Leave the wonder behind

I have often wondered what
Upon gazing at the clouds
In times past
Before science turned them into vapor
What man thought of them
What wonder he must have beheld
Yet, sadly, I know
I realize
Pondering my own thoughts
The clouds inside my brain
I realize how little we know
And how satisfied most are
To simply grunt and say
The great spirit knows
The scientists know
I need not know
Why bother with mystery
It does not concern me
Then we wonder
Facing death, facing life
Where the wonder has gone
Better to ask, where have we gone
Leaving the wonder behind

• • •

A parable

There was once a queer old man who lived in a cave, where he had sought refuge from the noise of the villages. He was reputed to be a sorcerer, and therefore he had disciples who hoped to learn the art of sorcery from him. But he himself was not thinking of any such thing. He was only seeking to know what it was that he did not know, but which, he felt certain, was always happening. After meditating for a very long time on that which is beyond meditation, he saw no other way of escape from his predicament than to take a piece of red chalk and draw all kinds of diagrams on the walls of his cave, in order to find out what that which he did not know might look like. After many attempts he hit on the circle. “That’s right,” he felt, “and now for a quadrangle inside it!” –which made it better still. His disciples were curious; but all they could make out was that the old man was up to something, and they would have given anything to know what he was doing. But when they asked him: “What are you doing there?” he made no reply. Then they discovered the diagrams on the wall and said: “That’s it!” –and they all imitated the diagrams. But in so doing they turned the whole process upside down, without noticing it:  they anticipated the result in the hope of making the process repeat itself which had led to that result. This is how it happened then and how it still happens today. — From The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Concerning Rebirth, C.G. Jung.

• • •

Equanimity

The wind whistles in the bamboo and the bamboo dances.
When the wind stops the bamboo grows still.
A silver bird flies over the autumn lake.
When it has passed, the lake’s surface does not try
to hold onto the image of the bird.

- Dhyana master Huong Hai (1627-1715) translated by Thich Nhat Hanh
• • •

Trying

One of the trickiest things about meditation is that we spend so much of our lives ‘trying’ to change ourselves or improve ourselves. We are taught from the beginning that we must ‘strive’ to learn more, run faster, get a raise, harvest more bullet points for our resume. Our culture is one of continual pressure to change ourselves. Meditation is not like that. It’s tricky. To say that hard work, perseverance, and dedication are not required to maintain a spiritual practice would be false. But in some ways, this is only because we suffer under delusions that we must shed. When an animal curls up under a tree to rest in the shade, it is not trying to do anything. Similarly, during meditation and mindfulness, if we ‘try’ to be mindful, if we hold within ourselves or frame the situation as an attempt to somehow transform ourselves, better ourselves, or, god forbid, gain enlightenment, we have missed the point. It is not that we cannot accomplish these things, in a sense. Its that by framing the attempt in this fashion, we’ve already put ourselves in the mindset that what we are after is somehow in the future, is somehow separate from the very moment we are in, and in doing this, we render an illusion our very goal before we’ve even started. Instead, mindfulness is something to be sunk into. It is a softening, a relaxing, a quieting. It is the quiet dim light of the pre-dawn. And if we sit in it for a while, patiently, observing, breathing, accepting, loving–the sun will rise and paint the world with all the glorious colors of the sky and earth.

• • •

Give up the illusion of control

I have this recurring challenge when I meditate. My eyes don’t want to stay still. They, and by they I mean their point of focus, jump around. They bounce from the corner of the couch to the apex of the window to a shadow on the wall. It’s a medical fact that our eyes cannot actually smoothly scan over a scene unless following an object (not that this is relevant, just is); what they do is skip from point to point, ratcheting around. I do this even with my eyes closed. They bounce between yellow orange blobs or inverted shadow ghosts of whatever was there before I closed my eyes. I’ve found that allowing my eyes to open and close naturally helps. So does rubbing my temples and massaging my face. But it’s a continual challenge.

The problem is, the more I try to not look at other things (other than whatever particular detail I’ve chosen to focus on), the more my eyes want to jump around. “Not look at what?” they seem to ask, like a couple of small kids, and by then they’re already off, looking at whatever it was. “Oh, this. We’ve already seen this. What’s over there?” Bounce again.

