My interview with Dr Michael Katz editor of Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light

I have uploaded another link to an interview with Dr Michael Katz, speaker at the Gateways to the Mind conference on lucid dreams in London at the weekend.

In this interview I chat with Dr Michael Katz psychologist, former Yantra Yoga instructor, author, photographer, and long time student of contemporary masters of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon. He is best known as having authored the introduction and edited the popular book Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Katz is also the author of a book of poetry “The Crossing” (out of print), a fictional novel “The White Dolphin” and a non fiction book about lucid dream experience “Memories, Lucid Dreams, and Clarity”.

The interview took place at the Gateways to the Mind conference on lucid dreams in London in November 2012 organised by Archetype Events. But rather than chatting at the conference venue I joined Michael in his hotel bedroom for a cup of tea. As Michael sat cross legged on his bed and as Lucid dreamer Olga worked the kettle in the background I started by asking Michael about his presentation at the conference.

Click here to listen to the interview with Dr Michael Katz.



The benefits of meditation when dealing with addiction and alchemy of transformation

Meditation is not just for new age spiritualists or oddballs but should be seen as a practice for everyone, even for children. It is easy and simple and can be done anywhere. Meditation is a powerful antidote to the threats posed by addictions.

There are many great resources on the Internet and from books on how to meditate and on the benefits of meditation.  See the list of resources at the end of the post.

Addiction has nasty associations these days.  However, it originally merely mean’t something you liked.  It was only in the 20th century that it became to be known as a slave to drugs. Addiction is a devotion to yourself.  We are really attached to ourselves but in a dangerous way.  Recuperation, or recovery, comes from the Latin word “recupare” meaning “to regain.” Through meditation we can regain consciousness and reach a certain peace with ourselves.  When we are hooked we lose consciousness, as we become obsessed with ourselves. To recover is to push back the border of our consciousness, to know more and to regain interests in relationships. We begin to feel more present and happier in the here and now,

The important aspect of meditation is to do it on a daily basis.  Here, the fidelity of the practice is important.  Do it even when you don’t want to do it.  It is by the practice of a good habit that gradually outweighs the power of a bad habit. You don’t even need belief, just faith,  to do the practice.

Despair and Acadia will try to tell you to give up hope, that you are no use at the practice. Acadia had been one of the deadly sins but did not make the final 7. You should not, however, look for anything dramatic in meditative practice.  Instead, concentrate on the daily practice without expectation.

Meditation has given me glimpses of a new way of being.  Through the alchemy of transformation I can uncover a lot of my negative past or my shadow in the nigredo stage, similar to undertaking personal inventory work, and through to a brighter stage of albedo. Citrinas is largely unconscious and rubedo is an emerging new life. I have spent most of life struggling in nigredo and flipping between one addiction to another.  I have received glimpses of albedo through therapy and meditation but sometimes it can be fleeting and any attempts at acquiring serenity can feel like pushing water uphill. For me, personal transformation is predicated on the willingness to “let go”.  How can I achieve this if I am nursing unhealthy fantasies and active addictions? I do not have much experience of mastering.  In my meditation I can feel great resistance as my ego defences are very solid. Mastering for me would represent being able to sit with my feelings and not have some manic activity consuming my attention. Is this what we are all searching for?  A peace to be with our own feelings and not having to have any manic activity going on?

My own personal therapy is a journey of letting go, acquiring a new rhythm, keeping an open mind, trusting the process and developing new layers of honesty with my therapist. Freedom is when we are free of our history, or at least when our personal history is not the primary reference in our lives. We no longer react in the instance but can provide a considered response to the events in our lives.

Meditation calms you down.  The practice of meditation eases you into a new state of calm mindful being.  It helps in brain training. However, the higher benefit of meditation is that we are led to the ultimate truth of our own being. Try it.  It might even work.

Learning to meditate Practical guide
Meditation books Useful list of books on meditation
21 Awake Explores authentic 21st century meditation practice, written by a London Insight regular
AA Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism
GA Meetings for problem gamblers
Narcotics Anonymous non a nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. Recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean
SLAA Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition-oriented fellowship based on the model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous
Silence in the City Meditation in London
The 12 steps of recovery


Mindfulness news

Mindfulness is in the Daily Telegraph today, covering the new book by Mark Williams and @DrDannyPenman

New Sitting Groups in London

London Insight is pleased to launch three new sitting groups that will follow a study or discussion format – the Buddhist Recovery Group, the Insightful Aging Group and the Mindfulness Based Approaches Sitting Group.

Buddhist Recovery Network Sitting Group

The first Buddhist recovery sitting group in London began on 3rd May and in Soho, Central London on a weekly basis. If you would like to attend a sitting group for people who attend a 12 step recovery fellowship, please email and we will contact you to give you more information about the group and the location.

Insightful Aging Study and Discussion Group

If you are 50 or above and interested in investigating the issues around aging from a Buddhist perspective you would be welcome to join this group.  We are still forming, but intend to meet monthly from May.  Please contact Gary at .

