Category: Contemplative Exercises
The Play-as-Being book group is finishing up its reading of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century today. It’s been an interesting ride, but as I write this, I have the feeling that the book is already outdated. Which is scary, because I don’t think enough people are thinking yet about the range of questions he brings to the fore. The only thing I feel sure of (inasmuch as I feel sure of anything), is that he ends the book in the right place, with what individuals can do.
I’m a big big fan of the ‘free will or no free will’ question and discussions that come up around that question within both science and contemplative circles. Free Will belongs to a self that doesn’t exist in the ways our systems tend to program toward, so Harari’s angle is a technological one, drawing attention to the role algorithms have in our lives already, then imagining the directions they are heading in. Importantly noting that they are not heading in these directions on their own, but at the direction of ever more consolidated powers.
He touches on but doesn’t fully address (how could anyone?!) the role of the unexpected in all this. Would any of us have imagined the scenarios we’re in right now, a decade ago? At any second, massive changes can and will occur.
So what CAN individuals do? Harari says, “Get to know yourself as well as ‘they’ do.”
You can tell by my posts perhaps, that this is what I’m working on: meditating more, leaning on and relearning what ‘intuition’ is in light of changes in complexity as a person, but also as a person within a family and friend network, as a member of larger society in my country, and within the world/cosmos.
I don’t have the capacity to mentally encompass all that! Indeed any of those categories when combined with any of the others can shut down my feeling of ‘free will’ about anything and be quite paralyzing! “No wonder that Hindus and Buddhists have focused much of their effort on trying to get out of or off of this wheel (entirely)” says Harari, of fathoming the myriad posited schemes of meaning.
My question is then, how to take it all lightly and keep perspective, while not distracting nor entertaining myself away from the questions or buying into one scheme or another. The PaB group I mentioned above is the closest thing to a community that can embrace so many contradictions that I’ve ever come near, yet Life seems to be kicking me out of that nest too.
I try to keep in mind the ‘decidedly non-woo’ when I write blog posts about meditation or insight, because there isn’t much out there aimed at secular practitioners of contemplative arts, aside from some (great) Zen practices like koan study and Just Sitting.
That said, I think it shows sometimes, that I’m holding myself back, which isn’t as much fun as I’d like it to be. So here goes:
🙂 I like the woo.
Almost the only thing I don’t like about the woo, is explaining how the woo doesn’t mean buying into every new-agey idea uncritically, to some who have already solidified their opinions.
For some of us, it simply means being open to direct impressions which are often then described in symbols and metaphorical terms. It is a way of communication.
Some ‘believe’ that those metaphors and symbols (fairies, angels, etc.) are indeed real; some don’t, but like the practices and fantasy of it all; and some (me) have learned not to believe or not believe… to dive in and out as drawn, and to appreciate what resonates with others.
I have trouble sometimes setting firm boundaries and not second guessing myself, examining everything from a million angles. Woo is visceral.
Also, I must say, people who move in these waters tend to be open-hearted, lovely people.
I think this is the reason for learning detachment early on in one’s meditation practice. When detached (notice I didn’t say unattached), you aren’t fixed to any one way of being or choosing teams. You may enjoy and be drawn to certain expressions, but it is more important to respond moment by moment. Life becomes less linear – often far less limited.
“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”— Lao Tzu
One seemingly ‘woo’ thing I’d like to write about soon, is channeling, and the various expressions of channeling that are actually everywhere, but we may not think of them as channeling. I always share the Elizabeth Gilbert TED Talk, which I watch every few months because I just find it so inspiring, but you know, until last month I would not have said that what she was talking about is channeling as most think of.
She describes creative process and communicating with, indeed romancing the muses. She even dips into the ways whole cultures find, to enter into ‘creative’ and ‘awe’ful states, so they can offer what is needed to their people in their times, seeking not too interfere too much in what appears.
From the outside, it all may seem strange, but when letting go into a state of sheer appreciation, there is an inclusive magic, a deep life dance we are reunited with, or shown as part of already.