Today while meditating over lunch, I had a nice little breakthrough. I was going through my usual habit of sitting and calming and trying to focus my eyes on a specific point ahead of me (a dark flower on the arm of the yellow-brown lazy-boy). I had already opened and closed my eyes a couple times. The jitteriness wasn’t too bad, but it was definitely there.

By the way, I’m pretty sure the internet is a major cause of this. Think about the way our eyes move on a computer, especially if we’re browsing the internet. They bounce from menus to links to headlines to pictures to small bits of text. They never settle into a slow scan, much less a stop. It’s damaging. TV doesn’t help either.

With my eyes closed, a phrase came to me: “Give up the illusion of control.”

I had been practicing mindfulness over the weekend. Being purposefully present. Being aware of everything that I do.

When those words came to me, I did it. Instead of trying to “stop” my eyes, trying to control them, I stepped back and let them do whatever they wanted. I retreated to a place of observation, instead of getting sucked into the trap of controlling them. Of course, laughably, and instantly, when I stepped back and began to observe my eye movements instead of trying to control them, they stopped dead still. This, predictably, only lasted for a ten or fifteen seconds before my excitement grew and fed itself into controlling over observation, and my eyes were off, the troublesome little kids that they are–oh, well. More practice.

 

 

• • •

No mind

The sun filters in through the trees striking the piano
The music plays with no mind
For a moment I am almost alive

• • •

Untitled

Desire seeks outwardly. Realization comes from within. In dreams we live immediately, with no need for time or sense. There is no layer of being between ourselves and the world. The power of this is that we can hold, within ourselves, whatever power or love or energy we choose and let it pour forth.

• • •

Lightly

I realized this evening while meditating that concentration must be held lightly. The object of concentration must be embraced, but gently, just touching.

• • •

Coffee-infused-multi-tabbed procrastination

Caffeine is an interesting thing, especially when coupled with the internet–or, more specifically, when coupled with a modern web browser’s ability to hold fifteen or twenty tabs open.

After a short caffeine hiatus last week, I started drinking caffeine again this week. Not for any particular reason, but because as I was biking to work–perhaps because of the cold weather?–a large latte sounded really nice. I had one yesterday morning. I had another one this morning. Because I’d been doing a lot of meditation, my head has been very clear. I say this simply to point out that when one’s head is actually clear, changes in mental weather are far more noticeable.

Today at around 10:00 I caught myself bouncing between various open tabs on my browser: how to make DIY diffusers for recording studios; Facebook;  REST in Practice on Safari Books; Facebook; Google Mail; Spring Data; Spring MVC framework; Economist; BBC News; Facebook; GMAIL; etc…

I realized that I had been doing this for some time, and that I was getting absolutely nothing done. To combat this, I printed out some reading material and decided to go outside to read. For the record, what I printed out was the first four chapters of “REST in Practice,” a canonical tome on REpresentational State Transfer, which is essentially the philosophy behind the whole URL scheme that makes the internet work (this turns out to be far more interesting than it at first might appear).

When I sat down to read, I didn’t finish the first sentence before my mind began to skip. Because I didn’t have browser tabs to skim through, my brain hopped rapidly between recent memories, plans for after work, day-dreaming imagined dialogs with people passing by, various ideas, this blog post, etc…

I was, I noticed, utterly incapable of reading. I couldn’t make it through more than a sentence or two before my mind shot off in some random direction.

There was a very real and somewhat viscerally pleasurable buzzing and compulsive quality to my mental weather; something about the sensation of the jump itself, the little shot of excitement it produced, and riding this wave of little mental yelps.

This isn’t exactly news. Modern life + caffeine = ADD. It was interesting to so clearly observe it in my own brain.

The tangent that occurred to me that derailed my studies of “REST in Practice” enough to make me leave my table outside and march upstairs to begin writing this entry was: why is it we so enjoy throwing our being into things?

To explain: part of what is engaging about these compulsive, skipping thoughts is that we lose ourselves in them. Maybe it’s brief, but there is always a moment of deep dissolution of time and ego. Try as we might to concentrate on something in particular, say my book, a spark appears, and BAM!!!, I am lost in a side-thought before I even realize it. It’s like the way, as we’re falling asleep, dream-logic (or un-logic) starts to fold our reality into a nightly vision.

