Musings on Frank Sinatra as Contemplative Teacher

One of my favorite jokes regarding contemplation is this lineage of consciousness:

Confucius said “Do”

Lao Tzu said “Be”

Sinatra said, “Do, be, do, be do…”

While this always makes me smile, it’s also a reminder for me not to take myself or this work too seriously. In fact, work is probably a poor choice of words to use in referencing the nature of contemplation. There is effort involved; ironically, it’s the effort toward the effortless. In the Perennial Wisdom Traditions, mystics of all ages and cultures have agree, we need a practice, but the peace and calm is ultimately given, not earned through effort. One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, says, “You can’t get there.” He adds, as many have before him, we’re already there. It’s a process and practice of tapping into a consciousness in the only place and time we can; here and now.

I think one of the reasons the practice is hard is because it’s so easy. I’d rather warm my coffee, check my email, or write a blog, than sit in silence for 10-15-20 minutes or more. We are a culture of fast food, instant oil changes, drive-thrus, and immediate gratification. To slow down, we go against culture and our own surface brain patterns. It feels odd. Our ego is embarrassed. Our mind-talk says, “Surely we have better, more important things to do.” But, when we do slow down and rest in a different, unknowing intelligence, there it is: a place and space beyond what words can describe. Call it what you want: the ineffable; a peace; a calm; emptiness. Incredibly, somehow, it is an inner sanctum that is always there. As Russ Hudson says, “Try sneaking up on consciousness. You can’t! …if we show up, it’s there.

And here’s another cool thing, it changes us. It literally changes our physical makeup. In about 20 minutes a day for about 20 days, the brain chemistry is different. Stress chemicals are lowered and we are noticeably calmer, more focused. Dr. Herbert Benson calls it the Relaxation Response ( Call it what you will, contemplation or meditation, my coffee is getting cold again. This time, instead of wandering into fleets of fancy, or interacting with my mexican jumping bean mind, maybe I’ll sing a little Sinatra while I sit down and try to elicit the relaxation response. But then again… I could check my email. 😉

Being doesn’t come easily

In my explorations of mindfulness and other contemplative practices, I’ve made small, very small steps in learning how to pay attention to the present — to what’s here at this moment — without judgment.  This often requires a shift from doing to being, a shift that, as the title of this post indicates, isn’t easy to make.  But I continue to practice.

Various writers and thinkers have made this practice easier.  I had in mind one writer — Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn — when I was writing the “Making Connections” post last week.  I spent some time early this morning listening to an interview with Jon that had sat on my to-do list for several weeks. If you have an hour, I recommend the interview that Krista Tippett did with Jon titled, “Opening to Our Lives: Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Science of Mindfulness.” 

To learn more about some of Jon’s work, check out the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, which Jon founded in 1995 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Tree of Contemplative Practices

Hi everyone!

Here’s the “Tree of Contemplative Practices” I mentioned at this afternoon’s Big Rapids group:

Also, I talked about a journal writing practice I have my literature students use to focus on developing a personal response to our readings.  Here’s a copy of my guidelines:

Reading Journal Guidelines



—Jon Taylor

Making Connections

We start our series of second sessions tomorrow in Grand Rapids and Big Rapids. We have face-to-face sessions in each location; you can also join the BR sessions by conference call.  We hope you can connect to one or more of the sessions!

I’m grateful that we are working together on this — I’m meeting new people, and having new and rich conversations with my colleagues.  Just yesterday, I shared a short hour with a colleague here at FSU.  We talked some about what drew us to mindfulness and we learned about writers who have influenced us.  And, we discovered we each subscribe to a new magazine called (surprise!), Mindful.

Naturally, the magazine has a presence on the interweb and in social media.  Check it out, when you have a minute.

I look forward to connecting with you in sessions this week.

Similarity and a favorite line

Not surprisingly, the two papers we will be discussing this week share at least one idea in common.  In “Teaching Midnfulness at a Public University” (Lee, 2012), the idea is expressed as “inner experience.”  In Hart’s (2004), “Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom,” this idea is referred to as an “inner technology.”  Later, he also uses the word “mindscience.”   Reading “mindscience” reminded me of a book with this title [MindScience: An East-West Dialogue (1999)] and research efforts in this area [e.g., the Mind Science Foundation; the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona (which began with funding from our state’s very own Fetzer Institute!)].

About that favorite line of mine?  It comes from Hart’s (2004) “Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom” and reads:

The cardinal aspect of contemplative practice is nourishing the quality of one’s attention. (pg. 32)

Mindfulness Research Guide

Before I jump to the subject of this brief post, I wanted to pause to say a bit about yesterday’s webinar with Jack Kornfield.  It turns out, the webinar was a splash of interesting content mixed with promotional information about an upcoming series with Jack.  Suffice it to say, I was able to work on some other things while it ran in the background (which may say more about my attention span than the quality of the webinar!).

Now, to the subject of this post.  Some of you may be familiar with the Mindfulness Research Guide; I discovered it only a few months ago (and already can’t keep up with all the interesting reading!).  In addition to the monthly research updates on mindfulness, you’ll find:

  • Ways to measure mindfulness: “A list of the empirical measures of mindfulness, which are followed by associated psychometric and scale development studies”;
  • Links to review articles (or the abstracts thereof) that examine the evidence for mindfulness-based interventions in improving health outcomes;
  • A list of universities and centers that conduct mindfulness research; and
  • An archive of the monthly research updates.

Here’s a link to the Mindfulness Research Guide home page: Enjoy!