Also, and stay with me now: MR. ROGERS! I’d never seen it before, but during the film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, it comes really clear that using puppets was a way for the adult Fred Rogers to channel the child Fred Rogers. Through especially one puppet, he was able to express the deep vulnerability he felt as a child and never lost touch with, which in turn became a voice for many of us as children. We were able to imagine ourselves into those scenarios and to receive real love.
Fred Rogers left the show at some point, and began to try new things. But he returned when children, imitating fantasy characters like Superman, began to hurt themselves. It disturbed him that the new shows made for children seemed to have no character-building element, and that no one was teaching the kids to discern between what they saw on TV (for example, magic capes) and reality.
And actually the film is informative to this topic in another way, too.
Playing in capes and imagining themselves to be heroes, may expand children’s capacities for imagination, but the child must also learn to put the cape away and come back to this world. Each world sort of preserves and enriches the other.
Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you ― and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing does.
Although I’ve loved meditation for a while, I had begun to coast with it, keeping it as mostly a tool behind glass in case of anxiety emergencies. It wasn’t that I wasn’t sitting, but rather I’d stopped exploring with wide-eyed curiosity. No more. I’m having a great time again, like greeting a long lost best friend anew. : )
For instance, I was in the middle of a guided practice yesterday when I just started giggling! Ever the attentive student, I was trying to do things ‘right’, not following thoughts or making them into stories, but fancy thoughts, life-changing insights, kept flooding into the scene.
I LIVE for insight, so this was like a marshmallow experiment for grown-ups. I recognized this subtle ‘trap’ however, which left the two intentions in a kind of face off.
Just then, the image of a spider came to mind. She was contented, resting happily in the middle of the web she’d worked on.
But suddenly lots of insects are flying by and getting stuck to her web! She can’t help herself, so begins to chase down each one, wrapping it up for later. She isn’t ending the rest, she tells herself, just putting it off to take advantage of the opportunities.
“Aha!”, I thought.
This was a really clear snapshot of my mind at work. Meditation teachers often talk about monkey mind, but some of us have spider minds! It isn’t easy to set aside gathering and storing, but it’s crucial to develop trust that everything won’t fall apart the second we take our eyes off the ball.
We let go of the one thing (in my case, that pattern in that moment), to refresh, which ultimately renews everything else. We ourselves are part of the equation, after all.
On day 4 of the newest guided meditation app I’m trying (Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up’), the instructions turned to SOUND – a fascinating line of inquiry, because sound is so easily just part of background environment. So when you isolate it out as an object of attention, it can be reorienting in a really cool and peculiar way (yes, I’m a little nerdy about these things).
What Harris suggested at some point is something I’d never encountered in meditation instruction before now: “Try to hold on to that sound.”
Meditation teachers often advise one to watch for the source of thoughts… to try see where thoughts are, or seem to be, coming from and where they are, or seem to be, going. In fact basic meditation practice consists of allowing stimuli to arise and fall, come and go, without following it off somewhere or generating stories. This is necessary to develop stability of attention, and to gain the sense that one can opt out of heedless reactions, not be so helplessly triggered.
But here, Sam was suggesting to try to ‘get back’ or ‘keep’ the stimuli intentionally. What I found was that, of course, I couldn’t hold on to the sounds, but I would generate a trace memory of the sound that would trick me occasionally, that would seem to be me holding onto the sound.
This illustrates something about free will or the absence thereof, but even if one is not into the philosophical question (I am, obviously), the benefit is witnessing first hand, an experience that amounts to trying to hold on to time itself.
When you really see yourself trying to do such a thing, you recognize it other places too.
So later in the day, a friend shared a little clip of a young girl singing “Halleluiah” beautifully, in really nice acoustical conditions. No matter how many times I hear that song, or who is covering it, I’m always stopped in my tracks. As she finished, I thought about the different versions of the song I’ve heard, and the times I was fortunate enough to see Leonard Cohen himself perform it live.