Video games and TV are another example of this. People clearly LOVE to immerse themselves into these experiences. “Escape” is the term that’s often used. A momentary dissolution of the self into an artificial, representational reality.

Why is this experience so compelling? Why is it so compulsive? Why is it so hard to stop? Is it compulsive because of the way it ‘folds’ our reality? Or does it fold our reality because it’s compulsive?

There is, of course, the hindu idea of maya. The illusion that is life. The idea that what we experience is not reality, but a lesser refraction of reality. There is also the Platonic cave.

I wonder if our quickness to submerge our consciousness, our utterly compulsive need to ‘become’ the object of our attention, stems from the simple truth that reality itself is a representation that we have thrown ourselves in; but we often forget this, at least consciously, because we have done it so completely and it is so utterly engrossing;  yet on a subconscious level we feel the maya, the illusion; and so perhaps somehow this leads us to the states behavior. Or maybe, more likely, there is some fundamental nature to consciousness that led to reality in the first place, and we are merely observing and experiencing this phenomena, both as life lived in illusion, and as coffee-infused-multi-tabbed procrastination.

Somehow I still feel like I haven’t reached the heart of my question–and yes, this blog post is really attempting to state a question, not an answer.

There are representations that are presented to us: reality, TV, video games, photos, magazines, etc…

There are representations that we present to ourselves: day dreams, dreams, thoughts, doubts, fears, etc…

But then what are books? The words are presented to us, but we have to imagine them. And thinking this way, can we really say that something like TV is any more or less presented to us than books? Sure, it’s imagery and sound is more concrete, but such things must still be interpreted. I suppose the difference is in the level of abstraction of the medium. Books leave us to fill in the concrete nature with our imagination; TV does not.

I dunno. I can’t quite get it.

 

• • •

Oversitting

It’s easy when I’m meditating for me to take it too seriously. It’s a serious endeavor, I suppose, in that it’s potentially meaningful, but the rub is, the goal is just to sit. It’s amazing how hard that is. I’ve found that I can easily fall into the trap of sitting on my meditation pad with the intention of achieving enlightenment, shoulders square and jaw set. My brow wrinkles as I struggle against the notion that I’m trying to achieve enlightenment, knowing that this shouldn’t be in my head while I’m meditating; but clearly it is in my head, so I try and suppress it; then I remined myself that I shouldn’t be suppressing it, I should be accepting it, or letting it flow through me–whatever the hell that means (it sounds good, but how the hell does one do that?). I snap out of it, clear my head, and try again. The thoughts return. My back begins to ache and my knees hurt. My eyes bounce, refusing to stay focused in one spot. In short: I struggle.

When I’m oversitting, I’ve noticed that quite often my focus is inward. I am subconsciously, or barely consciously, or perhaps better stated, unnoticed(edly?–haha(I guess I’m not supposed to laugh at my own jokes while writing, but I’m not supposed to nest parentheses either, so there)), attempting to withdraw into myself as if there is some samahdic cave to which I can mentally retreat, if only I can shut out the external world with enough force of will.

This is wrong. It’s as if Plato’s prisoner shut his eyes to hide the shadows reflected on the walls and thought he found enlightenment. The emptiness is not empty; it is only empty to the ego, from the perspeive of the ego; through the eyes of our soul, it is an explosion of whispered light.

What I have been trying lately, and seems to be helping me, is not worrying too much about sitting perfectly still or trying to hard to control my thoughts. There’s a ‘settling in’ period. Somtimes I don’t even get beyond this settling in period. I sit. I relax. I take deep breaths. If my nose itches, I scratch it. I pick a point on the wall and focus. I close my eyes for a while. I open them for a while. I let both my body and my mind wind down gradually, naturally. Quite often I don’t get past this slightly twitchy widing down phase, but when I do, I find that I can reach a much deeper sense of inner quiet.

This makes me wonder about so much of what people are taught about meditation. Sit perfectly still. Sit with the itches and the pain. Visualize a lotus flower blooming. It’s not that I doubt that these exercises can be useful. It’s that they don’t really matter, in and of themselves. The goal is to sit; to do nothing more, but to do it with total ease and presence.

This sounds trivial. What’s the point of ‘just sitting?’ Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The point is to do one thing, anything, with a calm, purity of heart and total presence. To be truly engaged, not with our fears or hopes or habits, but with the ever-present reality of the world.

• • •