A Pragmatic Approach to Intersubjective Awakening

From Beyond Awakening Series :

Kenneth Folk considers himself a “ruthlessly unsentimental” and pragmatic dharma teacher. This is because he is willing to toss anything out, including the Buddha, if at any point he doesn’t find those teachings really helpful. His dialog was especially timely, as mindfulness is rapidly gaining mainstream acceptance: both intellectually through the confluence of Buddhism, neuroscience and psychotherapy, and culturally through the embrace of pop culture and the corporate world, especially the tech sector, including gatherings like Wisdom 2.0 and Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” classes.

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Watering Down the Dharma

I have been accused of “watering down the dharma.” By defining an arahat (also arhat and arahant) as someone who has “gotten off the ride” and can see experience as process, as opposed to a cartoon saint, I have ruffled more than a few feathers. Here are some questions, along with my responses:

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Developmental Window for Contemplative Fitness brainstorm

Kenneth talks with Nadav Spiegelman about the “developmental window.” Recorded on 26January2013. Developmental Window for Contemplative Fitness brainstorm 26JAN2013

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Enlightenment for the Rest of Us: The Buddhist Geeks Conference


Drawing from Buddhism, neuroscience, and personal experience, Kenneth explains that enlightenment is a natural aspect of human development that is available to everyone.

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NYC Talk: Choice

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Social Meditation

As long as meditation is defined as sitting silent and alone, it’s not going to catch on. We are human primates. We are social in our very bones. Isolation is punishment. Silence is dull.

Here is another definition: meditation is the bringing of attention to experience, and training in meditation is training in attention. By this definition, neither isolation nor silence are required; we can train together, and that is good, because together is what we were born for.

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The Pop-noting Protocol

In a world where everyone is connected, there isn’t enough connection. You can ride your Facebook feed all day long and still go to bed feeling lonely and isolated. Even in-the-flesh face time with friends and family can leave us wanting, each of us caught up in our own internal drama, talking at each other about our stories, never truly sharing our experience or feeling completely understood. We need a way to feel more connected.

Social noting offers a window into another human’s moment-by-moment experience, sharing and receiving in a profoundly intimate but non-threatening way. Social noting builds on an ancient Buddhist mindfulness (satipatthana) technique, making it interactive. Two (or more) people can call out their experience together, back and forth, ping pong style (or around a circle), using simple, one-word labels for experience as it arises. “Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, thinking, fear, joy, loneliness, love, anger, connection, itching, tingling, burning, pressure, lightness, heaviness, anxiety, hope”… all of these experiences can be shared with another human being as they occur, two people becoming one, simultaneously witnessing and normalizing each others’ experience. Social noting is the closest thing we have to Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind meld from the original Star Trek television show. But social noting doesn’t feel kooky or even invasive; it just feels great.

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What is the Three Speed Transmission?

[2/27/13 11:07:29 AM] Nadav Spiegelman: we’re introducing the concept of the 3 speed transmission. What it is, how it came about, how it’s used.

Kenneth Folk: OK, let’s talk about how it came up in the first place.

After my first spiritual opening in 1982, I read a bunch of Zen books about how enlightenment is some nebulous wisdom that zen masters have. It was never clear to me how I could duplicate that in my own life. “Nowhere to go, nothing to get.” That sort of thing. This is surprisingly disempowering to a westerner who does not have access to traditional Chinese/Japanese culture and who grew up with the understanding that if you want to learn something, you go through a fairly straightforward process of education.

So, I didn’t know where to go with that other than to read books about Zen and sit for 30 minutes a day counting my breath 1-10. I could feel progress in my meditation practice throughout this time, but I had the distinct feeling that I was missing something and that my practice was remarkably inefficient. I never felt called to put on a black robe and join a Zen center, so I was on my own.

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