Meditation Los Angeles

Category: Buddhist concepts

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.

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.

Extended Break, Indeed

Still meditating, but having less to say about it. Still doing the MBSR class, but don’t have much to say about it. It’s the secular version of meditation, and body scans, and a little yoga. A kind of caterers platter of techniques for beginners.

I doubt very much they’ll ever talk of liberation, and while religious Buddhism turns me off I miss the jazziness of implied freedoms in the offing.

For those seeking just that kind of jazz, I recommend the page from where the quote comes. It’s about the lack of focus, in most secular, insight meditation practices on the Three Characteristics, those being, as the writer translates them, Impermanence, Suffering, and No Self. Here’s the quote:

Somehow this exceedingly important message just doesn’t typically seem to get through to insight meditators, and thus they spend so much time doing anything but looking precisely moment to moment into the Three Characteristics. They may be thinking about something, lost in the stories and tape loops of the mind, trying to work on their stuff, philosophizing, trying to quiet the mind, or who knows what, and this can go on for year after year, retreat after retreat, and of course they wonder why they don’t have more insight yet. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions, but you do not have to be part of it! You can be one of those insight meditators that knows what to do, does it, and finally “gets it” in the grandest sense.

The wonderful Jack Kornfield has an interesting section on Wisdom in one of his recent books where he covers this issue, in typical, wise, non-dismissive, instructive fashion.

Too Religious

Somewhere smack in the late middle of this podcast on the mindfulness of breathing by Alan Wallace he starts talking about the bardo. If you’re not up on Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo, as I understand it, is the limbo where the soul (or whatever you want to call it) exists in the 49 days following death, before it goes on to its rebirth.

Generally, I’m used to the type of nightstand (some call it “consensus Buddhism” — where Westerners pick out the parts they don’t like) Buddhism where people don’t get into the karma or rebirth thing, because it’s generally not what people come for. But out in Phuket, this kind of talk might play a little differently. But I was in my living room. So it kind of took me aback.

For my very subjective money, the karma and rebirth thing is where Buddhism just starts to look like every other religion and offers you the panacea of a better life in some not-now future. It starts to be precipitously much less interesting. I was turned off. I’ll probably return to this series of podcasts at some point, though. As there’s lots of good stuff. But for now I need an extended break, I think.

I’ve just wrangled a free (or fee reduced) spot in another meditation class, which is nice because the thinking, thinking, thinking has been quite relentless lately, and I could use another perspective.

 

The Somewhat Taboo World of Attainments

I was either going to write a really long post about the state of entry-level mindfulness technique, and the vagueness that surrounds such practice, or just a short little post with some links. Short version is these folks aren’t afraid to talk about attainments. Meaning, simply, they meditate more efficiently. And, they might have a map of how to do that — and what it might mean. I know it makes many people uncomfortable to talk about one meditator having reached certain states — or even to be somewhat confused about what that even might mean. It scares people off. It’s like believing that some kung fu masters can fly. Anyway, that was a funny little hybrid of my long post and some short links.

Check out Aloha Dharma. And in his links you’ll find Kenneth Folk Dharma. And if you really want to get immersed, click over to Dharma Underground. All, interesting, non-flaky approaches to meditation that include maps of where you might want to go. When you need more than just “relax into the breath”.

Mapping the Territory, Not Monolithic

Have hardly touched the newer books, but continue to incorporate the Alan Wallace meditations in my sitting practice, though about half of them I’m doing in corpse pose. I thought I might fall asleep, lying down at 5 a.m., but it hasn’t happened yet. Dr. Wallace’s voice is quite alert, and his mind is vigorous. I am inspired by the number of meditative practices that are out there.

I have been fortunate to find a very good book that maps out much of the meditative territory, explaining the different meditative practices and how they relate to one another, support one another, which I shall share in a future post. The most basic example of this is simple “concentration” practices, as a prelude and support to “mindfulness” practices such as Vipasssana. Wallace is filling in some of the blanks. He focusses on the mindfulness of breathing meditation. Then he contrasts and supports by “settling the mind in its natural state,” or meditations on one of what some Buddhists have called the four immeasurables — meditations on qualities such as lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy — and so forth (sorry, I don’t know my immeasurables!)

