Meditation Los Angeles

Category: mastery

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.

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.

Just Sit

I’ve been reading, nay, browsing, through Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It’s such a delightful book. Lots of gems on what I’d call the “non-dual stuff.” For instance, this, on the challenge of sitting:

….If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this kind of effort is the secret of practice. Suppose you are sitting under some extraordinary circumstances. If you try to calm your mind you will be unable to sit, and if you try not to be disturbed your effort will not be the right effort. The only effort that will help you is to count your breathing, or to concentrate on your inhaling and exhaling. We say concentration, but to concentrate your mind on something is not the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense….

Did my 40 minutes this morning. Mind wandering as crazy as usual.

And Then His Thoughts Stopped

Well, talk about settling down. Imagine that. Check out this introduction to Episode 260 of Buddhist Geeks, [my itals]:

Gary Weber has been a scientist, military officer, senior executive in industry and academia, and is the author of the book Happiness Beyond Thought: A Practical Guide to Awakening. He has practiced Zen meditation, yoga, and philosophy for more than thirty-five years. In 1998, after over 20 thousand hours of various contemplative practices, his thoughts stopped (or very nearly so). We speak with him about what it has been like since then, experiencing nearly no self-referential thoughts or emotions.

Wow. I never really considered that option. Yet, even as a skeptic I suspect it’s possible. I’ve occasionally done some back of the envelope calculations — how long would it take to 10,000 hours — that popular conception of time needed to attain mastery. It takes a while. In any case, I’m off to actually listen to this…