Mindfulness Based Approaches (MBA) SITTING GROUP

Are you a therapist, counsellor, or social worker using Mindfulness-Based Approaches in your work with clients? Or perhaps you run MBCT/MBSR courses (or are training to do so)? Our MBAs sangha meets on the first Sunday of each month (11am – 1pm) at a central London venue for peer support, discussion and meditation.

Please contact Steve ( /07804197605) if you’d like to come along or for any other queries.

Judy Lief teaches us to walk through life without holding on.
IN OUR FAST-PACED SOCIETY, letting go is often paired with moving on. People encourage friends who have suffered a loss to learn to let go of the past and get on with living. In New Age terminology, “just let go” has become an all-purpose piece of advice. But we humans are very cunning: While we talk a lot about letting go, we usually find a way to have our cake and eat it, too—to let go and still manage to hang on. In fact, it is easy to use the notion of letting go as yet another ego-tool. We can use it to prop ourselves up, to cloud things over, and uphold our illusion of solidity. We are so clever: we can take a concept like letting go, so threatening to our ego-fixation, and turn it completely on its head, so that instead it becomes a credential, an ego adornment. We can take pride in our letting go and revel in how pure we are now that we have pared down and simplified and become so much less materialistic. We can mask our laziness by seeing it instead as a letting go of ambition; we can mask our inability to connect with other people with the more spiritual notion of letting go of frivolous attachments. The possibilities are endless. So if we are to deepen our understanding of letting go, it is important to begin with an insight into how easily it can be distorted. Then we may be able to discriminate between a pretense of letting go and the real thing.

To learn to let go, it is necessary to understand how averse we are to change, and how attached we are to our idea of a solid, separate self. At times, of course, we do want change, for various and sundry reasons. But when we begin to bump up against the fact that no matter what we want or do not want, change just happens, we begin to feel a little uneasy. We feel protective. Of what? We’re not completely sure, but we hang on anyway, struggling to secure our ground. We are reactive and we dig in our heels. The greater the threat, the more tightly we hold on. We try to capture something moving and to make it still, so that an experience that has come and gone seems still to exist. Viewing our life as something we can fix and possess, we become completely attached to our mental snapshot of ourselves and equally threatened by its potential loss. We have taken a tiny speck of the vastness of the universe and staked it out as our territory, and now are stuck with protecting it from change.

HOW DO WE DEEPEN our approach to letting go and undercut some of these distortions? The Buddhist teachings provide a pretty clear answer. The starting point is realizing that letting go is not a dramatic moment we build up to some time in the future. It is happening now, in the present moment—it is not singular but ongoing. Letting go is based on our present realization of the reality of impermanence.

Change is continuous in spite of our efforts to resist it. We begin to realize that we do not have any way to stop it or to slow it down. The more we try, the more we suffer. But there is a way to let go, to break this cycle of suffering. We can slow down and have a closer look at our experience of it. When we have a look, we begin to realize what we have been doing, and the whole enterprise begins to feel more and more dubious. It becomes more difficult to hide from what in our hearts we know to be true—the fact of impermanence. We recognize that we have fabricated a false and fixed identity based on self-deception, delusion, and fear; that we have enslaved ourselves to the never-ending project of shoring it up. And we begin to long for another way of going about things. The process of letting go begins at the point when we recognize how trapped we are. Being trapped is the bad news, but the fact that something or someone has recognized we’re trapped is the good news. It’s as if we have spent all our life living in a house with very dirty windows, so dirty we had no idea any windows were there. What at first had seemed quite cozy gradually begins to feel claustrophobic. We begin to question what has been so safe and familiar. That questioning is very powerful. To our surprise, as we gingerly explore our little house, a smidgen of dirt falls off a window and we discover a peephole—we see that there is an entire world outside. That tiny glimpse awakens our desire to be free.

Even the smallest glimpse of freedom heightens our awareness of the pain we have created by our ego-fixation. Seeing the contrast is what inspires us to go forward on the path. In particular, each time we sit on the cushion and meditate, we relax and let go a little bit more. The notion we’ve held onto—that if we don’t keep up our ego-momentum something bad is going to happen—dissolves bit by bit. In a traditional analogy of walking the path, it is said that our ego-attachment is like a pair of shoes. Without such shoes we wouldn’t start out on the path, although as we walk along, we find that our shoes begin to break down and wear away. But if someone told you to toss out your shoes right at the start, you would be offended. “How dare you! Do you think there’s something wrong with my shoes? I love these shoes!”

As you walk the path, the letting go happens naturally, just as your shoes wear away. You do not need to make a dramatic statement by tossing them out; you just need to continue on. The path that initially seemed so inviting and accommodating slowly and surely begins to be more sandpapery and scrapes away tougher and tougher layers of leather.