But then I tried to get back that moment. I tried as hard as I could, to bring Leonard Cohen singing live, into my present head space.
Frankly, this was shocking. Even if it should be obvious, I realized that I live this way, unexaminedly thinking that experiences I have had can indeed be brought with me. That they are mine to keep in some way, somewhere, that they really belong to me.
I do have the memory of those experiences. I can see where I was standing and who I was standing with, what I was wearing. A few moments are vivid, surprisingly musical solos or smiles and jokes, but not even one entire song. This has nothing to do with my level of appreciation in the moment, as I remember it. I think I felt *wow* the whole time.
Yet, I could not hold on to that moment. Or, to make the point more clear, I could not hold on to the myself of that moment.
I’ll probably continue to think, ‘I’ was actually there.
P.S. Just in case you thought I’d mention Marge Piercy when you saw the blog title, here’s that poem:
To Have Without Holding
Flu. I feel so vulnerable during and just after illness, as though my will has failed in a small way, just to show me nothing is in my control. Catastrophic thinking? Maybe. Nonetheless I’ll take care of myself today, and tomorrow again pick up with resolutions and determinations.
For today it is enough to write this note, even if a few days late, keeping with “posting once a week.” A small gesture.
Although it took pausing a few times, George the dachshund and I did get to watch the “Kalachakra, L’éveil” film available through Amazon Prime. It didn’t go quite as deeply into teachings as I’d hoped for, yet I learned so much and felt the embers of devotion stirring.
George loved the chanting during the film, perking his head up to look at the television each time it would begin.
It felt good to let my senses be flooded with auspicious symbols and reminders of the timelessness all time is embedded in, especially when feeling so discouraged and weary. One’s body feels like a thin place itself in such moments, like the mandala above can be a thin place. In the film they showed that to learn to read this mandala, the beginning order is from outside in, at the gates beginning with body, then speech, then mind (very center). Within mind, there is then the pavilion of wisdom, and the pinnacle of bliss. Of course, the longer you linger, the image seems to lose the sense of outside and inside entirely.
Gorgeous how much can be imparted in one image! I remember that when I first began studying Buddhism, Tibetan imagery felt like overkill to me, just ‘too much’, but that feeling subsided once I began to understand what the symbols were meant to point to and the relationships between them.
Memory seems to keep these maps very well.
Yuval Noah Harari is among my very favorite public intellectuals, even though some of his prophesies are terrifying! Listening to a talk he gave in India
thislast year, about the capacity of future algorithms and reach of AI, I was struck by just how close the future he describes seems.
Indeed, it is already upon us.
Consider the phenomenon of New Years resolutions and self improvement in general, and the way our consumerist society is driven by the idea of ‘hacking ourselves’ to re-program and ‘get free’ from prior conditioning. Should a company like Amazon develop an Alexa type AI, that offers to monitor all our behaviors (input and output), over the course of a period of time, so that we can have all the information we need to “live our best life”, would we give permission?
Instead of taking that next marketing or time-management course, or hiring a life coach to help us, would we sign off on a ‘more perfect than a human could construct’ optimal life, which would then be aided by various products and services? Would it be like plastic surgery for the total ‘self’ and ‘life’?
Would we hand over that kind of information to a company (with all the “rights” of a human being)? We may think we wouldn’t, but we’ve moved forward pretty swiftly with new tech, regardless of disturbing revelations. My scenario posits permission asking, but companies like Facebook seem more about apologizing later. Mere humans are already lagging.
What Harari is describing is “3.0”, at least. One big question is, CAN you get a read on the inside of a human being, by a ‘full’ evaluation of the outside?
Will this shape up to be a new morality? What’s the template? Who’s is it? Is there any such thing as control over one’s destiny in a scenario where we’re so practically outmatched? Certainly, we don’t seem to be getting better at compromising and cooperating, if you look at our current methods.
