Meditation Los Angeles

Category: Analytical Mode

Rising Tide of Distraction (or Why the Nauseating Prevalence of Mindfulness is Tolerable)

We are all under the assault of a murderous distraction. I almost didn’t write this. I couldn’t focus. I almost couldn’t eat my lunch without surfing the internet at the same time. In fact, I failed. Mindfulness in its various forms has become so Coca-Cola. You know what I mean. While I find that nauseating, I think it’s worth stepping back take the finger out from the back of the throat (“gag me!”) and, maybe, meditate?

Because a little meditation just might actually be a powerful antidote to the instant gratification of internet, iPhone, iPad, iEverything, instant gratification and device absorbed mania that colors our world today. That said, here are a few things we might do to increase our mindfulness:

  1. read fiction
  2. keep a journal
  3. meditate
  4. do something creative that allows you to incorporate a meditative perspective: writing, drawing, photographing
  5. cut out the static – maybe declutter a room or a shelf
  6. practice frugality
  7. read an article in one sitting
  8. get in your body – yoga, running, tennis, whatever
Advertisements

Wings of Desire

This past week I sat — meaning, of course, meditated — three times and did not sit four times. Not so hot. I’ve fallen off meditating for 20 minutes and did a couple 10-minute sessions, too. Oh well. Today I sat for 20 minutes. I was again somewhat taken aback by the wash of blah blah blah thoughts — you know the stuff, unfinished business, to-do lists, grand schemes and how to execute them. But this is not one of those blogs, usually, where I spend a lot of energy sharing my hum drum blah blah blah thoughts.

A water main burst somewhere on our street last night. It’s burst before. It busts the street open and cracks spread from the tarmac right over into our house and into my fragile mind. Not having water is like camping. It’s fun if you’re camping. So I was in a bad mood this morning and in the car with the kids was cursing the traffic and really about to just let loose on a rant but stopped myself for a second and thought: equanimity. That moment when you hold the entire experience. Not just the thoughts, the emotions, but the experiencer — the witness. The part of you that is outside thoughts, emotions, sensations. Not identified with these things. Just watching. I tried to grab onto that. It is fleeting.

I think that’s part of what makes Wings of Desire such a delightful film. The angels are witnesses. Deprived of actually living, they observe and marvel at many of the every day experiences the characters are having, without being swept up in the thoughts and emotions (which, I suppose, they are not having) of the moment. You might say their experience is dispassionate, but it is not without sympathy. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but it was my impression that the angels are not distant, cerebral. Au contraire. My impression is that they were moved by the many of the experiences they observed.

This, I think, is a kind of ideal equanimity. (It makes me wonder if the film maker, Wim Wenders, is a Buddhist.) An equanimity that is not swept up by the emotions, sensations of everyday life, but nevertheless is deeply sympathetic to the experience. It is not empty or barren. There is kindness. And when we are feeling unkind toward the blah blah blah thoughts, kindness becomes invaluable.

Turning Down the Posterior Cingulate or Blah blah blah

Successfully back to 20 minutes of meditation. It had been 10 minutes for a while. And pretty regularly. I was inspired to add 2 minutes to the length of each of my sessions by the example of one of my “friends” on the insight meditation app.

Also, some interesting research from Judson Brewer re the posterior cingulate and how it’s implicated (and mostly not implicated) in flow states. It seems that turning off the blah blah blah part of the mind is healthy.

And no, that doesn’t mean regressing into a blissful narcissistic cocoon. Worth a look:

http://www.mindandlife.org/your-brain-on-meditation/

Nightstand Buddhists

If you’ve ever read that description and it cut you, you know who you are. If you’ve been imbibing of the McMindfulness, and imbibing deeply then you might have been lulled into the idea that you know something of mindfulness, Buddhism, both. You would be forgiven. If you’ve become comfortable with the terrain, are ready for a little more, why not try these links?

1. The Angry Asian Buddhist. Kind of self-explanatory. Written in America. Nice set of links, too.
2. Sujato’s Blog. I think he’s an Australian monk. Thoughtful, informed, well written.
3. Speculative Non-Buddhism. You have been warned! A group of academically inclined critics. This way to the rabbit hole.

I’m off to a quick meditation.

Isms

I’ve always felt that “Ideology is Stupid” is a good approach. I came across what I think is an incisive critique of the Secular Buddhism movement, as promulgated by Stephen Batchelor and others. Mind you, I’ve enjoyed several of Batchelor’s books very much. I’ve reread at least two of them with great enjoyment.

The critique goes something along the lines of — examine the faith that underlies even this secular Buddhism. Any faith tends toward viewing something as sacred, and as such, more valuable than other approaches. Better to be outright religious than hold some kind of fake non-religious stance. Not sure I agree wholeheartedly with that, but find this piece to be stimulating.

Worth a look. On the Faith of Secular Buddhists at Speculative Non-Buddhism.

It’s interesting to me because I think you can get caught between a McMindful approach (see previous post), which waters down and limits meditative practice to stress relief on the one hand, and a worshipping, religious, Buddha as great father (or belief in reincarnation, etc.) on the other hand.

