and knowledge. With a little encouragement, people can usually arrive at the answer to their own wordly questions.

If the person is willing to use dharma teachings to help themselves, then I have a role to play.

Many people come to dharma because they are in some emotional crisis or experience chronic mental suffering. 

That makes sense. 

But they may want their guru to solve all their psychological issues. Somehow they have the mistaken idea that solving their problems is the guru's job, rather than taking their problems to the path of meditation and study.

Nowadays many students spend more time following the gurus than they do practicing. 

The greatest masters of Tibet went to their gurus to receive teachings or to clarify their instructions, and then they left to practice. 

The point is not how or where we practice, but rather not to confuse practice with being around a teacher. 

We need to nurture our inner guru.

Mingyur Rinpoche
 - from Turning Confusion Into Wisdom.

Do meditators need psychotherapy?

This  book focuses upon the Tibetan foundation practices - or ngondro, as they are known in Tibet.

Ngondro is a set of meditations that form the first step on the path of awakening. Though they are preliminary practices, in the sense that they are meant to till the hardened soil of the heart and mind and prepare them for the spiritual journey, many of Tibet's greatest meditation masters have taken them as a daily practice throughout their lives. Indeed, it is often said that the foundation practices are even more profound than the supposedly more "advanced" meditations that one encounters later in the path.

Mingyur Rinpoche's first two books, The Joy of Living and Joyful Wisdom, were accessible presentations of meditation practice. Despite their conversational style, both books contain a wealth of profound hints about meditation practice. In many ways these writings capture the core of Rinpoche's approach to the path of awakening.

Having written two books that he hoped would reach both Buddhist and non-Buddhist readers, Mingyur Rinpoche chose to write this book to support those who are already engaged in Buddhist practice, or who are interested in doing so. 

This is not to say that he wrote this book only for Buddhists. It may very well be that this will also inspire those who are not practicing Buddhists. But this book is primarily intended for those who are looking to deepen their knowledge - and especially their experience - of the Buddha's teachings.

15 January 2018


We know they are all good. We also know the words are often used inter-changeably in a way that can be confusing and sometimes lead to unhelpful or disappointing expectations.

So this week, what are they really and how do we practice each one most simply and directly? And then a glimpse into what meditation really is and what differentiates it from the others, but first

                 Thought for the day

     The longer you meditate,
     The longer you persevere
     Through the difficulties and the false starts,
     Then the clearer it becomes to you
     That you have to continue
     - if you are to lead your life
     In a meaningful and profound way

                              Fr John Maine

For most of us this is the easiest one. Learn to relax the body, learn to relax the mind. Reasonably straight forward.

My definition for relaxation is “using just that amount of energy required to do whatever it is that you are doing”.

It is like a stringed musical instrument.

Tune a guitar or violin too tightly and it sounds horrid.

Too loose, horrid in a different way.

Not too tight, not too loose - that is relaxation.

Body relaxed, thoughts come and go - just do not dwell on them. Relax. Let go a little.

Come back to the feeling of the physical relaxation if thoughts do become distracting.

Simple. Not too tight, not too loose. Not concentrating too tightly; not so relaxed as to space out.

The Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise remains after 40 years of experience, experimentation and research analysis by far my preferred relaxation technique. Easy to learn, easy to practise, very reliable for body and mind. Almost no associated difficulties…

Just do it! And reap the benefits.

An easy concept. By definition (according to Jon Kabot-Zinn and associates) “simply paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally”.

Basically this means allowing whatever is happening to happen but that we take the mental/emotional reaction out of it.

Becoming more like an impartial observer.

Letting things go.

This does not mean we are passive and inactive; it means clearing the mind of internal argument, debate, commentary and particularly judgement.

Doing so will leave the mind clearer and calmer; much more able to evaluate things and act appropriately.

In practice, mindfulness is also easy to teach, learn and apply. It translates directly into daily life leaving us more present and better able to function stress-free.

To develop the practice it is recommended to start with something simple like mindfulness of the breath. Just give your full attention to the breath and aim to let go of any reaction in the form of self-evaluation/criticism, commentary or distraction. Can take a while but benefits often accrue remarkably quickly.

Both of the words mindfulness and meditation are currently being used very loosely in many forums, including teaching environments.

My definition of meditation is that “Meditation is a process that takes us beyond our engagement with the Active Mind, into a direct experience of the Still Mind”.

Beyond the clouds into the blue sky.

This definition is based upon the fact that our minds have 2 aspects.

There is the Active Mind we are all familiar with that is the seat of conscious and unconscious thought, along with perception, volition (or will) and feelings.

Then there is the Still Mind that is beyond all that.

Ever feel like a functional half-wit? Many of us will have spent many years using only half our mind’s potential; maybe even totally unaware of the other half. Yet the Still Mind is the seat of wisdom and insight. The place of inner knowing, of inner truth. The real objective of the inner search that meditation shines the light upon.

Learning meditation is potentially much trickier than the other two. Maybe you are lucky and can take the Direct Path, but for most of us there is the rather long and tortuous Gradual Path based upon any variety of methods. Simple is always best.