I am struck by how alert and precise these practices are in their focus. There is no room for spacing out or becoming groggy, though of course, this happens from time to time — but within the practices there are precautions against slipping into the mush.

It reminds me of a passing crack the Dalai Lama’s brother made about zen meditators in the Pico Iyer book (short review: can’t really recommend, but interesting) — he called them “those vegetables in Japan!” Of course, this is probably not fair, but it illuminates that neither the practices, nor the communities are monolithic.

Corpse Pose for Insomnia?

 

These are the latest from the library. Excited about both of them.

Continuing to drink in several of the guided meditations from the previous post, from the B. Alan Wallace spring 2012 retreat. Amazing, that for free, one can get well over 40 hours of high quality instruction and meditations. Truly phenomenal. Wallace asks that one at least try savassana (corpse pose) for some of these shamatha (or concentration) meditations. I did. And was pleasantly surprised that I did not drift off to sleep. I find that the techniques Wallace follows lead to a rather subtle meditation. Very nice. Quite likely this is just where I am right now.

It is remarkable to me, though, that given a scarcity of work and with depression apparently in the offing on several occasions, I have not succumbed. I attribute this to both my meditation and the running. A good regimen.

As an additional bonus, having sampled from a somewhat evil bottle of aromatic liqueur, Creme de Violette (or whatever it was called) and then found that I woke up at 2:30 a.m. wide awake, and the bonus being I found that the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation, done in corpse pose, was pleasantly refreshing. It certainly beats thrashing around in frustration at not being able to sleep.

Inclusive Awareness — A Guided Meditation

I don’t do many guided meditations, but I found this one to be of unusually high quality. The guide, Hokai Sobol, employed several rather skillful means in his presentation, which occurred at the Buddhist Geeks conference. From this meditation I got a useful tip on posture, a meditation that focuses on several different sensory inputs, a nice Croatian accent, a couple funny jokes. Recommended for anyone who has felt that their meditation sometimes lacks focus — or wonder if they are doing this thing right. And then just recommended.

For the impatient or just short on time, the meditation proper starts just after the 15 minute mark, but his introductory comments are worth a listen as well.

Slowing Down the Dilution of Mindfulness

About 30 minutes into his interview with Buddhist Geeks [BG 262], David Vago, an instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School who has held the position of Senior Research Coordinator for the Mind & Life Institute, downloads some very interesting thoughts on the integration of the popular conception of mindfulness and Buddhist thought and the scientific view of mindfulness.

He makes some interesting points both on a practical and more profound level, about the role of these scientists.

[I’ve transcribed a quote below.]

He notes, I think quite correctly, that as the popular culture absorbs mindfulness it tends to simplify (my word) and trivialize (his word). He notes that scientists breaking down mindfulness practice and analyzing its component parts helps to slow down what is essentially a dilution of mindfulness practices and ideas that occurs with the widening popular appeal that happens as mindfulness practices move into prisons, hospitals, and other secular settings.

He notes that the scientists try to keep in mind the contributions of the 2500-year-old model that predates the now increasingly prevalent (and more easily 25 year-old-model put forth by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

From the interview, the scientific work is:

really helping to create a framework for all popular culture to fall behind instead of just being a diluted self-help practice mindfulness is going to be incorporated into every aspect of society, and that not only includes attention training but it includes the ethical components, compassion practice, metta practice, lovingkindness those are really critical to building empathic skills and prosocial behavior. And the Dalai Lama’s behind this…and he’s really about spreading joy and compassion.

The way we conceptualize the healthcare system is going to change dramatically. Instead of thinking about meditation as an alternative method of healthcare we’re just realizing now that mindfulness practice is just good medicine and so now as we incorporate mindfulness into healthcare we’re going to have a framework for everyone to use these practices to actually improve their daily life to reduce suffering, reduce biases, to sustain a healthy mind and that’s what happening.

The framework we’re using is self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence. The transcendence part of this is dissolving the distinction between self and other, and that is going to be critical in solving the problems we’re having in the world. A lot of these problems are based on having our big house with a big fence, leave me alone, I’m by myself this is my unit, this is not yours. Creating these distinctions between self and other, and what we’re realizing is that meditation practice is dissolving these distinctions. That’s a critical component that we don’t always emphasize but I think it’s the one that’s going to be transformative for society.