Jack Does It Again

I continue to meditate daily, which continues to astound me, on some level. Perhaps it does because I am basically a lazy person. For that reason, I am impressed by meditators that adhere to a somewhat dogmatic, pragmatic, goal driven ethos. I continue to admire many such practitioners. And I tend to shy away from those with a more “Let It Be” approach.

We are so often attracted to our polar opposite, our opposite charge. It’s helpful for me to approach meditation with discipline, but let’s face it it would also be beneficial for me to do many hours of Lovingkindness meditation, which I naturally avoid (though do do from time to time).

I found a passage in Kornfield’s Living Dharma that articulates some of these thoughts, for instance:

Choosing an approach is a much a matter of one’s personal style and karma. For some, a strict teacher, rigorous discipline, and goal-oriented practice are right. Often this approach balances with their own internal lack of discipline. For others, particularly goal-oriented individuals whose predominant expression is attainment in the world, the practices of letting go, just sitting, just watching, are a balance for their habitual striving.

Bringing the mind into balance is the essence of meditation. Striving, not striving: Both can bring balance. Eventually, whatever practice one follows must be let go of, even the practice of letting go.

I have only lazily dipped into this book, put off in parts by some of the very traditional views of the meditation teachers profiled (karma is a sticking point for me), but again I am struck by the wisdom and eloquence of Jack Kornfield. Though I’ve not really read it yet, recommended!

McMindfulness

That was the word I gleaned from Twitter while observing the Buddhist Geeks conference (that wrapped up yesterday). Instant delight. It conveyed right away what one twitterer called “consumer Buddhism without the depth”. That may be a quote from Willoughy Britton (who was at the conference), but I’m not sure. The term “McMindfulness” may originate with Miles Neale (not speaking at the conference, so far as I know) a psychologist, but again I’m not sure. He’s interviewed here, at Shambhala SunSpace, and seemed to be on fire that day:

At this point, it’s a no-brainer: mindfulness works to reduce negative symptoms and increase wellbeing, period.

What did we think was going to happen if human beings, particularly the younger generation in the West—who are ordinarily hyper-aroused, over-stimulated, prey to a whole slew of addictions from caffeine and sugar to alcohol and pornography, whose main form of socialization is technology based, who often feel angry, depressed, marginalized and alienated, and who, as a result, act out with violence to themselves and others—were invited to take a 30 minute time-out, each and every day, from the whole ridiculous rat race we call urban life, and asked to gently turn their attention inwards, to follow their breath, to relax their bodies, to connect with their feelings, to enter into a caring relationship with themselves, to dis-identify with their obsessive thought streams and compulsive habits, and instead identify with a loving embrace with all living beings?

Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist involved in critical and thoughtful mindfulness research, has a promising website with a lot of resources. I didn’t follow the conference closely, but eagerly await the video or podcasts from several of the sessions.

In any case, the idea that mindfulness pursued simply as a relaxation technique outside of the ethics and wisdom component — is a watered down pursuit is one that has occurred to me in the past, but I am delighted to see that several people are espousing and articulating that point of view.

The energy, even from a Twitter perspective, was apparently high at the Buddhist Geeks conference.

On the cushion, today was the first day in quite a while that I did not do a sunrise meditation. I had drunk, over the courseyesterday, some beer (home brew and domestic) and margeritas, and the predictable result was poor sleep. It didn’t occur to me to meditate last night, for some reason.

Numbers

You’ve heard the 10,000 hours theory? Most likely from Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers. Gladwell didn’t make up the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain expertise, he borrowed it from someone else (I understand that’s true with most of his work, actually, to a fault), a Swedish psychologist by the name of K. Anders Ericsson who literally wrote the book on the topic, The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (2006).

I’m not a huge fan of the theory, though there’s something to it. As Paul McCartney supposedly pointed out, there were a lot of bands that put in 10,000 hours in Hamburg and a lot of them got nowhere. It’s safe to say that 10,000 hours may be a necessary, but obviously not sufficient condition for mastery.

As a meditator with relatively limited time, I hope there’s a more efficient path, too. I’m willing to put in the time — but I want to make sure it’s quality time. Because those 10,000 hours, if you spend an hour a day, come out to 27 years. If you spend a 40 hour week into your chosen vocation, you can expect to amass those hours in 4.8 years. So you can see that even somewhere in between is hugely ambitious. And even then, necessary but not sufficient. No guarantees.

That’s why I’m excited by the work of some of the neuroscientists studying meditation. Names like Judson Brewer, David Vago, and Gary Weber are analyzing the neurology of meditation and deducing its component parts. Theoretically, this research could lead to more efficient meditation. What would that mean? In the case of Vago, the model of mindfulness he’s working with is that mindfulness practice fosters and enhances self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence.

More from these jokers, if you’re interested, can be found via podcast and transcript at BuddhistGeeks.com: David Vago (BG262), Judson Brewer (BG259), Gary Weber (BG260). It might sound like I’m affiliated with them or something, but really, I’m not. I just happen to think that they’re doing exciting work. Anyone who sits on a cushion an hour a day should hear what they have to say about what such activity can lead to. They are mapping uncharted territory.

I got to 34 minutes of sitting this morning, before a little boy requested some cream for his sunburn. I was present for him.