So here is the thing. Relaxation and mindfulness as defined are to do with the Active Mind. Sure some people brand mindfulness as meditation and claim it does more, but then if so, they need to define it more clearly and if they were to do that they would be re-defining a traditional Buddhist term in a way that it has not been used for thousands of years. Seems many have actually done this…

And meditation as defined is not a passive thing as in we enter into some empty void. It is actually about seeing the truth of how things are. The truth of an absolute reality. Making any real progress with it is highly likely to change our life irrevocably.

Looking forward to focusing upon all this in the last 2 meditation retreats Ruth and I will do before I
conclude that work this Easter (both programs are fully booked as we speak but are taking waiting lists).

And I am near to completing a new meditation book that will explore and elaborate on this short summary - may be released within 6 months… We shall see.

Happy relaxing. Happy mindfulnessing. Happy meditating!


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04 January 2018


Positive thinking. We all value it and know its importance in every aspect of our lives. And there are two great ways I know of that explain how to “do it”. Yet even so, it seems some people do really “get it”, apply it, and flourish. Others seem to flounder…

So what is the key ingredient? And how do we activate that? 

This week we explore the power of intention, why it is so crucial, and how to bring it forward into our lives more directly, but first

            Thought for the day

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, 
The chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. 
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, 
There is one elementary truth 
The ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: 

That the moment one definitely commits oneself, 
Then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one 
That would never otherwise have occurred. 

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, 
Raising in one's favour all manner 

Of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance 
Which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. 
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

                                                       William Murray
NOTE This whole quote is often attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
however, it was actually written by Murray at the start of the 1961 Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

Why is it that so many New Year’s resolutions do not actually lead to personal change? 

Maybe the problem is lack of resolve?

Consider “Positive Thinking”. My take on positive thinking is that it is all to do with understanding how our thinking mind works, and using it intelligently.

The Oxford dictionary defines mind as being “the seat of perception, thinking, volition and feeling”. 

A very instructive definition. Now, we hear a good deal about perception, thinking and feeling. 

But then there is volition. 

Do not hear much about that! Volition is our will, our determination, our resolve. Without it nothing gets done. Without it we are left vulnerable to all sorts of outer and inner conflicts.

With our volition active, with our resolve in hand, there is clarity, there is commitment and confidence. With resolve there is the energy to follow through amidst all manner of challenges, obstacles, successes and failures; there is the energy to accomplish just about anything. Resolve. Volition.

So what is the secret? How do we manifest a healthy resolve?

There are two useful ways of explaining how to put positive thinking into action. My own preference that features in several of my books is the Three Principles of Positive Thinking - 

1. Have a clear goal
2. Do whatever it takes (to accomplish that goal)
3. Choose to enjoy doing it.

The other that is often used in sporting and business circles is more instructive when it comes to resolve. This approach is based upon clarifying 4 steps - What, Why, How and How much? 

What you intend to do, Why you intend to do it, How you intend to do it, and How much you want to do it.

This last point is the key to resolve. How much do you want to do something? Is this a casual business? If it happens it would be nice, or if not, no big deal? 

Or is this endeavour a matter of life and death? 

I must say over the years it has amazed me to observe the number of people who faced with a life threatening condition life cancer remain casual. Others are more like how I was when acutely ill 40 years ago; my recovery was based on a life or death commitment. 

My resolve was that during my recovery nothing was more important than getting well. Everything I did for several years had to satisfy the basic question - is this good for my health? My recovery? Of course that included having fun, but it also made it easy to fore-go many things, and to do stuff that was not always as “easy” as it may have seemed on the surface.

I have seen this same level of resolve in business, in study, in sport, in music and in the intention to become a better person.

A strong resolve is the secret to positive thinking - to bringing into reality our good intentions.

So how important to you are the things you aspire to?

Finally, the Dalai Lama has had something useful to say on this in his New Year’s day address …

“It’s important that, as we begin the New Year, look forward. We should project our intention ahead, so that we make this year a meaningful one.”

“If an individual were to make conscious intention to live his or her life with a sense of purpose, live it in a good way, then the ripple effect of that really spreads. First, from the individual to the family, then to the community… and so on. This is how society gets changed and effected.

“When we talk about the transformation of society, the transformation really has to start from the individual, from inside to outwards,” said His Holiness.

May you all experience a healthy, content and meaningful year in 2018.

The last 4 months have been physically challenging for me. I have been in hospital 4 times - 3 times with acute bowel obstructions; once for a laparoscopy to clear adhesions thought to have been behind it all and acquired when my acute appendix was removed at age eight. 

Extensive testing has confirmed there is nothing sinister going on like a tumour or some other exotic condition, however, seems likely I have also had a bacterial overgrowth that has precipitated these acute episodes. So have been treated for that and we await the next exciting episode… which hopefully will be nothing at all!

Good news is I am feeling well again, have had yet another opportunity to personally test all I teach, and yes, may write something about being in hospital. What I can say is how wonderful all the staff were - from doctors through nurses, ambulance staff - yes had close encounters with them too - and the delightful cleaners. And Ruth - as well as being through a tough time, she has been just marvellous in all the ways she has supported, cared for and loved me. Much to be grateful for…

Anyway, here again is the wish for all of us to have a healthy, content and meaningful year in 2018.