One disturbing trend has been a bizarre equating of wealth with being responsible and good… a reasserting of caste system, in a way, and a failure of people to relate to those at the opposite ends of the resource spectrum. I like that Harari is thoughtful about these things too, and I like that he presents meditation and “seeing things as they are” as important in a tangible way, facing what we’re facing.
I believe that, too.
Some of the most interesting ideas Harari has, center around global identity (going beyond nationalism), which has the most practical ends imaginable: collaborative addressing of climate change, prevention of nuclear war, and management of disasters and planetary shortages.
We have no choice but to grapple with these questions together.
Here’s the talk:
Having decided to spend more time blogging and away from Facebook in the coming year, this morning I searched and scrolled through random blogs. I’m curious about how to build a real sense of community through this notes-in-a-bottle-from-disparate-islands medium, and to see what balances people find for themselves with regard to their blogging identities.
For me, this can’t work than other types of social media unless it works as a decompartmentalizer, continuing with my aspiration to unlearn isolation. That is, my hope and suspicion — that the people I already know who find me here, are those genuinely curious about ‘who I am’, which would include various contradictory dimensions they would likely have the capacity to endure. 😉 As I would for them.
The rest of those in my imagined community will be new friends, and those bloggers with whom I’ve made light connections already over the last few years. (HELLO!)
This morning as I scrolled along, then took to actively searching, I found myself focusing on divorce and separation themed posts. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for exactly, but wanted to hear the musings of others working through thoughts that one can only have or grapple through, if they themselves have gone though such a life-altering experience. For me, it was like entering a dream world that at the end became something like panic/escape room.
Also, I wanted to peek into the lives of those who feel they’ve successfully moved out of the active struggle level, into dating and other relationships. That was fun, and a few posts made me smile a lot. At some point I asked myself why divorce was such an early search for me at all. Like a child’s Quija board question, my hands had seemed to type out the query on their own.
THEN I realized, “Ah, New Years Eve was my wedding anniversary.”
There is so much ‘down there’ embedded in layers of mind, which is both comforting and disconcerting. I guess I’ve yet to actively replace patterns of hope and resulting disappointment that happened around the anniversary for many years, so there is a stuck and stunted spot I need to massage out? 🙂
Plus, New Years Eve is a decidedly romantic holiday, which I usually spend cleaning and ‘visioneering the year ahead’ in some way. I think last year I decided not to do that anymore, yet, here I am. I don’t feel sad about it all actually, but obviously am more preoccupied than I think!
Picked up a surprising book written by Suzanne Segal, who’d been a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi before becoming disillusioned with aspects of the TM organization. It is written in a matter-of-fact way for being, by the end, a quite revolutionary story about awakening and the ‘no-self’ insight, and uncannily, its arrival is perfectly timed with my contemplation of dropping of personal pronouns. She is perhaps an even better example than the one I gave in that post, of someone embodying such realization.
Yet, she didn’t seem attached to anyone else understanding her experience; I feel she truly wrote the book so that someone going through the traumatic phase she went through, might benefit. Mainly, she didn’t try to over-elaborate. She also contrasted her experience with what many doctors and teachers thought was going on with her along the way, sharing the pain of not being heard, and the fear she experienced when no diagnoses nor approach fit. Then, eventually, she brings the reader to the end of that fear.
Into what she calls the vastness.
Although my own experience(s) differ, I related to and understand what she was describing, which again, I think speaks to her intention.
I was excited to see what she was doing now, but sadly, my search revealed that she had died of a brain tumor in 1997, which reminded me of a conversation several years ago, when someone had mentioned (I thought at the time) Bernadette Roberts in a questioning way. They wondered whether in some cases dramatic no-self experiences and a physiological issue such as a brain tumor, might be related. I would guess the answer to be yes, which takes absolutely nothing away from the insight. Her book (or at least the second half) is wonderful, and she does an excellent job of describing what very few people are able to come close to articulating.
A follow-up site: http://www.nonduality.com/suzanne.htm