In the first part of this interview with Arnie Kozak, Ph.D., mindfulness expert and author of The Awakened Introvert, he shares how to be present with your inner chaos. In this second part, he refutes common myths about meditation (e.g., restless minds can’t meditate; a practice of non-attachment results in a zombie-like, passionless life). He also offers helpful tips to engage your “monkey mind” (that internal noise!).
NA: What are some of your favorite FAQs about meditation?
AK: The most frequent question, or rather complaint, is that “I can’t meditate because my mind is so restless.” This is quite common and highlights the value of mindfulness meditation over other kinds of meditation practices. The goal of mindfulness practice is not to affix the mind to one spot and create a state of relaxation—as is the goal with some other forms of meditation such as TM (Transcendental Meditation). Rather, the goal of mindfulness practice is to become intimate with the way your mind works and to know that restlessness is the practice.
People assume that there is something wrong with them because their mind is all over the place. This is a misunderstanding. The Buddha recognized this “monkey mind” 2,500 years ago and it still afflicts us today. Afflict isn’t, perhaps, the best term. It’s just the way the mind is. It’s normal and we can learn to work with it. Instead of trying to suppress this flow of the mind, we can learn to redirect it to the present moment again and again. This builds our capacity for attention and is the purpose of mindfulness practice. In this way, anyone can practice no matter how distracted their mind is and no matter how restless they are in any given moment.
Another question I get is: “If I give up attachment, who will I be?” There is an ancient Chinese Zen poem by Sengcan called “Trust In Mind” that starts out:
"The great way is not difficult
For those who have no preferences
When love and hate are both absent
Everything becomes clear and undisguised
Make the smallest distinction, however
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart."
When people confront this basic Buddhist teaching of non-attachment, they think they are being asked to live a colorless, passionless, and bland life. In other words, they worry that they’ll become zombies if they meditate with any seriousness. This is another misunderstanding.
Sengcan is not saying don’t feel anything; he’s saying don’t make yourself contingent on what you feel—don’t get pushed around by your feelings. In other words, don’t be attached. The reference to love and hate in the poem is the same pulling towards and pushing away I discussed in the first part of our interview.
Rather than becoming zombies, I tell my students that meditation allows us to be “human becomings who take form through an impetus to interest, joy, and care.” Notice here that I say human “becomings” instead of “beings” because “becomings” captures the sense of fresh emergence in every moment rather than “beings” that could be static.
When we give up all the storytelling, we are free to be ourselves, and that emergent self is all about engagement with the world through interest, experiencing joy, bliss, and delight. Without stories and their attendant anxieties, we become less self-preoccupied and therefore more compassionate, empathetic, and loving. Not zombie-like at all!
NA: What are your favorite tips for introverts who want to navigate internal versus external noise?
AK: You can be in a very quiet place and your mind can be quite noisy. You can be in a noisy place like an airport and experience an inner quiet that can alter your experience of the outer noise. It’s all about how we pay attention. Much of our internal noise comes from resisting what is happening in the present moment. When we shift from resistance to acceptance, we relinquish the pushing and pulling that gives rise to dukkha and we can rest into the quiet of the moment—even when that moment is far from ideal. Your internal attitude of mindfulness can help you embrace situations that would otherwise drive you crazy, like a loud extrovert, a cocktail party, or the commotion of a crowded train station.
You can also use your attention to shift your relationship to any difficult situation. I often recommend that introverts to enter into one of these situations with a sense of interest, as if you were an anthropologist studying a new culture. In this case, the culture is extroverts and you can observe without a sense of self-consciousness. Pay attention to your senses instead of the storytelling in your mind. This can make extrovert-circus excursions tolerable and, perhaps, even fun.
NA: Thank you for contributing your insights and experience.
For my readers who are interested in self-promotion, Dr. Kozak's insights and experience about letting go of the inner anguish can help free you to bring forth your best self!
Copyright 2015 © Nancy Ancowitz