Meditation Los Angeles

Category: enlightenment

Refugees of Mindfulness

Not my title, but a fascinating post re some of the risks of meditation – of interest to anyone new to meditation or introduced via mainstream psychology, MBSR, DBT, ACT, MBCT, etc.

Interesting!

It’s at the Aloha Dharma blog and is well worth a read!

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Stream Entry at the New York Times

Wow, right there in the New York Times! A piece about a real (failed, oh well) attempt at stream entry! You just don’t see this very often. The piece, entitled “The Anxiety of the Long-Distance Meditator” just completely caught the attention of this longish-distance runner, and features Daniel Ingram and an appearance by Hokai Sobol, even. The real stuff, in my opinion. From what I know…

Here’s a brief quote from the article:

Ingram was encouraging but also somewhat ambivalent. He seemed to have some reservations. I soon found out why: the next day everything fell apart. My mind jangled like a live wire — old fears and insecurities, the heartbreak of an unhappy love affair — images and judgments tortured me for hours and then for days on end. I dreaded the meditation now — it was like sticking my attention into an electrical socket.

My schedule collapsed. I couldn’t sit, and the prospect of walking around the room pretending to be a wonder-struck bionic ninja was agonizing and ridiculous. Instead, feeling guilty, I went for long walks in the 100-degree heat, accompanied by the sinister hum of cicadas. People went on retreats for months — years even —- yet the thought of being confined for three more weeks terrified me. There was a Greyhound station in Huntsville, a 20-mile hike. Filled with self-loathing, I decided to leave the next day at dawn, before Ingram could convince me otherwise.

I plugged in the guesthouse phone and called a friend, looking for comfort. Ingram happened to make his visit then; as he entered I quickly put down the phone. He arched an eyebrow. “If you’re gonna blow the retreat, we have free long distance up at the house.”

I continue to do my body scans, yoga, and sitting meditation — the grab bag that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) offers for combatting stress, anxiety, etc. I’ve skipped a couple days, maybe. Tonight is the last class.

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”.

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.

What’s It Like to Turn Off Your Self?

I like this guy’s mix of science background and generally down-to-earth quality. He claims he’s actually succeeded in stopping his thoughts. I mentioned him before — listened to the podcast of his interview at Buddhist Geeks, which is worth a listen. This is good, too. You can see he’s a regular guy, sipping his ice tea with slice of orange, enjoying a few laughs and a thoughtful discussion about, among other things, what neuroscientists call the neural Default Mode Network, which is seems to be strongly associated with the activity of thinking about one’s self.

Gary was able to shut his default mode network off, it seems. He no longer has that self-narrative of thoughts. He is still able to function, however. He can read and make memories — they are just no longer oriented in terms of self. He’s able to function in a professional setting where he’s required to digest new material, but says he just goes the the meeting “empty.” And when a question is asked he just waits to see what comes up.

About how dismantling the self was one of the focal points of his spiritual practice — of which there are several. It was during a yoga pose that his thoughts simply stopped. He makes some interesting points about self and where it comes from, how it may have evolved out of language — the necessity of having a subject and an object… And he talks about two important aspects of self — self in time and self and other.

On one level this seems so cool. But the rational part of me needs to step back for a moment. He turned off his thoughts. Obviously, he’s doing okay. He’s not a vegetable. He functions at a high level. But what happens next week? Next year? It’s just very new territory, it seems to me.

I really recommend you watch the video, if you have any kind of interest in this sort of thing. It seems to me he’s achieved what is sometimes referred to as a continuous non-dual state. He’s got a mystical consciousness. I like how he politely disagreed with the idea of “After the Ecstasy the Laundry.” His ecstasy continues.

He also has a website and blog where he talks about some of this stuff.