From beginning to end, the path of dharma is about letting go. As we let go of one thing along the way, we find ourselves attaching to the next. As we let go of gross attachments, we find our more subtle attachments becoming heightened. For instance, we may let go of clinging to material possessions, but then find ourselves totally attached to our philosophy of simplicity. It is hard to let go of things, harder to let go of ideas, and even harder to let go of spiritual pretensions. Over time, as we familiarize ourselves with the many subtle twists and turns of letting go, we begin to be more savvy about how ego steps in to appropriate the entire process. In the millions of mini-decisions we make day by day and moment by moment, we are challenged each time either to let go or to re-solidify. To let go cleanly—without re-solidifying—we can practice what my teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche referred to as “disowning”:

Even though the acceptance of what is happening may be confusing, just accept the given situation and do not try to make it something else; do not try to make it into an educational process at all. Just see it, perceive it, and then abandon it. If you experience something and then disown that experience, you provide a space between that knowledge and yourself, which permits it simply to take its course.

The letting go itself is not held, but immediately dropped. Then letting go becomes simple and natural, like a snake shedding its skin.

The process of letting go is a tender one. We should notice the poignancy and humor of this very human struggle. It is less of a battle and more a path of acceptance and accommodation to the natural arising and dissolving of our ordinary experience. The two-step process—first letting go, and then letting go of the letting go—allows us to approach the idea of letting go gently, precisely, step by step. In doing so we see that even though we so often tend to re-solidify our experience, between the letting go and the re-solidifying there are real glimpses of openness.

ALTHOUGH LETTING GO IS SOMETHING that happens all along the Buddhist path, it tends to rise to the surface most vividly in relation to death. When dealing with terminal illness, someone else’s or, finally, our own, we are bluntly confronted with the ultimate futility of holding onto anything. Our concept of our own mortality, once safely distant and abstract, suddenly gets close and personal in the face of death, exposing powerful emotional undercurrents and deep attachments. At this point, telling someone to simply “let go” may not be very skillful or effective. The problem with the phrase is that there seems to be something solid to let go of, and someone solid to do the letting go. Furthermore, trying to force an experience tends to be a stumbling block in terms of practice.

Death has a way of bringing us back to what is most essential. In the presence of death, I have found that many extraneous concerns and preoccupations fall away quite simply and naturally. A lot of letting go just happens, simply and effortlessly. So we can approach death by attuning ourselves to its presence and all that it has to teach us. In that heightened atmosphere, our own sticking points become more obvious. In working with a dying individual, we can begin with our own letting go—especially letting go of how we want that person to be. We can relax our opinions and moral judgments as to how that person is going about dying. We can be a more true support, less cluttered by our own fixations. On that basis, we can encourage the dying person to use her remaining time to continue on her journey—to let go of attachments and distractions, and at the same time to hold what is truly meaningful.

In terms of our own practice, when we ourselves come to die, we can remain in the space between holding on and letting go. In that space, you are not trying to get rid of anything or force anything to happen. Instead, you are being present with experience, whatever it is, as it arises and falls. Things go, accept that, be with what is. Being present is the best way of letting go, and, curiously, as we let go we become more present. It may even be possible, as Trungpa Rinpoche suggested, to die with curiosity, and to breathe our last breath without expectation or regret.

Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher, a close student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality. She lives in Vermont with her husband, Chuck, and her dog, Jasper.

Chögyam Trungpa on letting go
Obviously, letting go is more than just relaxation. It is relaxation based on being in tune with the environment, the world. One of the important principles of letting go is living in the challenge. But this does not mean living with a constant crisis. For example, suppose your banker calls and says that your account is overdrawn, and the same day your landlord tells you that you are about to be evicted for failing to pay your rent. To respond to this crisis, you get on the telephone and call all your friends to see if you can borrow enough money to avert the crisis. Living in the challenge is not based on responding to extraordinary demands that you have created for yourself by failing to relate to the details of your life. For the warrior, every moment is a challenge to be genuine, and each challenge is delightful. When you let go properly, you can relax and enjoy the challenge.

From Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa; ©1984. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.

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Workshops on mindfulness

Seven monastic students of Thich Nhat Hanh, a widely respected Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author and peace activist, previously nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, are touring UK universities to offer workshops on mindfulness. Mindfulness is a simple, scientifically proven way to bring our mind back to our body, to become aware of what is happening in our present experiences so that we may live with happiness, joy and freedom. When we are mindful our minds are clear and at peace, and our hearts open and light.

These workshops will offer practical exercises in mindfulness of breath, body and mind, and share ways to cope with stress, release tension and handle strong emotions, including sessions on sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating and deep relaxation.

Check out the dates below to see if there is a workshop near you:

March 8th:  Imperial College – Evening of Mindfulness
March 9th: Leeds University – Evening of Mindfulness
March 10th:  Leeds University – Mental Wealth Event
March 12th:  SOAS – Day of Mindfulness
March 14th:  Oxford University – Day of Mindfulness
March 15th:  Sussex University – Evening Event
March 16th:  Cambridge University – Afternoon Mindfulness Session and
Evening Talk

We’ll then finish up with a weekend retreat in the amazing Kentwell

Hall ( from the 19th-21st in Suffolk.

For more information and to register your place, click here

These events are free and open to all.