Insight Meditation Houston

American Mindfulness Approaches


I have been studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism for about 15 years but when I first wanted to teach those meditation techniques here in the US to a broad audience I had concerns.

  • Cultural barriers
    • Dieties, Dhakas and Dakinis in Tibetan Buddhism would not be accepted by either atheists or people with strong religious beliefs.
    • Language  – Mantra’s in foreign language – Why should people learn the Tibetan Alphabet?
  • Perception – Some people think that meditation is a waste of time.
  • Can do attitude in America and there is the misunderstanding that Buddhism is about accepting and giving up on improvements.
  • Time constraints – Tibetan Buddhism – Preliminary Practices encouraged before the “real” teachings The traditional requirement was for over 1,000 hours of meditation before being taught “Mind Training”


Searching for other Approaches

I found other approaches that had dealt with my concerns and those approaches brought Buddhism alive for me with my cultural limitations and my own personal issues and complexes.  The vocabulary of these approaches also made the teachings more understandable and accessible:

  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – for pain
  • Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)  – for depression
  • Acceptance Commitment Therapy – Happiness Trap – for depression – happiness
  • Analytical Psychology – At the Houston Jung Center
  • Insight Meditation – NOT COVERED – I am not an expert, but I am familiar with Sylvia Boorstein and believe that these approaches appear consistent with insight meditation.


The approaches addressed my concerns about teaching by do the following:

  • Helped to clarify the principles with the effective use of language which avoided misunderstanding due to American cultural connotations to the words..
  • Find ways of “marketing” the ancient traditions to a broader audience.
  • Develop programs that fit into the American life style and culture.
  • Take advantage of advances in psychology to help articulate the advantages of mindfulness and meditation.

After reviewing these approaches and highlighting the contributions that they make, I will talk about the specific changes in the way that I have come to understand the four noble truths.

Approach 1 – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – John Kabbat-Zinn

  • Background
    • John Kabat-Zinn had studied Zen Buddhism and worked at the University Of Massachusetts Medical School.   There were patients at the hospital that had gotten as much as they could out of conventional medicine but were still suffering.
    • For example a back surgeon might be able fuse a bone but the procedures didn’t always stop the back pain.
    • Second Arrow – In addition to the suffering from physical pain the debilitation led to the psychological wounding of despair which often would lead to depression but could be helped by mindfulness techniques.
    • Approaches and techniques used to market and deliver the ancient wisdom
      • Marketing approach – “Stress Reduction”  “Mindfulness”
        • Didn’t talk about Buddhism or meditation, but focused on mindfulness
        • 8 Week program
          • 2.5 hours once a week and 1 Saturday session.
          • 40 minutes of home practice.
          • Much less of a commitment then traditional “authentic” and the many of the attendees were people with severe problems.
          • Accessible Mindfulness techniques
            • The strange object (raisin) – guided meditation
              • Slowly eating a single raisin with mindfulness.  Noticing the color, the texture, how you move your tongue to eat it etc.   Very detail focus.
              • Message – Doing anything with full attention can be relaxing.
              • Personal comment
                • I had the misconception that meditation was about altering states of consciousness and about experiences attained while meditating.
                • MBSR changed my perception.  Meditation is also about building the discipline to stay focused in the present moment, which I now believe is the most important advantage of a disciplined meditation practice.
                • 40 minute guided meditations on tape and then CD’s
                  • At the early stages of meditation the guided meditations are of particular value because they provide constant reminders to refocus.
                  • The guided meditation CD’s also facilitate having a daily practice.
            • Evidenced Based Therapy – Making it scientific – Selling it to Americans
              • Double blind studies proved that mindfulness practices helped
                • the immune system fight colds and flu
                • improve the quality of sleep
                • These studies helped popularize and legitimize a mindfulness practice.
      • Articulating the message
        • Letting Go of the anxiety – Instead of acceptance
          • Avoids the negative conation of “Acceptance” and giving up.
          • “Not trying to be a better you”, but embracing the “you” that you are.
            • Very important psychologically!! – If we don’t become “enlightened” quickly enough then meditation becomes one more experience that makes us feel that we are inadequate.   The great danger of a meditation practice!!!
            • All of the approaches highlight and focus on this point which is absolutely critical!
            • Personal – Another misconception that I had was that meditation was about becoming a better me.
            • Non Judgmental – Not labeling
              • The first step toward the suffering is the labeling, the judging, then comes either hatred and anger or guilt or shame.   This cuts the suffering out at the root.
      • Personal Experience – My nose itched while I was meditating.  I wasn’t supposed to scratch it. I was angry.  I realized that it wasn’t helpful to be angry.  I laughed at myself.  I changed from angry to happy.   I woke up to the fact that I am responsible for my own state of mind.  No one else can change it.  The question for me is now “Why am I letting it bother me?” rather than “Why did it happen?”
      • References – by Jon Kabat-Zinn
        • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.
          • This provides details about the MBSR program and some of the scientific results of the studies.
          • Wherever you go there you are
            • A series of very short insights into mindfulness practices.  Light and enjoyable reading.

