Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    Entries in Dalai Lama (2)


    Questions for the Dalai Lama?

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    Later this week, I am going to a press meeting with the Dalai Lama who is visiting NYC. Most likely, I'll ask him to elaborate on the distinction between urban and rural challenges to mindfulness and compassion, which he discussed at a conference last year. However, I thought that I would see if any UM readers had compelling questions to pose. So, if you could ask the Dalai Lama one question, what would it be?

    The Dalai Lama on Urban Mindfulness

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    On Friday and Saturday, I attended a conference on meditation and psychotherapy co-sponsored by Harvard Medical School. The theme of the conference was “Wisdom and Compassion”, featuring the Dalai Lama as the main speaker. He answered questions posed by prominent scientists and clinicians, including Drs. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Davidson, Steven Pinker, Marsha Linehan, Bessel van der Kolk, and Judith Jordan.

    Not surprisingly, the Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of mindfulness. He explained that wisdom and compassion can be cultivated through “mental engagement” with an object and aspiration, respectively. In other words, we become wise through deepening our understanding of things around us, and we become compassionate by focusing on compassion. He noted that mindfulness is important for both: it helps us maintain our focus, whether on a particular fact or goal.

    Dr. Judith Jordan, one of the Founding Fellows and current Director of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, inquired about cross-cultural differences in relationships and autonomy. She observed that Western culture (and psychotherapy) emphasizes separateness and individuality, while Eastern cultures emphasize interdependence and collectivism.

    The Dalai Lama opined that there is “no big difference” between the West and East mentally, emotionally, and physically. However, there is a “difference between the big city and countryside.” He indicated that urban environments cultivate a mental state in which people more concerned with money, which gives rise to more anxiety and stress. He also noted that rich people are more likely to experience “destructive emotions” (e.g., jealousy, arrogance, etc.) and a decreased sense of community. As a result, he noted--somewhat self-consciously--that it is even more important to mindfully maintain humility and connectedness when when you become “an object of reverence.”

    It is validating to hear the Dalai Lama note that there is something about city living that’s different--something that requires us to be especially mindful and present given our vulnerability to distraction, preoccupation with money, and self-aggrandizement. It underscores the important cultivation of urban mindfulness through both formal and informal practice.

    So, please continue to practice and visit our site regularly. I welcome your comments and questions, too. Together, we can build a community in which we experience city living in a way that promotes peace, awareness, and purpose.

    P.S. You might be wondering, “What was it like being with the Dalai Lama?” Of course, it was interesting to hear his perspective on many matters. However, two things made a bigger impression on me: (1) his playfulness, and (2) his ignorance. He was quick to smile during he day, and often giggled and joked with panelists. It reminded me of a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn on the following day: “Life is too serious to take seriously.” Also, following a pregnant pause, the Dalai Lama often answered questions with a well-considered “I don’t know.” While he is quite learned and smart, he also recognized the limits of his knowledge. So, if he did not know the answer, he just said so. Quite refreshing!