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Am I Mindful Right Now? with guest Kenneth Folk

kenneth folk

Pragmatic dharma teacher Kenneth Folk and host Michael W. Taft discuss what it means to be mindful, various definitions of being mindful in the moment, the trouble with remaining mindful during an entire sit, and more.

Kenneth Folk is an instructor of meditation who has received worldwide acknowledgement for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. Learn more about him and his work at Kenneth Folk Dharma.

Show Notes

0:48 Introduction and overview
4:00 Deconstructing “mindfulness”
11:47 Kenneth’s new mindfulness practice
15:02 Mindfulness vs. checking the box; auditor vs. meditator
23:58 Is mindfulness enlightening?
30:03 Defining engagement and the problem with prescriptions
31:52 Sense doors and applying mindfulness to thoughts
36:06 Alternatives to meditation for experiencing mindfulness and awakening
42:37 Is there a “right” way to experience awakening?
47:25 Getting to a 100 percent attention
52:45 Liberating working memory from the feeling of being the observer
55:06 Concentration hacking: making experiences sufficiently interesting
59:27 Flow and how it relates to mindfulness
1:06:23 How important is the ability to concentrate?
1:12:04 Do you need clarity, concentration, or both?

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18 thoughts on “Am I Mindful Right Now? with guest Kenneth Folk”

  1. What a fascinating and challenging conversation. Something that came to mind for me though was, if extinction of consciousness is really what we’re aiming for, why not just commit suicide? If one presupposes rebirth, the answer is simple: killing oneself will only shift the problem onto the next life; you won’t actually get the cessation you’re seeking. If you don’t accept rebirth, or at least are highly skeptical of it AND you embrace extinction as the apex of spiritual practice, how is suicide not a rational response? What am I missing here?

    1. I think that we make that clear, Jason. The good part about extinction is the reflection on it or memory in the seconds as you are coming back from it. Obviously, that is not available after death.

  2. RE: DY001. Is this a repudiation of Kenneth’s previous noting instructions, instructions that led many people to stream entry and beyond? Is Kenneth’s new technique the same as Shinzen Young’s soaking? That is, note the itch, for example, and stay with it 3-4 more seconds.

    These podcasts would be much more useful if I could download them so I could listen anywhere. I don’t have a smart phone.

  3. Thanks for the response. Usually there is a little box on the soundcloud site that says download.
    I couldn’t find it on your page above. Each author can tell soundcloud whether their work can be downloaded.

  4. Hi Micheal – I enjoyed this episode, and all of your other work as well.
    One question came up during this episode: when you are deeply exploring a sensation, lets say a pain in your foot, are you explicitly labeling qualities such as deep, aching, radiating, localization, etc.? It seems like one important objective of meditation is to remove interpretation of reality or sensation (ie perception) so that you can experience a moment or sensation directly; accordingly it seems like any verbal label such as the ones listed are inherently an interpretation of an experience and not the direct experience itself. Furthermore defining a singular object (or in this case singular sensation) of meditation seems problematic, with the pain in the foot example you may be feeling many different sensations simultaneously such as pressure, tingling, pain, and fine touch, all of which might have subtly different spatial and temporal qualities. Is it even possible to have a single object of meditation with regards to sensations?
    Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi, Nathan ~
      Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the episode.
      You’re question is one that comes up a lot, and it’s a good one. It doesn’t actually hurt to do the explicit labeling you’re describing. However, for many people, such labeling becomes a sort of thesaurus exercise where they’re looking for just the right word. That does actually degrade the quality of the meditation. So the answer, in my opinion, is to not label in the way you described. Instead you simply label something generic like “body sensation” over and over, while inclining the mind to notice the sorts of qualities you described. In short, you want to get into the details without worrying about the words for the details.

      1. Hi Michael – thanks for the excellent podcast, which I just discovered.

        Following on Nathan’s question: When Kenneth describes/narrates the dialog between “the auditor” and “the meditator”, it sounds like the process is:
        1. The auditor asks the meditator “Are you mindful right now?”, and for verbal proof of that mindfulness. (Verbal because the auditor never engages with the object as I understand it)
        2. The meditator takes several seconds apply introspective attention to notice something (which might result in 200ms of engagement with an object of attention).
        3. Then the meditator takes several seconds to engage in complex symbolic thought to build a compelling verbal description of that engagement. This verbal description seems to go well beyond “body sensation”.
        4. The auditor assigns a probability that the meditator was sufficiently mindful, and if not, lets the meditator know this, and the mediator repeats steps 2 and 3 until the auditor is satisfied.

        Do I have this right? If so, I have a few follow-on questions:
        1. Is this meant to be a “real time” narration of the process, or are the demos given the podcast significantly slowed down for clarity?
        2. Doing this process seems to engage a very large amount of symbolic/verbal thinking: I’m using a lot of working memory and processing power to search the thesaurus and try to convince the auditor. Is this the right interpretation of what Kenneth is saying?
        3. When the auditor determines that the meditator’s description of the sensation is not convincing, does the mediator have to search for that same sensation again to clarify it? What if the sensation is no longer strongly present or findable? (This seems likely to me since it’s some large number of seconds since the meditator last tried to engage the object deeply/clearly)

        I know I’m asking you for details on Kenneth’s system, but I was hoping you had insight based on followup conversations with him, or have references to resources where I could learn more.


        1. These are great questions, David. Thanks for sharing them.
          You’ll have to look to Kenneth for the answers, however.
          All the best!

  5. Aren’t Kenneth talking about a common problem when meditators don’t recognize subtle dullness and therefore not making progress?

    The first three podcasts with Kenneth are the best! Would love to see more

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