Approach 2 – Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – Segal, Williams and Teasdale

  • Background
    • Cognitive Therapy – Segal, Williams and Teasdale were working with patients one on one trying to help with recurring depression.
    • Depression has become almost epidemic in the US.  CDC estimates 9.1% of the population currently is suffering with depression.
    • “The world health organization estimates that depression is currently the fourth biggest, costliest, and debilitating disease in the world and by the year 2020, it will be the second biggest.”
    • Needed to find a more effective way to fight with recurring depression.  There are not enough psychologists or money to treat the patients that need help.
    • Attended an MBSR program and wanted to incorporate their experience with depression into the program and developed MBCT.
    • Similarities to MBSR
      • 8 Week program, Raisin exercise, Nonsectarian-  stress reduction approach
      • Differences
        • Cognitive Therapy  – Thoughts are not facts
          • Emotional states of mind can be triggered by misconceptions
          • Question your own thought stream – Cultivate the objective observer
            • Are your thoughts valid?
            • Are they helpful? 
            • Personal – My students highlight how critical this point can be.  Most people never question the helpfulness of their thoughts.
            • Negative reactions to meditation and mindfulness practice are opportunities to practice “Allowing” – letting go and acceptance
            • Educating people that the major cause of recurring depression and rumination
            • Practical Exercises to help with understanding
              • You are walking down the street and you smile and wave at someone you know but they ignore you.   What is happening?
              • Point being – we are always generating stories about reality without the facts to back them up.
      • Scientific Studies help make meditation more acceptable to the
        • Showed that an 8 week group program was more effective than one on one cognitive therapy sessions with a psychologist.    MBCT showed a statistically relevant decrease in recurrence of depression.
        • Highest correlation of recurring depression was rumination – recurring thought patterns and the mindfulness techniques deal directly with this.
      • References
        • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse by Zindel V. Segal, J. Mark G. Williams and John D. Teasdale (Nov 14, 2001)
          • Very detailed and rigorous class outline with details of what should be taught for each lesson.
          • Personal opinion – I think that would have been better off buying this MBCT book then paying a lot of money for a 10 day teacher training retreat in MBSR.


Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)

  • Background
    • The information in this section is based upon Russ Harris’s book “The Happiness Trap, How to stop struggling and start living”.
    • Russ Harris based his book on Stephen C. Hayes who developed Acceptance Commitment Therapy.  Hayes wrote “Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life”
    • My introduction to ACT
      • ACT was a trial program at the VA.  I was teaching mindfulness at the VA and met the first student to follow the protocol and asked him what he learned that was of value.
        • “I am depressed, I have been depressed, but that’s ok”
        • This same sentiment of absolute acceptance had been articulated before, but for some reason this woke me up to the fact that acceptance is for everything!
      • Summary of key point – Find this Balance
        • A – Acceptance – If you really accepted everything as it is you would never be disappointed!!!
        • But this does not mean that things will never be better!
        • C- Commitment – Pick good values make COMMITMENTS to THOSE values and your life will improve.
          • Live your life by these values may be the best way to achieve your goals!
          • It is also the perspective that can provide a continuing sense of accomplishment.
      • The problems – Understanding what is causing the problem
        • Fairy Tales – we are told them as children and are doomed to disappointment when reality strikes.
        • Competition and Comparisons – we are always competing and trying to prove ourselves.
        • Getting rid of bad feelings – will never happen, but trying to get rid of them is one more thing that we fail at.
      • Six Core Principles of ACT
        • Mindfulness
          • Observing Self – Objective Observer – Self-awareness – questioning our own behavior.
          • De-fusion techniques – labeling thoughts and stories.
            • Just recognizing that you are telling yourself a story helps to take the energy out of that story and gives you a chance to focus on the present moment.
            • Label the stories – “Wow, that’s great, It’s the I am no good story being played again by my favorite radio station, my mind”
            • Expansion – Letting Go – Acceptance – Seeing a bigger picture
            • Connection – Mindfulness – being in present moment experience
              • Different choice of vocabulary “connection” – instead of mindfulness makes it less of an eastern tradition
            • Values – Leading our lives based on values
              • Americans are goal oriented and there is much good has come out of American’s can do attitude, but it does take its toll in anxiety.
              • If one focuses on values such as caring for others, hard work and ethical behavior then they can live those values on a daily basis.
              • They may still make progress towards their aspirations.
              • They can feel good about the journey if they measure it by values.
            • Committed Action
              • Life doesn’t improve without effort and commitment.
              • Making sure that our actions are aligned with our values.
      • Psychological Flexibility – Maintaining balance
        • Psychological flexibility is the ability to adapt to a situation with awareness, openness, and focus and to take effect if action guided by your values not Goals
      • There is an outline of the book the “Happiness Trap” at – Class Notes section.

Jungian Psychology

  • When we get angry it’s never about what it is about
    • Whenever there is energy its likely a Complex
    • When we have strong emotional reactions to situations they are often related to powerful childhood experiences.
    • Example of a complex – “I want to be valued and respected”
      • If someone is dismissive of you, you will be disappointed.  The amount of energy that is involved with that disappointment will depend upon your family of origin.
      • If you parents ignored you and disrespected you, there is likely to be tremendous energy triggered and it will be projected onto the other.
      • If you were loved and valued by your parents, you are more likely to have high self-esteem and the comments will bother you less.  You are more likely to be able to understand that the comments are a sign of insecurity in the other.
      • Where there is energy it is pointing out your blind spots.  It points out areas that are wounded within that you need to work with
        • Example – If you find someone is arrogant and self-righteous you are very likely to respond with arrogance and self-righteous.
      • Fundamentalism
        • Inability to accept ambiguity.   We want a simple black and white world where we are all good and people with a different point of view are all wrong.
        • Many issues are gray but we don’t like this.
        • The more black and white we can be the more self-righteous we become.
        • Religion and politics bring out fundamentalism in many of us.

First two Noble Truths from a personal perspective

As I learn, grow and change my understanding of what the four noble truths means to me personally changes.   At this point this is my personal view.   It will keep changing.


  • Suffering is the mental anguish caused by the thoughts that take control of our mind.
  • Those thoughts are dramatizations and exaggerations about unwanted situations.
  • If we ruminate on those dramatizations it may eventually cause depression.
  • The never ending thought stream keeps us in the past or future and we are unable to enjoy whatever beauty lies in the present moment.

Cause of Suffering

  • The socialization process and the fairy tales we were told us as children set up expectations that are difficult or impossible to fulfill.
  • When there are unwanted circumstances we:
    • Label and judge the situation
    • We dramatize the situation and exaggerate the consequences
    • We create the thought stream that becomes our suffering.
    • Complexes
      • We want to be honored and valued all the time.  We want to project a persona of perfection but we often fail.   The reaction to this disappointment and leads to blame:
        • If we blame ourselves, we feel guilt or shame
        • If we blame others, we feel hatred and anger
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